This page was last updated on July 20, 2010.
The unprecedented nature of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, and the spill’s shifting trajectory, means the threat to Florida’s sensitive marine areas and marine life will continue to change.
Numerous individuals concerned about potential damage from oil coming ashore have been seeking ways to lend a hand. Support from specialized workers trained to handle hazardous materials is also needed. Thus far, however, volunteer and employment opportunities in Florida have been limited.
For volunteers especially, BP’s announced policy that only trained, paid workers will be allowed to handle oil-contaminated materials has diminished expectations of playing a role in Florida’s response to the oil spill.
How then can individuals take part in meaningful efforts to protect the state’s shoreline? Extension faculty from Florida Sea Grant have identified 5 specific areas where citizens can help:
- Reporting oil sightings
- Providing boats through the Vessels of Opportunity Program
- Employment with oil spill cleanup contractors
- Offering wildlife rehabilitation or other professional services
Reporting oil sightings
- Report Oiled Shoreline — Call the State Warning Point at 1-877-2-SAVE-FL. Most cellphones can also dial #DEP.
- Report Oiled Wildlife — 1-866-557-1401. Be prepared to provide as much information about the sighting that you can — date, location, and GPS coordinates if available.
There are opportunities for citizens to volunteer in support of the cleanup effort. The first step private citizens interested in volunteering must take is to register with BP’s Volunteer Hotline, 1-866-448-5816, to be added to BP’s volunteer database.
Once you’re added to the database, a local coordinator will contact you if and when volunteer help is needed. BP will provide any necessary training on site. Note that registering with BP does not guarantee that you will be called upon to volunteer.
There are also volunteer opportunities within many Florida counties. Volunteers are needed for a variety of activities, including with the Florida Coast Watch program, pre-oil landfall beach cleanups, fund raising, and meeting other needs of responding organizations. Volunteer Florida Disaster is maintaining a list of volunteer opportunities by county. Volunteer Florida Disaster also has a list of Frequently Asked Questions for people interested in volunteering. You can register as a volunteer with Volunteer Florida Disaster by visiting this website.
Finally, many nonprofit organizations, such as Audubon International, are participating in cleanup-related activities. The best way to find these opportunities is to contact your county’s emergency response team or use the Volunteer Florida Disaster county-by-county listings.
While it’s natural for people to want to help directly with the oil spill, oil is a hazardous material that requires specialized handling. As such, all oil-contaminated materials will only be handled by trained, paid workers and not by volunteers. For more information on the health effects of oil, please visit the following links:
- FAQs: Health Effects of Petroleum
- Human Health Hazards Associated with Oil Spills
- NOAA Fact Sheet on Tarballs
- Where to Get Answers for Health-Related Questions on Spill
Providing boats through the Vessels of Opportunity Program
BP has established the Vessels of Opportunity program to obtain additional resources to support the Gulf of Mexico oil spill response. This program may assist boat owners and operators whose vessels are temporarily inactive because of the spill. Owners will be compensated for their assistance. To be eligible for the Vessels of Opportunity program, candidates must:
- Have the captain and crew participate in a local orientation and hazardous materials training session
- Register their vessel for evaluation
- Sign a contractual letter of agreement
This is a Master Vessel Charter Agreement contract form that BP has used. This is a Vessel Information sheet. However, BP may change these forms at any time, so the actual contract and information sheets being used may differ from these examples.
Note that completing the above steps does not guarantee employment as a Vessel of Opportunity operator. More information about the Vessels of Opportunity program is available at our Florida Sea Grant Vessels of Opportunity page.
Employment with oil spill cleanup contractors
There are limited opportunities for individuals seeking employment with oil spill cleanup subcontractors. These jobs may include onshore and on water cleanup. Many vacancies are listed with Employ Florida Marketplace, Florida’s official online portal to job-matching services. Follow these steps to search for oil spill-related jobs:
- Go to Employ Florida Marketplace’s Oil Spill Jobs portal at http://www.floridagulfrecoveryjobs.com/
- Click on “Find Jobs Supporting Florida’s Gulf Recovery Efforts” (located under “Latest News and Announcements”)
- Enter your Zip Code (Optional) and click “Search for Jobs”
- You should see a list of job openings. Click on an individual job title for more information.
Interested individuals can also contact local unemployment offices and job training agencies, temporary staffing agencies, and other online job search sites to look for potential openings. Note that many of these jobs require specialized hazardous materials training, which BP may provide on an as-needed basis.
Offering wildlife rehabilitation or other professional services
Citizens who have specialized abilities, equipment, products, services, or training (for example, veterinary training, nursing, or first-aid training) may be able to offer those services on either a volunteer or paid basis. Interested parties should contact BP at 281-366-5511, where they will be asked to give basic information about their offered services. BP will email (or fax) a registration form, which applicants must fill out and submit via email or fax. BP will contact registered applicants if the applicant’s equipment, products, or services are needed.
Many organizations and individuals have expressed interest in providing assistance with wildlife rescue and rehabilitation. All wildlife rescue and rehabilitation efforts are being coordinated through the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research. A Paraprofessional Coordinator (PPC) has been designated who is compiling a list and scheduling responders who possess appropriate knowledge and experience. These responders, who are classified as “Paraprofessionals,” are defined as persons who:
- Either possess, or work directly under a person possessing an active wildlife rehabilitation permit or authorization related to the species involved,
- Is affiliated with a wildlife organization working within the Wildlife Branch of the Incident Command Structure (ICS), or is a staff member of a wildlife trustee agency,
- Agrees to work under, and abide by, appropriate planning documents prepared by the Unified Command (such as Site Safety Plan, Incident Action Plan, public affairs requirement, etc.), and
- Has a working knowledge and experience (at least three months) with the general protocol, procedures and safety hazards associated with working on the species in question.
Specifically, interested state rehabilitation organizations, permitted wildlife rehabilitation organizations, private rehabilitators, veterinarians and animal health technicians can help now by contacting the PPC via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or telephone (404-679-7049) and providing the following information:
- Your name, address, including city and state, phone number (prefer cell phone and alternate phone numbers), e-mail address,
- If you have prior oil spill experience,
- If you are a rehabilitator with at least six months of experience,
- What species you have experience with (i.e., wading birds, raptors, pelagic seabirds, waterfowl, etc.),
- If you have a minimum of four hours of HAZCOM certification,
- If you have rabies pre-exposure vaccinations, and
- Your availability and ability to travel.
The PPC will contact registered paraprofessionals when their help is needed. For more information on the paraprofessional program, please see http://www.myfwc.com/OilSpill/OilSpill_Rehab.htm
Hazardous Material Training
BP is providing hazardous materials training through PEC Premier. Sessions are already underway throughout the Gulf region. This training is of use primarily to individuals interested in employment, and not volunteers.
UPDATE JULY 20, 2010: Per PEC Premier, In order to register for training sessions, you must be able to show proof of employment or association with a wildlife, county, or State organization.
There are 3 levels of training available. To be scheduled for a class, please email your request to email@example.com.
At present, opportunities to take Training Module 1 and Module 2 are limited. The content for these modules is taught under Module 3; however, Module 3 is currently only available to individuals affiliated with an environmental response contractor authorized by BP.
Module 1 is basic oil spill education and training for individuals who will never come in contact with spilled oil. This training is particularly suited for volunteers who can help with beach cleanup in anticipation of a spill reaching land.
Module 2 is training for contractors and paraprofessionals doing work at a staging site.
Module 3 is training to prepare veterinarians and wildlife rehabilitators for the hazards in the contaminated shoreline environment. Module 3 is a graded, certification course. If you do not meet the qualifications for wildlife paraprofessionals listed in the earliest lesson, you will not be allowed to move further into the training.
- BP Spill Response Training Schedules in Florida (Public and Organizations)
- Module 3 Online Training — When you have finished the training course, print the certificate page and bring it to the site where you will be working.
At present, opportunities to take Training Module 1 and Module 2 are limited. This material is available under Module 3, if you are a volunteer affiliated with an environmental response contractor authorized by BP.