1994 Finalist
State of Florida
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

The Fernpassat freighter spill in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1987, raised public awareness of the need for coordinated oil spill planning and response. A Spill Response Task Force was created by the legislature in 1989 to investigate and evaluate Florida's readiness to respond to oil and hazardous material spills in coastal waters and to determine the need for a coordinated plan for implementing prevention, containment, removal, and cleanup of oil and hazardous material spills. As the task force evaluated Florida's response readiness, the Exxon Valdez spill occurred in Alaska forcing the task force to reconsider the magnitude of the job at hand. Members of the task force visited the Alaska spill site and returned with increased resolve to enhance Florida's coastal protection capabilities.

The Florida Marine Research Institute and the Bureau of Emergency Response, both of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), are responsible for the development of the Florida Marine Spill Analysis System (FMSAS). FMSAS is a state-of-the-art computing solution to capture, analyze, and map the large amounts of data required to protect natural resources from spills. The FMSAS was designed to support the entire life cycle of oil spill management, from initial planning to post-spill damage assessment. System output is used by federal, state, and local governments, private industry, and the media. The system’s second function is to inform policy. In 1992, the Florida legislature enacted a comprehensive program to assess and recover monetary compensation for damages to natural resources as a result of spills. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is developing damage assessment protocols and Florida is extending these efforts. This legislation provides a legally defensible mechanism to charge responsible parties for damages to resources such as coral reefs, nesting areas, and mangroves. FMSAS was designed to calculate these damages and associated monetary values.

The most rigorous but successful test of the FMSAS occurred August 10, 1993, when the Tampa Bay spill occurred. Prior to this event, there were only "conceptual designs" and conjecture about the relative role of advanced technologies in managing oil spills. The success of the FMSAS was critically evaluated following the spill. Findings were compiled in the Tampa Bay Oil Spill After-Action Report released in late 1993. Based upon the significant contribution of the FMSAS, the After-Action Report recommended that the DEP amend pending legislative budget requests to provide additional funding for FMSAS database development and hardware purchases to ensure that response capabilities exist throughout the state.