Planning, preparation and training are critical to any crisis response effort. This is especially true when a crisis requires a large-scale response, with multiple teams of people and equipment arriving on scene from various agencies, organizations and impacted communities. With so many moving parts, the potential for confusion, error and inefficiency is high. There is no time to waste herding cats.
Readiness is one of OWCN’s four core principles, and we constantly train personnel and test procedures throughout the year to ensure that we are prepared to respond to oiled wildlife events.
Last week at OWCN headquarters, the management team and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) held their first-ever “tabletop” training exercise. Approximately 25 participants at this all-day event evaluated various strategies and aspects of oiled wildlife response, from notification, activation and staffing to reconnaissance, hazing and animal care.
OWCN and OSPR leadership planned two spill scenarios for the exercise: a major marine spill in Monterey Bay, and a tanker truck incident near the Stanislaus River. OSPR Program Manager for Response Technology, Greg McGowan, facilitated the discussion.
In addition to ensuring that everyone is on the same page operationally, it was beneficial to sit down face-to-face with OSPR field teams to share resources and build rapport. Strengthening our partnerships during “peacetime” helps to create a more cohesive environment when a spill happens.
We look forward to more tabletop exercises in the future!
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?)
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.
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.
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.
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.
As we approach the close of 2018 and welcome 2019 we want to extend our sincere thanks for an amazing year. We look forward to a prosperous New Year filled with many trainings, conferences, a full-deployment drill, and many other opportunities to interact with you, our community. In the meantime, we invite you to explore our new website.
Happy Holidays to you all and wishing you a joyous New Year!
~The OWCN Management Team
The OWCN management staff are busy working on many concurrent projects here in Davis, but one shared project we have all been spending time on has been increasing our inland response readiness.
We have secured additional field and care equipment for inland species, began to draft detailed protocols, added significantly to our mobile response gear, and even welcomed some fantastic new Member Organizations whose locations and expertise immediately improve our inland readiness. If you view the 2018 OWCN Member Organization map below, you will see that we have spread east from the coast, welcoming some amazing new groups over the last few years, including:
As a reminder, the impetus for our inland expansion came from Senate Bill 861 in 2014, which expanded oiled wildlife response to cover all statewide surface waters. This legislative mandate was based on numerous factors, some of which are discussed in the video below by our illustrious Deputy Directors, as well as brief recap of our first inland Full Deployment Drill held in Quincy in 2017.
Video courtesy of our former Wildlife Health Center communication guru, Justin Cox (we miss you, buddy!)
Oil spill response requires so much STUFF! Everything from carriers and nets to medical supplies and mops. We talk a lot about how our responders prepare by participating in training and drills, and we like to show off our big equipment like our MASH trailer or the Wildlife Recovery Sprinter, but I’m here to tell you that the Network puts a lot of work into making sure all the smaller details are in place as well.
From the northern redwood wilds to the balmy southern shores, no part of California is too far from a not-really-secret stash of OWCN response supplies. We’ve got trailers stuffed with hazing and recovery supplies, cabinets and closets filled with animal care essentials, and storage bins packed with everything evidence-collection. More than half of our Member Organizations maintain some type of supply stockpile for the Network, donating a closet or room or parking space to the cause.
A very thrilling look at one of our LA area stockpiles
Keeping stocked and ready to respond anywhere in this enormous state is a real team effort. Not only do we need secure storage for all that stuff, it all needs to be maintained and checked and inventoried regularly, and some items need to be traded out and kept up-to-date. And since we’re constantly striving for excellence and improvement, we’re also often making adjustments to the contents of these stockpiles.
All of this requires hands – to research, order, receive, document, count, and put away. Hundreds of people contribute, from the admin staff that process our purchases to the volunteers and staff who count and tidy the actual stockpiles each year. But in the end, all this work is worthwhile. It means that when an oiled bird needs oil rinsed from its eyes, our caretakers will have the eyewash solution they need in order to do that. And when an oiled fur seal needs fluids, it won’t have to wait for someone to run to the store. Thanks to everyone who makes it happen.