Bringing it to Bethel: Oil spill response training in Western Alaska

Story and photos provided by Lt. James Daugherty, Prevention, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage

A member of Alaska Chadux Corporation displays stacks of boom used to contain spilled oil to an assembly of Bethel, Alaska community members, Aug. 1, 2016. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A member of Alaska Chadux Corporation displays stacks of boom used to contain spilled oil to an assembly of Bethel, Alaska community members, Aug. 1, 2016. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Coast Guard Sector Anchorage teamed up with members of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to bring oil spill response training to village representatives in Bethel, Alaska, Aug. 1, 2016. The joint venture trained 26 students from nine remote Western Alaskan villages in a robust curriculum that included first responder actions, spill containment and hands-on experience with spill response equipment.

“This was the largest class we’ve seen in six years,” said Bob Whittier, on-scene coordinator for Alaska, EPA. “Partnering with local communities is vital in raising awareness and protecting the environment.”

Class members represented approximately 18,000 residents in the Bethel area. They would likely be the first responders to a spill in the vicinity of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, which covers 50,000 square miles, comparable in size to the entire state of Louisiana.

Federal and state resources are scarce in the area, and government response to a spill would likely take at least 24 hours depending on local weather conditions. The response time is significantly reduced if residents know what to look for and how to report it.

Many students in the class had received prior training from earlier initiatives by members of state and federal agencies, and others were selected due to their prior familiarity with oil products and spills.

“In many cases, we are training those most likely to react quickly and organize the effort,” said Lt. Todd Bagetis, chief, incident management division, Sector Anchorage. “Those we teach here will take their knowledge back and disseminate it in their communities.”

Members of Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Alaska Chadux Corporation and residents of Bethel, Alaska take a group photo during oil spill response training for representatives of the Western Alaska village, Aug. 1, 2016. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Members of Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Alaska Chadux Corporation and residents of Bethel, Alaska take a group photo during oil spill response training for representatives of the Western Alaska village, Aug. 1, 2016. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A representative from the Alaska Chadux Corporation also taught a class on boom deployment and containment measures. Using boom and other methods to stop oil contamination will allow these communities to contain spills until help arrives.

“Empowering local communities to protect themselves in case of a spill will go a long way to keeping our resources protected. We look forward to continued efforts in our state and continued partnerships with the EPA and Coast Guard,” said Lisa Krebs, DEC representative.

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