USA — States Prepare to Help Louisiana in Oil Spill Response

ARLINGTON, Va., May 26, 2010 — The Nation­al Guards of sev­er­al states are close­ly watch­ing Louisiana this week and are pre­pared to assist in its oil spill oper­a­tions if need­ed, a senior Guard leader said today.

“We’ve been asked poten­tial­ly to assist Louisiana with heli­copter sup­port, and if they need that, then we will pro­vide that,” Army Maj. Gen. Abn­er C. Blalock, Alabama’s adju­tant gen­er­al, said yes­ter­day dur­ing a “DoD Live” blog­gers round­table.

Along with Alaba­ma, avi­a­tion assets from Mis­souri and Illi­nois have been tapped to sup­port oper­a­tions in Louisiana through the Emer­gency Man­age­ment Assis­tance Com­pact. Louisiana offi­cials also have asked for pub­lic affairs sup­port through EMAC.

“We’re mon­i­tor­ing real close­ly what’s going on with our sis­ter states, Louisiana and Mis­sis­sip­pi and Flori­da, par­tic­u­lar­ly Louisiana, and the kind of actions they are tak­ing and the kind of things they are doing,” Blalock said. “Quite frankly, there’s a lot of tri­al and error going on along the Gulf Coast, because we haven’t real­ly been involved in some­thing quite like this ever before.”

About 360 Alaba­ma Army and Air Nation­al Guard mem­bers have been work­ing to lim­it the spill’s impact on their own state’s coast, the gen­er­al not­ed. “On-the-ground work includes instal­la­tion of Hes­co bar­ri­ers on a bar­ri­er island, as well as a penin­su­la on the east side of Mobile Bay,” he said. “Beyond that, we’re involved in cer­tain secu­ri­ty tasks where vol­un­teers are staged. We have about 20 folks involved in the var­i­ous ech­e­lons of com­mand and con­trol from Joint Force Head­quar­ters down to a local unit head­quar­ters.”

Air crews have pro­vid­ed recon­nais­sance of oth­er oil con­tain­ment booms that have been put in place along the coast. “We’ve had two heli­copters [and crews] on duty since ear­ly May, and they’ve been fly­ing boom recon­nais­sance mis­sions and doing some imagery assess­ment and aware­ness taskers,” Blalock said. For now, Alaba­ma has been large­ly unaf­fect­ed by the spill, the gen­er­al added, with only a few tar balls wash­ing up on shore.

Despite a lack of expe­ri­ence com­bat­ing an oil spill, the Alaba­ma Guard has been using lessons learned from oth­er dis­as­ters, Blalock said. “We’re a hur­ri­cane state,” he said. “We’ve learned over the years through our expe­ri­ences the kind of things the Nation­al Guard is asked to do imme­di­ate­ly post-land­fall, and that is where we’ve focused our atten­tion.”

How­ev­er, he added, there are a few dif­fer­ences between the two kinds of respons­es.

“For­tu­nate­ly, we’re not involved in clear­ing roads of oth­er obsta­cles to com­mer­cial or busi­ness traf­fic,” he explained. “But it’s sort of the oppo­site, in that we may get involved in clean­ing up a mess [on the beach­es] if oth­er con­tract resources are not avail­able for appli­ca­tion.” Plan­ning is the key to this oper­a­tion, the gen­er­al said.

“We’re think­ing ahead over the long term, that six-month win­dow, which sounds hard, but the real­i­ty is we’re get­ting a pret­ty good han­dle on the kinds of things that the Nation­al Guard might be asked to do when the oil comes ashore,” Blalock not­ed.

The Alaba­ma Guard’s role in respond­ing to the oil spill, the gen­er­al said, is large­ly up to the spill itself.

“The biggest vote out there is what the oil does,” he said. “This pos­ture we’re in right now, we’re pre­pared for imme­di­ate response in case of a sur­prise. The Coast Guard is work­ing with a 180-day strate­gic plan. What I’m see­ing from my lev­el is that strate­gic plan is focus­ing in on response much like you’re see­ing going on in Louisiana.” For now, it’s all about being pre­pared for any con­tin­gency.

“Our efforts have been focused on pro­tec­tion and pre­ven­tion at this stage,” Blalock said, “and try­ing to get all the resources in place to keep the oil off our coast­lines, to keep the oil out of our oys­ter beds, to keep the oil off our bar­ri­er islands.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)