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Hagfish Cleanup in Oregon Relies on Planning and Collaboration

In a nationally covered story last month, 7,500 pounds of hagfish spilled onto Oregon’s Highway 101 causing a five car pileup. While much of the news focused on the truly incredible pictures and videos of the spill, we wanted to learn more about the response itself, the scene on the ground, and how previous training and cross agency collaboration made for an efficient and safe cleanup process. And Jon Barnard, of Oregon Department of Transportation, said that while there’s never been an incident quite like this before, standard response training and execution still worked perfectly to clear the road.

The crash happened at 12:05pm on an isolated section of Highway 101 on the Oregon coast. The crash actually occurred in a work zone where planned work was underway to clean up debris from a slide that occurred a few days before. With ODOT personnel already on the road, they remained active throughout the whole event. First, the team utilized their excavator, which was already on site, to plow the hagfish to the side of the road.  Depoe Bay Fire department also responded to scene and utilized their 4000 gallons of water to partially clear the slime from road. With one lane open, the ODOT crew were then able to establish a modified traffic control process while the Depoe Bay Fire department made trips back and forth from the station to bring more water to clear the rest of the slime. State Police had responded as well and, in addition to traffic control, were able to work communications. Eventually dump trucks and wreck ahead signs were put in place to notify traffic well in advance. Within two hours the work zone crews and police were managing traffic through the one lane stretch and within four hours the entire road was open.

Mr. Barnard, described a few good practices on why this response was safe and efficient:

  1. The availability of agencies like Depoe Bay fire department. A previously established working relationship made the job easier and their incident response training ensured a collaborative working relationship.
  2. Conducting a Job Hazard Analysis before any planned work. The ODOT crew was mindful of safety and ready to institute a traffic control plan. This planning established a knowledge of the roadway and overall environment for the work zone crew and ensure a safe and efficient response.
  3. Overall collaboration among responders with a focus on a safe cleanup. The ability for State Police, local fire, and DOT crews to work together to immediately respond to the crash is a testament to the training and relationships established long before the event.

The event turned into compelling photos and a unique experience for anyone involved but it’s also a reminder of the dangers of work zones and the continued risk that crews put themselves in when they’re expected to respond to an incident occurring in their work zone. Planning, training, and collaboration not only clears a roadway quickly for the traveler, it saves the lives of responders.