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by Gerald Baron: Crisis and emergency communication strategies

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Who should manage a spill like the Gulf Spill?
September 23, 2010
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It's really not so surprising that some elected officials seem to think they could have run the spill better than Unified Area Command. Some actors seem to think they could have done better as well. But what is very sad and surprising is that members of Congress seem to agree with them. At last according to this article from nola.com.

Here's what Louisiana's St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro told a congressional hearing:

"Louisiana law specifically states and grants emergency powers to the local authorities during times of declared disasters," Taffaro said in testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee. But, he said, "instead of embracing the local authorities' involvement and resource capacity, local authority was met with resistance, exclusion and power struggles."

The Deputy National Incident Commander Peter Neffenger correctly explained how the system works under OPA 90, ICS and NIMS. This was a spill of national significance under the direction of the National Incident Commander, Adm. Thad Allen. Unified Command, from the first hours of the response included BP under the direction of the Federal On-Scene Coordinator. I'm not sure about all the organization and changes in this response, but I am very aware that in all drills and events I have been involved in included a state agency as the State On-Scene Coordinator and a local response agency as the Local On-Scene Coordinator. They all formed Unified Command. Obviously all local agencies cannot participate in the ultimate decisions--it would be a nightmare, But they would coordinate their interests through the LOSC who does sit in Unified Command as a representative of local interests. If local representation was not included, it was not because of the lack of that in the plan, it was a failure in execution.

Kevin Costner testifying to Congress about response leadership is essentially a hoot. Are these Congress members so publicity hungry that they invite him in order to get the press there? No wonder their approval ratings suggests only friends and family would vote for them. I don't know how Mr. Costner's machines that were leased or acquired by BP at considerable cost actually worked. I'd like to see a study. But it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume they didn't work but BP bowed to public and political pressure in spending this money.

So, response community, do you think that Billy Nungesser should have been given control of the response? Do you think, as one Republican representative suggests, that the government should develop all the advanced technologies and expertise that decades of experience that BP brought to this event? And would this produce better results than the current system that provides a collaboration with private industry under the absolute supervision of the federal government?

I'm sounding like a stuck record, but clearly the lack of understanding of NIMS-ICS among our elected officials and press corp is a major national problem. If it is not addressed and soon, we risk losing a system that works in exchange for one that will further complicate and encumber what is already a very great challenge. In my opinion, NIMS is worth fighting for--but we have an uphill climb.
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