“There has to be more advance preparation for a potential spill,” Sheehan said. “The longer there's open water, the more opportunity there is for a problem.”

Sheehan said he has a cost-effective solution for preparing for a potential disaster: using abandoned Navy and Air Force hangars.

“They don't need heat, they don't need light, and you could just put them chock-block full of spill response equipment,” Sheehan said, adding that the conference room of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation could serve as a coordination center for emergencies.

“Barrow has the best communications on the North Slope,” Sheehan said. “There are more opportunities to prepare and respond from here.”

City and borough officials said preparation should involve federal and state cooperation.

Ready or not, major change is on the northern horizon. The residents of Barrow will feel the effects first.