AS first oil is now only months away, Guyana is ramping up emergency response training to ensure it is prepared for any worst-case scenarios. More than 100 people participated in a two-day training session last week to prepare for rapid response and management in the event of a spill. Representatives from the Civil Defence Commission (CDC), Maritime Administration Department (MARAD) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) trained alongside employees of the companies drilling in the Stabroek Block.
It is industry practice to hold emergency response training, despite the fact that the chances of an oil spill are statistically extremely low. Furthermore, the floating production, storage and offloading vessels like those that will be operating offshore are considered best-in-class in terms of safety systems.
Exercises like this help all the relevant government agencies, companies and others familiarize themselves with the spill response plans, learn techniques in managing disaster response from experts and gain experience working alongside personnel from other teams and branches of government.
Exxon’s regional response team and its local personnel were also part of the exercise, which the company organised and funded.
As officials from the CDC told the press, part of the aim of these exercises is to play out scenarios in realistic ways and find any gaps in planning or communication that could pose a problem in a real-life situation. CDC Director General, Lt. Col Kester Craig, told journalists that the exercises could help complement and field test the government’s own response plans.
The latest drill focused on the Incident Command System, or ICS, the organisational hub for responding to any disasters. The ICS would be responsible for dispatching resources and manpower.
According to the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, an ICS is a vital management system “designed to enable effective and efficient domestic incident management by integrating a combination of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications operating within a common organisational structure.”
Oil spill response can require the cooperation of many different agencies, neighbouring countries, companies, environmental groups and more. This makes coordination vital in the execution of actions like search and rescue, monitoring and cleanup. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard maintain a similar ICS. They generally consider five major areas of work: command, operations, planning, logistics, and investigations.
Guyanese representatives participated in an even larger regional exercise in March, held in St. Kitts, that included officials and staff from 15 Caribbean countries: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Barbados, Cuba, Curacao, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela. That event was funded by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a global safety and regulatory body for the shipping industry that is part of the United Nations.
These exercises were conducted in tandem with the government’s efforts to finalize its own National Contingency Plan, which the IMO helped draft. Since agency and company preparedness are already well underway, the finalised version of that plan will be more about putting a version of the plans that are already in place into official government code than drafting something new.
The operating companies themselves also have well-established plans of their own, honed over decades of experience and shaped by experts and researchers in chemistry, ecology, industrial engineering and other fields. Exxon publishes its general oil spill response field manuals online.
These plans often include intensive community-level training, public information and outreach to determine what unique needs local areas are likely to have in the event of a disaster.
Although spills from modern offshore drilling are rare, creating better working relationships between these government agencies and companies help officials respond more effectively and rapidly to all kinds of disasters, both natural and man-made.