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Training & Drills


From May 30 through May 31 of 2018, a multi-agency exercise was conducted to evaluate participating groups’ capabilities and preparedness for emergency response procedures regarding substantial marine oil spills. The Watch Hill Spill PREP Area Exercise focused on establishing sectional and individual roles within the Incident Command System (ICS), a management system detailing the breakdown of responsibilities during an incident. The ICS is critical for increasing efficiency in emergency situations. It provides the opportunity for a smooth integration of personnel from varying agencies and organizations when joining forces to combat an incident. Within the ICS, sectors prioritized during the exercise were the Unified Command (authoritative structure), Incident Command Post (on-scene facility comprised of incident command staff) and Joint Information Center (facility used for mass coordination).

Agencies and organizations included in the Watch Hill exercise are listed below:

Federal – United States Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Commerce, Department of Interior (U.S. Fish and Wildlife)
State – Department of Environmental Management, Emergency Management Agency
Local – Town of South Kingstown, RI, Town of Westerly, RI
Industry – National Response Corporation, Interstate Navigation Block Island Ferry
Non-Governmental Organization – Save the Bay

The scenario created for this exercise is described as follows:

An oil spill occurred following the collision of the barge Amos Heller and the tug Al Wilson, which lost power due to a fire. All 5 crew members evacuated and were recovered. The two vessels are currently connected and afloat with oil actively spilling. The tug held 8,600 gallons of diesel oil, and the barge held 4,200,000 gallons, combining for a maximum potential spill of 4,208,600 gallons!

The exercise commenced in Winnapaug Pond and Weekapaug Breachway. In Winnapaug Pond, an abundance of natural resources are at risk during significant environmental threats. Numerous waterfowl, crustaceans, fish and other sea life occupy the waters designated for the exercise. Recreational and commercial harvesting of clams, quahogs and scallops takes place in the pond, and private residences are scattered along its shores. These entities supported by the pond are of utmost importance when optimizing protection strategies. In the exercise, the primary objective was to trap incoming oil in a channel before it could reach the pond. Oil can be contained through the use of boom (floating barriers utilized in oil spills that prevent oil from spreading beyond a targeted area of water).


On June 28, 2019, the Office of Emergency Response conducted annual training at its Dawley facility in Exeter, RI. Our emergency responders are required to complete 40 hours of training annually. This training consists of HAZMAT sampling, air monitoring and technician refresher training. During the June training session, HAZMAT sampling was the primary focus. Focal points of the exercise included efficient collection and testing on unknown chemical samples, as well as refreshing knowledge on the suits’ anatomy and equipping process. Infrared Spectroscopy (IR), a method used to analyze and determine chemical compounds, was ran for the unknown samples. In normal emergency situations, the HAZMAT team will collect samples and bring them to technicians for further analyses, but for the purposes of this exercise our emergency responders completed both steps.

As a part of the exercise, our emergency responders trained in both Level A and Level B protection suits, each used for different situations. The Level A suits (above image) feature a fully encapsulated shell along with chemical resistant boots and gloves that prevent outside air from entering. A self-contained respiration system and oxygen tank are used to facilitate breathing. These are utilized during scenarios in which environmental conditions threaten the respiratory system, skin and eyes. The Level B suits (image to the right) are nearly identical to those of Level A, the sole difference being in protection from vapors. Therefore, respiratory safety is the same, but outer body protection is less emphasized. One drill was conducted for each level.


From May 15 through May 17 of 2019, a multi-agency exercise was conducted in correspondence with Shell Oil Products and its Shell Americas Response Team (SART). The purpose of the large-scale exercise was to evaluate agencies’ and corporations’ preparedness for massive oil spills affecting Rhode Island waters. When training for incidents posing an incredible threat to the environment and public safety, paramount objectives include conducting salvage assessment, containing and recovering spilled material, optimizing protection of environmentally sensitive areas and establishing a chain of command to enforce safety measures. Shell and the participating governmental and private agencies create separate command structures with varying priorities, so fluid communication and solidified authority are tremendously important. Below (on the left) is a photo of the room in which different sections of the command gathered to rehearse situations typically encountered during an actual incident. Below (on the right) is a photo of the Office of Emergency Response Chief, James Ball, conducting a mock press conference regarding the oil spill outlined by the exercise.

The scenario created for this exercise is described as follows:

At 4:30 (EDT) the tanker “Sea Clam” is inbound to the Shell Providence Terminal. While coming alongside the berth, the vessel experiences an engine malfunction and overshoots it destination. Hard contact in made with the berth. The master reported that crewman on the deck detected strong hydrocarbon odors. Two crew members suffered injuries and require immediate medical attention. The master also reported damage to the tanker resulted in a release of approximately 630,000 gallons of oil to the surrounding water!

The exercise took place in Passeonkquis Cove of Warwick, RI. Passeonkquis Cove is home to bountiful sea life, including many species of fish, shellfish, waterfowl and seabirds. Habitat-fringe marshes and sand and gravel beaches open to the public are also located on the cove. These special environmental conditions are of utmost importance when implementing public safety considerations. Weather during the exercise consisted of sunny skies, light wind and temperatures ranging from 40 to 52 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prior to the actual drill, the Office of Emergency Response worked in coordination with Clean Harbors, Coast Line, Military Strike Team, Marine Spill Response Corporation and Shell to deploy boom in accordance with the Geographical Response Plan (GRP) for the appropriate body of water (Passeonkquis Cove). The day before drilling began, the Environmental Response Coordinator provided Shell personnel with the State’s expectations, knowledge and authoritative standing to ensure all participants were on the same page. Upon initiating the exercise, the first step of establishing a Unified Command was completed, consisting of the fire chief, Office of Emergency Response, Shell personnel and United States Coast Guard (USCG) personnel. Following the exercise, the collective effort displayed and results were deemed a great success!