StrategyDriven Editorial Perspective – Creating Event Certainty, part 3 of 3

No event response plan is even worth the paper it is written on if not promptly and properly executed. And while an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 barrels (840,000 to 1,680,000 gallons) of oil gush into the Gulf of Mexico per day1, more questions arise about the appropriateness of British Petroleum (BP) and the U.S. government’s response to the crisis.


“A good plan violently executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

George S. Patton (1885 – 1945)
General, United States Army


 
Appropriateness of Action

After persistent questioning by the U.S. State Department Press Corp, it came to light in early May that while at least thirteen countries have offered to assist in the Gulf of Mexico cleanup the U.S. government is not accepting most of this support. The countries named by the U.S. State Department as offering support include: Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The U.S. State Department notice characterized the assistance as being offers that “include experts in various aspects of oil spill impacts, research and technical expertise, booms, chemical oil dispersants, oil pumps, skimmers, and wildlife treatment.” However, this notice also stated, “While there is no need right now that the U.S. cannot meet, the U.S. Coast Guard is assessing these offers of assistance to see if there will be something which we will need in the near future.”2

Over a month later, Fox News reported that the U.S. government has accepted some foreign assistance including:

  • Canada’s offer of 3,000 meters of containment boom
  • Three sets of COSEZ sweeping arms from the Dutch
  • Mexico’s offer of two skimmers and 4,200 meters of boom
  • Norway’s offer of 8 skimming systems

More important is what is not in use, namely the world’s best oil skimming ships from Belgium, the Netherlands, and Norway because of their non-compliance with the Jones Act, a 1920’s protectionist law aimed at benefiting labor unions. While the George W. Bush Administration waived the Jones Act requirements in order to accept foreign assistance following the Hurricane Katrina Disaster, the Obama Administration has indicated no such intentions in dealing with the BP Oil Spill Crisis.3

Failure of the Obama Administration to waive the Jones Act requirements and welcome Belgian, Dutch, and Norwegian oil skimmers to defend the shores of the United States is inexcusable. Compounding this issue is the lack of command leadership being exercised by both President Obama and Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen. Admiral Allen is quoted as saying, “if it gets to the point where a Jones Act waiver is required, we’re willing to do that too. Nobody has come to me with a request for a Jones Act waiver.” As the Incident Commander, Admiral Allen is solely responsible to make the decision on whether or not to make a waiver request. He is responsible to exercise command judgment, not wait on a subordinate or outsider to provide him with his opinion or direction. With the oil leak ongoing, an estimated 39,525,000+ gallons of oil leaked4, 840,000 to 1,680,000 gallons more oil entering the Gulf daily, failing oil booms5, a marginally effective BP well cap6, and only 320,000 gallons of oil skimmed7 add up to the common sense solution that President Obama and Admiral Allen need to act now to waive the Jones Act and invite our global allies to assist with the Gulf Oil Spill recovery effort.

As with almost all events, these inappropriate actions only serve to intensify the severity of damage being done to the people, businesses, and environment of the Gulf States.

Timeliness of Action

Timely actions mitigate events and prevent the promulgation of adverse effects. In countries such as the Netherlands, oil companies are given 12 hours to appropriately respond to an oil leak before the government takes over and the oil company presented ‘the bill.’ This, however, is not the case in the United States where BP’s response has, in several cases, been inexcusably slow8 with no or delayed government intervention.

From the beginning, BP and the U.S government were slow to respond to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It was 12 days before the relief well, cited by many experts as the key to stopping the leak, was started.9 And once one well capping method is deemed unsuccessful, it is several days before the next method is tried.10 Clearly, BP nor the U.S. government appears to have been fully prepared to implement their oil spill response plans and once implemented are doing so far too slowly.

StrategyDriven Recommended Practices

Risk response relies as much upon the proper and timely execution of the mitigation plan as it does development of the plan itself. All too often, executives and managers become penny wise and pound foolish; focusing too much on the cost of the event’s mitigation rather than on mitigating the event itself. Those falling prey to this temptation typically find their organization’s mitigation timeline extended and their costs soaring.

Whether responding to an isolated incident such as the unexpected resignation of a key resource or a global impacting event like the BP Oil Spill, StrategyDriven recommends executives and managers consider the following event response principles:

Event Response

  1. Promptly execute the in place risk mitigation, transference, and avoidance mechanisms. The in place plan, conceived by the most experienced minds in a stress-free environment, cannot help alleviate the event’s negative impacts if not implemented – timely execution is critical to curtailing the damage. While executing the plan, allow flexibility to address unique circumstances.
  2. Always be looking ahead… assume failure and prepare to perform the next several response actions in parallel. Transitioning from one phase of a plan to another takes precious time. Assuming that current efforts will fail and prestaging the personnel, procedures, materials, components, tools, and equipment to executive several subsequent phases eliminates this wait time thereby accelerating the event response efforts which in-turn help reduce the overall negative impact incurred.
  3. Accept outside assistance as appropriate. Some outside assistance may be truly unnecessary, inappropriate, and distracting. However, legitimate offers of assistance from knowledgeable and experienced persons should be accepted so to shorten the response and recovery time frame and/or mitigate negative outcomes.
  4. Communicate constructively and proactively with the press, public, and stakeholders. People fear the unknown; and during times of crisis, the unknown creates vast unnecessary uncertainty. Remaining as transparent as possible by openly communicating known event conditions and mitigating actions as clearly and accurately as possible helps reduce the unknown and generates good will.
  5. Constructively assist in the incident recovery – even if the event is not your direct responsibility. As responsible members of the broader local and global community, we should reasonably assist others in the mitigation of significant events if we possess the talent, knowledge, methods, and/or equipment to do so.
  6. Seek legal counsel. We live in a litigious society. Whether the event is or is not your organization’s responsibility, it is often prudent to seek legal counsel to ensure your and your company’s rights are protected.

Final Thoughts…

For four weeks, we have commented on the failures of British Petroleum and the U.S. government in responding to the Gulf Oil Spill. Based on this example, we have recommended several actions be taken by leaders to ready their organization and better respond to significant events should they occur.

Johnson & Johnson’s handling of The Tylenol Crisis of 1982 stands as an example of effective crisis management. For a brief review of that event and Johnson & Johnson’s response, we suggest reading: The Tylenol Crisis, 1982 by Effective Crisis Management.11

StrategyDriven wishes to thank the people and companies of Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom for their offers of assistance in the BP Oil Spill recovery effort. We also extend our appreciation to the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard and the Gulf States for their effort to contain the spill and protect our country from its harmful impacts.

Final Request…

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Sources

  1. “BP Oil Leak Rate Called 8 Times Worse Than Earlier Estimate,” David Muir and Bradley Blackburn, ABC News, June 10, 2010 (http://abcnews.go.com/WN/Media/bp-oil-spill-federal-panel-flow-rate-worse/story?id=10881441)
  2. “U.S. not accepting foreign help on oil spill,” Josh Rogin, Foreign Policy, May 6, 2010 (http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/05/06/us_not_accepting_foreign_help_on_oil_spill)
  3. “Jones Act Slowing Oil Spill Cleanup?” Brian Wilson, Fox News, June 10, 2010 (http://liveshots.blogs.foxnews.com/2010/06/10/jones-act-slowing-oil-spill-cleanup/)
  4. “How Much Oil Has Leaked Into the Gulf of Mexico?” Chris Amico, PBS, May 9, 2010 (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2010/05/how-much-oil-has-spilled-in-the-gulf-of-mexico.html)
  5. “Containment boom effort comes up short in BP oil spill,” Peter Grier, The Christian Science Monitor, June 11, 2010 (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0611/Containment-boom-effort-comes-up-short-in-BP-oil-spill)
  6. “BP Oil Spill Cap helps slow Gulf oil spill: Will it work?” Cheryl Phillips, Examiner, June 6, 2010 (http://www.examiner.com/x-22397-Providence-Business-Headlines-Examiner~y2010m6d6-BP-Oil-Spill-Cap-helps-slow-Gulf-oil-spill)
  7. “Containment boom effort comes up short in BP oil spill,” Peter Grier, The Christian Science Monitor, June 11, 2010 (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0611/Containment-boom-effort-comes-up-short-in-BP-oil-spill)
  8. “Steffy: U.S. and BP slow to accept Dutch expertise,” Loren Steffy, Houston Chronicle, June 8, 2010 (http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/business/steffy/7043272.html)
  9. “Spill relief well draws scrutiny, fears,” Greg Bluestein and Jason Dearen, Associated Press, June 13, 2010 (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/37674027/ns/disaster_in_the_gulf)
  10. “’Top kill’ fails to stop Gulf oil leak, new plan readied,” The Economic Times, May 30, 2010 (http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/5990458.cms)
  11. “The Tylenol Crisis, 1982,” Effective Crisis Management, 2002 (http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/Fall02/Susi/tylenol.htm)
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