June 2nd, 2010
07:57 PM ET

A day with Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen and the oil spill


Adm. Thad Allen has been called many things: Sir, commandant, TA, fearless leader and now, the latest headline in print calls him a “rock star.”

He laughs, but when it comes time for “down time,” it’s music that calms his mind.

“I am very careful who rents space in my head,” he tells me as I ask whether all the criticism over this oil disaster in the Gulf  gets to him.

Something else that doesn’t seem to bother him that much is his insane schedule. Believe me, it’s nothing like a real rock star – this man who is leading the response to the biggest oil disaster in history is a machine.

He wakes up at 4:30 a.m., and we caught up with him at 6:30. First line of business? Starbucks. His security detail knows where to find every coffee house in every state he’s traveling through. On Wednesday, it’s a café latte because he tells me he doesn’t get enough calcium.

Spike Lee enters the Starbucks and can’t wait to tell Allen about his latest movie on the oil spill. Allen turns to me and says, “only in NOLA.”

So that’s a little flavor, but listen to what happens in the next 32 minutes with Allen: He’s on his Blackberry, cell phone, wireless computer, reading report after report on the booming and oil flow.

He checks his iGoogle page, which has a leadership quote of the day, every Google news story with the key words, “oil spill” and “Thad Allen.”

He’s got sports scores, weather and even a Spanish word of the day. Tomar, “to take,” was on the screen today.

The admiral has been taking a lot this morning: calls from Cabinet secretaries, pleas for more resources from governors and many, many questions from the White House.

He’s already talked with energy and global warming czar  Carol Browner three times and the head of the Army Corps of Engineers, Gen. Van Antwerp, about building barrier islands to protect the marshlands.

The admiral is constantly negotiating deals, and this is one he really wants – those barrier islands, which he says will protect the shrimp, oysters and other seafood that all of us enjoy.

The White House wants to know how his dinner last night with BP CEO Tony Hayward went, and he’s told he’ll be seeing Lisa Jackson, the head of the EPA, in just a few hours.

Can I remind you? This happens all within 32 minutes. And, the rest of the day is just as vigorous.

We head to Houma, Louisiana, where one of the major arteries of the response is located. The Incident Command Post is where everyone from BP, U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA, Fish and Wildlife, National Guard, EPA and OSHA sit side by side, battling oil when it hits the surface. All operations are carried out through this center, and people are exhausted.

The admiral gets on a conference call with his Cabinet secretaries and holds a news conference with dozens of reporters. Then, we board a Coast Guard search and rescue plane and fly over the marshlands, Chandeleur Islands and the spot where the oil rig exploded. The skimming efforts around that gushing well are enormous.

Once we touch down, the calls start coming in again - this time, the attorney general, congressmen, senators and, of course, the White House. The admiral has to not only work with BP to cap the gushing oil, but he has to also protect a possible crime scene. AG Eric Holder  is not wavering  for a moment on his investigation.

Next stop is a staging area in Cocodrie, Louisiana. Huge USCG cargo pallets of booms line the road leading to the water. There’s dozens of trailers to house the contractors working 12 hours on, 12 hours off. All of a sudden, EPA chief Lisa Jackson comes into the room and it’s a walk-and-talk about toxic dispersants, which the EPA wants BP to use less.

Bottom line: This day is about full transparency, and I have seen it.

In fact, President Obama just granted Allen that "deal" he's been working on all day: building barrier islands to protect the marshlands. One more victory for the man whose trying to please everyone.

Allen has taken on the biggest challenge of his career. A strange request for a man who actually retired just less than two weeks ago.

soundoff (88 Responses)
  1. Nick

    So, was the point of this piece to show us that Thad Allen is doing his job and wakes up the same time I do everyday at 4:30? Or that BP has actually done a good job in response to the worst oil disaster in modern history? I think maybe both, which is just kind of bizarre along with this whole piece. I wonder if one of the top officials offered Kyra a position in return for a field trip with Thad. Reality is – this has been a total disaster starting with the upper management at BP and ending with the top officials in the White House. I am glad to know that Thad knows how to use a blackberry, connect his laptop using a wireless connection, talk, and even ride backseat in a rescue plane.

    June 5, 2010 at 3:18 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • shirley

      Thank you!! You have stated this brinlliantly. Allen cannot delegate and make hourly decisions. The oil on Grand Island, all over the birds and in Barataria Bay did not have to happen. Allen has limited oil removal equipment. He was against the sand barriers. He has limited the Guard. There needs to be decision makers at the local level, actually making decisions, not running around all day and finishing off with a meal with Tony.

      June 5, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • beforeu

      u.s. coast guard media press representative:
      ............................................
      http://USCOAST.BLOGSPOT.COM

      May 17, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Chaco

    Well enough damage its done already ppl, who cares a couple more liters of oil into the sea by now?? If you own a fish bowl you know what I mean.
    I wonder who will be held responsible for this. ..... Share Holders?
    Who decides at BP's headquarters safe drilling and extraction procedures?
    Share holders only care getting maximum earnings with the less possible investments.
    Greed is my answer for what is happening here and around the world.
    I guess now we can really feel in our own skin what is happening in the Delta region (Nigeria) where it’s a total cover up of the same situation.

    Now what is making me even more angry are the fines the government will give to BP’s.

    I truly believe BP doesn’t even care how much money they will be fine 1 billon or maybe 5 billon in total?
    The marine life will not get a dime out of this and……
    We people are the ones who will ending up paying for this, BP’s will simply add 50 cents to the cost of gas and perhaps they will be making a profit out of this for the pleasing eyes of their share holders.

    I had enough of this, my vote goes to the guy who brings electric cars ASAP!

    June 5, 2010 at 10:25 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Franklin Sykes

    Sir: I appreciate the galant effort to stop the leak, but what about using multiple caps, each one a size laarger than the one in place. In fact, each of the foregoing one can be constructed from a jellified substance that gradually hardens with time and each can be heated to dispel crystal formation that aborted the first capping mechanism. I dont have all the answers, but it seem highly plausible that successive capping will eventually stop the excessive leaking and consequently a cement like substance can be injected into the nth such capping, thus sealing the leak and allowing all of us to go home and get some sleep.

    June 5, 2010 at 11:20 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Rod Hebner

    It seems apparent that it's one more case of industry holding control over what they do and how they've done it and it's nothing new as it's happened before and continues to happen in all areas of industry and manufacturing, government and non government, controlled is a word with limited meaning. Bhopal, India was one example, nuclear meltdown in Russia was another, inspectors in everything from meat, cattle, mining and safety have all had bouts of limitations placed on them either by government, regulations or just plain old corruption. BP should never had drilled without realizing the full extent of what could happen in the event of a complete blow out or explosion of this nature. A FAIL SAFE should have been developed before drilling, deep sea remotes should have been designed, built and at the ready in the event there were unforeseen problems with a FAIL SAFE. Is it impossible to build, design and implement a stop block that has more than 2 automatic shut off valves that could be remotely controlled in the event the automatic shutoffs were rendered useless ? This is the 20th century, we put men on the moon, taken people to the depths of the oceans, designed and built incredible structures and high tech equipment. It is a way past time our governments started hiring the best and most knowledgeable people in each area of exploration so they can determine what is needed, required and implemented before anybody does any drilling. If BP or the oil industry wants to "wing it", let them do so back in their own country but it's also time for our elected leaders to step up and tell BP that they will be fined at a level exceeding the price of a barrel of oil. Allowing them to make billions of dollars in profits while allowing them to pay fines in the millions is NOT a penalty, it's an incentive to carry on in the same idiotic manner they have been.
    Ultimately, it's the courts who set the fines, determines who gets compensation and they need to set a precedence in excess of a few billion dollars to wake them up. Drilling in the Arctic should no longer be an option and any present underwater drilling should be completely stopped until a Fail Safe method is in place on all well heads.

    June 7, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • FRIEND

      HI I WAS JUST WONDERING IF YOU WERE RELATED TO A CERTAIN GREG HEBNER IN ONTARIO?, IF SO I WOULD LIKE TO SPEAK TO YOU, PLEASE REPLY , THANK YOU

      November 11, 2010 at 6:20 am | Report abuse |
  5. john ristensen

    Hey – CNN has been replaying the same 48hrs this woman spent with Thad Allen for almost a WEEK. Can we please move on!!!!!!!!!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 10:42 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. KKKKKatie

    Why doesn't BP just read this blog, all the answers they need to solve this problem is located right here. Geez! Some of these posts are too stupid to repeat. There are plenty of people working around the clock to stop the spill. Why does everyone insist on demonizing them? What else is white house supposed to do, don work boots and fly out to the rig themselves. Get a grip!! The right people from the right groups need to be involved and they are, not one is sitting around "twiddling their tumbs". As for the admiral and the CEO having dinner, even in time of crisis people have to eat and who gives a fig who pays for the meal.

    June 10, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. buzzard.

    KKKKatie – I don't think anyone is demonizing here (other than you). But a little criticism is indeed due considering that we're going on two months of this debacle with floundering leadership. Ok, so they can't plug the leak. But for crying out loud, why aren't there more oil skimmers on the water? They know where the oil is coming from – they should be able to catch almost all of it. And I don't need to point out that the skimmers were proposed by many people waaaaay early in this mess. Now they have an estimated 1300 "on their way" when 5000 should already be in place. A little FYI, I live in Florida, and we're very disappointed in the way things have been handled so far.

    June 14, 2010 at 11:05 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. steve

    What needs to be done is to have Adm Allen of the Coast Guard, replaced with a military person who works for the U.S. government, not as BP's favorite spokesman. We need someone in command that actually takes command. Only way to get this leak stopped. All Adm Allen has done is repeat what BP is telling him. He has made No commanding decisions that reflect the Authority of his position. He is more a "yes sir man" for BP than a government authority, overseaing this disaster. I really want to charge BP officials with MURDER. Already there are people in La and Miss. taking ther own lives because of this mess BP has invented. This spill has gone on long enough. There is no Oil Company in existance today that knows how to stop the mess they creat. Duh!!! Lets make a really fast car. we can make it so much faster by not putting brakes on it. Yea thats what we'll do. At least Toyota had the decency of taking thier autos off the market until they fixed the problem. This post is by a man in Texas. also I apoligize to the rest of America, for Mr Bartons of Texas apoligy to BP. WE, regular folks not taking BP money for political reasons, in Texas want the Oil Polluters hung from a short tree. It's time big Oil goes away. GM,Ford,Chrysler all have 3 years to put out anything but a gas operated automobile. If an auto maker can't put out 100% non gas using cars, they need to go out of business. Penalty for oil spill: 30 days allowed for any major catastrophy is time limit. after 30 days, BP or offending company has to provide 1 wind generator per day. Smart people would put those wind generators in front of the endangered marshlands. Ding ! what an idea huh? Pass it on. 1. Replace Adm Allen. 2. Put people in jail. 3. Penalize them by replacing the need for oil with wind generators. 4. No more gas operated cars. I would like to see a discusion on these topics on the air. Take a survey. again thx Steve from Texas

    June 29, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Rod Hebner

    To Friend, Greg is my brother, you can email me via intrepix@yahoo.com leave a number to call, I will call .. thanx

    January 14, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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