Pipeline P00547 Incident: More Reflections from the ICP

Hi All – A few thoughts on the first week of this response from my view. First off – OWCN is amazing, and the excellence and passion shown by everyone supporting this response has been obvious to all. Thank you! And thank you to all who stayed back and took on all the responsibilities of those who were deployed. The partnership of OSPR and OWCN staff is powerful. The two organizations are different in many ways, but share and embrace the same commitment to best achievable capture and care. We work hand-in-hand. In the ICP, the Wildlife team has candid conversations about strategy and staffing, and we have always been able to efficiently get to agreement. The Reconnaissance, Recovery, Field Stabilization, and Care and Processing Groups have similarly been solutions-focused and totally flexible to do what’s needed. 

I was first notified of an incident Saturday morning. My phone blew up with a flood of conversations by voice, email, and text; then total silence. From experience, that told me that something significant was happening and that everyone was either traveling or head-down focused on work, way too busy to talk anymore. I packed a bag just in case.

On Sunday morning when we arrived at the first ICP, there were about 35 of us crammed in a corner office and a break room. It was chaotic with so much to do and so little space to do it. I relocated a garbage can and recycling bin and secured a small table near the sink for Mike Z and I to get started. Response vessels had been deployed at first light, and our two amazing care facilities were gearing up. One week later, the response team was up to 1200 people. That’s a crazy fast expansion, and it was exactly what was needed. As the oil made its way south over the week, our Recovery Teams were covering 70 miles of shoreline; same for oil cleanup and SCAT; we needed a big team. 10,000 people have signed up to volunteer and a local restaurant, of their own volition, raised funds and cooked and delivered meals to the Field Stabilization facility staff.

Speaking of food…in the second ICP it was bad (not sure what the turkey-like substance was on the Thanksgiving plate). Vegetarians have been provided lots of options like taking the meat out of the hamburger and eating the bun and lettuce. However, the form and function of the ICP for spill response rapidly matured. All the branches and units got organized and started communicating with each other and their counterparts in the field. Hand-written signs popped up on all the walls sharing who was where. The Unified Command directed objectives. The Liaison and PIO/JIC spun up to address the overwhelming media, political, and public interest. As the Wildlife Branch Director, at least two hours a day was consumed in media and elected official responses; and with visits by the Governor, Lt. Governor, State and Federal Congressional representatives, and a myriad of local elected officials, sometimes the demand was twice that. I was so grateful to have super-star Mike Ziccardi there to do the heavy lifting with the VIPs.

Sam Christie, Care Strike Team Leader, with Fox 11 News

We’ve been working 14-hour days, generally from 6:30am to 8:30pm. After work, some people meet for a social hour downstairs in the hotel where we can unwind and smile for a while. Sitting with Jordan Stout (NOAA SSC) and Mike Z., we compare and (BS about) overlapping events since 1994 (my first response). At other tables I sit with folks experiencing their first major response. Some parts of the conversation are the same, we talk about compounding stress and exhaustion and how it slowly creeps in the mind and body. For the new and the old-timers, it’s not uncommon for tears to well up at some point. It’s intense work that we do.

Then I’m off to bed, certain that I can’t stay awake a moment longer, but when I close my eyes, my mind races with all the things I could be doing, that need to be done tomorrow, and wondering why am I sleeping when there are animals out there who need help. But ultimately exhaustion wins, on Wednesday morning I woke up with the lights on, fully dressed, on top of the bed; I must have sat down and fallen asleep in the same motion. 

Thank you to all of you in the OWCN family. You’re part of something very special and your efforts are meaningful and appreciated.

Here is a typical Wildlife Branch Organizational Chart from this past week

Greg McGowan – CDFW OSPR

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