Re-evaluating Oilapalooza

I know, I know… super early to see that word up there! We only just finished the Summit! We’ve got trainings, and a full deployment drill, and a whole busy season before it’s time for Oilapalooza.

But yes, Oilapalooza planning is already underway here at headquarters.  It’s not uncommon for us to start searching for the next site a year or more ahead of time, but currently our planning goes a little deeper than that.

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Hands-on lesson on sea turtles

Oilapalooza has been a lot of things over the years, and it’s always been a lot of things packed into one fall weekend. It began as a way to bring the Network together, raise awareness of all the great organizations and knowledge and people that area spread all over the state.  It has been a chance to get advanced hands-on training in animal care, and an opportunity to showcase new and emerging science that affects the care and treatment of oiled wildlife. We’ve used it as an opportunity for responders to obtain some cross-training and exposure to areas of the response they might not normally see. And there is usually a rare social element, as old friends and colleagues from all over California meet again, exchange knowledge, launch new collaborations, and have a bit of fun.

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2013 Oilapalooza banquet

Over the last few years – and really, for our entire history – OWCN has been growing and expanding.  A lot of the more recent expansion came with the addition of inland response to the OWCN mandate. Since that happened, the OWCN Management Team has been working particularly hard to re-evaluate a lot of how the Network runs, and how we can improve it to support the increased responsibilities that come along with that expanded mandate.

Part of that is the new training program that we’re in the midst of rolling out.  So this seems like a natural opportunity to step back and really evaluate what Oilapalooza brings to our program as an event, why it is so special, and how we can preserve and enhance

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The OWCN Management Team has  fun at the evening poster session

the value it has moving forward. That doesn’t mean Oilapalooza will be completely different! But it does mean that there might be some really valuable modifications we can make, so that this event better serves today’s Network, and we want to entertain that possibility.

The OWCN Management Team has been having some internal conversations on this, and last week we solicited input from our responders in the form of a short online survey.  Thank you to everyone who responded!  Your thoughts and opinions and experiences are invaluable to this process.

I’ve crunched the numbers, and I wanted to share a little bit of the information we gathered from this survey for those of you who are interested. So, warning! The rest of this post is a little numbers-heavy. 🙂

The 2016 State-of-the-Oilapalooza Survey Summary

A huge percentage of those who responded to the survey want to attend Oilapalooza in the future (86%), with the remaining stating they might want to attend, depending on cost, time, and whether they feel the need to make room for new attendees.

When asked why they want to attend, what previous attendees found valuable about the experience, and what those who haven’t yet had a chance to attend are most excited about, the answers were incredibly consistent:

  1. It’s a great opportunity to learn
  2. Networking and socializing with other responders and organizations is valuable
  3. Provides a chance to keep current and receive updates on research, new techniques & technologies that affect oil spill response

While these were the top three reasons cited, among long-time attendees (those who have attended 3 or more Oilapaloozas), there was also an additional appreciation for the chance to get a feel for the big picture of spill response, receive cross-training and learn about species, situations, and response areas that they do not specialize in and might not otherwise be exposed to.  On the opposite end, those who have not yet attended an Oilapalooza, and those who have attended only one or two Oilapaloozas, are particularly excited about the chance to learn and practice hands-on skills during the lab sessions.

We also received a good number of comments, many of which included suggestions for changing up Oilapalooza’s structure. Here are a (very) few of the excellent comments we received:

“I really enjoy the various lectures and learning more about the effects of oil on birds long term. I feel pretty capable when it comes to washing oiled birds, having done this a lot (on a smaller scale than an oil spill, but regularly with natural oil seep contaminated birds), but having a refresher every year or so is also extremely beneficial. I also always enjoy meeting everyone and am so happy to see the dedication so many people have when it comes to mobilizing and heading out to oil spills around the world.”

“I’m not sure how you would address this as you have such a large number of attendees and you’re trying to be as inclusive as you can, which is appreciated. However, if there was a way to separate people based on experience during certain labs/practicals that would be nice. Then people could get either more advanced help or a better grasp on the basics without having to jockey for attention.”

“I don’t think Oilapalooza is really about preparing the Network for spill response – that happens thru the training experience. Oilapalooza is about bigger picture stuff – where things are going in our field and keeping in touch with other participants we don’t normally get to see, since we are located in different parts of the state.”

“More exposure to non feathered animals we might be dealing with in the event of an inland spill. If there is an inland spill we need info on how we will be responding.”

“I have thoroughly enjoyed past Oilapaloozas, and have come away from them feeling re-invigorated for spill response. Training is an essential part of the OWCN, and the chance to complete training requirements at Oilapalooza is very beneficial.”

Thank you once again to all of you who responded to this survey, as you can see, the Management Team has a lot to consider as we move through the re-evaluating process in the coming weeks. Look for more information about Oilapalooza in Spring 2017 when we’ll be sending out a Save the Date.

In the mean time, take care of yourselves and keep up all your good work!

Steph

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