#AnimasRiver: @EPA — Implementation of the #GoldKingMine After-Action Review

A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 -- photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin
A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 — photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin

Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:

In November 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chief of Staff, Matt Fritz, established an agency team to conduct an After-Action Review of EPA’s response to the Gold King Mine (GKM) release that occurred on August 5, 2015. The team, comprised of employees from across the agency, interviewed over a hundred people and reviewed a large volume of documents to identify lessons learned and develop recommendations for the Administrator’s consideration. Among the documents reviewed were after-action reports from previous emergency responses, which showed that some of the issues identified at Gold King Mine were not new. On December 21, 2015, the After-Action Review Team submitted its report detailing ten specific recommendations to improve how the agency responds to emergency incidents and to ensure a highly effective EPA Emergency Response Program that can adapt quickly to dynamic, unpredictable situations. These recommendations, shown in Appendix A, were:

  • Recommendation 1: Establish a National Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) at EPA.
  • Recommendation 2: Institute Senior Official training plan.
  • Recommendation 3: Institute ICS key leadership training plan.
  • Recommendation 4: Establish an agency data and information management team.
  • Recommendation 5: Improve data and information posting and communications.
  • Recommendation 6: Establish Communications Strike Teams and broaden data training for PIOs and public affairs staff.
  • Recommendation 7: Invest in data resources and clarify roles/responsibilities.
  • Recommendation 8: Build capacity for rapid data collection, interpretation, and dissemination.
  • Recommendation 9: Align public affairs resources and update communications procedures.
  • Recommendation 10: Improve notification procedures, plans, and equipment.
  • From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

    The EPA outlined its efforts in a report posted on its website late Friday afternoon called “In the Rearview Mirror: Implementation of the Gold King Mine After-Action Review.”

    The EPA’s chief of staff announced the changes in February 2016, after the agency took responsibility for the release of metal-laden water from the Gold King Mine on Aug. 5, 2015.

    The changes were based on a December 2015 after-action report that made 10 recommendations focused on improving its emergency response and communications that the EPA has worked on, the review stated. The original after-action report did not seem to have been posted on the EPA’s website when it was finished. EPA officials did not immediately respond to request for comment on the review Saturday.

    The review recommended the agency continue funding emergency management training and positions created as a result of the changes. But it did not list specific budget expenses.

    A national emergency response team was trained by December 2016 and it will be deployed to mine spills or releases that the EPA has caused or is directly involved in, or when an event involves multiple EPA regions.

    “Quick and effective response to incidents reduces the risk to public safety, environmental damage and potential legal liability,” the report said.

    To improve communications, the EPA plans to develop three teams of six that will assist with breaking down complex and technical information. When a team is deployed, they will not communicate with the public but will work behind the scenes.

    Assistant County Manager Joanne Spina could not comment on the report, but she acknowledged that there were challenges with EPA communications after the Gold King Mine spill.

    “We tried to work through those as situations arose,” she said.

    During emergencies, the EPA also plans work with federal, state, local, tribal, trust territory and other partners on development and release of all materials.

    Effectively communicating data with the public was another focus of the EPA, and it calls for eliminating the time lag between the EPA receiving data and communicating it to the public.

    Residents and local officials were frustrated with the slow pace of metals sampling and interpretation of the data.

    This data was needed to determine whether the river could be reopened and used for drinking, agriculture and recreation.

    Distrust of the EPA’s data led some residents of the Navajo Nation to keep their irrigation ditches closed, causing lost crops, because they didn’t want to risk using the contaminated water.

    The Office of Emergency Management has hired a coordinator to help the EPA with data, and the review solicits funding for training and workshops.

    Agency workers also updated their contact lists for tribal governments and plan to update those lists annually.

    The agency also updated training for senior leadership on what their role is during an emergency. Satellite communications systems were also upgraded for those working in the field.

    After the spill, the EPA team was trapped without cellphone service or a satellite phone and this delayed communications with the state by almost two hours.

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