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Experience shows that the best way to ensure that wildlife affected by oil is successfully treated is to have a wildlife plan in place before a spill actually occurs. Although most coastal countries have an oil spill contingency plan in place, few of these plans include a section that explicitly deals with a planned response to oiled wildlife. This is surprising as a major oiling event can potentially affect tens of thousands of animals, especially birds, and once washed up on shore, a country will be facing a significant animal welfare problem. To solve that problem will require a dedicated response.

The infrastructure needed for an effective oiled wildlife response consists of several elements of preparedness, including:

  • An agreed oiled wildlife response plan, formally adopted by the appropriate authorities and well integrated into the wider oil spill response planning
  • A training and exercise programme that ensures that individuals who play the key roles in the execution of the plan are well trained and prepared for their jobs
  • Pre-identified and well maintained facilities (Necropsy labs, permanent rehabilitation centres) with trained staff and agreed protocols
  • Well maintained stocks of equipment, possibly including mobile response units
  • Pre-identified work forces that can be mobilised as part of the plan (registered and trained volunteers, veterinarians, scientists, rehabilitators, search and collection experts, international response teams).

Sea Alarm has studied and been involved in the planning processes in many countries and has therefore developed a unique expertise to assist interested parties with finding the right solutions to make things work.

Sea Alarm supports anyone who wishes to be prepared for such a response by providing assistance with planning, the development of response infrastructure (e.g. capacity, facilities), the facilitation of training and exercises and the identification and purchase of equipment.

Sea Alarm’s advocacy programme aims at authorities, regional agreements and governmental institutions to the advance of instruments and programmes that assist and encourage the development of response plans and higher levels of international preparedness.

Capacity building

To respond effectively to a marine wildlife emergency, individual responders and organisations need to be well trained and well prepared. This capacity building can best be achieved through substantial investments in training of best practices and exercising existing response plans.

To this end, Sea Alarm regularly facilitates and organizes national and international events that focus on optimising communication between stakeholders, the training of key individuals and the identification, exchange and documentation of best practices.

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Facilitating multi-stakeholder activities

Assisting with strategy and planning

The first step in the process is to help everyone to understand the joint objectives in a response and the specific role(s) that the different parties are able to fulfill. Once that common ground and language has been defined, stakeholders often find it easier to reach out to utilise the services of their natural partners, exchange information and develop workable solutions to difficult scenarios, based on a better understanding of each stakeholders’ limitations.Ideally this first step is taken before response planning is initiated as this will result in a response plan that is more likely to be accepted by all parties. Sea Alarm has many years experience in facilitating response planning in a variety of situations and can bring concepts from other, similar situations to the table during (pre-) planning sessions.

Linking key industry organisations and oiled wildlife response experts

Everything Sea Alarm does depends on personal contacts and the networks it is constantly promoting and expanding. Sea Alarm has developed close relationships with key players in the maritime and oil industries in addition to its connections in the oiled wildlife response community. This enables it to quickly identify international resources that can be mobilized to support a response anywhere in the world.

It is also important that key organisations regularly meet each other. To this end Sea Alarm organised conferences in 2000, 2001, 2004, and 2007, offering a platform for European responders, governments and industry to exchange thoughts on the state of preparedness in Europe, evaluate recent responses, and define emerging priorities. In 2009 Sea Alarm was co-organiser of the 10th International Effects of Oil on Wildlife Conference bringing this key global wildlife response meeting to Europe for the second time in its history.

Regular participation in the three major oil industry conferences (Interspill in Europe, SpillCon in the Asia-Pacific region, and the International Oil Spill Conference in North America) keeps the wildlife aspect of oil spill response in the industry’s sights. Sea Alarm also supports the development of international expert networks and ensures that information and knowledge is shared.

Providing training and exercises to hone skills

Once the objectives and strategy for a response plan are in place, efforts can concentrate on identifying and filling gaps, in terms of equipment, facilities and human resources. Sea Alarm has developed an array of training and exercise modules that will help individuals, organisations and response teams to develop the necessary knowledge, skills and experience.

To this end, Sea Alarms cooperates with leading oiled wildlife response organisations and industry, with the goal of providing truly international, widely accepted standards of care that will result in the profession of oiled wildlife response being recognised on a higher level.

Sea Alarm and its partners are continuously developing materials, including table top exercises, field exercises, instruction manuals, visuals, and simulation software, to create a realistic picture of what the key challenges are and how to deal with them.

In particular, one set of the training and exercise modules Sea Alarm has developed concentrates on improving the operational skills of officers who will take management positions, and who together must make things work during an incident response. These officers are ideally trained and exercised together so that they can develop experience as a team.

Assisting with coordination during an actual response

During an actual oiled wildlife response Sea Alarm can be mobilised to help assess the situation, provide input on ways forward based on previous experience, coordinate joint stakeholder meetings or decision-making processes, and activate international assistance where appropriate. These services allow those involved directly in the response to better focus on the work at hand and at the same time have an experienced coach/adviser readily available when needed.

Response plan development

By assisting in the development of response plans, Sea Alarm helps governments, industry and NGOs to be better prepared to respond to oiled wildlife incidents. Sea Alarm provides training and helps initiate and assist with round table discussions on response plan development.  Over time, the team has developed skills, insight and experience that can be applied on a global scale to enhance wildlife response planning.

Sea Alarm  has already facilitated wildlife response discussions and planning processes for many European countries, including Sweden, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and the Netherlands. It has assisted Belgium in writing its national oiled wildlife response plan, and advices an increasing number of oil companies on their corporate or in-country oiled wildlife planning and preparedness.

The success of any response to an oiled wildlife incident is strongly dependent upon the ability of national parties, such as the oil spill response authorities, the wildlife response authorities, wildlife responders and scientific institutes, to cooperate with one another under stressful circumstances.

For the relevant parties to cooperate successfully, certain elements need to be in place, including agreed objectives, an agreed strategy, and an agreed organizational structure in which all key responders fit in. Although these elements can be put in place in the immediate aftermath of an incident, there are potential risks to this approach. For example, it may not be possible to arrange meetings in which all parties can participate, or participants of a meeting may not be able to reach an agreement on key issues, or nobody dares to take the responsibility for the decisions that need to be taken, or something else may not work.

Pre-spill planning is the best guarantee that the objectives and strategies are clear, and that an identified management team can quickly mount an effective response with the necessary resources.

Being independent and impartial, Sea Alarm has developed unique qualities to assist national parties and industry with the planning process:

In-country planning

A national or subnational oiled wildlife response plan is best developed as a process in which all key stakeholders (governmental agencies, ministries, NGOs, industry, local communities) are involved. The process could include a series of meetings in which the main issues are discussed and in which all stakeholders bring forward their ideas and response capabilities. A constructive atmosphere is needed in order to arrive at the best possible result. Training and exercises often allow to draw the attention to the common ground that all parties will recognise, and from where they can start discussing how they can move forward together.

In many countries, not only in Europe, Sea Alarm has acted as a moderator in starting discussions between key actors, design a road map for the process ahead, assist with the development of a response plan, and providing training to key officers and organisations.

Although there are many generic elements, there is no blueprint for the planning process that can simply be
copied from one country to another. In each country, the starting point is different. Some countries may already have experienced an oiled wildlife incident and know exactly which problems occurred previously.
In other countries key responders may have difficulty working together because of existing animosities. Other countries may be lacking the experience, facilities or resources to mount an oiled wildlife response.

Signing of the nationally agreed oiled bird response plan (Belgium, 2005)A blueprint oiled wildlife response plan is also difficult to provide, although the issues and options have a generic character. Each country has its own unique emergency response infrastructure. In some countries the key responsibilities for oil spill response and wildlife issues are distributed over a large number of administrative levels, making the planning process a complicated  undertaking. In other countries only a few ministries and a handful of organisations are involved, allowing relatively simple and straightforward solutions.

As an impartial outsider, Sea Alarm has the ability to moderate meetings between different stakeholders to define the common grounds for a contingency plan on the basis of which they can cooperate in oil spill incidents.

Alternatively Sea Alarm can provide training to key individuals who are dedicated or charged with the task to lead the planning process in their country.

With its European partners, and with EU or industry co-financing, Sea Alarm has developed a wide array of training courses and guiding documents that can be provided.

Industry planning

Sea Alarm is a reliable partner for industry to develop an adequate level of preparedness for oiled wildlife response, e.g by assisting with the development of dedicated oiled wildlife response plans, providing training for oil spill response managers or hands-on responders, or assisting with the integration of wildlife aspects in oil spill exercises.

Over the years we have assisted a large number of companies in their aim to develop preparedness in different countries in the Americas, Africa, Europe, Middle East and Asia.

With colleague organisations and in consultation with our clients, Sea Alarm has developed a large portfolio of training courses (ICS managers, wildlife response managers, first responders), field and table top exercises and state of the art wildlife response plans. With its unique experience working with Governments, Industry and NGOs, Sea Alarm is able to bridge gaps, moderate processes and solve problems, so that preparedness can really build upon the strengths that each of these parties can bring to the table.

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Training & exercises

With plans in place, the next step toward true preparedness is having regular training and exercises to improve responder skills and uncover any areas needing further development within the plan and/or among the participants. Sea Alarm has created a series of training programmes, and tabletop, equipment, field and other exercises to help with this process.

Sea Alarm invests a lot of time and energy in creating training opportunities for different target groups within the community of marine wildlife emergency responders. Target groups include emergency response managers, wildlife response managers, hands-on responders and scientists. Sea Alarm also organizes training events and contributes to exercises that enable groups of responders to gain knowledge and cooperate together.

Apart from developing its own training modules, lectures and exercises, Sea Alarm contributes to and/or facilitates training events or modules provided by others. Sea Alarm assists oil companies or governmental agencies in their efforts to develop consistent training programmes to train key staff positions in an oiled wildlife response or exercise programmes in which trained staff can develop expertise and experience in realistic environments.

The more training opportunities and exercises that are organised, the better prepared stakeholders can become. Funding is obviously is a key issue. Involving Sea Alarm in the planning of a training exercise does not only guarantee its expert contributions, but it also assists in the identification of other trainers or contributions that could be requested from specialized bodies. Sea Alarm is also able to explore external funding opportunities on behalf of other organisations. If a particular training event aims to increase cross border cooperation in Europe, Sea Alarm may also be able to consider some of its own funding opportunities.

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