Oil from the ill-fated British Petroleum (BP) leased Horizon Deepwater rig continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico – the massive oil slick already contaminating the coastline of several Gulf States, injuring wildlife, and threatening to evolve into an unprecedented ecological disaster. In the over forty days since the leak first began, both BP and U.S. government agencies have been ineffective at mitigating the effects of this accident. Recent reports, however, suggest this didn’t need to be the case; that the U.S. government should have been better prepared to handle such an accident if it had truly learned from readiness exercises conducted over the past eight years.
Investigations by The Center for Public Integrity and ABC News revealed the U.S. government conducted oil response drills in 2002, 2004, 2007, and 2010. These drills revealed several concerns regarding the United States’ preparedness to handle such an accident including inexperience, poor communications, and conflicting roles.1 The investigation also showed these vulnerabilities went uncorrected; resulting in diminished effectiveness of the government’s response when the actual accident occurred.2, 3
Large scale exercises involving multiple government agencies are often incredibly expensive and highly disruptive – though not as expensive as the events they seek to prevent or mitigate. Not acting to eliminate deficiencies identified during these learning events is simply irresponsible. Unfortunately, the impact of this negligent behavior is only now being recognized – far too late to for those irreparably harmed by the BP oil leak.
StrategyDriven Recommended Practices
Self assessments and other activities identifying emergency response vulnerabilities are nearly worthless unless organization leaders act to resolve deficiencies and improve subsequent performance. Without this corrective action, unnecessary uncertainty knowingly persists.
Whether developing the response to a newly identified risk or an opportunity to improve existing response plans, organization leadership should consider implementation of the following actions to ensure their organization is ready to appropriately respond when an adverse event occurs:
Contingency Planning and Response Readiness
- Prioritize and act on assessment findings. Companies don’t have the unlimited resources needed to pursue every opportunity and preventative measure. However, actions to mitigate or prevent shortfalls that represent significant risk to the organization should be funded, acted upon, and monitored for ongoing success.
- Put in place those mechanisms that will help your organization mitigate, transfer, and avoid risk realization. Every company should have a portfolio of contingency plans to deal with adverse circumstances and marketplace opportunities. Also consider adding contingency plans to deal with the adverse impacts brought on by another company’s actions if the significance of those impacts warrants such action.
- Prestage personnel, procedures, materials, and tools to respond to events as they occur. To be effective, a response must be timely. Prestaging personnel, procedures, and materials enables an organization to mobilize quickly when an undesired event occurs.
- Conduct follow-up maintenance and inventory checks of prestaged procedures and materials. Regulations and policies become change and methodologies become outdated necessitating the periodic review and updating of prestaged procedures. Likewise, materials spoil (exceed their expiration date) and tools need periodic servicing to maintain their effectiveness. And all of these items are at risk of being misplaced, lost, or stolen which demands periodic inventories be taken and replacements made as needed.
- Practice, practice, practice. Practice provides experience which drives response readiness. Additionally, changes to procedures and new personnel create the need for refresher and initial training.
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- “Training Exercises Showed Gaps in Government Preparedness Before BP Oil Spill – Inexperience, Poor Communications, Conflicting Roles Cited,” John Solomon and Aaron Mehta, The Center for Public Integrity, May 11, 2010 (http://www.publicintegrity.org/articles/entry/2079/)
- “Before the Gulf Oil Spill, U.S. Training Exercises Revealed Preparation Gaps,” Matthew Richmond, Fair Warning, May 17, 2010 (http://www.fairwarning.org/2010/05/before-the-gulf-oil-spill-u-s-training-exercises-revealed-preparation-gaps/)
- “Coast Guard officials told of potential oil spill response problems years ago,” Ben Raines, Alabama Live, May 21, 2010 (http://blog.al.com/live/2010/05/coast_guard_officials_have_kno.html)