It all started for me, as most client assignments do, with a phone call. The call came at 10 o’clock on the evening of May 1, 2010.
The voice on the other end was firm and crisp, “Get to Mobile, Alabama tomorrow! Report to the Incident Command Post forming at the Mobil Convention Center!” The instructions came from a response manager for the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill. The hulking platform had erupted April 20 after an explosion and fire. It was belching oil out of control and without a quick fix two miles above Mississippi Canyon 252 in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
I arrived Mobile after a nine-hour drive and checked into the Incident Command Post (ICP).
Checking into the ICP, the USCG Petty Officer registering me asked if I could commit for 90 days or the duration of the response - how ever long was required. I responded affirmatively and ventured into the field the next day as a Public Information Officer (PIO) and spokesman for the Incident Command and BP. I was in the first wave of community responders assigned to teams in counties and townships at risk along the Alabama coastline stretching from Dauphin Island to Orange Beach next to the Florida state line.
I hit the ground running! Eighteen-hour workdays and seven day work weeks were the norm. No holidays. No time off. My early mornings and late evenings were filled gathering information updates during planning/operations meetings.
My days were spent providing timely information about the unified response operations to local, national and international media as well as residents, community organizations and elected city, county and federal elected and appointed leaders.
Fulfilling my duties as a PIO at the DWH response demanded all the skills, strategies and lessons learned over a four decades long communications career as a network television news reporter/news producer, a spokesman for a Fortune 100 corporation, the press secretary to two Texas Mayors, and the principal of a worldwide public relations firm. I left nothing on the table.
The DWH was capped on July 15, and permanently sealed in late August after a national mitigation operation carried out by more than 45,000 responders. Remediation continues. My commitment to the Unified Command, which expressed appreciation for my service, was fulfilled. I returned to Houston early on the afternoon of Tuesday, September 7 – eighteen weeks after receiving that late night phone call to join the extraordinary response to the first Spill Of National Significance (SONS).
In conclusion, my four and a half month assignment left me with invaluable experiences and lessons learned which I since have put to use serving other clients in their time of need.