» This Story:Read +| Comments
» This Story:Read +|Watch +| Comments
More news on:  Environment  |  Climate  |  Science

Gung-ho but untrained, volunteers hit a wall in helping mitigate gulf oil spill

Volunteers eager to clean up the devastated Louisiana coast are frustrated by a lack of official response to their offer, but are finding alternative ways to help.

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
Discussion Policy
Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 29, 2010

NEW ORLEANS -- They were 1,200 miles away from the geyser at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, but still they felt the tug of anxiety and guilt.

This Story
This Story

They called BP's information hotline on Memorial Day.

What can we do? they asked.

BP told them that the greatest need was in local communities.

So college friends Gordon Rhoads, Matthew Tucker and Chris Belles raised some quick cash, whipped up a blog, packed an HD video camera and road-tripped 20 hours from the Philadelphia area to New Orleans to do something, anything. The trio of 24-year-olds arrived after dark at a $40-a-night hotel on St. Charles Avenue, a little delirious from the long trip, and began to unpack for a week-long volunteer gambit.

"BP was friendly and kept saying, 'Come on down,' so here we are, calling their bluff," said Rhoads, a graduate education student at Arcadia University in Philadelphia, standing in a mess of luggage in the hotel. "We want to show there's something an individual can do."

They were electrified by earnestness, ready for action and not yet aware that it would be five days until they'd be able to do something, anything.

* * *

Maybe the only thing more frustrating than trying to plug an oil leak is volunteering to mitigate its effects. Local, state and federal authorities, as well as nonprofit groups, have created a confusing maze of response operations that have been slow (or unable) to harness a surge of volunteers.

BP couldn't handle the thousands of calls flooding its hotline every day, so the company partnered with a volunteer agency in each affected state. Now, 800 calls a day are funneled to Volunteer Louisiana, Serve Alabama, Volunteer Florida and the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service. But some Samaritans haven't received any response from them, and authorities, who have struggled to organize, say they can't use what they call "raw," or untrained, volunteers.

"Right now, we're focused on the oil spill recovery efforts," said Iris Cross, head of communications for BP America. "We're using more of the trained individuals for onshore recovery and wildlife efforts. Regular volunteer initiatives are limited right now."

Forty hours of training are required to work with oil. Moreover, jobs that would normally be done by volunteers are being given to out-of-work fishermen and oil workers for pay.


CONTINUED     1              >


» This Story:Read +| Comments
» This Story:Read +|Watch +| Comments

More Climate Change News

Green | Science. Policy. Living

Green: Science. Policy. Living.

News, features, and opinions on environmental policy, the science of climate change, and tools to live a green life.

In the Greenhouse

Special Report

The Post's series on the science behind climate change.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity