EcoCanal 2018 – Development and Execution of a Multi-National Exercise

As one of the world’s busiest strategic waterways, the Panama Canal is critical to global transportation, trade, and security. Due to its key strategic importance, the United States has a stake in maintaining its continuous operation. Should an oil spill, hazardous material release, or radiological incident occur in the Panama Canal Operating Area (PCOA), the economic and political effect could be globally significant.

Returning to Panama this past August, EMSI participated in the development and execution of a multi-national functional exercise in the Panama Canal Authority (Autoridad del Canal de Panamá (ACP)) area of jurisdiction. This exercise was jointly organized by the ACP and the US National Response Team (NRT) to prepare for a major incident impacting the ACP.

As part of the development stage, EMSI and the design team developed an exercise consistent with HSEEP guidelines.  The exercise objectives were:

  1. Engage and validate existing procedures for NRT-ACP notifications that are in the Incident Response Guide (IRG) for initial response notifications.
  2. Validate the NRT-ACP Incident Response Guide (IRG) procedures for situation brief(s) and request for U.S. NRT assistance and/or resources.
  3. Determine the effectiveness of inter-institutional coordination to respond to the different circumstances that may result from an incident originating on board an LNG tanker and a container ship in Canal waters.
  4. Validate the ACP ability to manage expectations and information flow to the public and stakeholders on incidents involving LNG vessels.
  5. Evaluate the effectiveness of implementing ICS.

In the scenario, an outbound LNG tanker was struck port side by a container ship (due to mis-communications) just outside the channel, north of the Agua Clara Locks, causing cascading impacts including grounding of the LNG vessel, an oil spill, and the venting of LNG.  Due to the complexities of the incident, the ACP established an IMT with a Unified Command in order to mitigate this situation. Leveraging the EMSI team’s knowledge and experience in managing incidents, EMSI staff filled the roles of Lead Facilitator and Lead Controller during the exercise. A significant part of this exercise was to test the ability for the ACP to contact the US National Response Team for assistance, thus involving both the United States and Panama for this exercise.  In addition to the exercise, EMSI cadre provided just in time training prior to the exercise to best prepare participants for their roles and were critical to compiling a comprehensive after-action report, detailing both lessons learned and the way ahead to improve for participating organizations.

Overall, the exercise was considered a success. Participants were able to network, learn their roles in a major incident, exchange ideas and best practices, and develop a path forward to better prepare for future incidents. EMSI would like to thank the Panama Canal Authority for allowing us to assist in their contingency preparedness efforts.

Partnering since 2014, EMSI and PCA have worked to develop preparedness and response capabilities for future Panama Canal incidents. In addition to facilitating and controlling this exercise and a similar one in 2016, EMSI has trained ACP personnel in a handful of Incident Command System courses, to include Operations Section Chief, Logistics Section Chief, Situation Unit Leader, Resources Unit Leader, and the ICS-320 Incident Management Team course.

Since inception in 2000, EMSI has played a major role in helping government and industry clients alike, prepare, train, and respond to emergencies of any cause or size. Comprised of national and international all-risk, all-hazard response experts, EMSI’s seasoned cadre gives us a unique background and perspective in dealing with incident and responder needs at every level of government and industry, to include the international community. As a global response leader in all-risk, all-hazard, multi-discipline incidents, EMSI has a proven track record in helping the myriad of local, state, national, international, and private sector entities with their incident management and emergency management programs.

EMSI is a service-disabled veteran owned, minority business enterprise (MBE) that supports a broad range of clients. To learn more about EMSI and how we can help your organization’s response preparedness, please visit