Editor’s note: There’s no better way to prepare for a big spill than to practice. On a recent site visit, we did exactly that. Read on to learn about this multi-jurisdiction, multi-agency spill response exercise and our tips to prepare your facility or team to clean up spills.
Sometimes, getting a spill under control and cleaned up requires outside help. Even if the spill isn’t thousands of gallons, it can quickly spread and affect a large area if it gets into water, incurring big fines on the way. That’s why planning and practicing with local responders is an essential step in making sure everyone knows their roles when spills happen.
This is where spill response exercises come in. In this article, we’ll walk you through a spill response exercise I recently attended and give you tips for preparing your facility and workers for those unfortunate spills.
The Spill Response Exercise
I recently attended a multi-jurisdiction, multi-agency spill response exercise in a neighboring state. This drill focused specifically on an oil spill in water, and it was great to be reminded of skills that I have learned over the years, including a three-day intensive containment boom deployment training.
The scenario: A marine vessel allided (yes, “allided,” not “collided”) with a bridge support in a busy harbor just minutes after pulling out of the dock with a full tank of fuel. It was a summer day, winds at 10 mph, there were about two hours until high tide and rain was in the forecast.
Among the participants were representatives from several tug boat and marine companies from two different states that transport goods through the harbor, oil spill recovery organizations (OSROs), Coast Guard personnel and representatives from county, state, regional and federal government agencies.
I was invited to provide perspective on the correct use of absorbent products in a scenario like this, as well as New Pig’s capacity for providing products if they are needed in a hurry.
No matter how many trainings, drills and exercises I attend, I never lose my appreciation for the levels of knowledge and the different perspectives that everyone participating in a drill or exercise brings to the table. I value these skills and capabilities that come together to quickly respond to incidents.
It was clear that most of the participants in this drill had worked together before and knew each other’s capabilities — that’s what made this whole process run so smoothly. One of the federal government representatives even remarked that when they get the phone call telling them about an oil spill in this harbor, it’s not an immediate cause for alarm. It’s really just a formality because everyone at the local level knows what to do and who to call to take care of the situation without the need for state or federal resources.
Yes, there are times in large-scale disasters where regional, state and even federal resources are truly needed, but those resources take time to get there. That’s why it is essential for everyone from the smallest company to emergency first responders to local, regional, state and federal response agencies to be prepared to respond to whatever emergency presents itself.
Drills and exercises aren’t just a box to check in plans or on forms. They take time to plan and coordinate, and unfortunately aren’t always held at a time that is convenient for everyone to attend. However, they are an opportunity to bring together different types of organizations, each with a distinct set of resources and capabilities who are going to be the first line of response.
Making time to get to know local first responders fosters relationships that will be essential during an emergency. It also helps facility coordinators learn what resources and supplies may be available when unexpected events happen.
Low-Cost Ways to Prepare for Spills
Most local emergency response agencies and first responders are eager to work with facilities to ensure that their plans are up-to-date, accurate and realistic.
Many can also assist with free or low-cost training, drills and other types of support to help everyone be better prepared. Each state, and most counties within each state, have emergency management agencies (EMAs) to contact for more information.
Preparing for a spill and making contact with local first response agencies is easier than you may think – and it will save you precious time when there is an emergency.