Exercising the planMore than 300 people took part in a two-day port exercise centered on Bird Island in the St. Louis Bay this week.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
More than 300 people took part in a two-day port exercise centered on Bird Island in the St. Louis Bay this week.
Operation Peeking Duck kicked off Wednesday morning with a simulated oil spill and wrapped up Thursday after agencies dealt with a feigned security risk. The mock incident went well, according to Lt. Bill Fitzgerald, public affairs officer with the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Duluth.
“We came up with a good plan and we were able to meet the specifics,” he said.
The scenario centered on a foreign commercial vessel entering the Duluth/Superior port which lost propulsion, hit the Blatnik Bridge and went to ground on Bird Island, releasing oil. As the scenario unfolded, surveillance equipment was found on board the freighter, which was played by the research vessel Kiyi out of Ashland.
The exercise tested the effectiveness of current security and pollution response plans, provided a unified response, tested communications and strengthened partnerships, according to Lt. Judson Coleman with the U.S. Coast Guard.
“Readiness is a key point,” he said. “We have plans in place that we need to exercise periodically to ensure that we’re ready for a large-scale event, but it also ensures that our plans are ready to support us. These exercises are an opportunity for us to identify ways in which we can improve.”
The two-day event involved 10 Coast Guard units and 50 other federal, state, local and tribal agencies, including representatives from the two states, two counties and two cities that make up the Twin Ports. It included such activities as deploying oil-barrier curtains, or boom, around both the vessel and portions of shore, dive operations and use of underwater technologies.
“These exercises are good,” said Bryan Murdock, environmental and industrial services manager with Bay West Inc. out of St. Paul. The private company, which holds an emergency response contract with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, boomed around the Kiyi Wednesday. “Practice is the only thing that keeps us sharp.”
Communication becomes challenging with so many agencies involved, Fitzgerald said. The exercise helped to identify each partner’s capabilities and provided point of contact information should they need to connect in the future. It also put names to faces, Fitzgerald said.
While the Coast Guard tests their plans annually, they don’t always hold full-scale exercises like the one this week. Since they were due for full-scale exercises for both pollution and security plans this year, Coleman said, they decided to combine them. The name of the operation came from pollution response to protect wildlife, like ducks, and the surveillance equipment’s “peeking.”
Coleman was asked if such exercises are fun for participants.
“It’s a good test,” he said, and they typically turn into an “all hands on deck type of evolution.”
It will take some time to evaluate the exercise and determine if any of the current plans need to be tweaked, Fitzgerald said.