Agencies exercise oil spill response capabilities

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– On Tuesday, firefighters and harbormasters from Brewster, Orleans and Eastham practiced oil spill response with a drill at Rock Harbor.

Oil spill response is a critical activity for Cape and Island fire departments and harbormasters. An oil spill in a harbor can endanger human health and safety as well critical natural resources including birds, fish, and shellfish.

Tuesday’s drill scenario involved a spill that threatened Rock Harbor, Rock Harbor Creek and Cape Cod Bay. The drill participants used a Geographic Response Plan (GRP) to guide the deployment of booms to protect sensitive resources.

A GRP is tailored to protect a specific sensitive area from impacts following a spill. The response plan is a map-based strategy that can save time during the critical first few hours of an oil spill response. It shows responders where sensitive areas are located and where to place oil spill protection resources. The GRPs are periodically tested and may be updated to reflect lessons learned during deployment exercises.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has funded the creation of GRPs for numerous locations along the Massachusetts coast including the Cape and Islands. Tuesday’s drill was a chance to exercise the plan specific to the Rock Harbor area.

Orleans Fire Chief Tony Pike said, “Given the number of agencies involved, the exercise went particularly well. The interagency cooperation was fantastic.” Orleans Deputy Fire Chief Geoffrey Deering organized the training exercise and, according to Chief Pike, “did a superlative job in the organization and execution of the training.” Chief Pike emphasized the necessity of the training: “It is of tremendous importance to protect our coastal resources, which in most cases, are the economic drivers of the towns we protect.”

In addition to the actual deployment of oil spill equipment from the MassDEP pre-positioned oil spill response trailers, the exercise had two other objectives. The first was to show the ability to assemble a spill-response organization and implement on-site incident management and tactical operations. The second was to demonstrate the ability to effectively communicate between multiple local, state and federal agencies using both UHF and VHF communications.

In addition to the Brewster, Orleans, and Eastham fire departments and harbormasters, the drill was supported by the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office, the Barnstable County All-Hazards Incident Management Team, the MassDEP, the US Coast Guard and private consulting firms.

Story by Kevin Morley/CWN; photos courtesy of Carl Jacobs

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