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

Drill Time!

As I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago, the OWCN is having a full-deployment drill up north in Arcata on March 17th. We’re starting to get excited about it, and with 46 people signed up, it’s going to be a fun time! We already have numerous member organizations and affiliated agencies represented at the drill, which is great because it gives people a chance to interact with people they don’t work with on a daily basis.

Our facility, the Marine Wildlife Care Center, administered by Humboldt State University, just underwent some major renovations, so a key objective of this drill is to learn the flow of the new floorplan and get comfortable with the changes. Tim is the only one of our core staff who’s seen the facility since the renovations; the rest of us have to wait until the drill.

If you’re interested in participating, ask the OWCN contact at your member organization to forward you the invitation. This Thursday, March 6th is the last day to sign up. Let me say that again. Final day to register for the Arcata drill is THURSDAY MARCH 6th.  If you email or call us on March 7th and ask if you can come, we’re going to say “No.” I’d like to think we’ll say it nicely, but I’m not making any promises ;-). Just kidding, of course — we’ll be very nice, but we’ll still say no!

There are several reasons for the strict deadline, not the least of which is that Lavonne is going to arrange for us to have a lovely lunch, and we need to give her a final head count for the caterer.

Please consider joining us “behind the redwood curtain” for a fun day of learning as we test our readiness in this vulnerable stretch of coastline.

Oh yeah, the deadline.  Did I mention that there’s a deadline to sign up? It’s Thursday, March 6th.