My letter home from the "war
room" while working Deepwater Horizon... in July of 2010...
And so.. be careful what you say.
NOAA had come under criticism by calling the program I'm working on “Project Cleansweep”.. thoughts were
that.. we were trying to "sweep the truth" under the rug.... so one of our esteemed leaders threw out the project
name "dipstick" because, as he said, we were trying to determine how much oil was left in the environment. That
name brought some pretty good laughs to the home crowd here in New Orleans.. then today we learned that a NOAA scientist on
one of the ships used the name with Reuters.. and now its public... ouch...
The effort that I'm part of here
is really impressive. You'd never know from the lack of news and publicity that there are over 400 people here at Unified
Area Command in New Orleans occupying two entire floors of a major downtown building. There are 900 at another command post
in Houma and several hundred more over in Mobile. The folks commanding these posts are impressive and dedicated. To
give you an idea of the extent of whats happening here, I have a security badge. I need it to open the door to the building,
then I have to show it to the guard on the second floor before I get on the elevator. Then, when I get to the 14th floor,
I pass another badge and use it to unlock the entrance door to the 14th floor. Then, once inside, I have to show my badge
to the entrance monitor who scans it so there is a record of when I come in and when I leave.. The theater has included dozens
of research ships, airplanes, helicopters, etc., my program involves a slew of underwater robotics both autonomous and tethered
to the ships.
My daily routine has me grabbing a cup of coffee at the downstairs coffee shop and leaving
my hotel (The Roosevelt) at 7 a.m.. I walk to the building (where I learned by reading a tourist sign that Louis Armstrong
was "adopted" by a Jewish family), passing a mix of abandoned buildings and new skyscrapers.. and sit down at my
table/desk about 7:30. After I do my morning situation reports and get a handle on what needs to be done, I walk around the
corner and grab my breakfast. There is a full spread of food, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s a little better than
the food I'd expect to get on a boat. But, it keeps us from leaving the site.. very efficient.
I get back
to my desk about 7:45 in a room of about a hundred people. My "station" consists of 6 folding tables with power
strips on top w/ data links. We all use laptops. The area in my immediate vicinity includes Senior folks from BP, EPA, USGS,
NOAA, and others. The “speak” during the day is full of acronyms, very technical discussions, legal issues,
and some levity. The stapler is tied to the desk due to its frequent loss to the masses. We have a USB connection on the back
end of the cable that we've convinced others that its a computer activated system to staple files together...
Ok.. what else. In addition to getting our food taken care of we also can have our laundry done. This is a good thing, because
I was supposed to be down here til last Wednesday... It’s now Monday and I'm scheduled to fly home on Thursday (fingers
crossed). The laundry is a great thing 'cept they lost my Tommy Bahama shirt.. but they found it and its upstairs hanging
on the rack.. it was supposed to be under the "L" section, but it was found under the "D" section.. funny
thing is I didn't put my first name on the laundry list.. only "Levin"... hmmmm...
going on 9:00 p.m.and I'm losing steam. I spent the day developing a plan for collecting sediment samples from the shoreline
out to the continental shelf edge ( a long way). We'll be using a combination of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles, Underwater
Gliders, and Old Fashioned Regular Samplers.. the samples will be collected in water depths between 30 and 5,000 ft of water.
I'm figuring this effort alone will cost BP on the order of $5 - $10,000,000.
It’s been incredibly
impressive watching this process and being part of this part of the evolution. Be certain that everything that can be done
to find and account for problems that may be of concern to the public are being addressed by the best and the brightest. Its
unfortunate that that message is not getting out well.
I'll close for now but let you know that the highlight
of my day came at the end of our evening (5:30 to 7:00) status meeting where I was awarded the "Super Star" flashing
button for my work on the sediment sampling plan that required coordination between EPA, USGS, MMS (BOEMM), and NOAA. I get
to give it away after tomorrow evening's meeting.
OK.. I'm going to log out now.. after which I will tidy
up my work area, walk upstairs to get my laundry, and make my way back to the hotel. I need to be back here ultra early tomorrow
because I have about 10 reports due at 7:30 a.m. Lest you think I'm not having any fun, I had a great night
with my buddy Scott, who came down on Friday and we made a night of it with a nice dinner and a visit to a great bar with
a great live jazz/blues band. On Saturday night, there was a football game over at the Superdome, which is next door to my
office. I walked down 'bout 6:30.. walked along the sidewalk, and came across a $100 ticket which I purchased for $50. I'm
always nervous that these tickets aren't going to work when I get to the gate. It did and I sat about 10 rows back from the
field. Watched a neat preseason game with a little bit of the starting corps of the Super Bowl champs...
I'm really logging out now.. I will walk to the security person who will flash my card, then I'll hit the green
button that opens the door, I'll pass the guard before i get on the elevator to the 2nd floor.. where I'll get off, pass another
guard before I walk down the stairs to the first floor.. then flash my badge on the sensor that opens the locked door on the
first floor. Then I'll walk down Poydras, take a left on Barrone, and walk the rest of the way to the Roosevelt. I'll get
on the elevator to room 20823... and get a little sleep.. My next day starts like it does at the top of the page...
I am hoping to be on a plane home on Thursday afternoon, but I have to tell you.. it’s been pretty
exciting to be here and be part of what’s happening here. I'm writing this as much for myself as I am for anyone...
Write with questions.. as you'd like. I'll have plenty to share after this is done. My guess is that I'll be
involved in this for a good while after I vacate the New Orleans site.