Friday, June 25, 2010

RESPONSE AND RESPONDERS

It is now over two months since that BP ruptured well started spewing oil into the Gulf and it continues today. NAUTICAL LOG has not written anything about it as there is more than enough opinion and misinformation out there already. However there is one aspect of the response that we are going to address and that is the responsibility of the First Responders to the Media.

For more than three decades NAUTICAL LOG served as Navigation Officer, Safety Officer and Staff Officer in cruise ships based from United States and Canadian ports. During that time we trained Bridge Watchkeeping Teams, Firefighting Teams, and Evacuation Teams. As Staff Officer we were responsible to the Master and Staff Captain for ships security and investigated numerous incidents, involving both crewmembers and passengers, over the years. After we came ashore we worked two years for an oil pollution response company which is now busy in the Gulf. Then we formed our own marine consulting and training company. As both a First Responder and a Trainer of First Responders we helped developed procedures and protocols. So it is with a great deal of surprise that we see each evening on the Media News reports these same procedures and protocols being virtually totally ignored.

The BP clean-up crews are working on the beaches with tourists all over the place stepping over barriers, into and on the tarballs actually taking souvenirs with the whole nonsense being videoed by the Media for the next misinformed newscast. During HAZMAT training and Certification Responders are given a module called Media Relations. This instructs the Responders not to talk to the Media or allow anyone to come within the contaminated area. There is a cleaning procedure which must be followed prior to leaving the area. NAUTICAL LOG has yet to see this procedure being videoed and even the President did not follow any cleanup procedure that we saw. But then this is hardly a surprise he was picking up tar balls and knows absolutely nothing about oil pollution, however Thad Allan does and he behaved the same way.

One procedure that was followed was the First Responders not talking to the Media, who should have been in a designated section and addressed by an authorised spokesperson, in the first place. When approached by a Media person the cleanup supervisor called his people together, packed up and left the area when the Media refused to stop talking and videoing. This was the correct thing to do under the circumstances. After some lengthy background this dealing with the Media is the issue NAUTICAL LOG wants to address.

With all the training of the various groups mentioned the commonality is do not talk about what you see when responding to an incident except to the investigating officer. There is actually Law which applies to all First Responders. They are bound to keep the confidence of what they see, what is said to them directly, what they overhear during the response. The investigating officer will interview them during discovery and document and keep the chain of evidence.

This also applies to the Assistance Towing industry and NAUTICAL LOG is quite disturbed by the loose talk that we both see in Blogs and read during incidents reviewed by us in our capacity as Marine Consultants. It can effect all cases from basic insurance claims, owners negligence and criminal proceedings. A First Responder involved can find themselves in serious trouble with the possibility of charges being filed against them. Most certainly they will be called as a witness during Court proceedings. Now the towing industry has a certification procedure under an organisation, in the United States called C-PORT (Conference of Professional Operators for Response Towing) the Accreditation being ACAPT. Both BOATUS-VESSEL ASSIST and SEATOW we are informed are so inspected however independent towers may not be. NAUTICAL LOG gave C-PORT a 'heads-up' and asked for information but so far has not received any reply.

Several towers have Blogs where they tell the tales of their responses and no doubt this can lead to more business, a form of free advertising. One in particular as a Marine Consultant we find very disturbing, in the last few weeks the assistance tower responded to a downed helicopter and repeated a conversation about the instruments settings. This was reported by their local Media and we heard it here in South Florida on the local evening News. Now this week again the same assistance tower responded to a sunken vessel and again a Blog entry about the position of a valve. These written Blog entries have become documented evidence to be addressed in the resulting insurance claims. No doubt the assistance tower operator involved, the Blog entry writer and the assistance towing company will be interviewed during legal discovery. Quite apart from individual cases they have violated the Law with regard to its application to First Responders. We had hoped to discuss this with C-PORT and perhaps have them develop a Media Relations protocol for the ACAPT Accreditation.

Good Watch.

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