Oil spills rare, but we still prepare
by Dan Kaneko | Jan. 18, 2023
Recent events like the Mauna Loa eruption and Kona Low storm remind us that disasters can happen at a moment’s notice. And because disasters can arise from a variety of situations, it’s critical to have emergency plans in place to respond to different scenarios.
Oil spills, while less common than severe weather events, are one of those emergency situations we prepare for at Hawaiian Electric. An oil spill can have devastating effects on the environment, so it’s critical to act quickly and effectively.
To ensure we are ready to respond, we regularly participate in oil spill response exercises. The latest training drill took place on Nov. 10, 2022, when we joined the state Department of Health, U.S. Coast Guard, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at the Marine Spill Response Corporation (MSRC) Spill Response Center in Sand Island.
The full-day exercise commenced with a general meeting before we separated into different Incident Management Team (IMT) sections. I was part of the public information unit where our role in the response effort was to keep the public updated on the situation.
After being briefed on the scenario, a pipeline leak along the Leeward shoreline, we reviewed our objectives and discussed our first steps. Since none of us had been involved in an oil spill before, we recalled the response efforts to previous emergencies, such as larger power outages, hurricanes, and the 2018 Kilauea eruption.
As we drafted updates on the situation, we considered information about the affected areas, weather and other environmental conditions, and any wildlife that may be at risk. We also discussed which outlets would be best for addressing the public and how often we should provide updates.
Working as a team made it easier to learn on the go and familiarize ourselves with the logistics of dealing with an oil spill.
“It felt a bit chaotic at first, but after getting into a rhythm, things seemed to go more smoothly,” said Senior Communications Specialist Alan Yonan, our public information officer (PIO) for the training exercise. “I enjoyed the sense of camaraderie, knowing that we were all on a team with the same objective.”
While it’s impossible to simulate all the variables of a real emergency, working through the procedures in the training drill increased our confidence to respond to an actual oil spill. The exercise also reinforced the importance of teamwork and communication, which becomes even more critical during emergency situations.
“It’s difficult to be fully prepared for an emergency since the situation will always be different,” said Education and Consumer Affairs Manager Kanani Imai, our liaison officer (LOFR) for the drill. “Going through the drill was a great reminder of the critical role each of our employees play, and how well our teams work together in response to an emergency.”
Dan Kaneko is a digital communications and social media specialist at Hawaiian Electric.