Oil Spill Disaster Recovery – June 29 – Deja Vu all over again

Since both crisis response and consequence management for the BP Oil Spill Disaster are being handled under the National Contingency Plan (NCP), rather than under the under the Stafford Act and the Presidential Disaster Declaration process, the Coast Guard, EPA, and NOAA are the lead actors.  DHS/FEMA do not have a lead role, but do have a supporting role.

Now that we are in the recovery phases, neither the NCP nor the lead agencies have any experience, nor much regulatory guidance, in how to do consequence management. As a result, they are inventing the recovery process as they go along. Some of us have been wondering why the Administration has chosen not to involve FEMA, which does in fact have experience and guidelines for dealing with affected citizens, businesses, and municipalities.

One more manifestation of the problem of inexperience is how to deal with the convergence of volunteers wanting to help.  See the article titled Extended hands left idle in gulf recovery; gung-ho but untrained, volunteers hit a wall in helping mitigation oil spill. [Wash. Post, June 29.] Once again,  experienced disaster hands know a convergence of volunteers is an expected activity in the aftermath of a disaster.  They are not easy to manage, but there are techniques and precedents for doing so. (Similarly, one can expect a convergence of media and of researchers.)

In short — why are we not using the federal response and recovery frameworks now in place for a Presidential Disaster Declaration (used for post-Katrina recovery) and instead put agencies with
no experience in charge of recovery?

2 thoughts on “Oil Spill Disaster Recovery – June 29 – Deja Vu all over again

  1. Blame the lawyers at DHS and FEMA and DOJ and note the Coasties seem not to understand the short and long term consequences now occurring on land, including economic fallout. While I don’t always agree with their point of view I do agree with some of the points made by Heritage Foundation staff in their report on the spill released on June 15th which you cited previously in your blog.

    What is clear is that the Obama Administration believes BP is too big to fail and will support that decision any way possible including back door financing. Thus, only post event analysis is likely to reveal why the BP catastrophe was aggravated by all those taking political donations from BP! Personally I believe by LABOR DAY the paradigm for this event will be substantially different as BP disappears from the ranks of the large energy companies and “too big to fail” corporations. It does appear that international politics are also at play and suspect the UK has told Obama it will reimburse the US for its BP catastrophe costs to the extent BP was obligated. Legally of course we still don’t have the written version of the $20B pledge by BP, nor do we understand the willingness of the Administration to play with the ultimate economic viability of five Gulf states. Time will tell.

  2. A few of us merely wonder why the cooperative truths discovered some time ago by the US Army (see Bradford and Brow, America’s Army: A Model for Interagency Cooperation, Praeger 2008) have not dawned yet upon the rest of the federal government. It seems that historically whatever the Armed Forces invented worked well in the civilian world once appropriately adapted to the latter’s realities. On the other hand, almost nothing that civilians invented worked really well in the realm of military operations. There is, thus, a lesson there. Or, maybe, we just do not have people in the government who are either smart enough to learn from past experiences, or like Otto von Bismarck – from the experience of others. Either way, we have a bit of a costly problem at hand that, unless handled decisively (please, please, PLEASE, get us General Honore in command of the entire Gulf operation), will not be solved by the expedient of studious application of well proven fallacies. So, tally-ho girls and boys, start using your heads rather than the hallowed bureaucratic process of DC: each time you do the latter we fail! Oh, and incidentally, I have NOT served in the US Armed Forces. Had to make that clarification, what with my belief in their capabilities and operational efficiency. Never mind, you know, the entire posse comitatus business when the entire cast can be ruined for years to come, and keep in mind that the Guard are actually the CITIZEN soldiers!

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