What training programs are being offered for those who want to help with efforts to clean up the oil spill contaminating the Gulf of Mexico? Are there jobs or volunteer opportunities available for those who want to help? In hopes of finding the answers to these questions, I spoke with Dr. Patrick Rice, Director of the Marine Environmental Technology Program at Florida Keys Community College.
According to Rice, there are a number of institutions around the Gulf that have responded to the crisis by offering courses to train individuals interested in helping with the spill. The offering at FKCC, called “Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard Technician Level Training,” is a 24-hour course intended to train a workforce in preparation for the oil spill cleanup. No requisite knowledge or training is required to enroll in the class. The training focuses on teaching students to respond to a hazardous materials incident for the purpose of stopping, containing, controlling and cleaning up the release. According to Rice, this type of “Haz Mat” training, as it is known, is the minimum requirement to be employed working at a cleanup site.
So far, the response to FKCC’s HAZWOPER training has been large. In the past 2 weeks the program at FKCC alone has has trained and certified almost 170 students from a variety of backgrounds. Trainees have ranged from fisherman, to concerned environmentalists to others who are training in hopes of finding employment. Though completion of the course offers valuable certification, the current prospects of finding employment cleaning up this spill are more tenuous.
According to Dr. Rice, BP itself contributed $10,000 to get FKCC’s HAZWOPER program up and running and to facilitate training of the first 100 trainees. But now that the program’s graduates are ready to work, BP hasn’t hired a single one of them. Rice says that qualified individuals could be being deployed to Louisiana, where the impact of the spill has already reached the shoreline, right now. But even as oil continues to wash ashore, it seems that BP is using a minimal number of contractors and is waiting to hire a newly-certified workers until the impact of the spill reaches farther ashore and claims more devastating impact.
Rice also warned students to watch out for online-only training programs that claim to offer HAZWOPER certification — oftentimes these programs are scams. “You can’t do this type of work without having had the equipment in your hands,” he says. If you are looking into a course, be sure it is OSHA certified. Even if you do complete on online training, you will certainly need additional, hands-on training before heading into the field.
In terms of his own stretch of shoreline, Rice says that in the Keys they haven’t been able to witness any direct impact of the spill — yet. But currents pass carry water out of the Gulf of Mexico and directly past Key West, threatening the area’s invaluable critical resources. “What happens when a sub-surface tar ball hits brain coral?” Rice asks. “It will kill it. We need definite plans — cooperation from the federal government and BP to try and protect those types of resources.”