06/05/2015 12:57 EDT | Updated 06/05/2016 05:59 EDT

Vancouver oil spill response plan requires major overhaul, says expert

American marine toxicologist and oil spill expert Riki Ott has added her voice to the chorus of critics, calling the response to the oil spill in English Bay "dismal."

Ott, whose first experience with a major oil spill came when the Exxon Valdez grounded close to her hometown of Cordova, Alaska, is in Vancouver for a citizen workshop on oil spill response and preparedness. 

With oil spills and the possibility of increased tanker traffic on the west coast top of mind, the term "world-class response" gets thrown around often, but is seldom clearly defined by those who use it. Ott says that true world-class responses are built on a foundation of localized planning that is funded by federal and regional governments. 

"World-class response means that people living in the area need to have their act together," she said to Rick Cluff on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition. 

"We collectively know where the currents go, we know where the marinas are, we know where the sensitive habitats are, not only wildlife, but also for humans."

Citizen advisory councils needed

Ott believes that, in addition to strong local government-led planning, there should be citizen advisory councils for every geographic response area on the west coast.

From her experience dealing with major oil spills, Ott does not believe in the oil industry's capacity to effectively respond in emergency situations. That means citizens have to be more active.

"The citizens are the anti-complacency component of this whole plan. Citizens want to protect their backyard, she said. 

"They're the ones that advise and ride herd on this process and make sure everybody's doing what they're supposed to do and complain loudly if they're not."

The event called 'Oil Spills in Your Backyard & Opportunities for Citizen Engagement' takes place Saturday, June 4th at the St. James Community Hall (3214 W 10th Ave. Vancouver) and runs from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

To hear the full interview with Riki Ott, listen to the audio labelled: Vancouver oil spill response 'dismal' says expert.