Why Exercise GRPs?

The process of systematically exercising geographic response plans (GRP) provides a training and preparedness benefit for participating communities, spill response organizations, and MassDEP responders.

GRP field exercises involve field verification of tactics and strategies in order to build knowledge and data. GRPs must be periodically deployed in order to field verify the range of assumptions that go into developing the tactical plans for boom placement, anchoring, and tending. A long-term strategically designed exercise program will benefit ongoing and future GRP development throughout the state by documenting lessons learned for various oil spill response tactics under a range of conditions. This information can help to develop rules-of-thumb for future GRP development by informing planners about the observed limitations and capabilities of booming tactics based on shoreline type, tide state, environmental conditions, and other variables. The testing will also provide practical training opportunities for local responders and spill response organizations, and will improve the level of preparedness to respond to coastal oil spills statewide.

Goals and Objectives

The primary goal of the GRP exercise program is to field verify the booming strategies in the GRPs while also providing a training opportunity for local first responders.

The objectives of the GRP exercise program align with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program, and they include the following:


Inter-Agency Planning and Coordination Objectives

Assess the adequacy of GRP tactics and available response resources to achieve the goal of preventing or minimizing oil impacts to environmentally sensitive shoreline areas. Provide opportunity for responders from local, state, and federal agencies and departments to work together to implement GRPs during a simulated oil spill. Identify key roles and responsibilities of local, state, and federal agencies during oil spill response and demonstrate how local organizations might function in context of overall spill response. Expand the local understanding of and practical experience with oil spill response management, boom deployment, and sensitive area protection.


Resource Coordination Objectives

Expand the understanding of local responders regarding the oil spill response capabilities available using state equipment trailers. Practice deploying oil spill boom using available local vessel and personnel resources and identify any shortfalls or additional resource needs related to on-scene conditions, tide cycle, and other logistics or feasibility issues. Identify opportunities to install fixed anchor points or other improvements to enhance oil spill readiness. Test the logistics of using various boat ramps and staging areas. Evaluate logistical and tactical feasibility of pre-identified collection points for oil recovery.


Local Oil Spill Preparedness Objectives

Practice deploying booming tactics under a range of conditions to provide hands-on opportunity to improve local spill response readiness. Familiarize local responders with basic boom configurations (deflection, diversion, exclusion). Develop field conventions and rules-of-thumb for boom deployment (vessel maneuvering, anchoring, etc.) Create core competencies within local fire and harbor departments and encourage future train-the-trainer activities for additional knowledge and skill building. Establish boom deployment rules-of-thumb that may be applied to other Massachusetts GRP site and oil spill planning projects. Identify opportunities for additional training to improve local and state spill response capacity.


General Exercise Objectives

Conduct exercises using basic ICS structure and principals. Evaluate exercises against objective-based criteria. Pre-plan exercise logistics but allow for participant-led deployments. Conduct hot wash to promote information-sharing and lessons learned discussion.


Who Participates?

Participants will be divided into three broad categories:

Responders (individuals who actually deploy the equipment - these are typically local fire, harbor, and shellfish department employees, with assistance/guidance from state and federal responders) Observers (individuals who observe and evaluate the deployment - these are typically experienced spill responders or managers from state and federal agencies) Facilitators (individuals who direct the testing and ensure participants understand their roles - these are typically contractors - Nuka Research - as well as staff from the MassDEP Marine Oil Spill Program)


Exercise Process

It is important to establish and follow set methodologies to collect and document as much information as possible. The following approach will help to achieve this:

Each exercise will have a specific set of written objectives that set out what we hope to learn and accomplish that day. These objectives align with the overall program objectives (listed above) but are tailored to meet the training/preparedness priorities of the participating town(s). We will begin each exercise with a brief classroom/whiteboard discussion of the operational plan and will make task force assignments to carry out the selected tactics. All booming strategies will be deployed first as written in the GRP in order to determine whether the GRP can be deployed as written. Once the boom has been deployed as shown on the page, the facilitators (Nuka and MassDEP) and responders will confer regarding whether the deployment is effective, or whether it requires modification from the paper version. The responders and facilitator will confer and determine how/whether to make modifications to the GRP and re-deploy. The facilitator will record any changes to the GRP. Once the boom configuration has been successfully deployed (either as written or after one or more modifications), other tactical objectives will be evaluated based on the day’s testing plan (i.e. maintaining/tending through tide, evaluating anchor points, etc.) The facilitator and responders will discuss how/whether the deployment addresses additional objectives. Evaluators will also observe and evaluate based on set criteria. At the end of each testing day, a hot wash will be held to solicit opinions, ideas, inputs. If specific problems or issues are identified during a test, subsequent testing objectives may be modified to address those issues.

Equipment (booms, anchor systems, and associated equipment) will be supplied by local towns using their MassDEP equipment trailers. Vessels and personnel are supplied by the participating towns.



Documentation of testing outcomes and lessons learned is an important component of this project. Since on-site conditions will have an impact on deployment, we will capture data on tide cycles, wind speed and direction, sea state, precipitation, and any other environmental conditions or on-scene factors. We will compile detailed records of on-scene conditions during each testing day and will use a spreadsheet to compile this information over multiple sites, so that it can be analyzed for trends as the testing program matures.

In order to compile information about how various tactics work, we will document the following information based on the input from responders:

Was boom length effective? If not, how was it adjusted? Was deployment configuration/boom angles effective? If not, how was it adjusted? Was anchor configuration effective? If not, how was it adjusted? How long did it take to mobilize from the staging area to the site? How long did it take to deploy? How many people were required to deploy? To tend? To demobilize?

Standard evaluation forms and criteria will be used to capture information from each exercise. At the beginning of each exercise, we will give a brief instruction to our evaluators on how to fill out the forms. Photographs and videotape will also be used as documentation.



Safety is always the highest priority. Daily safety briefings will be conducted, and a Safety Officer will be designated. All vessels will be required to complete a float plan.

All participants will be expected to abide by the safety policies of their agency or organization. If any participant observes an un-safe act or condition, they should immediately take whatever actions are necessary to correct the problem (including stopping the deployment test) and notify the facilitator and or the safety officer.

All participants who are on vessels or docks must wear a personal flotation device at all times. Participants should dress in work clothes appropriate for the weather conditions.


Selection of Exercise Sites and Scheduling Exercises

The GRP testing and exercise program was initiated in the spring of 2009, and one annual GRP test in each of the six regions is conducted with each exercise typically being held during the spring or fall. Sites are selected by MassDEP and Nuka Research, with the goal of involving as many different types of deployments as possible.


Additional Training Materials

MassDEP has developed tutorials about GRP boom deployment at the following websites: