San Francisco — A panel of outside experts formed by the commandant of the Coast Guard to study the response to the Cosco Busan oil spill today released the first of two reports it was chartered to produce. The 120-page ‘Phase I’ report looks at the first two weeks of response operations that unfolded in the wake of the Nov. 7 incident. A second report on the entire cleanup operation is due in several months.
The panel was not tasked with determining the cause of the incident and the report deals only with preparedness and response to the spill. The report contains 59 recommendations related to preparedness, and 79 aimed at improving response operations. These range from relatively simple ideas, such as making oiled wildlife reporting hotlines easier to access, to changes in spill response operations and research on remote sensing technology for detecting spills in low visibility conditions.
“We welcome this initial report from the review team,” said Rear Adm. Craig Bone, Commander of the 11th Coast Guard District. “We’ve reviewed the recommendations and other information and have mapped out an action plan to implement ideas that will improve our response system. The Coast Guard is already working in conjunction with the cities and counties in the Bay area toward an all hazards, all threats approach to planning, protection, response and recovery,” he said.
Known as an Incident Specific Preparedness Review (ISPR) team, the panel found that despite dense fog in the area, problems encountered by investigators trying to verify the amount of the oil that leaked from the ship, and other communications gaps, the amount of spill response equipment deployed during the first crucial hours exceeded by almost 10 times both state and federal requirements. The report also details the unprecedented outpouring of volunteers and community involvement in direct spill cleanup operations and the efforts of response officials to quickly create and implement safe volunteer programs. Contingency plans in place at the time of the spill specifically barred the use of volunteers for spill cleanup because of health and safety concerns including the handling hazardous materials.
The ISPR panel also found that there was effective early communication and coordination between the unified command and specific local agencies, such as the City of San Francisco Department of Public Health. The local government liaison office within the unified command, however, took several days establish a smooth process for overall coordination with local governments. More emphasis on the liaison function in plans and increased training for liaison staff are recommended in the report.
Today’s press briefing was held in a former Navy officers’ club that was converted into a spill cleanup command post in the days following the spill. Once crowded with hundreds of federal, state, and local response agencies as well as cleanup contractors and support personnel, the building is now nearly deserted as cleanup operations transition to monitoring, spot cleaning, and restoration. Better planning for large scale incident command posts is among the reports recommendations. The ISPR team noted that the rapid response of government agencies and other responders supporting the unified command response operations quickly outgrew two other locations before moving to Treasure Island.
“I appreciate the team’s hard work. They have documented what happened during the response and — without placing blame or pointing fingers — have identified what worked well and areas that can be improved,” Bone said. “Their tone of constructive review and thoughtful analysis will help everyone in the response community improve our capabilities,” he said.
The ISPR team members are:
- State of California Representatives
- Lisa Curtis, administrator, and
- Capt. Paul Hamdorf, patrol captain, California Office of Spill Prevention and response;
- Oil Spill Policy Representative
- Jean R. Cameron, executive coordinator, Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force;
- Environmental Coalition Representatives
- Linda Sheehan, executive director, California Coastkeeper Alliance and
- Deb Self, executive director, San Francisco Baykeeper;
- Industry Representative
- John Berge, Vice President, Pacific Merchant Shipping Association;
- San Francisco City Representatives
- Laura Phillips, executive director, Department of Emergency Management, Division of Emergency Services and
- Rob Dudgeon, EMT-P manager of plans and operations, Department of Emergency Management;
- Scientific Support Coordinator Representative
- Steve Lehmann, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Ocean Service Office of Response and Restoration.
- Rear Adm. Carlton Moore, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve (retired) and former Administrator of California OSPR;
- ISPR team executive assistant and recorder
- Lt. Cmdr. Ross Sargent, ISPR Executive Assistant, Assistant Chief, Operational Law Branch, U.S. Coast Guard Maintenance and Logistics Command, Pacific and
- Lt. Kelly Dietrich, ISPR Recorder, Coast Guard Office of Incident Management and Preparedness.
The following information was used at the press conference:
A copy of the report will also be added at the Coast Guard FOIA Reading room.