PREP-ed for Action: USCG, partners test contingency response plans in Sitka, Alaska

Coast Guard members and others participants of the Southeast Alaska Preparedness for Response Full Scale Exercise gather in a simulated incident command during the exercise in Sitka, Alaska, Apr. 22, 2015.  The exercise included members from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, City and Borough of Sitka and Alaska Department of Natural Resources among the participating 14 state, local and federal agencies.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert.

Coast Guard members and others participants of the Southeast Alaska Preparedness for Response Full Scale Exercise gather in a simulated incident command during the exercise in Sitka, Alaska, Apr. 22, 2015. The exercise included members from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, City and Borough of Sitka and Alaska Department of Natural Resources among the participating 14 state, local and federal agencies. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert.

Alaska can present many challenges for response agencies in times of crisis, and plans for how to remove or prevent the spread of pollution are becoming increasingly important as the state sees more maritime traffic through its ports and waterways. That’s why the Coast Guard, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the city and borough of Sitka came together with several state, local and federal agencies as well as industry members to conduct the 2015 Southeast Alaska Preparedness for Response Exercise Program Full- Scale Exercise in Sitka, Alaska, Apr. 22-23.

The SEAK-PREP FSE was intended to test the effectiveness of the Alaska Southeast Subarea Contingency Plan and Harley Marine Inc.’s response plan and involved an 8-hour incident management drill Apr. 22 followed by an equipment deployment the following day.

The scenario for the exercise, which involved a simulated massive diesel fuel spill, provided many challenges for responders. Besides the obvious task of removing the diesel and rescuing impacted wildlife, federal, state, local and industry members had to figure out how to get equipment and personnel to the scene while navigating sensitive local concerns.

“Objectives for the exercise ranged from testing processes for the implementation of Endangered Species Act consultation to effective use of technology by our responders” said Latarsha McQueen, a planner for the exercise from the Coast Guard Sector Juneau contingency preparedness department. “This exercise also provided the participants an opportunity to evaluate procedures within their own contingency plans. Identifying any oversights or areas for improvement is vital for us to be better prepared.”

“The exercise was an extremely valuable experience. Getting to walk through the full process of a real scenario while having coaches available to guide you in the right direction provided a great learning opportunity,” said Lt. Jennifer Ferreira of the Sector Juneau Response dpeartment.  “I left the exercise feeling better prepared to respond to an actual incident.”

Upon completion of the Apr. 21 exercise, Coast Guard and local personnel deployed spill response equipment to Indian River and Pirate Cove near Sitka to test the readiness of response and cleanup crews. An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Sitka assisted the effort by delivering boom to responders on the ground at Pirate Cove. The boom was then used to block off sensitive shoreline as a preventive measure.

Coast Guard members from Sector Juneau, Alaska, place boom into the water at Pirate Cove near Sitka during a spill response exercise Apr. 23, 2015.  The boom deployment was part of the Southeast Alaska Preparedness for Response Full Scale Exercise, a multi-agency drill intended to the test the Alaska Southeast Subarea Contingency Plan.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert.

Coast Guard members from Sector Juneau, Alaska, place boom into the water at Pirate Cove near Sitka during a spill response exercise Apr. 23, 2015. The boom deployment was part of the Southeast Alaska Preparedness for Response Full Scale Exercise, a multi-agency drill intended to the test the Alaska Southeast Subarea Contingency Plan. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert.

“It’s important for responders to have a working knowledge of how to operate spill response equipment, but it’s equally important that these exercises are conducted in a way that doesn’t endanger or adversely affect environmentally sensitive areas,” said Lt. Mickey Sanders, Coast Guard Sector Juneau chief of incident management.

At the end of the exercise and equipment deployment, participants gathered to contribute feedback on performance and suggestions for future response efforts. The challenges presented by SEAK-PREP FSE may have been a simulation, but the lessons learned may give responders insight into how they can be better prepared for when a real spill threatens Alaska’s waters.

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