Late last week I got on an airplane, early in the morning, headed for Indianapolis to help deliver the third day in a 24-hr HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) course to members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) the day before the AZA Annual Conference began. This training was a collaboration between the OWCN and the Alaska SeaLife Center, and the goal of these trainings (this was the third one) is to increase the capacity for AZA members to assist during oil spills.
During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, AZA (among other groups), offered to send personnel to assist with the response; however, there was not a system in place that would easily allow these folks to help out. Since then, there has been more of a concerted effort to get these systems in place before a spill, so that when there is an incident, these highly skilled individuals are able to be looped in to a wildlife response.
The final part of this training included an oil spill drill, which is always a great chance to test the knowledge in a more realistic situation. The class was divided up into 3 working groups: a field operations group (which included reconnaissance, hazing, and recovery), a rehabilitation group, and a safety/logistics group. The job of these groups was to work through some of the initial planning priorities and safety concerns, and identify resources that would be needed to carry out a wildlife response.
It was a quick trip half way across the country, but I felt humbled to meet this fine group of professionals and contribute to the lively discussions. It is not only during a spill that we help animals. By investing time and energy into getting better prepared ahead of time, we increase our capacity to hit the ground running when a spill does occur.