Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Getting ready to get ready

So I've been in Louisiana for two days now. This is my third night. Hotels are hard to come by. I'm staying 25 miles away from the BP Operations Center, which was formerly a training center. It's sort of a familiar feeling to be here. It reminds me of working at the Olympics. Everybody is very focused. Nobody has a life outside of work. They have daily and weekly goals in their little area of expertise and it all hopefully comes together. There are environmental contractors, the coast guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR), and the Louisiana State Police out front with their mobile command center. There's a whole shitload of stuff going on and it's amazing that they've got it all under control. They have security scanning you in and out with a bar coded badge. There's caterers fixing three meals a day, just help yourself. They have a place for you to take your clothes to get them washed and you get them back later that day. My group is headquartered in a room with an overhead crane and a roll door. It's set up with plastic folding banquet tables all lined up two wide in rows with people face to face and back to back. There are about 5 rows about 9 tables long with people on laptops just elbow to elbow. There are a couple dozen people from the company that hired me and the rest are from other agencies and consultants. There are about 200 people in the field for the dozen or so sitting in the operations center, just for the project I'm working on. There are so many people here working on this project they had to create a big gravel parking lot between the building and the highway overpass that probably accommodates more than 500 cars. They have those big construction lights to light it up at night. There's heavy equipment working on the other side like they are expanding the parking even more. I had to wait for somebody to leave before I could park after my physical today.

I had to get a baseline physical before I can go do my job. Since yesterday was a holiday I did it today as soon as they could make the arrangements. I've never had an OSHA mandated physical before. When I got to the Occupational Health Clinic there were 35 other people already waiting. By the time I got called back to the exam area I was shivering from the air conditioning despite getting a jacket and sweater out of my car. I was also thirsty and hungry because I was told to fast ahead of time. The next 4 hours included measuring my height, weight, temperature and blood pressure. Testing my peripheral vision, near and far vision and color blindness. Some cursory visit by a doctor to look in my ears and throat, listen with a stethoscope to my chest, and check for swollen glands. He also made me stand on my tiptoes, touch my toes and stand up with my arms out and my eyes closed. I don't know what any of that was for. I had a chest x-ray, peed in a cup, and got 4 test tubes of blood drawn, which I REALLY didn't like. I got an EKG, which was neat. And I did a hearing test and a test of my pulmonary capacity. In between these steps I sat in an intermediate waiting room with tough looking men who were doing the same bullshit. One was a kid who was just working for the summer at a steel fabrication plant. Other ones were oil rig workers and a heavy equipment operator and some other assorted laborers. We compared notes about all the first aid and CPR and safety courses we had to take. Then we bitched about how hungry we were and speculated about how much profit we could make if we got a pizza delivered and sold slices in the waiting room to people who had already had their blood drawn. We decided there was a huge revenue opportunity going to waste because there was no vending machine in that secondary waiting room. Most of us had been there over 6 hours by the time I left. I got done first because all my stuff was being sent to a service in California and all the doctor had to do was sign a Release to Work form for me after a cursory check of my obvious results. Those poor fellows said they had to do that shit once a year, and a lot more stuff too, like water survival tests that are basically to see how good you are at controlling the panic response. It's nice OSHA is making sure there's documentation of the level of fitness of people in dangerous jobs. Too bad it's such a miserable thing to have to do.

Tomorrow I have to drive 57 miles to a marina to get on an airboat to go see what the deal is out there. I'm not actually working on cleanup. Before they clean up stuff they have to assess how much damage was done. The environmental scientists (me) working for BP go out with somebody from NOAA and LaDNR and we all agree on what to put on the report. It seems like a solid plan of checks and balances and conflict of interest control. The thing about scientists is we don't really have much agenda other than wanting to accurately and precisely as possible quantify some kind of measurable data. I have a healthy dose of engineer in me too so I like defining a problem and thinking of new ways to solve it. In school I was interested in underwater sound. I learned about a method of using a wall of bubbles to stop the noise from pile drivers from going into the water column. A few days ago I started wondering if bubbles would be useful in keeping oil away from an area. I met a guy from Seattle today who has worked with bubble walls. (Pile driver noise can kill salmon). I asked him what bubbles would do to oil? Could you put a line of bubbles in front of a beach and create a barrier to oil? He didn't know and he looked like he was thinking the same thing I was -- How do I mock that up to see what happens? If anybody has a fish bubbler or something and can whip up an experiment, let me know what happens!

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