nesting wildlife and ecosystems that live and produce there. At times, it makes more sense to let nature break it down over time, or let the tides capture it where it can be cleaned from the water.

Either way, responders are left to make tough choices. At best, they need to be able to make informed and educated decisions.

Lehmann said in cases like those, and others where scientific data and prediction models are crucial to an effective response, the Coast Guard leans heavily on the SSC.

He adds that when a spill happens, the conch calls on nearly every branch of science to respond. "Big oil spills are the most scientifically interdisciplinary event you'll ever run across."

He describes a concert of scientists including marine biologists, ecologists, physicists, chemists, geographers and others.

Once all of the components - scientific, government, private, community - are in place, the challenge Lehmann sees time after time is getting consensus. "One man's ceiling is another man's floor," he said.

In some cases, there are environmentalists screaming on one side and the responsible party, or spiller, screaming on the other. Lehman said that the Coast Guard and the SSCs are usually wedged tightly in the middle.

"When you have two scientific or two political groups that are screaming really hard, there's probably a little truth in what each of them is saying, and it's our job to meter in between."

It then becomes a goal of achieving balance.

"If you look at an ecosystem, nobody set it up that way," said Lehmann. "It's that way because it's balanced. Sometimes it gets out of balance, but it usually gets itself back into balance. It may take some time, but it finds its own balance - it finds its equilibrium."

Command structures, he observes, are the same way. He said he frequently refers to the organizational structure of a command as being organic.

"You can impose a system on top of it. You can impose this Incident Command System - which is a very good system - but if you try to hold that system too tightly, it's going to finally break around the edges because it's not allowed to grow. If you give it some flexibility, which is how it's designed to be, then slowly and sometimes rapidly, that spill command structure morphs into what is needed."

He said it almost always happens.

"When it doesn't happen is when it's not allowed to do that - when there is some human force preventing that from happening," he said.

That force, he said, is rigidity.

And sometimes the response is not successful. As he illustrates, there are also ecosystem that don't make it at first, but they evolve until they're productive.

The same is true of an oil spill response using the ISC.

"A spill that is going to go on for a while - it evolves into its own management structure," he said. "It finds an equilibrium with the spill."

Is it any wonder, that our man-made systems and our structures and our models and methods mirror those of ecosystems, and the natural order of the planet in general?

It shouldn't be. Given the chance to step back and observe from a clearer viewpoint, one can easily see that we're all part of one big picture.

And, as Briggs noted, it's a pretty picture and a precious one. "It's amazingly productive, as long as we don't abuse it."