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Homer SERVS Training 2022

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Emilie Springer has this story about an oil spill response exercise taking place in Kachemak Bay this week.

On Monday afternoon Mike Day, the manager of Alyeska Ship Escort/Response Vessel Systems, or SERVS talked to me with communications and outreach manager Kate Dugan about Homer training days coming up this weekend. Though we spend the majority of the conversation talking about what the local boats will be doing during the training there is also an emphasis on the general role of communication both when the vessels are in operation but also in media, public interest and just the role of communities both in Prince William Sound and externally including Homer and Kodiak. Day, born and raised in commercial fishing out of Valdez has been in this position for about ten years and explains, basically, what the SERVS program is and how he got involved in it. “I'm Mike Day. I'm the SERVS Operations Manager. So, SERVS stands for Ship Escort/Response Vessel System and that really describes what we do for tankers related to the Valdez Marine Terminal. Our main job is to escort oil tankers with tugboats until they're safely out in the Gulf of Alaska and underway in the ocean and, our secondary mission to that is to respond to any incidents that would require us to clean up an oil spill if that were necessary.” Next, Day talks about what the training boats will be doing on the bay. “The spring and fall training that we do with the fishing vessel fleet is really the same in all the ports and we really do it to accomplish kind of three main goals. The first one of those is, you know, there are some state and federal regulatory requirements that folks have to be trained to work in oil spill response. So we accomplish that with all those folks, about 1200 to 1400 people depending on the year in six different ports. And, we physically go to each one of those. What folks will see out on the water is equipment and tactics. We teach these folks how to operate all the containment booms, which is a barrier that floats on the water that you use to collect oil and make it thick. Then we teach them how to operate skimmers, which is a piece of equipment that we put in the water to pick that oil up out of the water and they work better when the oil is thick. Those are usually operated by some kind of diesel machinery, some kind of power pack. We also teach them how to use some different types of boom. We use a different type of boom for a sensitive area protection like a salmon stream and we use a special type of boom that seals onto the beach and makes a better barrier than some conventional boom designed for water. We go through the tactics of how to operate all that equipment together instead of with just one individual vessel.” He talks a little bit about prepositioned hatchery equipment in the Sound and procedure of operating that, too. Then, as I started, the general role of “communication.” “Maybe most important is just communication and working together as a team. We place many of these vessels in the role of a strike team leader or a task force leader to coordinate a group of other of other vessels and other people and communicate what they see on the water and you know what they're accomplishing back up to a command post and so that we can support them and get them the equipment and the resources that they need to do their job. I ask, “Is there any kind of dispersant training or just mechanical cleanup? This is all mechanical cleanup, you know, this is the primary way that we would clean up the spill. We do have some dispersing capability within our system. But, it’s with the larger boats. We have two of those that can apply dispersants.” By larger boats, he is referring specifically to tug boats not to what the fishing boats respond to.

So, when you see all the commercial boats out on the Kachemak Bay this weekend and wonder what they’re up to, it’s equipment spill response training, preparation in the event of an oil spill.

Thank you to Mike Day and Kate Dugan for taking the time to talk to me about their roles in the program.