Page 22: of Maritime Logistics Professional Magazine (Q1 2011)

Maritime Risk

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22 Maritime Professional 1Q 2011

R isk on the waterfront is fact of life. And, a poorly planned response and the loss of goodwill that is often the bottom line result is one sure way to exac- erbate that reality. Three recent disasters aptly illustrate the pitfalls involved and despite their dissimilarities, a way for- ward from which a workable national response policy can be formulated. At least, that’s the way retired U.S. Coast Guard

Commandant ADM Thad Allen sees it. Having successfully imported the “Katrina” response model to Haiti after the dev- astating earthquake there, and using that doctrine in the sub- sequent Deepwater oil spill, Allen has been widely hailed for his collective performance. Shrugging off that praise, the 40- year Coast Guard veteran insists the answers are simpler than that, and way overdue.


It is important to understand the problem, and then deal with it properly, once you do. Thad Allen explains, “Katrina was a hurricane, then we had the levy collapse, and the sub- sequent flooding of the city. Once that happened, we weren’t talking about a hurricane anymore. This was the equivalent of a weapon of mass effect used on the city without criminality.”

The situation contrasted sharply with generically doing hurri- cane response in accordance with the Stafford ACT, which was not adequate to the conditions on the ground. That’s because responders lost continuity of government in New

Orleans. For the first 7-10 days, resources and people were flowing into that region without a command and control structure to apply them to mission effect. Self-deployed resources can produce some good things, but they also lack cohesion and unity of effort.

Haiti’s earthquake exhibited marked similarities to New

Orleans. In both places, a loss of continuity of government had occurred, but leaders were still standing. The scale of damage and loss of life was greater in Haiti and a sovereign government was in play, requiring the U.S. Ambassador to play the role of on-scene commander. A UN mission was already operating there, but the same issues seen in New

Orleans – such as getting resources allocated to mission effect – were also present. Eventually, as per Allen’s advice, the same command, control and incident management struc- ture that was established in New Orleans was put together and sent to Port au Prince. For Allen, now a veteran of simi- lar debacles elsewhere, the answer was simple: take a suc- cessful doctrine and apply it in a different setting against the same problem.

The Deepwater response was a wholly different event. With oil on the surface and coming ashore, responders were also faced with an uncontrolled well, spewing oil. Allen likens the situation to the Apollo 13 mission. “The only information we could get from the bottom was from ROV’s and remote sens- ing. So, there was a limited view of what man had down there. In that respect, it was more like Apollo 13 than

EXXON VALDEZ.” Beyond this, the response was problem- atic because the means and knowhow to controlling the oil, capping the well and drilling relief wells all lay in the private sector. Responders had to contain the oil, control the dis- charge and cap the well right where the oil was coming up.

Allen explains, “The first thing you want to do is stop the flow of oil. But that actually made it harder to skim because it was coming right up through a one-square mile area where, at one point, we had 22 ROV’s and 35 surface vessels.”



The Art of Crisis Management

Institutionalizing disaster management response – Thad Allen weighs in on the way forward. by Joseph Keefe

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