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Maritime Risk

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The Art of Crisis Management

Atlanta-based Points of Light Institute, where outreach to various national volunteer organizations (pre-certifying vol- unteers for this type of event) is underway.



During the Deepwater response, Allen decided to let “peo- ple on the ground” deal with the technical spill issues, while he took care of the politics and press. Indeed, most spill response models dictate the concept of speaking with one voice. For Deepwater, it didn’t always work well. From

Allen’s perspective, this came back to not having better ‘unity of effort.’ “If you have people acting outside the command structure, then those talking to the media will talk about what they are doing and not necessarily reflect on the overall goals of the operation. My job was to explain the intent of the oper- ation and establish a single face and point of accountability.”

The model for dealing with the media in time of crisis is simple: Unless it affects safety or security, then the informa- tion should be released. He adds, “I believe that transparency and information breeds self-correcting behavior. The problem is that with a spill this large, there is a million messages out there. Even if I am in charge of the whole effort, I can’t con- trol second, third and fourth tier contractors.” During the

Deepwater response, and because there was a lack of under- standing of goals and responsibilities, when local and state officials talked to the press, they portrayed the situation much differently than that described by the federal on-scene lead- ers. Allen laments, “That’s not the way to create unity of effort.”

The chips, insists Allen, will just have to fall where they may. For example, BP ultimately released all the video of the spewing oil that they had, but not fast enough for a hungry media. It just wasn’t the first thing BP thought about as they structured their response. Nevertheless, it is this aspect of spill or emergency response that needs to be more carefully considered upfront.



In the first quarter of 2011, 30 new state Governors will take office. Most will have no idea what should transpire in the event of significant disaster. One critical thing that can be done immediately, involving little to do with more money, is an effort to ramp up training, preparedness and exercises.

Allen has called for a drill of national significance within one year of the latest event. He laments, “We missed the train by not having senior leaders at the one just held in Maine. Let’s get everyone together again, take what we’ve learned from these three events, test it one more time and make that proce- dure.” More importantly, perhaps, an orientation program for the new governors is being contemplated. Allen insists, “Those are the things that don’t cost any money – we ought to be doing them.”

A common thread in all three crises involved a collective lack of understanding that the federal government was the lead in the response model. During the Deepwater response, for example, many Louisiana parish presidents wanted to be given response resources and then be left alone. With the spill located 45 miles offshore, impacting five states, that just couldn’t be done. This reality made Allen’s job that much more difficult. “I told the parish presidents two things: I can work with you and collaborate with you. But, I can’t give you my legal authority. And, I cannot designate to you federal on- scene authority.”

The final problem was one of mindset. Haiti and New

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