Monday, November 12, 2007

It's the Incompetence, Again

(Updated below)

As you probably know, we had a fairly nasty oil spill in San Francisco Bay last week. I almost commented on the idiocy of the reporting of the event, as the initial news reports said it was 140 gallons of fuel, which later became 58,000 gallons of fuel, which later became 58,000 gallons of bunker fuel. But that's a detail, really.

No use crying over spilled fuel; just clean it up.


It seems we're not so good at that. Now, I realize that oil spills are nasty, devastating things, and rather hard to handle, but the first rule of such things is not to turn away the people who want to help, especially if they know what they are doing.

I get that it might be important to turn away the untrained, especially if they could make things worse for themselves or the overall situation. But to turn away the people who are specifically trained to handle just this scenario is moronic:
The city of San Francisco offered 150 specially trained municipal workers to help clean up beaches and save birds - but essentially got shrugged off by the Coast Guard, according to the city's acting mayor and the president of the Board of Supervisors.
The city workers are firefighters and workers in the health department "who have training to deal with oil-contaminated creatures and spills, but all they've taken from us is a handful," Dufty said, noting that only about six have been called out.
Apparently we learned nothing from Katrina. The combination of operational incompetence and P.R. bungling is deadly. It hurts the operation at hand and also poisons the attitudes of those whose support you need.

And there is a basic rule of the universe: when people show up to volunteer, find something for them to do, even if you really don't have anything meaningful for them to do. If it's too dangerous to put them out on the beach, then put them in an office, a warehouse, covering for the people who are on the beach. Don't just send them away.



Todd Woody of Green Wombat has a really good, first-hand look at the handling of the disaster and its response, with an eye toward how technologically backward the whole thing is.


Anonymous said...

Seems pertinent to let you know that an oiled Cattle Egret appeared in Sacramento not long after the spill. He hung in there a long time, but oiled birds consume a lot of the stuff when they preen themselves. He steadily lost weight until this week he failed to appear with his healthy friends at their daily hang-out, so it is assumed he succombed. He was a messenger, reminding us that no event is truly isolated.

Anonymous said...

Update: The oiled egret has been spotted in another part of the neighborhood. Still underweight, but definitely alive, so here's hoping he fully recovers.