John Simkins ’08

Galesburg, Illinois; now living in Manhattan
Environmental Studies, concentration in Economics

On the scene: Cleanup of the Gulf oil disaster that resulted from the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon. Simkins worked for EMR, Incorporated, an environmental company based in Lawrence, Kansas.

“I cruised up and down the coastline, touching base with the safety observers and relaying their feedback up the chain of command.”
—John Simkins

His role: “For three months I worked as a water-based safety supervisor on the Western Mississippi Delta. A failing safety program can be serious, possibly leading to an unexpected explosion. My team of four safety observers and I monitored the wellness of the boat captains and their deckhands performing boom operations, addressing questions like these:

  • Are workers staying hydrated and out of the 100-degree sun?
  • Do we have the proper safety equipment?
  • Are these boats and barges up to snuff for working conditions?
  • What’s the plan when lighting approaches?

“At the peak of operation, we had 40 boats and roughly 100 personnel protecting 75 miles of coastline, so work was never dull. Once I outlined the daily objectives with BP operations and the U.S. Coast Guard, a fishing boat carrying a safety observer and a medic was sent to each work site. As supervisor, with my boat captain I cruised up and down the coastline, touching base with the safety observers and relaying their feedback up the chain of command.”

How a Mac education prepared him: “My environmental studies education emphasizing a well-rounded approach. By engaging in the disaster from a political, financial, social, and scientific standpoint, I was able to understand why certain actions were being taken in the cleanup. It also enabled me to relate to the day-to-day anxieties of the crew, which was largely comprised of local fishermen directly affected by the spill.”

What he got out of it: “Beyond a new set of practical skills, my admiration of the community’s resilience and optimism is absolutely unparalleled. These fishermen have endured a mountain of adversity; Katrina obliterated their homes in 2005 and now the BP spill may wipe out their livelihood. Nevertheless, the individuals I’ve encountered were incredibly courteous, welcoming, and a pleasure to work alongside.”

When the disaster will be over: “Even as someone working directly on this issue, predicting the environmental impact and the cultural and socioeconomic ramifications of this disaster is virtually impossible. I envision a long road to recovery.”

Next step: A master’s degree in sustainability management at Columbia University.

September 1 2010

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