Friday, July 30, 2010

More sign of the demise of the JIC--the Enbridge Spill

It is now very clear that the NIMS/ICS/Joint Information Center concept implemented by the government and the oil industry since 1990 is not being used in the Deepwater Horizon response. Particularly from a public information standpoint, the primary value of using that system, mandated by federal law and regulations, was to enable there to be a single voice for the response and that single voice represented in largely equal measure the perspectives of the Responsible Party as well as the lead federal, state and local government agencies.

There is a major oil spill going on in Michigan, involving pipeline operator Enbridge. The press release from the EPA and their response website demonstrate very very clearly that the JIC is dead, even though the response may be handled using other NIMS/ICS protocols.

Why do I say the JIC is dead and how does this vary from the way responses were handled pre-gulf spill? You would never have seen an agency like the EPA loudly proclaiming in a press release that it is in charge--leading some to believe that the response had actually been federalized. EPA wants to leave no doubt that the federal government is running this response--quietly mentioning that oh, yeah, the RP is here too. That is very very different from way this has been drilled and done before. Before, the message was (typically led by RP) that here we stand, company, fed, state, local--we are all in this together. Unified Command and all that.

Secondly, the website. The EPA is running its own website, as is Enbridge. Single voice? Not a chance. In fact, it is likely that we will see info on EPA's response website that throws Enbridge under the bus. Why do I expect that? Deepwater might have something to do with that. What has always happened before is there was a single website with the rules being that the JIC and only the JIC is the authoritative voice. This is what makes the JIC and essential element of NIMS because NIMS/ICS demands that Command be responsible for and have authority over all elements of the response--including communications. When you have each agency involved on its own, its own messaging, its own strategy, its own information flow, there can be no Unified Command authority or control over the information. Another DWH legacy.

But one of the most telling items is the name. Under NIMS/ICS, an incident is supposed to have a single name and it usually the location or something specific to incident. It may seem a minor point but getting one name and sticking to it does several things--avoids confusion and avoids placing blame in the naming process--particularly important because in so many of these events who really is responsible isn't known until the investigation and legal process is complete. Unified Command named the Deepwater Horizon event the Deepwater Horizon event. However, a higher power renamed it: the BP Spill. Now look at this event in Michigan. The EPA calls it the Enbridge Oil Spill. Enbridge calls it "the leak on line 6B."

Yes, the gulf spill (I call it that because, well, since it doesn't seem to have a consistent name anymore I guess anyone can call it what they want), yes the gulf spill has changed our world.