Scenes From The Front: Day 1 of the Deepwater Horizon

It has been a very interesting, eventful, frightening and downright scary 24 hr period.

As you have read, I am down in Houma, LA, assisting on the Deepwater Horizon spill response.  Rhonda Murgatroyd, Director of Wildlife Response Services and Wildlife Branch Director for the response, contacted me yesterday morning asking for me to come down immediately to help in the coordination of the sea turtle and marine mammal response aspects of the spill (Dr. Heidi Stout of Tri-State Bird Rescue already being here to help on the bird side).  Through the peculiarities of travel from the Left Coast to the Gulf Coast (in addition to it being Jazz Festival time here), the only flight available was a red-eye through Atlanta (the Right Coast, of course) then back to New Orleans, getting in at 0800.

So, after dealing w/ the Hertz counter and finding a LARGE coffee, I got to the Command Post at about 0930.  For those of you who haven’t been to one, imagine a very large room, maps and data everywhere on all walls, tables split out into many different areas, with the attendees all having colored vests assigning them to the different sections (Operations, Planning, etc.) and all working on different aspects of the response all at once.  This CP likely has 400-500 people in attendance, so the term “ordered chaos” comes to mind.  The Wildlife Branch actually has its own break-out room, where folks from NOAA, USFWS, Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries, National Parks Service, BP, and the rehabilitation groups are all working together, with us consulting regularly with the other areas involved with wildlife (natural resource damage assessment group and the environmental groups, mainly).  So, a sedate atmosphere it is not!

Since the start of the spill, I have been in contact with the leads of NOAA-NMFS’s Marine Mammal Stranding Program to help where I could, as Shawn Johnson and I wrote the National Oiled Marine Mammal Guidelines for them several years ago (and I just so happened to give a lead-off presentation on ICS in spills, as well as assist in an oil spill drill, at the National Stranding Meeting in Shepardstown, WV three weeks ago – that will teach me).  So when Rhonda requested my assistance, much of the initial discussions with key people were already in the works.  However, the first order of business for me this morning was to conference call with the key members of the Southeast Region Marine Mammal Stranding Network, the Sea Turtle Stranding Network and members of the Manatee response groups to determine what assets were available, what resources they needed, and how I could assist them in getting ready.  The wildlife folks in this area are a tremendous group.  Even in the face of this huge spill, everyone has been very positive, energetic and proactive.  Couldn’t ask for more.

The next order of business was to finalize a guidance Wildlife Response Plan to add to the spill’s Incident Action Plan.  This is needed to make sure the Unified Command (e.g., the big bosses) understood the extent of our operations, where we were going, and what our overall objectives were going to be.  As the team was waiting for me to add much of the mammal/turtle aspects, that was a furiously active writing/editing exercise!  But we got it done, into the Plan, with more edits (I am sure) to come tomorrow as the spill progresses.

Two of the current challenges that Rhonda, Heidi and I are working on relate to two familiar themes to us in California: required health and safety training requirements for wildlife personnel, and the use of volunteers in this spill.  We are hopeful that we can work through these issues tomorrow so that the response can continue to progress.

On the subject of volunteers, thank you to everyone who has offered support, assistance, fundraising and hands-on help so far! As we are still at the initial phases of the response, with bird facilities being established and search and collection efforts waiting for impacts to occur (we still have only the several sperm whales spotted in the slick as “effects” on larger wildlife to date), right now the efforts are still very much in the planning and readiness phase.  This could change very rapidly however; especially if (and/or when) the oil reaches shore.  Please stay updated on the spill efforts by checking the spill response pages, as well as this blog, and I will make sure that the info is updated as quickly as possible once additional assistance is needed.

Well, I meant for this to be a short blog entry but it ended up being more therapeutic for me to write it than I anticipated (and it can’t have anything to do with being up 36 hrs or so).  That and I can sense Kaiti and Alison both saying “Enough already!”.  I promise for the next ones to be shorter, and will try and snap some photos for visual interest (my camera is still buried in my suitcase).

Looking forward to seeing the IBRRC crew tomorrow before they head to the facility being developed in Venice.  Tomorrow will be a very telling day as to how the rest of the response will go, so stay tuned!

– Mike

3 thoughts on “Scenes From The Front: Day 1 of the Deepwater Horizon

  1. The environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sinking into the Gulf of Mexico will be felt for years to come. The financial impact is already being felt.

    As it sunk, the rig began spilling tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the water per day. Nearly a half-million gallons have already spilled and the toll could be worse than that of the Valdez accident.

    Fears are that oil from the well on the sea floor will begin making its way to the surface. Just 41 miles from the coast, the rig is situated so that this incident has brought a lot of business to a halt on the seas, and for those who depend on the Gulf along the shores. As the slick spreads across the Gulf, more and more business is impacted each day. This delay is likely to total in the millions of dollars until the site is cleaned.

    And clearly, the impact of sea life in the Gulf is immediate and could be felt for years. Those waters serve as home to numerous fish species and shellfish like shrimp, mussels and oysters we find at markets. Not only is it next to impossible to farm these animals under such conditions, the water quality is sure to be jeopardized by the massive oil spill.

    Please read this site for more information on the environmental and economic damages this explosion, fire and spill have caused: http://www.oil-rig-explosions.com/

  2. Dr. Ziccardi – what’s the best way local folks with applicable skills can volunteer and get involved with the field work efforts?

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