An Intricate Web: Notes from the Field, part 2

Today I go home. 22 days, 7 hotel moves, 4 moves of our staging area for field operations (Refugio State Beach, El Capitan, San Buenaventura, McGrath), 222 birds collected (live and dead, as of June 10) and 134 marine mammals (live and dead, as of June 10). It has been quite a ride. Before this, I had never been part of such a large scale oil spill response. Yes, I have taken countless trainings in Incident Command System, I have participated in more drills than I can count, and in general, we spend most of our working day talking and planning what to do when a spill happens. But as “they” say (and it is true), each spill is different, and it is impossible to prepare for every single aspect that may be thrown at you. In that sense, this was the best drill ever, although it wasn’t a drill – it was the real thing. There will be many lessons learned about this spill.

Every time we participate in a spill or drill, we have what is called a “hotwash” after it is over. This is where we make lists and talk about everything that went right during the spill or drill (positives), and things that we need to improve upon (our deltas – a soft way of saying “negatives”).  It is going to take weeks, months, and years to work this one out because this spill certainly had it all. So even though our work in the field is coming to an end, in many ways our work is just beginning. I look forward to being a part of this next phase.

Beach at San Buenaventura on my last day.

Beach at San Buenaventura on my last day.

So as I leave, I look back on it all. Like an enormous web, the wildlife aspect is just one small part of the whole spill response. It is truly amazing to learn about all the different elements that work in unison to move the response forward. I feel really proud about the job we have done, rescuing the animals in need and collecting the ones that have died (important for assessing the overall impact of the spill), but we did not work in isolation.

In order to do our job, it was essential to have the support of the Wildlife Branch at the Incident Command Post. Each day we would let them know what was needed for us to do our job, and like magic, they would make it happen: new kennels, more staff, new staging areas, lots of ice. These were just some of the requests we made over the last three weeks. And they had their own job to do – getting information from us about what we were seeing and what we were collecting and passing that information along to the rest of the response. And like I said before, the Wildlife Branch is just one small aspect of the entire web of response. We also had the essential support of our Volunteer Coordinator and our Administrative staff, who worked with us every day to find enough trained people to help us out, and found them hotel rooms. Not a small task. And then of course, our work in the field would not have counted for anything had it not been for the A team on the other side: the people that stabilized the animals and the ones that took care of them after they arrived at the primary care facility. And let’s not forget about our transporters. They spent hours and hours, most of this in LA and San Diego traffic, just to get the animals to the care they needed.

As things in the field slow down, Jack Ames and Erica Donnelly-Greenan take a much needed break.

As things in the field slow down, Jack Ames and Erica Donnelly-Greenan take a much needed break.

Now I really must go pack, but before I do, one final thought: just as waves keep washing upon the shore, we will continue to have oil spills (as long as we are dependent on this stuff). But I leave with the knowledge that we have done our best, but we have a long road ahead of us to learn how we can improve for next time. Because there will be a next time. I feel truly privileged to have been a small part of this web.


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