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Will you dominate your next oil spill response?

July 15, 2013 - Posted by Dr. Scott Harris

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Rapid dominance of your response is way more than just getting there quick or having a lot of really cool stuff with you when you arrive. Current or former military readers (thank you) already know this term. The military doctrine of "rapid dominance" requires four things:

  • Near-total understanding of participants and the operational environment;
  • Management of the operational environment;
  • Timeliness in application; and
  • Operational brilliance in execution

If you are doing these things, you are winning. If you are not doing these four things, someone else is winning. It's no different in our emergency response world. Drawn from many years on all sides, my key points for dominating the response:

  • Master the NCP. These are the rules of engagement for responding agencies and RPs. If you cannot keep up in an NCP conversation with your FOSC, you are toast, plain and simple. Everyone must know their roles and authorities. When can an FOSC intentionally destroy your vessel? Can he or she direct your assets? When can you say no? Who is paying for all of this and how much? What do they mean by "oversight"?
  • RPs and OSROs must speak fluent NIMS and ICS. Own your boxes in the response structure or someone else will, and those names will be on the 207 instead of yours. If that happens, you will not be making the decisions that come from those boxes. Put the right people in the right boxes.
  • Establish and maintain operational awareness. All strategic decisions are made by the UC beginning with establishing response objectives and organization structure and agreeing on operating policy, procedures and guidelines (the “Planning P”). You are either shaping those decisions or getting run over by them. Maintain a strong presence in the UC and obsess over data and data management. Everything from personnel counts and assignments to waste management to environmental impact, safety and work progress will be displayed and questioned 24/7. Your job in the UC is to demonstrate continually that you have a firm grip on what is going on and that the job is getting done. The demand for data will be relentless, and lack of information kills in every way possible.
  • Early intervention on everything. If it looks like it might become a problem, it already is. Oil spills are always worse than first thought or reported. Always. Over-respond at every opportunity. Trying to save money with a minimal response assures failure.

In advocating rapid dominance of the response, do I mean trying to overpower or outmaneuver the response agencies to flank or bully them? You could not do that if you tried. Instead, it is a simple matter of expectations and your ability to deliver.

Large responses require the coordinated and integrated effort of potentially thousands of personnel. Response agencies may stand-up hundreds of well-trained personnel focused on exactly one thing: restoring order from chaos in a linear, efficient manner. They expect you to do the same, and their judgment of your ability to supply and lead that effort will take only minutes.

If you’ve mastered the NCP, you already know that the RP is the lead on a response unless and until the response agency says otherwise. Their FOSC will talk to your representative related to my four points (above) and conclude immediately one way or the other as to your ability to do that. If judged unwilling or unable to take appropriate action – it’s their call – leadership of the response is lost along with most of your opportunities to control strategy or cost. This can occur even before arriving at the site based on circumstances and the initial information you provide them as to your capabilities and intentions.

Regardless of who eventually does what and how, the release will stop and recovery will take place. Response agencies have a duty to compel appropriate action by the RP, and they have many ways to do that. Billing triple for OSLTF response costs is only one. Good luck filing an insurance claim for hundreds of millions of dollars where costs were amplified due to your own failure to perform (as in “What do you mean by ‘not covered?’”).

Go big, establish dominance, execute brilliantly and then demobe what you don't need. It will save you money every time, and it will save you from shame and disgrace in the media and the community. Anything less will be the next case study in failed large response management.

I did not explain any of the acronyms in this article. The response agencies won’t either.

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