Swanson River spill drill brings agencies together for mock response

An ounce of prevention ...

Posted: Sunday, October 15, 2000

Preparation and readiness were the focus of a spill drill conducted last week.

Several peninsula agencies came together Wednesday for a Unocal Alaska Oil and Gas spill drill. The purpose of the drill was to test deployment procedures and identify potential training needs in the event of any spill that could impact the environment, said Lloyd Richardson, emergency response coordinator for Alaska Oil and Gas.

Participants in the drill worked from 8:15 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. preparing and arranging the spill response equipment at the Swanson River site.

It was hands-on education for all companies and agencies involved, he said. About 25 men and woman participated in the instant command structure, including representatives from Cook Inlet Spill Prevention and Response Inc., the United States Coast Guard, Alaska departments of Environmental Conservation and Fish and Game and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

At Swanson River, the operations deployment team, consisting of about 15 workers, actually deployed equipment as it would have in the event of a real spill, Richardson said.

Large floating devices, called booms, were used to collect foreign material in the river. Spilled material gathers behind the boom, enabling workers to skim it off the water.

Because no foreign substance was in the river, the first boom was placed in Swanson River at a 30-degree angle, forcing only grass, leaves and river foam to the edge of the river bank, Richardson said.

Two more booms were placed at the south bridge of the river to collect any substance that may have passed the first boom, he said.

The last boom, called a sheen boom, was placed in the river for the collection of any remaining thin film from a spilled substance.

National Preparedness for Response Exercise Program regulations require that full deployment drills are practiced every three years, but, Richardson said, Alaska Oil and Gas has had a drill every year since 1998. Simulations were done at Trading Bay in 1998 and at Lewis River in 1999.

Richardson said being prepared is ideal for being in a state of readiness for an immediate deployment to minimize environmental impact to the environment.

The cost of the day's simulations was approximately $60,000, but Richardson called it a small price to pay for the preparation gained from the activities.

The spill drill and other drills like it help responders not to be caught off guard in case of a real spill emergency.

"They have got to think on their feet and prepare for the real thing," he said. "It's fun, but it is challenging to develop realistic scenarios of things that could potentially happen."

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