By Petty Officer 2nd Class Vaughan DillJune 7, 2017
BLAKE ISLAND, Wash. -- Vessels belonging to the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the Navy (USN), and the Coast Guard (USCG) responded to calls as fuel from an unknown source poured into Puget Sound near Seattle on June 6. The current of the water put the large fuel spill on a northeastern trajectory and on a direct collision course with Blake Island and Tillicum Village.
This was the scenario that played out during a mock fuel spill known as the Joint Boom Deployment and Spill Response Exercise. As with any actual oil spill, the armed forces participants had to react quickly to a disaster that threatened wildlife, aquatic species, shoreline habitat and nearby infrastructure.
"In this exercise, we're leveraging our joint force to bring different capabilities from the different military services, to respond to any potential event that could happen here in Puget Sound," said Army Col. John Buck, district commander, USACE Seattle District.
"The Motor Vessel Puget brings the capability to deploy booms to contain a spill in the event there is one here in the Sound," he explained. "It's certainly a very environmentally sensitive area, so training events like this are a great opportunity to rehearse, so in the event that there is something, we're prepared to respond."
"We have this shared waterway out here with beautiful natural resources, a beautiful environment, and having to protect that is key," said Coast Guard Capt. Sean Cross, chief of response, Coast Guard 13th District. "It's great to see so many participants out here."
Vessels responded to the mock fuel spill, departing from the Navy's Manchester Fuel Depot, the largest single-site Department of Defense fuel terminal in the continental United States.
USACE personnel deployed two sections of containment boom from the vessel Puget, while the USCG 13th District Response and Advisory Team (DRAT) looked on and instructed as needed in order to contain and isolate the spill in accordance with the Northwest Area Contingency and Geographic Response Plans.
"The last several years we have been working on trying to bolster up our capabilities to respond to spills, and historically we have provided successful support to the Coast Guard when it comes to spill response, using our motor vessel Puget," said Brian Wilson, spill response program manager, USACE Seattle District. "Over the course of the past six months or so, we've been coordinating this exercise to come together today."
Meanwhile, the Navy operated a skimmer, performing open water skimming operations to recover the spilled fuel while protecting Tillicum Village and the cove just south of it. This maneuver enabled Puget Sound to re-open to unrestricted traffic.
"It's about interoperability and making sure we all work together. I'm excited to hear the lessons learned about today, I know they will be important," said Navy Capt. Philippe Grandjean, commanding officer, Naval Supply Systems Command, Fleet Logistics Center Puget Sound. "Spill response is something that we don't take lightly."
The Navy owns and maintains a large supply of spill response equipment throughout their facilities in the Puget Sound area, and has a highly-trained, full-time staff that that can rapidly respond to a spill, regardless of its source. The Navy can also support other agencies as needed during oil spills in this area.
"The military components here in this area are an asset, and we can help with any spill," said Heather Parker, on-scene coordinator and Navy Region Northwest oil spill program manager. "We're trying to show how we can come together and help in the event of some kind of an incident, the more we can learn to work together, it's really important."
Responders practiced roles and tested their response capabilities, while learning new techniques and identifying areas for improvement.
"The ability to respond collaboratively and leverage each other's capabilities makes for an effective response," said Buck. "In the event that there actually is a spill in the future, it's important that we have rehearsed, we know how to interact with each other, and that we can effectively and smoothly respond to any event that occurs."
Representatives of the state of Washington, the Department of Ecology and the Muckleshoot Indian tribe witnessed the exercise from a vessel near the scene, observing the Armed Forces' abilities to assist in the event of a real-world spill in the area.
"The Sound is an environmentally sensitive area with a lot of endangered species. With any vessel, there's potential for some type of spill. It's important to protect our environment," said Buck. "What a great opportunity to work together as a joint force. If there's one thing I've learned in 26 years in the United States Army, we're much more effective when we work together and leverage the capabilities that each of us bring."