CB2: Oil Spill – Not Your Typical Disaster

The oil spill is the largest ecological catastrophe of my lifetime, yet it’s very different than most other disasters. We all care about it some, but it’s hard to care about it as much as other crises on this scale. In this post I will explain why I believe so, then provide my Top 3 Needs (after “cap the damn well” of course).
  • The oil spill presents no immediate threat to the everyday person’s survival, property, ability to communicate, or his fulfill basic needs.
  • Unlike the Eyjafjallajökull (achoo!) volcano which royally screwed up travel throughout Europe, the oil spill isn’t interfering with most people’s lives, apart from some fishermen. It’s not effecting how we act.

  • We don’t see families who have lost everything on TV. We have sympathy for the environment, but generally aren’t compelled donate time, resources or money. If we are, we don’t know where to do it.
  • There’s little news available, and we’re not scrambling for life-saving information. “Is it capped yet?” and “How would Avatar close the well?” dominate the evening news. (aside: this is hilarious)
  • Once oil does hit a beach, it becomes a HAZMAT situation where your local emergency responders will suit up and treat it like a crime scene. We’re not physically close to it either.
  • Relative to other emergencies, the spill is moving more slowly than I do to the gym. There’s lots of time to stage resources and technology.
With all of these factors in mind, here are the Top 3 Needs in my humble opinion:
Need #1: Reporting Where There ISN’T Oil.

I can’t post my fishing exploits here in St. Petersburg, FL on Facebook without someone from my hometown in Philadelphia asking if I can smell oil yet. Can’t see it. Can’t smell it. Not effected by it. Yes, FLORIDA IS OPEN (even most of the panhandle). Our economy relies on tourism, and this Fishing Capital of the World is already seeing fishing trips cancelled as far away as Miami because of the spill. We don’t need citizen oil reporting tools *yet*, we need “Hey, everything is open here!” tools. The last thing Gulf states need are premature economic disasters.
Need #2: Better Information and Analysis
The official Deepwater Horizon site’s news updates provide fact sheets on how much boom has been deployed, when officials are available for interviews, and what hotlines are open. NOAA provides daily maps (reminiscent of hurricane tracking charts) of where the oil is now. Neither provide great analysis on what’s happening or will happen in the days and weeks ahead. Without available analysis, your local news will keep showing live footage of the uncapped well and pelicans being released back into the wild. Who is doing the critical analysis and where can we find it?
Need #3: Comprehensive Plans for Coastal Communities
Every coastal community that could potentially see oil on its beaches needs a plan right now for how they will stop it, contain it, and clean it up. Engage environmental groups, position contracts with boom/dam vendors (disclosure: I moonlight with one), train removal crews, and discuss how you’ll communicate the situation with your constituents. You’ll probably have 2-3 days notice, so plan the actions that would need to happen every 6 hours once you’re on warning.
Website of the Week: GrassrootsMapping.org
When Google Earth’s imagery isn’t recent enough to show where the oil spill is now, what do you do? Fly a camera over it on a kite of course! The awesome folks at Grassroots Mapping can quickly stitch together multiple images to make a same-day view of the spill as its moving on shore. The setup is only a few hundred bucks, but they do need your support. Donate a few bucks or engage them in your town!
Preparedness Tip of the Week
Stored fuel for generators and other equipment deteriorates after about 60 days. Adding a fuel stabilizer (available everywhere) to stored fuel will keep it fresh for 12 months. Remember, NEVER run a generator inside a garage or close to the house. The carbon monoxide will kill you.
Question of the Week
What other needs would you add to my list above?
Factoid About Me

I was one of the first people to see oil wash onshore on the barrier islands of Louisiana. I was invited to work, eat and sleep with the Army National Guard for 2 weeks in early May, documenting their deployment of dams along the beaches. See my pictures here. It was hot and tiring work, but thrilling as we took Blackhawk helicopters to the island every day. We should all be thankful for the men and women in uniform protecting our beaches.

Read Last Week’s CB2: Here I am, rock you like a hurricane.

About Chris Bennett

Chris Bennett is a self-proclaimed emergency management innovator who is trying to make government better by improving citizen preparedness and crisis communications. He’s a graduate of Wharton with a master’s from Harvard with in “Technology, Innovation, Education.” His portfolio of companies and former projects include OneStorm Hurricane Preparedness, ReadyTown, GovLive, TexasPrepares and America’s Emergency Network. Chris was the recipient of FL Governor Crist’s 2008 Public Information Award. He lives in St. Petersburg, FL, loves to fish, and has been spotted sharing a pint with GovLoop Founder Steve Ressler in Tampa.

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Stephen Peteritas

Chris, for number 4 I’d just like to see a going list of everything that’s been done and that they plan to do. Kind of like a playbook. I know that might be a little much but I want to know how long we are trying X before moving to Y and so on and so forth.

Sara Estes Cohen

Chris I’d also like to discuss the implications of the oil spill on a gulf coast hurricane. That may change response times/efforts, etc. (i.e. I read that Mayor Landrieu (new orleans) has said he will call for mandatory evacuations for any hurricane cat 2 or above, depending on the speed of approach.

Chris Bennett

Sara, the best resource for the implications of the oil spill on a hurricane is the National Hurricane Center Report. You can download it here.

Sara Estes Cohen

Thanks! I’ve read it- I’m curious to discuss further the implications on the response efforts themselves.