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Spill the beans: Annual exercise readies JBER

By Airman 1st Class Caitlin Russell | 673d Air Base Wing Public Affairs | Nov. 9, 2018

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — Members with the 611th Civil Engineer Squadron participated in the annual Fall Spill Drill on Oct. 30, 2018, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
Throughout the exercise, the 611th CES simulated a small aircraft damaging a fuel tank and causing JP-8 aviation fuel to spill into one of JBER’s lakes. These exercises help prepare 611th CES members, if there ever was a major incident, to be familiar with proper clean-up methods. Each year, the team practices two hazardous spill exercises. The second exercise of this kind will take place in the winter after the lake has frozen over.
The Fall Spill Drill was conducted to test the response actions of base recovery agencies in the event of a mass oil spill, to ensure installation safety and minimal environmental impact.
A majority of the squadron members are relatively new to the 611th CES, so for most of them this was their first time practicing these procedures. “They’re doing really well and are ready and willing to learn,” said Robert Lopez, 611th CES assessment management program manager. “It’s something new, exciting and different from what they do in their everyday job.”
The Airmen practiced tactic and safety briefings throughout the week, and were instructed about what to expect from the exercise. Simulated hazardous areas, decontamination equipment and an entry control point were set up prior to the event.
“To properly respond to each incident, the 611th CES start by stopping the flow of fuel, finding the direction of fuel flow, surveying the area and then working to contain the fuel with the proper tools,” Lopez said. “Airmen simulated using equipment such as a containment boom, oil decanter, skimmers, absorbent pads and more.”
A containment boom is a large, maneuverable flotation device used to contain oil within a given area. After simulating placing a boom into the lake, Airmen simulated wiping the hazardous waste off the water using machines called drum skimmers. The skimmers contain a rotating wheel with plastic on it that collects the waste and scraps it off on a blade as it rotates.
A rope-mop skimmer was another piece of machinery simulated during the exercise. A long feathered rope would move through the water and back in the machine in a circular motion to wipe off waste as it passed through the machine.
“Without the training, Airmen wouldn’t know how to operate the equipment,” Lopez said. “Getting our Airmen out to do this exercise is important so that they can become familiar with the equipment. Training is absolutely necessary if and when a spill occurs.”
Lopez said the exercise is critical in regards to incidents on JBER, because the unit is one of the only civil engineer squadrons in the Air Force to practice their strategy hands-on due to the site’s remoteness.
Lori Roy, 611th installation management chief, said the 611th CES area of responsibility is all Air Force communication and radar sites, currently and formerly operated, throughout remote Alaska. The sites range from Eareckson Air Station at Shemya to Point Barrow Long Range Radar Site on the North Slope, to locations in Southeast Alaska and throughout the state's interior. Many of these sites are along the state's coastline and are capable of storing 1 million gallons of fuel.
While catastrophic events like this cannot be predicted, installations can still be prepared. Exercises and training help reduce negative impacts to the environment, mission and to the community.
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