June 8th, 2010
12:02 AM ET

Inside BP's command center

We were given a very rare, inside look at BP's crisis command center in Katy, Texas, just west of Houston.

We got only 30 minutes to sweep through, but saw some high-tech wizardry at work as BP tries to contain this spill.

First we went to the briefing room, the communications hub. This is where the shifts are coordinated among the 500 people working.

The command center's a 24-7 operation, with people working 12-13 hour shifts at a time. This room has an incident commander to coordinate who does what, and what's done on each shift. Incident commander Jeff Hohle told me the most pressing concern at the moment was maximizing the flow rate moving through the latest containment cap.

The ROV (remotely-operated vehicle) command center was the most fascinating room. It's a genuine high-tech "situation room," darkened inside with several real-time video feeds being sent to monitors on the wall. Two engineers in the front row give commands to ROV pilots on surface-vessels, who then work the ROV's around.

While we were in the room we saw them giving commands for an ROV to lower a basket with its mechanical arms. The ROV's are remotely operated subs which have done everything from the containment-dome placement to the junk-shots.

We were not allowed to speak to the engineers. BP officials said they needed to maintain focus. They're usually controlling 12-16 ROV's at a time.

The Sim-ops room is where engineers call the movements for vessels on the surface. This is the "air traffic control" of the operation. Several ships are operating in a tight space above the leaking well head, and these specialists look at their movements on a radar-like screen with three "hoops" marking off sections where they're operating.

Sim-ops coordinator Neil Cramond told us, "I wouldn't call it dangerous, but operating so many vessels in such a small space is not normal."

The busiest room was the sub-sea containment room. This is where officials call the shots on deploying undersea dispersants, skimming operations and surface burns.

BP senior vice president Kent Wells, who took us on the tour, said morale is boosted by the fact that the latest containment cap is now funneling about 11,000 barrels a day to tankers at the surface. But that's only about half of what's leaking out."

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Filed under: Environment • Gulf Coast Oil Spill • U.S.
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