When you are an oiled wildlife responder, people often ask what you do between spills – like they assume you are watching old episodes of the Simpsons or reading War and Peace because you have nothing else to do. I expect firemen or EMTs get the same sorts of questions and I am sure they too at least chuckle to themselves and perhaps can’t suppress a minor eye roll. I can only speak for the responders on the OWCN Management Team at the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center within the One Health Institute at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, but we manage to keep pretty busy and it seems like I am way behind on my reading of the great books.
March has been especially busy. Last week we had meetings of the OWCN Scientific Advisory Committee as well as the OWCN Advisory Board. This week started with our annual OWCN Full Deployment Drill and will end with the Annual Meeting of the One Health Institute. We have a lot going on. Too much to cover in one blog so I will just tell you about one of these events the Full Deployment Drill and leave the others for a future blogger to report on.
The OWCN Full Deployment Drill occurs every year. It is a “peacetime” way that evaluates our readiness to respond when animals are impacted by oil spills in California. Each year responders from many (often more than half) of our Member Organizations participate on the ground. Last year it took place in Morro Bay and this year in Quincy – tucked in a beautiful valley up in the Sierras halfway between Reno and Redding. They are opposites in many ways, but both are fairly quiet this time of the year and each offers unique challenges for a drill. We chose Quincy because it is right next to one of the five areas designated by OSPR as high risk for a spill involving oil by rail in California, and it is a perfect place to identify some of the challenges that inland response will hold for California and the OWCN. We have spent considerable time planning for inland response but this was our first live drill since we were given that responsibility. To maximize the value, we decided to hold an Open House on Monday the day before the actual drill. Our aim was to provide Quincy with a sense of both what we do as well as how it might play out in their community. That added a bit of pressure as we had to travel to Quincy and get everything set up by 4 pm, but great team effort from the OWCN Management Team and participants from many of the Member Organizations got everything in place in the nick of time.
The time pressure from the Open House also gave us new insight into just how much “people-power” will be required to get our five Western Shelter tents and all of our equipment up and running when we are deployed for a spill. If we already have animals that need care when we arrive, that will definitely be challenging.
The drill itself took considerable planning, with Mike Ziccardi leading the development of the scenario with lots of help from OSPR personnel familiar with the area to help make it realistic. The Wildlife Recovery and Hazing Groups set up with the Sprinter and the Hazing Trailer at the Spanish Creek Campground – close to to the “scene” of the “release”. Field Stabilization was 10 minutes away at Hough Ranger Station, which was still about 10 minutes from the Primary Care Facility established at the Plumas County Fairgrounds.
While we don’t use live animals in the drill, we did have more than just our imagination. Stuffed animals, each with cards bearing information about their condition, were captured, transported, processed, and examined. Later some of them went through the cleaning and conditioning processes, so participants in each area were challenged to think about how they would handle a variety of inland species including river otters, bald eagles, giant garter snakes, beaver, skunks, and many more. We tested our still developing digital record keeping system using the Wildlife Recovery iPhone app and OWRMD, and found that although while many people talk about internet everywhere, there are still some places that have spotty or NO SERVICE.
When the drill wrapped up mid-afternoon, we all gathered to share lessons learned. We talked about the internet problems, the challenges of working in tents compared to the roomy purpose-built centers we have along the coast from San Diego to Arcata. We talked about the challenges of the weather and evaluated some of our new inland species equipment and what we still need to acquire. But the thing that stood out the most was that, despite the rain, wind and pretend animals whose lives were not really in danger, everyone played their role with all their heart, taking it all seriously but with a smile on their faces, working together to make California better prepared in the case of an inland spill.
Oh, and did I mention there was even a jackalope? Well, maybe that was not so realistic.
Everyone knows they don’t occur west of the Sierras.