Portsmouth Oil Spill Response Work Group Drill
Submitted by Cecily McNair NH-TERT East Coordinator
On October 22, 2013 2 members of NH-TERT-East took part in a drill that simulated a railroad train derailment in Dover, NH. This particular train was carrying crude oil from the Bakken Formation in ND, destined for Port of Portland, ME and ultimately New Brunswick Canada. The train supposedly derailed as it crossed the Cocheco River in Dover, NH, sending 17 cars full of crude oil into the river. The simulated spill migrated downstream and affected the Great Bay the Piscatiqua River and Portsmouth (NH) Harbor. The Piscatiqua River hosts the major propane processing and storage facilities for New England and has some of the strongest maritime currents in an Atlantic port.
Member Tom O’Connor has been working closely with the Portsmouth Oil Spill Response Work Group and assists them with training radio operators. Training began 1 month prior to the drill with a mandatory training that gave us an overview of Incident and Command, a familiarization of the area with maps and aerial Photographs, and an explanation of the differences in Public Safety and Marine radio procedures and definitions.
Communicators are all volunteers and are called “Communications Watch Standers”. The Watch Stander group, about 20 people, consisted of members of the public, former Navy and Coast Guard communications personnel, local fire command staff, and two TERT Members, (Tom O’Connor and Cecily McNair).The weekend before the drill there were 2 optional four hour hands on training classes offered. Both classes were well attended.
On the morning of the drill, approximately 150-175 people, representing environmental cleanup organizations, officials from the Maine and New Hampshire environmental agencies, USEPA, US Coast Guard, Pan Am Railways, local fire departments, NOAA, US Navy, US Dept. of Transportation, and the Federal Railroad Administration responded to the NH Department of Environmental Services Building, at the Pease Trade port in Newington, NH. This building houses the NH-DES Incident Command Post (ICP).
We received our credentials and reported to the radio room to begin our work.We each received an assignment, Radio Operator, Transcriber, Telephone Operator, 3 Runners, and a Communications Room Supervisor and the 20 of us traded off during the course of the drill so that we each person got to do every job.
Marine Radio language is plain speak and uses anachronisms that are much different from what we use in Public Safety. We were referring to POB (persons on board), using buoys, coves, inlets and points (Dover Point, Hilton Point) etc. as location markers instead of streets and house numbers. Hailing a boat is done differently than we call our units. An example: “Sea-Hag, Sea-Hag, Sea-Hag, this is DES Radio prepare to copy a message”. The response would be “DES Radio, DES Radio, DES Radio, this is the Sea-Hag, go ahead with your message”. It takes much longer to get messages out than (I) we are used to. However we were using familiar terminology like Work Groups, Task Force, Command, Logistics, Planning, etc. that we use in ICS.
The exercise had four major objectives:
1. Test the region’s spill partners’ ability to stand up an Incident Command System structure for a large oil spill in a timely fashion.
2. Establish realistic oil spill expectations for a large crude oil spill resulting from a railroad incident.
3. Test internal and external communications, between all response organizations, Command Posts, and Emergency operations centers.
4. Exercise the region’s ability to respond to a large oil spill resulting from a railroad incident.
The drill began at 0845 and ended at 1400. At the critique at the end of the day several State and Federal officials commented on what a great job was done by the communications division. It was a great experience and everyone learned many new things.
NH-TERT Members take advantage of every opportunity for training and experience. We encourage all TERT Members to do the same. Diverse training and experience helps us be ready for any kind of TERT call out.
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