The Alaska SeaLife Center has begun the development of a national emergency response network for marine-mammals affected by oil spills. The organization, which began with funding derived from the Exxon Valdez oil-spill settlement, is utilizing a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and is working in association with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to form the network.
The work done by the partnering agencies is in an effort to gather and maintain a database of veterinary professionals with specialized skillsets in oil-spill and natural-disaster affected marine-mammal care.
Chip Arnold, who is coordinating the project, stresses his hope that the project will become both self-sustaining and specialized in wildlife-response. Arnold described the earlier years at SeaLife, “I think people just assumed that we were prepared to respond to oiled wildlife but the fact of the matter was that, in the early days, we were just trying to respond to stranded wildlife and to keep our aquarium … so I think that this was just, kind-of, returning to those roots and returning to those things we knew we were going to be involved in, if this ever happened again.”
Of the requisite training components for the network of professionals, Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (or HAZWOPER) protocols will be primary. Arnold explained that, in incidents of the past, like the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, several professionals were qualified but could not participate in the clean-up effort because they had not completed HAZWOPER-training. As such, the efficacy of the emergency-response team was diminished.
In the case of emergency response, efficiency and timeliness are of the utmost importance. With SeaLife, their operations were hamstrung by a lack of HAZWOPER. In the general industry, HAZWOPER training is a useful and, often, mandated standard. Safety leaders who oversee workplaces that house or deal in the management of hazardous chemicals would be well-served to utilize an OSHA-approved training course to ensure the efficacy of their operations and safety of their employees