The "Spill" on the Spill by Stacy Armitage, Visitor Services Branch Coordinator, Southeast Region
Stacy smiling at an event she coordinated at the southeast regional office last year. Photo: Jennifer Strickland, USFWS.
Photo from a July 2010 aerial survey along the Florida coastline. Photo: Bart Kicklighter, US Forest Service.
I recently had the opportunity to do a 22-day detail with the Disaster Operations Office in the Regional Office Spill Support Center here in Atlanta. It was a real privilege to be of service in this terrible time of crisis for the people and the resources along the Gulf Coast. It was also eye-opening, a growth opportunity for me professionally and personally
The Disaster Operations Office is responsible for the internal information on the spill and its impacts—the information that flows from the Incident Command Centers in Houma, LA, Mobile,, AL, and Miami, FL to the Director’s Office, the Office of the Secretary of the Interior, and beyond. Decisions are made at the highest levels based on the information I helped provide. No one who has watched the news over the months since the oil began spewing into the Gulf can doubt that solid information on what is transpiring on site is worth its weight in gold. I was able to use my communication and coordination skills to help facilitate the creation and dissemination of four essential daily reports on such issues as the numbers of animals and species impacted by the spill, shoreline locations where oil has made landfall, and the results and accomplishments of air and field operations to contain or respond to the spill (e.g., number of work crews, how many miles covered, how much wildlife rescued through our efforts).
It felt really great to be part of a dedicated team of people, both in the Regional Office and in the field, who are working so hard on behalf of the Gulf community and its fish and wildlife resources and habitats. At the same time, I have to admit that as a person who has dedicated her professional life to natural resource conservation, it was painful to read the reports that came in on impacts to the critters. I found that the best way for me to deal with my thoughts about the helpless animals who can’t protect themselves from the oil was to focus on the fact that we in the Service and our partners are doing all we can to help them.
I learned a lot about migratory birds from this experience, perhaps most importantly that helping them in this disaster is quite a bit more complicated that most people realize. Apart from the permitting regulations that govern such things as handling, transport, and release of the birds, there are biological realities that have to be considered, such as determining through observation the best time to try to capture an oiled bird. As the agency that oversees the conservation of migratory birds and administers the laws and regulations that protect them, we have to hold ourselves to the highest standards so that what we do provides maximum benefits to the species, even in a crisis such as this. As a communicator, I realized we have to go the extra mile to help the public understand why we do what we do the way we do it.
Since this detail, I am clearer than ever why I work for the Service. We really believe in our mission. I saw an incredible amount of dedication and sacrifice from our employees in this disaster. We are people who will do whatever it takes to protect fish and wildlife resources and the habitats that sustain them. I also gained a renewed appreciation for the fact that we truly are “one Service for the resource.” I work for Refuges, but working in the Disaster Operations Office made it crystal clear that every program in the Service is impacted by this spill and has a role to play in responding--from our biological programs to our law enforcement, communications and administrative offices.
I would encourage anyone who wants to take it to the next level in their personal and professional growth to volunteer their services during this time of such great need. I guarantee you will get even more than you give. My advice for anyone thinking of stepping up to volunteer is, don’t limit yourself on what you think you can do; rather, challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone. You’ll be amazed at what you accomplish.I believe that I am a better Service employee with a greater breadth of experience for having done this work on the oil spill response. And you know what? I’d do it again in a heartbeat.