5/16/17: IOSC 2017 – Opening plenary session – Prevent, Prepare, Respond & Restore

Editor’s note: Coast Guard Director of Incident Management and Preparedness Ms. Dana Tulis participated in the opening plenary session for this year’s International Oil Spill Conference in Long Beach, California. Panelists were presented with several prepared questions related to this year’s conference theme: Prevent, Prepare, Respond, Restore. Following is a condensed version of Ms. Tulis’s remarks. These remarks are not ‘as delivered’ but provide a condensed version of the panel highlights in the ‘panel-conversational’ style.

The plenary was moderated by ExxonMobil’s Greg DeMarco and included Becki Clark, deputy director of EPA’s Office of Emergency Management; Nicole LeBoeuf, NOAA’s deputy assistant administrator; and Linda Daugherty, deputy associate administrator for field operations, Office of Pipeline Safety, Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration.

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Do you feel we are making progress in international spill response?

IOSC gives us the opportunity to be creative and innovative and to learn from each other. One example is technology. In the Coast Guard, we’re working on a new project using artificial intelligence and the various other data points from a response to figure out where exactly you put your resources. One of the lessons learned from Deepwater Horizon, and I think most of you would agree with me, is to recognize that placing boom all along the coast line is not the most effective way to respond to a large scale incident. That’s simply one tactic available to responders. Instead, we are taking all the spill intelligence data available — trajectories, weather, ocean characteristics — to give us a holistic view that allows us to identify the best strategy for staging and deploying response equipment during large scale incidents. The Coast Guard will continue to take this approach to the next level.

How do you feel participation in IOSC benefits oil spill prevention, preparedness and response within the international oil spill community?

As we all know, pollution knows no borders, and the time to hand out business cards is not in the middle of a response. The Coast Guard recognizes that IOSC is critical to build relationships with our international partners. We have so much to learn from each other. We’ve developed multiple international bilateral response agreements with Canada, Russia, and Mexico, which we are currently updating, and we’re also working on an agreement with Cuba. You probably know the Coast Guard is the U.S. representative on the Arctic Council. We have a multilateral agreement via the Arctic Council EPPR Working Group to address oil spill response in the Arctic. We recently competed a three-stage tabletop exercise to demonstrate how we can leverage each others capabilities. We’ve also been learning from Russia about their ice breakers and their ability to collect and pump oil. IOSC is an important opportunity to pursue these relationships.

What do you feel are some of our greatest accomplishments or advancements in terms of oil spill preparedness and response?

I have a two-part answer. First, Deepwater Horizon comes up a lot, as it should, because the lessons learned are very important and because the federal government has made great strides since then. For example, after Deepwater, the Coast Guard added positions throughout our organizational structure dedicated to incident management preparedness. My position is one of them. BSEE issued a number of very important regulations focused specifically on the Outer Continental Shelf and blow out preventers. NOAA has made some really great advancements understanding the impacts of dispersants. The maritime industry has also ensured expansive response capabilities in the Gulf of Mexico, which did not exist before Deepwater. The whole oil spill community really came together after Deepwater and as a result the capabilities we have now are incredible. We’re far from being finished, but the improvements we’ve made are certainly notable.

The second thing I’d like to mention is the critical role of the Incident Command System. ICS started in the 1970s in the fire fighting community. The Coast Guard adopted ICS in 1991 after the Exxon Valdez response in 1989, and we started integrating ICS large scale after that. By 1996, use of ICS within the Coast Guard was mandatory for incident management and by 2003 FEMA issued an instruction that it was to be used throughout the federal government. The Coast Guard created the incident ‘Planning P’ and the Incident Management Handbook. We’ve developed an ICS app for use on mobile devices and we’ve developed incident management software to generate ICS forms. We also teach 4,700 students in 120 courses, annually. ICS has really become a way of life for us everyday.

How can we do a better job of communicating these accomplishments to the public?

We have to build confidence during peaceful times and reassure the public that we are public servants and that we’re here for them, above all else. During contingency operations, you’ll find our public affairs professionals, like the Public Information Assist Team, in the joint information center, making sure we’re all providing accurate information to the public.

Several ways the Coast Guard educates and informs the public during non-contingency operations are through our use of the various social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook and through our official blogs. Our Hollywood liaison office works with the film and television industry to bring the Coast Guard to the entertainment world.

We’re very fortunate to have these opportunities, but one that I think is most important is focusing on future oil spill response professionals. We have 30 high school students here as part of a program focusing on promoting interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This is the best form of communication we have. They know how to use current technology and this is the generation that’s going to make everything change, everything better. We need to foster their interest and help shape the future of oil spill response.

What are the greatest challenges in the future related oil spill prevention, preparedness, response and restoration?

In the Coast Guard we have an expression: if you’ve been to one port, you’ve been to one port. I think we can apply the same sentiment in the oil spill response context by recognizing that if you’ve been to one response, then you’ve been to one response. They’re all different and each presents a unique set of circumstances that we must alter our perceptions to deal with. Despite our preparations and planning, we can never predict every possible disaster scenario. I take comfort in the fact that we are more prepared today than we ever have been. For example, our forward-leaning approach for Hurricane Matthew was impressive. We’ve made improvements in Area Contingency Planning, the Endangered Species Act, and technical innovations, but the fact remains that there will always be something unknown. U.S. energy production is moving at an astonishing pace. Over the past decade, shipments of crude oil products [through the Great Lakes alone] have increased by 5,000 percent. So how do we combat the unknowns in a fast-moving environment like that? We push partnerships, we use ICS, we continually look for better risk assessment and mitigation strategies. We work together within the oil spill response community to continue improving, while recognizing that we may not be able to predict every possible contingency.

This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.

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