Friday, September 10, 2010

The Gulf Spill's Biggest Lesson According to our National Incident Commander

Admiral Allen would qualify for the nation's Incident Commander-in-residence is such a position existed. Having assumed Incident Command responsibility in the disastrous Katrina response and cleaned the situation up there dramatically, then named National Incident Commander for the Deepwater Horizon spill, no one can speak with more authority about major incidences and what we need to learn from them. So what does the Admiral think is the major lesson learned from the Gulf Spill?

This is what was reported from his interview on NPR yesterday: "The biggest lesson he's learned from this and other disasters, Allen said, is that it's important to make sure all of the different branches and levels of government are working together — something that is harder than it might sound."

Obviously, we would have to dive a little deeper to understand what problem he is referring to and what "working together" really means. But here is my speculation: We have a system called the National Incident Management System built on the Incident Command System. It clearly defines the way in which a coordinated response is supposed to run including how coordinated communication among all participating agencies and partners is supposed to be handled. Many elements of this system were implemented during the event and contributed to what will be seen overall, despite the inordinate time it took to kill the well, as an effective response. However, because of lack of understanding or commitment by senior leaders in a number of different key agencies to this system, there were divergent elements introduced that proved to impact effectiveness. I would not presume to put those words in the Admiral's mouth and it is only my understanding and perception.

But if that is true, the major lesson coming out of this tragic and disastrous event is to not abandon NIMS, but protect its use against potential obstacles to its effective use. I am very much hoping that this becomes an important regulatory and even legislative issue in the future as I think it is critically important to our nation's ability to respond effectively to major events. The response community--meaning you, dear reader--needs to get involved in this issue. If we don't understand it and become involved in looking at how to make national response more effective, do we expect the citizen on the street to do it? I hope the Admiral will become increasingly clear in his analysis of what went wrong and propose some specific solutions and ways to ensure compliance. There is much at stake.

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