Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 14, 2010

NYT: Efforts to Repel Gulf Oil Spill Are Described as Chaotic

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on June 14, 2010

For readers of Homeland Security Watch there is an important report in the New York Times.  Don’t miss: “Efforts to Repel Gulf Oil Spill Are Described as Chaotic”.    It is a helpful overview of the readiness and response issues HLSwatch has been addressing since April.  Implications for NIMS abound.

Here’s an excerpt, just to give you a sense of the issues being addressed:

The contingency plan for southeast Louisiana, which was drawn up by a committee led by the Coast Guard and a state representative, specifically mentions the possibility of a blowout and includes a worst case of a million-barrel spill, which is significantly short of even conservative estimates of the current spill.

But like other federal plans, it does not anticipate the possibility that the leak could continue for weeks. It concludes, for example, that such a spill would require the use of 38,400 gallons of dispersant, or roughly 3 percent of what has been applied in the last two months.

The BP plans do consider an uncontrolled blowout, one that releases 240,000 barrels a day into the gulf for at least 100 days — far worse than the current spill.

In the event of such an enormous spill, according to these plans, “no significant adverse impacts are expected” to beaches, wetlands or coast-dwelling birds.

In the New York Times piece the key “operational” issues are set out.   From a preparedness-and-response perspective you might even call these strategic issues.  But from the perspective of national policy-making I would argue the continuum is something like this:

Tactical – How is the immediate threat of the oil spill being managed?  How is the damage being contained?  How are we assisting those communities and individuals being harmed?  How are we progressing — what more do we need to do — to stop the spill?

Operational – What are the implications of this experience for current standards and practice in terms of risk assessment, risk readiness, regulation, public-private partnerships, preparedness and response capacity, and homeland security doctrine?

Strategic – What does the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon and its aftermath tell us regarding national energy policy, environmental policy, and what we mean when we bandy about the word “resilience”? What are our goals and when these goals conflict, how do we resolve the conflict… and why is this our choice?

In any case, this is the framework I will be using when I listen to the President on Tuesday night.

Updated for further consideration:

Documents from the June 15 hearing of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Energy and Environment (intermittently not available, probably due to high demand)

US oil firms ‘unprepared’ for major offshore disaster (BBC)

Oil spill makes unlikely partners of BP and federal government (Washington Post)

Obama to outline oil plans in first Oval Office speech (CNN)

Obama’s personal decision to focus on the spill (MSNBC)

Obama to detail Gulf Coast recovery (Wall Street Journal)

June 15 Remarks by President at Pensacola (White House)

Obama on oil spill: “This is an assault on our shores.”  (USA Today)

White House transcript of June 15 Pensacola speech

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Comment by Arnold Bogis

June 15, 2010 @ 1:01 pm

Very interesting breakdown of the Gulf situation, thank you.

One small correction, however, in that I believe the President’s address is tonight at 8pm EST, not Wednesday.

Comment by Philip Palin

June 15, 2010 @ 2:07 pm

Arnold, thanks for the catch. I have corrected on the front page. Stupid mistake.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

June 16, 2010 @ 12:36 am

Finally got around to the reading the article first mentioned in this post.


Seriously. As mentioned, so indirectly insightful on the apparent failings of NIMS in this situation. The focus of the reporting is elsewhere, but so many good nuggets come through to lead me to believe a serious rethinking of the foundations of national preparedness and response in this country is warranted.

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Tara: The bodhisattva of risk management

July 29, 2010 @ 5:10 am

[…] chaos.  In any case, because they (we) had not fully engaged the complexity of the context, they (we) were not ready to act, sense, and respond  to the chaos.  We  were ill-prepared to manage the risk we had unthinkingly […]

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