Research on crisis and risk communication continues to illustrate the need for and benefits of early and sustained stakeholder engagement during disasters, both natural and manmade. The California citizenry is deeply committed to environmental protection and expects to “engage” with their government on policy development and environmental solutions. Stakeholders expect a high-level of government transparency, driving the need for engagement even more during emergency responses such as oil spills.

Within the Incident Command System (ICS), it is the responsibility of the Liaison Officer (LOFR) to coordinate and share information with stakeholders. A review of “After Action Reports” and “lessons learned” from oil spills, both nationally and within California, point to the continued need for strong stakeholder engagement by the LOFR and has become a priority of California's lead oil spill response agency, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR).

Building off stakeholder engagement tools found in crises and risk communication literature and in Incident Command System job aids, OSPR crafted a stakeholder matrix that was readily scalable, easy to use, and easy to translate to Incident Commanders and other Command Staff during response. This matrix is a template of simple inputs, allowing stakeholders and engagement strategies to be identified, grouped, and prioritized. It is intended to be a planning tool for the first 24–96 hours, a precious time in a response. It is often too early to expect the LOFR to have completed a stakeholder engagement plan, yet this time is critical to initiating early stakeholder communication that will set the tone for the response. This matrix serves as the initial plan for the LOFR. This paper will describe the development of this tool, its evolution, and its use. It will also highlight feedback from exercises and response partners. It will describe the flexibility and scalability, and considerations for broader applications.

A successful oil spill response today must safely stop the release, recover as much spilled oil possible, manage public expectations, and satisfy leaders in affected communities. The framework for oil spill preparedness and response are government by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90) and the National Contingency Plan (NCP). Best Practices associated with Kuchin & Hereth were developed into the Incident Management Handbook. The US National Response System (NRS) is an established framework that supports an incident management team's focus on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the operational requirements for the spill response (Walker 2014). For the several years, authors have commented on the lack of requirements for public and community engagement as a part of preparedness programs pursuant to OPA 90, the NCP and the National Response Framework (Walker, 2014; 2011; Austin, 2010; Allen, 2010). The NRS has the capacity to engage with local stakeholders during preparedness through the area planning process. However, as currently practiced, engagement occurs among spill responders at the state level rather than with local leaders or communities; it is an acknowledged gap in the US (Allen, 2010; Walker, 2017). The concept of public participation or engagement during oil spill response has long emphasized the approach of “communicating risk or spill information” to “the public and stakeholders.” Though communicating spill information is a necessary action, response organizations could experience better results through a more personable approach characterized by an informed understanding of stakeholder needs and perceptions and using a framework to initiate communication and engagement with identified stakeholders.

Current effort in California: stakeholder engagement in contingency planning

In a general sense, oil spill preparedness can be focused on two primary areas; 1) oil spill contingency planning; and 2) oil spill drills. Walker and her colleagues (2019 in press; 2017; 2014; 2011) have cited the need for stakeholder engagement as an integral part of Federal area contingency planning (ACP) as have several others in USCG leadership after the DWH oil spill (Austin, 2010; Allen 2010). Addassi and Rubini (2017) outlined a step wise process for stakeholder identification and needs mapping that can occur as a part of the area contingency planning process. The Los Angeles/Long Beach Area Committee established a stakeholder outreach subcommittee as one of the “lessons learned” recommendation from the After Action Reports of the Refugio Oil Spill (California Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2016). Language has been included in the 2019 revision of the LA/LB Area Contingency Plan (ACP) specifically calling for stakeholder engagement. The recently adopted Regional Contingency Plan for Region 9 Regional Response Team (RRT) provides further guidance to the marine area committees. Section 1620 specifically identifies “Best Response”…as a successful response when key success factors are achieved such as: responder safety, protection of public health, protection of the environment, effective public communication, minimizing economic impacts, and effective stakeholder involvement (Regional Response Team, 2020). It is RRT policy that the Responsible Party should not serve in the role of Liaison Officer (LOFR) once a Unified Command is established, but can serve as Assistant LOFR.

The Administrator of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife - Office of Spill Prevention and Response has the primary authority in California to direct removal, abatement, response, containment, and cleanup efforts for any oil spill to waters of the state. Additionally, the Administrator has readiness and preparedness responsibilities including, but not limited to; industry oil spill contingency plans with a schedule of drills and exercises; an oil spill response organization certification program; and the new spill management team evaluation program. For purposes of stakeholder engagement and public participation, California has a rich history in public engagement and community activism and for oil spills. To address this expectation, the California State Oil Spill Contingency Plan outlines the process for stakeholder engagement and the role of government agencies in this process:

Stakeholder engagement will be carried out by representatives of the Unified Command, specifically the LOFR. The lead LOFR will be typically assigned from a government agency…The LOFR will develop and implement a stakeholder engagement plan, which identifies the stakeholders, the method and frequency of engagement, and other relevant information...(2019, California Department of Fish and Wildlife).

Early community engagement is critical to effective oil spill preparedness and response management by providing a mechanism for public stakeholders to obtain up-to-date, accurate information on which to form their opinions (Walker, 2017). The stakeholder matrix outlined in this paper is a tool to facilitate this type of early community engagement, initially by providing specific strategies to identify and reach stakeholders, developing trust through direct communication that facilitates development of two -way communication (engagement) between the response and stakeholders as the response progresses.

Engagement in spills: lessons learned from the Refugio Oil Spill response in California

After action reports published separately by the federal On Scene Coordinator, State On Scene Coordinator, and the County of Santa Barbara all highlight that within the first few hours of the response, there was already a large turnout of stakeholders. Stakeholders included local and regional non-governmental organizations, community groups, citizens, elected officials, and agencies and organizations not normally involved with oil spill response. Whereas the Unified Command (UC) acknowledged benefits from an involved variety of stakeholders, those same stakeholders perceived an ineffectual response, feeling denied of the opportunity to contribute meaningfully and constructively to the benefit of mutual goals and objectives.

The UC's response to the extensive stakeholder participation was to leverage state and local capabilities for additional public and external affairs capacity. The UC applied this capacity to communicate incident information and improve ways of conducting community outreach by hosting community events and open house meetings to enable transparency and information exchange. Whereas these initiatives are relevant forms of outreach and engagement, a key lesson learned was that neither were enough to maximize the utility of stakeholders nor sufficient to satisfy their desired level of engagement (Addassi, 2017).

Designing a quick tool for early response

In order to understand the development of the first template that later became “stakeholder matrix,” it is necessary to take a look at the iterative nature of oil spill preparedness, beginning with contingency planning and resulting in drills designed to simulate real spills situations. It was in the process of drill participation the OSPR LOFR Subject Matter Expert (SME) identified a “process gap” or “flaw” in the flow of the drill. If addressed, filling this “gap” can allow the LOFR to better “take advantage of the honeymoon period” (Austin, 2011) described as the earliest hours or days of a response. This is that critical time of chaos, storming, and forming early in response that is difficult to simulate in drills or for newly trained staff to appreciate if they have never responded to an actual spill.

Contingency planning is the first step in developing preparedness, but contingency plans alone are insufficient to ensure a good response. “Plans are nothing; planning is everything,” (Eisenhower 1957) illustrates the truth that objectives written on paper, collected in binders and waiting on shelves are the first stages of preparedness. The next phase is bringing the contingency plan to life through adequate training, as well as drills designed for continued improvement. Spills are the best “test” of preparedness and the ability to respond adequately and appropriately and the “lessons learned” are critical to continued improvement, not just for industry, but for agencies as well.

Several “After Action Reports” for recent California incidents (Cosco Busan, Refugio, and Grove) as well as Deep Water Horizon pointed to the need for a strong public engagement and community outreach program, specifically through trained Liaison Officers. To meet this need, OSPR undertook a comprehensive Liaison Officer Training Program in 2016. This LOFR training program included working through a task books, group trainings, feedback from the trainer and SMEs, participating in drills, and capturing lessons learned.

In attending industry-lead drills, both as trainer as well as LOFR, the OSPR SME noticed a recurring pattern in these drills. Initial objects from the Unified Command identified the development of a “Community Outreach and Engagement Plan” within the first day of the drill in order to meet the timeframes and objectives of drill. In an actual response, it is highly unlikely that such a plan, with any specificity, would be produced in the first day. Within the 6 – 24, even 36 hours, the LOFR will be bringing together industry, agency representatives and others to establish a functioning Liaison Office, identifying and making initial contacts with important stakeholders, setting up contact lists for the daily Liaison update, working with the Public Information Officer on monitoring social media, gathering approved information for release, and mobilizing additional resources as the scale of the spill becomes known. It is critical that we practice as we play. So, in lieu of submitting a “generic” template for a stakeholder engagement plan, which might meet the objectives of the drill, but would NOT meet the needs of the UC or the stakeholders in an actual response, the OSPR LOFR SME proposed a simple matrix that would carry through the first 72–96 hours of a response. This is a key period that often sets the tone for a response and where the LOFR could begin to develop trust and rapport with stakeholders by addressing needs early on. This drill strategy also provides LOFR trainees with a better model of what actually occurs in the early hours of spill response.

Addassi and Rubini (2017) outlined a model for addressing initial stakeholder engagement during preparedness activities that addresses both the level of interest of groups as well as their relative power to influence decision makers, public opinion and perceptions of the response operations The model also outlines available options to address various types of engagement. The model does not imply some stakeholders are unimportant, but merely illustrates that engagement with some stakeholders should be considered higher priority relative to others. With this model as a starting point for stakeholder evaluation, LOFRs could identify key stakeholders, matching outreach methods specific to the needs and interests of the stakeholder. From this, came the first version of the matrix: simple, easily filled out in the early hours of an event, and expandable/contractable as needed.

Refining the stakeholder matrix

OSPR's cadre of LOFRs meet regularly (at minimum quarterly) to generate and revise LOFR products, share lessons learned and best practices, and further develop and hone skills. Through this group forum, numerous staff contributed to the improving of the stakeholder matrix between 2016–2018. The diversity spill experience of OSPR LOFRs was integral to creating a document that was easy to use and communicate, comprehensive and flexible. Refining it in-house was an important first step, as its original goal was to serve OSPR LOFR's need for a standardized initial stakeholder engagement plan.

The next step was to unveil and test this tool. Testing the use of the matrix at spills and drills ultimately provided the largest source inspiration for revisions. OSPR LOFRs treated it as a “living document” and adaptively managed it, incorporating edits as needed. The matrix received a new pair of eyes (often many) at these events, leading to constructive comments, suggestions, and requests for clarification. The matrix was shared in various formats, including print, digital (the preferred method for easy manipulation, sharing, and saving), and as poster prints to hang on a wall (the preferred method for the Liaison Office staff to visualize and work on it simultaneously). Area Representatives (AREPs), UC members, and other LOFRs (including Assistants from federal agencies, other State agencies, and the Responsible Party) as well as a few stakeholders reviewed and contributed comments. Afterwards, lessons learned from spills and drills were discussed at internal OSPR LOFR meetings and agreed upon changes were made. This wide vetting process has created a matrix that better serves the needs of more people, including those in various sections within the IC, the diverse AREPs and stakeholders.

By early 2019, a “final” version was being utilized, shared, and taught within OSPR and to oil spill partners, particularly other LOFRs. “Final” meaning that it is no longer in a rapid state of fluctuation and has matured to point where OSPR LOFRs feel comfortable in sharing and teaching it. It is still intended to be a living document with flexibility, as the needs of the UC and stakeholders will vary by spill and location, and these needs will evolve over time. OSPR intends to continually refine and improve this tool, including the transition of the matrix from Microsoft Word to Excel format in late 2019. This allows users to manipulate some fields more easily while simultaneously enhancing standardization of other fields through the use of drop-down menus. An example of the most current matrix (as of March 2020) is in the  Appendix A.

How to utilize and communicate the stakeholder matrix

In utilizing this stakeholder matrix, it is important to emphasize that it is essentially an initial stakeholder engagement plan. Therefore, it is designed to capture initial steps and priority stakeholders for the LOFR. There is no expectation that the first version will be all encompassing, and it can expand and contract in response to the spill or drill. It groups stakeholders by Type (Operational Area Managers; State & Federal Legislators; Special Government Districts for local, state, and federal; Tribes; Impacted Public [example subcategories include homeowners, schools, and marinas]; Concerned Public [example subcategories include nongovernmental organizations, recreation, special wildlife areas, fishing organizations, and local events]). It provides these pre-filled categories and subcategories, but it is still the responsibility of the LOFR to ensure all initial-priority stakeholders and engagement processes are appropriate for any given response. For each category (and/or subcategory), the user determines the short-term engagement strategy(ies), which IC staff are involved in implementing that strategy, the date to initiate the strategy, and any additional comments

This design acknowledges that stakeholders have diverse communication needs, and to better serve those needs a tailored approach with a myriad of engagement strategies, like emails, conference calls, websites, fliers and/or open houses, is best practice. Some stakeholder groups, such as elected officials, might require a conference call early on the first day of the event, followed by a daily update. VIP tours can be set up for key stakeholder groups. For some stakeholder groups (e.g., indirectly affected neighboring businesses), strategies outlined in this matrix would be sufficient to meet their needs. Other stakeholder groups, such as fishing industry and/or directly impacted homeowners, might require the development of a comprehensive stakeholder engagement plan focused specifically on that stakeholder group.

For the stakeholder matrix to create improved stakeholder outcomes and enhanced two-way communication, LOFRs draw on a variety of skills, training, knowledge, and experience while designing and utilizing it. The matrix is designed to help any LOFR, regardless of their local knowledge and spill experience; it essentially provokes the LOFR to inquire about each of the stakeholder Types. Often LOFRs will begin by referring to lists of stakeholders pre-identified at past incidents, oil spill drills, Area Contingency Plans, and Geographic Response Plans. OSPR LOFRs will work with other agency LOFRs and AREPs, both directly in the Incident Command Post or via email and phone calls, to obtain their suggested stakeholders. LOFRs will also reach out to the local emergency agencies and tap into their network of contacts. Utilizing local expertise can help bridge a gap in knowledge of stakeholders that a LOFR may have (e.g., local environmental nongovernmental organizations).

The most important skill is to be comfortable asking for help and information. Inquiring about local emergency communication channels and procedures can inform strategies and inspire novel approaches. None the less important, but easily overlooked, is for LOFRs to ask about the relevant history, culture, and expectations of the communities surrounding the impact. As described in Figure 1, a LOFR may also consider stakeholder influence/power and interest. This information can greatly inform the response outreach and communication strategies. LOFR should establish communication early and however possible then ask for stakeholders' preferred methods. It is important that these preferences be considered and, if approved, be updated in the matrix. LOFRs use their best faith effort to meet those preferences throughout the response. Given the tabular and bulleted format, communicating these strategies within the UC is quicker and easier than reading an entire plan, as time and energy is precious during spills.

As described, the matrix has been consistently used at drills and at a couple varyingly sized spills since late-2016. During these incidents/drills, OSPR LOFRs (often using poster print size versions) provide an overview of the tool then ask for direct participation from other LOFR staff in filling it out. Completing the matrix early in the response together allows for early collaboration and relationship and trust building within the LOFR Office. Upon completion (or at the request of the UC), the LOFR will review and describe the matrix contents. It is easiest communicated in a sequential fashion, discussing each stakeholder Type and its accompanying strategy(ies) before moving to the next Type. People can easily follow along when provided with printed copies. Edits and additions should be captured and incorporated.

It has unanimously received praise by other LOFRs, Command staff, and the UC members as a planning and response tool. It is has been easy to educate non-OSPR LOFRs, AREPs, and other command members, as noted in feedback during oil spill “Hot Washes”. AREPs particularly appreciate how easy it is to mold the matrix to fit their unique stakeholders' needs. Additionally, this information readily transfers into a long-term stakeholder engagement plan and/or can be formatted to share outside of the IC (when appropriate). Perhaps the best test of the effectiveness of the stakeholder matrix is whether communications with stakeholders is actually improved, not from the LOFR perspective, but from the perspective of the stakeholders.

In 2019, a large surface expression occurred in the Cymric oil fields in McKittrick, California. A stakeholder matrix was developed early on, and the key stakeholder Types were identified as local, state and federal agency representatives, as well as local, state and federal elected officials and local businesses. Initial strategies developed included; bi-weekly conference calls; daily email LOFR updates and several VIP tours of the site and cleanup operations. LOFR received positive feedback on all three approaches, addresses all phases of the response and cleanup. The email updates begin early in the response with an email account and telephone number provided to encourage the answering of questions and providing of additional information upon request. The conference call was held only for the first week and a half. After initial questions and answers were provided, callers conveyed a desire to end the conference calls as most of their informational needs were being addressed through the daily email updates. Many also expressed feeling comfortable with their ability to contact LOFR directly for any additional need. This show of trust in the information not only provided by LOFR but that additional information could be readily accessed, is key indicator of success. Three VIP tours were held during the third week of operations. These proved to be a very successful engagement strategy by providing not only context for the information previously shared, but by facilitating one-on-one contact with the LOFR, stakeholders and SMEs from other State agencies. Subsequent to the tours, the LOFR email update was modified to 3 times a week for the subsequent 2 weeks as operations were at a more “steady state,” and modified to twice a week thereafter, until operations were completed. We received positive feedback from the stakeholders that the process worked well for them. We believe that the strategy of early and frequent information sharing focused on stakeholder needs (as outlined in the stakeholder matrix), allowed stakeholders to develop a level of trust with the LOFR and a comfort in being able to access information as they needed. This allowed for more constructive engagement with the LOFR and the ability for stakeholders to have their needs met and for engagement (two-way discussion and communication) to occur in a timely and constructive manner for all parties.

As with the Cymric response, early and coordinated stakeholder engagement and feedback is critical. But equally important is the follow-up between LOFRs and stakeholders after a spill. Lessons learned and revised strategies should be documented and best practices developed. Accomplishing this can be via emails, phone calls, and online surveys. Closing the loop by sharing this information between other LOFRs, UC members, AREPs and stakeholders is critical to improving communication strategies of future responses.

Furthermore, creating subcommittees within Area Committees is another opportunity to engage stakeholders in a meaningful way and refine the stakeholder matrix (Addassi & Rubini, 2017). The Area Committee for USCG Sector Los Angeles/Long Beach ACP 4 created an “Outreach Subcommittee” after the Refugio Oil Spill in 2015, which includes representatives from numerous environmental nongovernmental organizations active within the area. Reviewing the matrix in its draft form and discussing outreach during that spill response informed the current version of the stakeholder matrix. These subcommittees can be “Type” specific, like this one, or broader in scope, with a goal to document local stakeholder's communication needs and processes to meet those needs. Those details can live within the matrix.

To ensure this matrix is not just another plan on the shelf, OSPR has heavily promoted the use of this tool while simultaneously testing and refining it. California oil spill drills, and a few spills, have been the primary opportunities to accomplish this. Once the matrix is incorporated into California's ACPs and/or the RCP, its exposure will widen to the broader oil spill response community and adjacent States (like Nevada and Arizona). As described, a roadshow to showcase the matrix to the various Area Committees and RRT IX will be both informational and educational, potentially including tutorials or hands-on practice. Furthermore, presenting the matrix at workshops and conferences is an another means of sharing best management tools with the oil spill response community and to obtain new ideas and inspiration for the continued improvement of the matrix.

OSPR, as the co-chair of the six Area Committees and a member of the Regional Response Team IX, is always striving to enhance the usability of the ACPs and Regional Contingency Plan (RCP). Numerous statewide templates, samples, and examples are already incorporated into these planning documents, so the logical next step is to include the stakeholder matrix as well. Given its statewide applicability for both inland and marine oil spill responses, the RCP could readily serve as the depository. The ACPs are more operational in nature, contain sample Incident Action Plans (IAPs) for the first 96 hours, and are California-specific (the RCP covers Nevada and Arizona as well). Therefore, they too can readily serve as the depositories, especially if each Area Committee (multi-agency body within individual ACPs) wants to personalize the matrix with Area-specific information. Furthermore, OSPR intends to make presentations and formal requests to the other Area Committees and RRT IX for the incorporation into their ACPs and RCP.

Over the last three years, OSPR has undertaken the task of creating an adaptable, operational, and easy to use and communicate stakeholder engagement tool. Building off of information from crisis and risk communication research and lessons learned from oil spills and other disasters, the stakeholder matrix was born. In testing at numerous drills and some actual responses, the matrix has been evolved into an essential tool in OSPR LOFR's toolbox. It is OSPR's goal to utilize it in all stages of oil spill preparedness, planning, and response and encourage its use by partners during response. The next step is to formalize its use in California through the adoption in various planning documents, like ACPs and the RCP.

STAKEHOLDER MATRIX TEMPLATE

The following depicts an Excel file that is utilized as a template for the stakeholder matrix (Figure 3). Columns for “Stakeholder Type”, “Short-Term Strategies”, and “IC/Staff Participation” contain drop down menus that allow the user to select various stakeholders from a pre-identified list, short term outreach strategies, and ICS positions involved in implementing that strategy (see Figure 2). A LOFR may choose to manually input information into any of these cells, including strategies, if a more personable approach is necessitated or requested (either from the UC or the stakeholder). The matrix should be continuously updated too, as new information informs the chosen strategies and/or stakeholders and their needs evolve.

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