As the coronavirus emergency stretches into weeks and maybe months, there are an increasing number of stories of companies, institutions and individuals pulling together in what President Donald Trump has called a “whole country approach.”
Companies are ramping up production of key supplies. Federal agencies are streamlining procedures and waiving regulations where warranted. Agencies like the Corps of Engineers are mobilizing across all 50 states and five territories. Individuals, charities and volunteer organizations are improvising, making do and finding new ways to help each other, often online.
Our industry, too, has been moving quickly. Towing companies are adjusting procedures for crew changes and adding pandemic scenarios to their Towing Safety Management Systems. They are deep-cleaning vessels and practicing social distancing to the extent possible. And they are continuing to move vital supplies across waterways, protecting and preserving trade and our economy.
The American Waterways Operators has organized resources and is conducting weekly calls with industry leaders to field concerns and respond to issues relating to coronavirus.
This kind of rapid response and ramping up is something our industry has long been used to. As Capt. Kristi Luttrell, commandant of Sector New Orleans, pointed out during a recent webinar on coronavirus liability organized by Jones Walker, vessels are still expected to be ready for any emergency that might occur on the rivers, despite coronavirus.
Even in the best of times, rivers demand constant vigilance and respect. More than other industries, perhaps, the towing and barge industry is used to dealing with danger, risk and emergency.
That could mean vessels standing ready to execute a rescue, retrieve a loose barge or help with a spill cleanup at a moment’s notice. It could mean shoreside industry leaders assembling teams to quickly respond to high-water emergencies and work with federal agencies. Our industry has been exercising these muscles for a long time. And that’s good news for our country’s economy.