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August 7, 2006

Ben Sherman
NOAA Public Affairs
(202) 253-5256(cell)


Safe Seas Emergency Response Drill to Enhance Public Safety and Environmental Protection

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Department of Interior, California Department of Fish and Game Office of Spill and Response and partners will respond to a simulated oil spill off the San Francisco coast Aug. 9 and 10.  The Safe Seas 2006 emergency response drill is designed to improve the agencies' ability to protect the environment and the public in the event of a real hazardous material spill in an environmentally and commercially important coastal environment.

NOAA’s Safe Seas drill, one of the largest emergency drills of its kind, will build on the successful Safe Sanctuaries 2005 exercise held in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, as well as agency-wide experience in response to the 2005 hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. More than 370 personnel will participate in the drill, including federal and state agencies and oil and marine transportation industry representatives. 

“The Safe Seas drill will provide a real-world test of NOAA’s ability to work with the U.S. Coast Guard and other partners to protect the public as well as natural and cultural resources in the case of a major hazardous material spill,” said retired Navy vice admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “The size and scope of the emergency response exercise demonstrates NOAA's commitment to fulfilling its mission in protecting the health and safety of the citizens, the environment and economy of California’s coastal area and provides us with insights that will be useful in responding to hazardous material accidents in the future."

“These exercises not only provide us with the opportunity to test our response readiness and capabilities, they also allow us to put a face to a name by collaborating with other agencies who have significant roles for ensuring the protection of our environment, “said Capt. David Swatland, deputy sector commander, U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Francisco.

The exercise scenario focuses on the fictitious collision of a bulk freight cargo ship, M/V Blue Harp, inbound to San Francisco from Long Beach, with the outbound tug Earnest Campbell, towing the tank barge Dottie, en route to Los Angeles. The barge Dottie sinks from the collision, with oil spilling from both the barge and damaged cargo ship Blue Harp.

The pollutants spilled during this exercise will be simulated by the release of 3,000 biodegradable yellow, orange and green drift cards, which are designed to model floating pollutants at the site of the hypothetical collision and sinking. By tracking where the cards go, responders will be able to model ocean currents and project where the oil would likely spread and what areas it would impact.

During the exercise, the drill team will deploy an incident meteorologist to monitor weather conditions; conduct aerial surveys of the simulated spill; deploy a real-time observation buoy; conduct rapid surveys of the seafloor; simulate the aerial application of oil spill dispersants with the flight of a U.S. Air Force C-130 100-feet above the spill area; deploy containment booms; activate NOAA All Hazards Radio; and assess injury to wildilife and natural resources resulting from the incident.

An array of high technology tools will be employed in the effort including autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs); mobile satellite communications equipment; acoustic doppler current monitors; side scan sonar; all-terrain vehicles; oil-water separation systems; a flurometer for disperse oil measurement; high frequency radar current monitors;  GPS enabled Pocket PC field data collection devices; and the U.S. Coast Guard's Spilled Oil Recovery System, a totally self-contained recovery system designed for rapid response.

In 2007 NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. Starting with the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA. The agency is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners and more than 60 countries to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes.

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