What Firefighting and Spill Response Have in Common

Volunteer firefighter performing one of the tasks during his physical test, pre-pandemic

About a year and a half ago, when I moved from Davis to Winters, CA, I decided to apply to become a volunteer firefighter with the Winters Fire Department.  I thought it would be a relatively simple process: you fill out an application and they accept you.  After all, you are a “volunteer”, not getting paid, and dedicating your own time to helping out, right?  I couldn’t have been more wrong! I did fill out an application, then had to show up in person for a pretty strenuous physical test that involved completing different tasks within a certain amount of time…in full turnout gear. After passing that, I had a fairly formal interview with two of the captains, then had to schedule a comprehensive medical exam, get fingerprinted at the Police Department, attend a volunteer orientation, take an oath, and then, and only then, was I “accepted”.

Swiftwater rescue training on Putah Creek in July 2020

Then the real work began: getting all my gear (and there is a lot!), getting fit-tested for the face piece of the SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus, sort of like a SCUBA tank and regulator but for above water), and attending the twice month Wednesday evening trainings. This was right around the time that COVID began, so attendance to trainings involved several modifications to insure that we were all protecting ourselves and others as much as possible from COVID exposure.

Trainings at the fire station have included skill-building exercises, such as learning how to put on and operate the SCBA, hose layouts, swiftwater rescue, victim search and rescue at night, learning how to drive and operate the various fire engines, etc. And that is just the training piece. There is also on-the-job training that happens when you are at the fire station, with never-ending tasks in between calls.  It has been a steep learning curve, and continues to be, although my time at the fire department (mostly on weekends or days off) has been incredible.

I have only been a volunteer firefighter for a year, and yet I have learned so much during that time.  So, what does firefighting have to do with oil spill response, you might ask?  The answer is that there is a lot in common between the two, when you think about it (and I have thought a lot about it during the past year). Some of the similarities that stand out for me are the following (and this is by no means an exhaustive list).

Incident Command System (ICS for short)

Firefighting and spill response both operate under this system. The ICS is an organizational management structure that originated for response to fire incidents and has since been adapted for many other emergencies such as spills, floods, missing persons, storms, etc. The ICS has many uses and many benefits, including being able to expand or contract depending on the magnitude and evolution of the particular emergency. The other significant benefit of ICS is the use of common terminology, which helps make responding to an emergency much more efficient and organized, since everyone is using the common language.

Variations on the same theme: one example of an ICS layout

PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)


Oiled Wildlife Responders during Refugio Oil Spill in 2015

Prior to 2020 most people did not know what “PPE” stood for, yet this acronym was being thrown around in media outlets left and right. COVID-19 has certainly changed that! PPE is meant to protect from many things (depending on the type of PPE), such as viruses, oil, hazardous chemicals, fire, etc. Most people now know that PPE refers to supplies that help protect you, and PPE can refer to anything from masks, gloves, to goggles, hard hats, face shields, etc.  As an oiled wildlife spill responder, you certainly learn about different types of PPE and which ones you are required to wear either in the field capturing an animal or at a facility while washing oil off an animal.  As a firefighter you also learn about PPE – not only the medical type used to help protect first responders from viruses, bacteria, blood borne pathogens and such, but also the type of PPE that helps protect from heat (turnouts and boots), smoke (SCBA), and physical impacts (helmets, goggles, gloves).



Oiled Wildlife Manager Training (pre-pandemic)

The effectiveness and success of a response system, whether that be firefighting or spill response, is highly dependent on ensuring that the personnel responding to an emergency have the proper training.  Training not only builds capacity and skill, but it also builds confidence as well as less tangible outcomes such as interpersonal relationships and trust-building within a team. These are just as important as learning skills, since teammates that trust each other and have good working relationships (that can only be achieved prior to an emergency), are usually more efficient than teams that have never worked together or have not had the time or opportunity to build trust with each other. Just as training is an important component of firefighting, the OWCN training program is a huge component of our overall program and as such, the OWCN Management Team dedicates a significant portion of our time on planning, preparing, and delivering different trainings throughout the state (or virtually). We consider these trainings to be so important for keeping our responders up to date on protocols, procedures, and skills. Finally, because oil spills that impact wildlife don’t happen every day in California (thankfully!), we often participate or conduct oil spill drills or exercises to help prepare for the real thing.

Emergency Response

This is the reason for our existence! When we are called upon during an emergency, such as to help someone that is in cardiac arrest, to put out a fire in a chimney, or to rescue wildlife that is covered in oil, we are there! Our goal is to be quick to respond, and fully armed with the necessary tools and skills to help out when and where we are needed.

Animals rescued during the Cuyama River Incident in 2020

Passion for Helping

Finally, firefighters and oiled wildlife responders are passionate about helping alleviate suffering and lending a hand where needed. That is why we make the decision to do what we do. No regrets, no apologies. A simple passion for making the world a better place. And that alone is a worthy goal.


Observing the JIC: Communications in an Oil Spill Exercise

I recently attended the three-day BP Shipping/Alaska Tanker Worst Case Discharge Exercise in San Mateo. As a member of OWCN’s marketing team, I went to observe the communications process of the exercise, which operates out of the Joint Information Center, or JIC. The goals of the JIC are to establish effective communication with the public and media within the first few hours of responding to a spill and to create a plan for the next 24-48 hours.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I’d never participated in a large-scale spill or spill exercise. As I approached the exercise floor, humming with activity, I started to realize the scope of an actual spill and the dynamic coordination required to address it. A couple hundred participants navigated the room toward their respective sections—from command staff and planning to logistics and operations—greeting one another along the way.


Members of the Operations section

Some attendees were in full uniform, like members of the Coast Guard and the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office. Nearly everyone wore brightly colored vests, which identified the various exercise roles. JIC participants, part of the command staff, wore white vests. My OWCN colleagues, Jennie and Lorraine, wore orange vests as part of the Wildlife Operations team.


Two of my OWCN colleagues, Jennie and Lorraine, representing Wildlife Operations in the Operations section of the exercise.

By the time the ICS 201 Incident Briefing started, it was standing room only. We were briefed on the exercise scenario by the Incident Commander and encouraged to collaborate across teams, share knowledge and ask questions. Then it was off to exercise play!

Inside the JIC, the lead Public Information Office (PIO) and JIC manager were identified and working groups were quickly set up for media, community relations, info gathering, written products and social media. Deliverables included a press release that announced the formation of the Unified Command, a VIP site visit and a press conference set for late afternoon. A plan was made to hold hourly check-ins and then everyone dove into their assigned duties.


Inside the JIC: California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s OSPR PIO Eric Laughlin takes a media call.

Within minutes, phones in the JIC starting ringing—simulated press calls from the exercise controllers—which the media team promptly jumped on. The social media team showed me a very cool online tool that the exercise controllers were also using to simulate posts about the spill from the public. The JIC manager relayed an approved social media handle and website name for the spill, and media were directed to them for updates. Both the media team and social media team shared high priority questions and rumors with the JIC manager and the written products team to help build out talking points, press releases and fact sheets for the exercise’s spill website.

spill exercise website

The exercise website included mock press releases, fact sheets, photos, maps and contact information.

In the afternoon, the JIC held a mock press conference. In preparation, the Incident Commander and federal, state and local agency representatives were selected and prepped with talking points. Copies of the press releases and fact sheets were on hand for the “reporters” as they checked in. A camera operator stood at the ready, and then the the lead PIO started the press conference. He provided a brief summary of the incident and then each representative provided a short statement. It was exciting and a little nerve-wracking to watch the representatives respond to some tough questions—I had to remind myself that this was not an actual press conference. The importance of the prep work became immediately evident.


The lead PIO responding to “reporters” at the exercise’s mock press conference

Watching the JIC in action was like observing a master class in crisis communications. It was a great reminder that information in an unfolding incident is constantly evolving, which creates opportunities for error and confusion (and at worst, panic). That’s why it is so critical that the JIC work closely with Unified Command and the section leads to ensure a single, verified source of communication with the public. A coordinated response effort and a controlled flow of communication help ensure accurate communications, and in turn the safety of the public, responders and crew involved in an oil spill.


The OWCN comms team, Kristin and Eunah, in the JIC.




Effigy “patient” in bird box with Animal Collection Tag

Last week, OWCN hosted the annual Full Deployment Drill (FDD). The FDD is our opportunity to test out our readiness, put our equipment to work, and figure out ways to further improve our spill response efforts. This year, the FDD involved a theoretical oil spill in the San Francisco Bay near the northeast corner of Angel Island, in which 140,000 gallons of a mixture of diesel and bunker C oil were spilled due to a collision between two vessels. Staff and volunteers were called in to fill responder roles during this two-day drill, and the “controllers” (those that created the drill scenario) supplied us with bird boxes containing effigy patients and patient info cards including capture location, weight, body condition, temperature, clinical signs, and oiling status. While responders carried out “routine” wildlife recovery, field stabilization, transportation, intake, processing, and pre-wash care procedures for the effigies, the controllers enhanced our drill experience by throwing “injects” at us. These injects were bonus issues or problems to which we had to respond, in addition to managing the chaos of the other aspects of our roles. All in all, the drill was challenging, enlightening, and even fun. To better elucidate some of these experiences, here are some excerpts from our three “newbie” staff:

Newbie #1, Sam, Care Strike Team Leader (Shadow)

“As kids we learned that it takes practice to be good at something. You want to make the varsity softball team? Practice your swing in the batting cage. You want to teach your puppy to play fetch? Bring your tennis ball (and your patience) out to the backyard and practice! You want to help pull off a successful wildlife response during an oil spill? Attend the OWCN Full Deployment Drill! This year’s FDD was my first and now I can see why it’s often referred to as our most valuable event of the year. Having facilities and supplies is great. Having trained responders is amazing. Having an opportunity to bring them together without the stress of a real disaster is invaluable! The FDD lets us try out new technology, communication systems, and for many–new roles. Many of us have taken the basic Incident Command System courses, but far fewer of us have seen ICS in action. For this year’s drill, I had the opportunity to shadow another experienced responder, Michelle Bellizzi from International Bird Rescue, who assumed the role of Care Strike Team Leader (CSTL). The CSTL is responsible for supervising the care of animals within the Primary Care Facility, which in this drill was the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center (SFBOWCEC). Michelle and I were constantly on the move while we worked with the Response Veterinarian (Dr. Lorraine Barbosa) and the Intake, Pre-wash Care, Cleaning, and Conditioning Area Coordinators to ensure that things ran smoothly in the Facility. Just like in a real spill, animals (effigies) moved through the phases of rehabilitation in real time. We troubleshot injects from the drill controllers such as a sudden loss of WiFi, responder injuries, and infectious disease hazards. Michelle and I spent the majority of the drill within the cold and warm zones as we coordinated with our care teams. This was new to me. In the past I’ve always been donned in PPE from head to toe as part of an intake, wash, or field team. It’s a bit of an adjustment to take a step back from the hands-on animal care aspect of wildlife response, but I really enjoyed being able to engage with and support all of the care areas. Shadowing someone during a drill is an excellent way to get familiar with new responsibilities. We’re looking at including additional shadowing opportunities in next year’s FDD to help prepare more responders for area coordinator positions.”

Newbie #2, Jennie, Transport Coordinator

“Coming from a non-oil spill background, the FDD was a whole new ball game, and a very unique learning experience. In the days leading up to the drill, there were only a few things I knew: I was going to play the role of Transport Coordinator, we had one first responder team and a few wildlife recovery teams, and we would be staged at the OSPR Office in Fairfield. The rest? All in the hands of the controllers. Which, in a way, was the best part about the drill! I never knew what was coming next, and they really kept me on my toes. Luckily for me though, the controllers did an excellent job at not only keeping me busy but helping me learn as much as possible along the way. As Transport Coordinator, it was my job to coordinate the transport of the animals between the field recovery teams, Field Stabilization sites, and the Primary Care Facility. Which, as you can probably imagine, required lots of phone calls, text messages, and some major strategic planning. Especially because of the number of animals we had, the fact that they were spread out over so many different sites, and the fact that I had only one transporter to do it all! On top of that, I had injects thrown at me left and right by the controllers, which actually made things quite exciting. Particularly when one of the birds that was being transported escaped its box and became loose inside the vehicle en route to the Primary Care Facility, and when my transport driver theoretically locked the keys inside the vehicle! However, with the guidance of the Wildlife Recovery Group Supervisor, the Field Stabilization Group Supervisor, Field Stabilization Staff, my wonderful transport driver, and my handy dandy Transport Coordinator Guide, we made it work! It might have been a two-day whirl wind, but I’m already looking forward to whatever challenges the controllers come up with for next year!”

Newbie #3, Lorraine, Response Veterinarian

“We received our spill notification at 07:49 on Tuesday. We had a team meeting at 08:30, and within four hours, we were fully packed and headed out to SFBOWCEC to set up our Primary Care Facility. Drill staff were hired and by the afternoon I was working with our Care Operations Specialist (Sam Christie), IBR’s staff veterinarian (Becky Duerr), IBR’s Response Services Manager (Michelle Bellizzi), and SFBOWCEC’s Wildlife Center Manager (Isabel Luevano) to create a patient exam, fluid, nutrition, and triage plan. Shortly thereafter we received our first two WEGR (Western Grebe) patients, assessed and settled them in for the night, and I headed home to write up the protocols for the next day. At 07:00 on Wednesday morning, we oriented our volunteers and prepped the Intake and Pre-wash Care rooms for patients. Just when I was feeling almost prepared, I received my first inject: ‘The USDA CDFA is requesting a written protocol for preventing introduction and spread of velogenic Newcastle Disease (vND) in your facility.’ At almost the same moment, one of our two patients from the night before was found in respiratory distress and having neurological signs. As soon as Becky and I assessed the bird and came up with a plan, I doffed (removed) my Tyvek and ran to the office to type out a vND protocol. Meanwhile, 10 more birds, including one DCCO (Double-crested cormorant) arrived at the Facility and the Processing and Intake teams were working furiously to get them logged, triaged, and treated. After donning (putting on) and doffing my Tyvek what felt like at least 10 more times, I met with a USDA representative who notified me that any cormorants we took in would need to be quarantined. Cormorants are a species known to be susceptible to large vND outbreaks, and the USDA wanted to be extra cautious given the (actual) recent case of vND in the area. It quickly became a game of ‘figure out which birds had been exposed to the cormorant so that we could quarantine them too.’ We identified six birds exposed to the cormorant, and after working with the Pre-wash Care team to designate a quarantine area, I doffed my Tyvek once again and ran to the office to research river otter sedation protocols for the oiled river otter mother and three pups that had just arrived. Meanwhile, an oiled tiger salamander arrived (an endangered species), and, donning my Tyvek again, we went in search of an appropriate amphibian enclosure. Other injects included a staff veterinarian getting stabbed by a needle and having to go to the doctor, a volunteer dropping a tray of blood tubes and us having to re-draw blood from six birds, a volunteer being bitten by a river otter and having to go to the emergency room, and well, you get the idea. And this was all before 2pm! Overall, the pace was quick, the vibe was efficient yet supportive and kind, and the injects and drill scenario were very realistic. Although we can’t ever be completely prepared for any situation, I definitely felt this drill helped me to better understand my role and be as prepared as possible.”

As first-timers experiencing the FDD, it was great to see everyone come together from so many different organizations, backgrounds, and experience levels to work cooperatively toward achieving our collective goals of recovering, transporting, and caring for the animals in the best way possible. We feel lucky to be a part of such a great team and look forward to next year’s drill!



Wildlife Recovery Staging Area and Field Stabilization Site



Wildlife Recovery and Transport teams discussing animal transport


Processing team

Processing team logging animals


LBarbosa and WMassey_FDD

Intake team examining a patient



Intake team filling out OWCN Oiled Bird Intake Form



At 9:18 am Monday morning the OWCN Senior Team received a heads-up text from Julie Yamamoto at California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) alerting us to an accident involving a tanker truck earlier that morning at Dutch Flat on I-80. As you might imagine whenever we get a text that includes “this is not a drill” the adrenaline spikes. At 9:19 the whole OWCN Management team here in Davis looked down as our phones beeped for a Group Me message from Mike Ziccardi with the information from Julie and instructions to confirm we have received it. (How does he type so fast?)

    Blog Julie Y text Dutch flat IMG_5530.jpg                Mike text Group me Dutch IMG_5529.jpg


Immediately those of us who don’t know where Dutch Flat, CA is headed to Google Earth or Maps to get an idea of the location, topography and access roads and then check the temperature and weather at the site.

Dutch flat.jpg

Kyra led a quick informal discussion with the some of the Readiness and Field Operations staff who were working at the Boneyard and came up with a contingency plan to be ready to immediately deploy an initial Wildlife Recovery team directly from Davis if we were activated.

Cal Spill Watch 10;31.jpg


At 10:21 CDFW Cal Spill Watch tweeted a report of the incident and a photo of the wreckage. As we waited for more news, we discussed potential species impacts, wildlife survey recovery methods in steep terrain, equipment needs, and potential care operations locations as we celebrated a staff birthday with lunch out.

Just about the time our burgers and fries arrived, so did an update tweet from Cal Spill Watch detailing efforts in the investigation and the plan to construct a barrier to contain the spill and keep it from the nearby creek when the rain (forecast for later in the day) arrived.

As the day went on and our lunch digested with no call to activate or even formally stand by, our blood pressure and heart rates settled back to normal. While the efforts to remove the truck and clean up the environment continued, we stood down and went back to the daily work of our team. Checking and maintaining equipment, replacing or improving, arranging trainings, and doing all the little things that make it possible to be ready to roll when the call or text lets us know that “this is not a drill”. Waiting for that next jolt of adrenaline those words bring to responders of all kinds including us here in Davis and all of the Member Organizations up and down California.

Cal Spill watch last.jpg


PS Later Monday night we learned that the driver of the truck died in the crash. Although it appears at this time that the damage to the environment was much less that it could have been, we recognize that for the family and friends of the driver it could not have ended worse. Our thoughts are with them today.

OWCN’s Inland Survey Says….

As many of you know, we recently held our first inland Full Deployment Drill since the expansion of the OWCN’s mandate to cover all surface waters of the State.  This was a unique experience that gave us some fresh insight into the challenges that face us when responding away from marine waters.  As a follow-up, we sent out a survey to all OWCN responders asking a few questions about volunteering during inland response.  We had over a hundred responses to the survey, and were pleased to learn that there is a strong desire in the Network to volunteer during inland response, despite the difficulties that come with responding in remote locations.

Chart_Q4_170504-1Notably, 75% of survey responses indicated people would be willing to volunteer for full day shifts instead of the usual 4 hour shift.  This is important since it will be difficult to get many volunteers mobilized to more remote areas, and the willingness to work longer shifts means that we need fewer total volunteers each day.  Additionally, we found that if we are able to provide accommodations and reimburse travel expenses, volunteer interest and availability increases dramatically.  This is something that we will be taking into account when we plan for volunteers at future inland responses.

Finally, we read through all the comments, which were very helpful.  Many of you are interested in more training on how to handle inland species, and many others had comments discussing how providing accommodations would really help – some were even willing to stay in tents during inland responses!  Thank you to everyone who had a chance to respond to the survey, and know that this information is very valuable to us as we build our inland program.


Jackalope spotted in Quincy Drill! Film at 11

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.

On the road to Quincy

On the road to Quincy

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.

set up Quincy

Facility Set Up at the Fairgrounds

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.

OWCN Sprinter & Hazing Trailer

OWCN Sprinter & Hazing Trailer

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.


Otter Exam

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.


Lessons learned


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.




Full Deployment Drill Feedback Summary

You may have recently read about the Full Deployment Drill that took place in Morro Bay in February. If not, you can check out our pre-drill information by clicking here, and our post-drill information by clicking here. While most of what we learn from a drill hapIMG_5638pens in the moment and during the hotwash, we also get some of most important feedback from the participants after the drill in the form of evaluations. We take this feedback and look for areas of improvement and in general figure out what we can do to be more prepared. Today, I’m writing to sum up the feedback we received from the drill.


Did you find this activity to be valuable?

The responses were 100% “yes” answers! This is great news for us, as it means that our participants are getting as much out of the drills as we are. Notably, people felt that it was a good way to connect with others in the Network, identify areas of improvement, and in general see how things would work during a spill response.


Is there any content we did not cover that you would like to see added?

The responses were overwhelmingly in favor that the content was adequate as is. However, we did see some great suggestions to include instruction on specific equipment such as radios, and processes, such as ICS.


Do you feel you were adequately prepared, or trained, to perform your assignment?

While most people felt they were prepared for their role in the drill, we did have a few people that felt they needed additional training. Some areas in particular that people felt they needed more training, were marine mammal processing and using the WRMD medical database – don’t worry, we will have lots of training coming up with the new medical database! On a positive note, people felt they received lots of support from their supervisors when they weren’t sure what to do.


Did you have the appropriate equipment to perform your job?

While still majority “yes” answers, this is one area that based off of the feedback, we could do a bit more work. There were a number of responders that felt they had things missing from the equipment/kits that would have been helpful. Lesson learned – always good to check our training supplies and make sure they have everything in them that we have in our response kits!


Were you sufficiently busy for this activity? (Too busy/not busy enough)

This question is particularly important to us, as we want to keep everyone busy but not let people get burnt out during a spill. We only had 3 people that felt they were too busy. On the other side, we had 2 people that felt they weren’t busy enough – don’t worry, guys, we can always find more for you to do!


Areas where the group performed well:

This was a really broad mix of comments. Some that stood out, and were mentioned by several participants, were:

  1. Good communication among groups and within groups
  2. Knowledge of equipment by responders
  3. Strong leadership
  4. Worked well as a team


Areas where the group needs improvement:

Identification of areas of improvement, or “deltas”, is critical information to us. We never reach the end for best achievable capture and care of oil-affected wildlife. Instead we continue to look for ways to improve and get even better at what we do. Some things that were particularly valuable to us for the deltas section were:

  1. Space issues – The center in Morro Bay is on the smaller side, and we definitely need to have a solid plan for how things will be set up so we have the space we need.
  2. Some missing supplies – while this was from training supplies, it is always good to think about double-checking our equipment kits for spills.
  3. Difficulty learning new technology during a drill – don’t worry, once we have a final version of WRMD up and running, we will be having trainings to learn the program.
  4. Organization at the beginning of the drill was confusing/took too much time – hmmm, sounds like a spill! Definitely a good idea to think about how we can jump into game play more quickly and effortlessly for future drills.

photo 4Miscellaneous feedback:

  1. Some would like to have mini drills throughout the year, possibly computer based – good idea, and we actually have some of these in the works! Last year some of you participated in an online drill helping us to test our scheduling capabilities during spills. We plan to do this again in 2016, and will be expanding these computer-based drills.
  2. Some issues with the tablets (hard to use with gloves, too small of screens, etc.) – the tablets used for the medical database during the drill are not the ones we intend to use for spills, they were just ones we had available. Expect to see something similar to a larger tablet or a surface pro with keyboard, which should help these problems.
  3. Suggestions for making our signs more clear – we love this idea! Using different signs and color schemes for different areas at the Primary Care Center will be a good way to make everyone aware of the different zones.


As always, thank you for being the most amazing responders out there! We can’t do this without you, and we hope that you know how valuable your feedback is to use.


Kicking the Tires

Happy Friday, Friends!

Over here at OWCN central, we’re in the final phases of preparation for next week’s full deployment drill.  Just a few more “i”s in need of dots and “t”s in need of crossing.

drill intake

Intake personnel practice with decoys

Drills are our opportunity to kick the tires on our program.  They’re the best way, short of responding to an actual event (knock on wood), to find ways to improve and keep our personnel in top fighting shape.  In tabletop drills we make decisions and plans, run through paperwork, and virtually work through our procedures.  In a more targeted area drill, we’re able to test out very specific portions of our facilities and procedures in great detail.

Next week’s drill is a “full deployment drill”, which means we’re testing out all four of our response streams – Wildlife Recovery, Hazing, Care & Processing, and Field Stabilization.  We’ll be working with staff and volunteers from 19 organizations, and we’ll be responding to a variety of species, including both birds and marine mammals (although exactly what and how many our Wildlife Recovery folks will bring in is a secret known only to our Director – and Drill Master – Mike Ziccardi).


Drill Briefing

2012 full deployment drill participants receiving a briefing.

This year, the drill will be taking place on the central coast, hosted by two of our wonderful Member Organizations, Pacific Wildlife Care and The Marine Mammal Center – San Luis Obispo.  It’s not easy accommodating an event of this size while still continuing normal operations, but these wildlife professionals don’t shirk from a challenge.

drill inject

“Injects” like this help to simulate the unpredictable, frequently challenging events of a real oil spill.

If you have a few minutes, I strongly recommend checking out their websites and blogs (linked above), where you can find stories about their wonderful operations–and if you’re inspired, you can support their heroic work through volunteering or donations.

I don’t know exactly what will happen during the drill next week, but I do know we’ll have an amazing opportunity to check our program for holes, work together with our Network partners, and brainstorm ways to keep the program current and constantly improving. 

What more could we ask for?


Drill Report from Field Operations

“The way to do fieldwork is never to come up for air until it is all over.”
Margaret Mead

Well, it wasn’t quite that bad, but Field Operations was definitely kept busy testing out three Groups: Wildlife Recovery, Field Stabilization and, for the first time, Marine Mammal Wildlife Recovery. This was also the first time OWCN deployed a separate Transportation Coordinator to mange the logistics of moving oiled animals from the beach to Field Stabilization and to Primary Care.

Our drill scenario included a magnitude 7.5 earthquake that occurred at the Cascadian Subduction Zone 45 miles West-Northwest of Humboldt Bay at 10:34 PM on March 16, 2014. The waves resulting from the quake reached Humboldt Bay around 11:00 PM. The 6-foot tall waves caused 5 moored vessels inside the bay to collide and release fuel. Initial volume estimates ranged from hundreds to thousands of gallons of diesel. In addition, a local refinery reported a release of 50 – 100 barrels of gasoline from a terminal on the west side of Arcata Bay.

The next morning, once there was light to see, our field teams got to work right away. Wildlife Recovery Teams met at the Sprinter (the mobile office for Wildlife Recovery operations), for a briefing on paperwork, safety, and team assignments. The “injects” (snippets of information that keep the drill moving forward) came in the form of index cards in bird carriers, and the Wildlife Recovery teams were given instructions to open these at specific times.

In the meantime, the Field Stabilization (FS) team efficiently set up the MASH (Mobile Avian Stabilization Hospital) trailer and prepared to receive birds collected by the Wildlife Recovery teams. Once the birds arrived at the MASH, FS personnel gave each bird a brief initial physical examination. Then they administered appropriate supportive care such as heat, fluids, and First Aid for any significant wounds. Once birds were stable, FS staff contacted the Transportation Coordinator to arrange transfer to the Primary Care Center where they received more in depth examinations and treatments.

At the same time, the Marine Mammal Wildlife Recovery teams were out on the beach responding to calls of distressed harbor seals and even a beached killer whale. We were certainly glad that this was only a drill! In addition to marine mammals, the team was asked to rescue an oiled beaver. Luckily, we were able to contact Bird Ally X for help; they provide wildlife rehabilitation services to the Humboldt region. Their experienced staff was deployed to capture the unhappy rodent and transport him to the Primary Care Center.

As coordinators for the Field Operations, both Kyra and Nancy want to thank the Wildlife Recovery, Field Stabilization, and Marine Mammal Wildlife Recovery personnel for their enthusiasm and excellence in rescuing and stabilizing a wide diversity of animals during this drill. Personnel came from more than six different organizations and we were so impressed with how well they seamlessly merged into field teams.

At the end, we all gathered at the Primary Care Center to go over “plusses” and “deltas”. On the plus side, the field teams commented on the outstanding teamwork and organization/efficiency of the response. For “deltas” (room for improvement) some equipment requests and paperwork adjustments were identified. This “hotwash” discussion is one of the most important parts of the drill, because it allows us to identify ways to improve our response in the future.

Once again, the entire OWCN team would like to thank all the staff, volunteers, and agency personnel who participated in the drill and made it such a success. Your hard work is greatly appreciated, and we look forward to seeing all of you again (at a drill, not a spill)!

–Kyra & Nancy

Wildlife Recovery teams  bringing rescued birds to the Sprinter van in preparation for transport to Field Stabilization located at the MASH

Wildlife Recovery teams bringing rescued birds to the Sprinter van in preparation for transport to Field Stabilization located at the MASH

Field Stabilization personnel meet prior to setting up the MASH trailer

Field Stabilization personnel meet prior to setting up the MASH trailer

Field Stabilization personnel using drill to set jacks for MASH trailer

Field Stabilization personnel using drill to set jacks for MASH trailer

Marine Mammal Wildlife Recovery team practices netting oiled harbor seal

Marine Mammal Wildlife Recovery team practices netting oiled harbor seal

Drilling proper procedure to obtain photo evidence during recovery of oiled cetacean

Drilling proper procedure to obtain photo evidence during recovery of oiled cetacean

Marine Mammal Wildlife Recovery personnel recording data during recovery of oiled harbor seal during drill

Marine Mammal Wildlife Recovery personnel recording data during recovery of oiled harbor seal during drill

Drills are a Gift

At a company where I used to work, we were often told that “feedback is a gift,” and after Monday’s full-deployment drill in Arcata, I find myself thinking “drills are a gift”! The drill was incredibly valuable, both for us and (hopefully) for all the participants. Despite the somewhat isolated location, we had representatives from at least 10 member organizations and numerous affiliated agencies; if we add in observers, we had over 70 people attend.

From my point of view, the drill was an essential tool for testing out the flow of the renovations on the facility, and although it’s not perfect (and what is?), it’s a huge improvement from before the changes. And, of course, like all changes, these will take a little getting used to . . . . at least twice I walked through a door and emerged in a different room than I thought I would!  But putting my spatial challenges aside, it was a great experience and a greatly needed one.

I’d like to thank Tamar, Rick, Dan, and the other Rick for all their help before and during the drill. Without their help, we wouldn’t have had nearly as successful a learning experience as we did. Most of all, I’d like to thank each and every one of the participants. You took it seriously, you worked hard, and you worked together smoothly and effectively.

Thanks everyone! Let’s all use the momentum created by this drill to keep up with our training. Maybe check with Becky to see if there are some webinars you should take, or figure out if your HAZWOPER training needs refreshing. It’s always a good time to maintain readiness!

– Christine

Staff and volunteers assembling net-bottomed pens at the MWCC

Staff and volunteers assembling net-bottomed pens at the MWCC


 Working through Support issues at the MWCC