Oiled Sea Otter Rehabilitation Course

Management Structure and Personnel Responsibilities


The director is responsible for the overall rescue and rehabilitation program, its facilities, and its staff (Figure 13.1). He or she should understand the effects of oil on sea otters and, ideally, have experience in every phase of the rescue and rehabilitation process. Management experience and good interpersonal skills also are important. The ultimate success of the rehabilitation program will depend on the expertise and experience of the management team the director assembles.

The director is ultimately responsible for operating the rehabilitation program, but is usually occupied with matters other than the daily operations of the facility. He must be responsive to the needs and desires of the spiller (if one is identified) and government officials, including the trustee resource agencies- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Department of Fish and Game (DFG), the on-scene coordinator, and the regional response team. Other demands on his time will come from special interest groups and the media. The director will have time to deal with these groups professionally and effectively only if he is confident about daily operations; this confidence will come only through good management and a well-trained staff.

Because sea otters are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the director must receive authority from the USFWS for their capture, rehabilitation, and release. Under emergency conditions such as an oil spill, provisional authorization can be provided quickly to individuals with recognized expertise and experience. However, to avoid confusion and delays, the director should obtain preauthorization for sea otter rehabilitation from the USFWS.

During an oil spill, a USFWS coordinator may be designated to provide trustee agency oversight of the rescue and rehabilitation program. This coordinator may direct the capture operations through the capture team coordinator (see below), who is a member of the management team and also may be an employee of the trustee agency. Such an arrangement ensures direct communications between the capture teams in the field and the trustee agency on such important issues as the preemptive capture of unoiled otters and when to begin and end the capture operation.

The director may not be involved in the daily operations of the rehabilitation center, but must remain informed about the status of the facility and any problems that require his personal attention. This can be accomplished through daily meetings with the management team, which includes a financial supervisor, operations supervisor, logistics supervisor, personnel supervisor, documentation supervisor, and public relations supervisor. Their feedback is essential to ensure efficient and effective operations. To manage rehabilitation program finances, the director should meet daily with the financial supervisor, review the accounts, and approve all purchase requests. The hire and discharge of any personnel should be reviewed with the operations supervisor and the personnel supervisor. In the director’s absence, the operations supervisor should become acting director.

Good media relations are essential during an oil spill. Because many people find sea otters appealing, the press will be very interested in the well-being of otters in the rehabilitation center. The director should meet daily with the spiller, the USFWS, and the public relations supervisor to organize press briefings and interviews. Alternatively, if the spill is under federal control, media relations may be coordinated by the USFWS and the on-scene coordinator.

Financial Supervisor

The financial supervisor is responsible for maintaining financial records, preparing payroll, and approving all purchase requests, leases, and contracts. Staff accountants, the payroll officer, and secretarial staff will assist this individual (Figure 13.1). The accountants maintain a current balance on all expenditures. The payroll officer distributes and collects employee time cards from respective supervisors, verifies employee working hours, and prepares the payroll. Purchase requests for supplies and equipment should be submitted through each supervisor to the procurement coordinator, who must receive approval from the financial supervisor or a designated accountant before placing the order. Copies of all purchase vouchers are sent to the accountants.

In some instances, the financial supervisor may be an employee of the responsible party paying for the rescue and rehabilitation program. Under these circumstances, the financial supervisor acts as a liaison between the rehabilitation program and the responsible party’s financial office, which must approve all expenditures.

Operations Supervisor

The operations supervisor is responsible for the cleaning, husbandry, feeding, and veterinary care of sea otters in the rehabilitation center, as well as for organizing capture teams, ensuring they are properly trained, and coordinating capture efforts with the USFWS. The operations supervisor is also responsible for security and maintaining quarantine conditions at the center. When the director is absent, the operations supervisor should become acting director of the rescue and rehabilitation program. This supervisor relies on the husbandry coordinator, nursery coordinator, animal food coordinator, veterinary coordinator, capture team coordinator, and security coordinator to fulfill these responsibilities (Figure 13.1). Personnel supervised may include husbandry staff, sea otter cleaning crews, cage and pool cleaners, nursery staff, kitchen staff, clinical veterinarians, veterinary pathologists, veterinary technicians, capture teams, security personnel, the quarantine officer, and secretarial staff.

The operations supervisor works with the personnel supervisor to ensure that the animal care staff and capture teams are properly trained and clothed (see Chapter 14). He relies on the husbandry coordinator, nursery coordinator, and animal food coordinator to ensure that proper husbandry protocols (see Chapter 7) and safety procedures (see Chapter 14) are followed.

The husbandry coordinator supervises the husbandry staff who monitor and feed the otters, the sea otter cleaning crews who wash and dry the oiled otters, and the cage and pool cleaning crews. The husbandry coordinator works with the documentation supervisor to ensure that proper records (see Appendix 2 Download PDF for record forms) are maintained by the husbandry staff and that each otter can be identified by its flipper tag. Three eight-hour shifts are required to provide the otters with continuous care. Depending on the number of oiled otters arriving at the rehabilitation center, up to three eight-hour shifts will be needed for the sea otter cleaning crews. Cage and pool cleaning crews should work only one shift during the day.

The nursery staff coordinator supervises the nursery personnel who care for orphaned sea otter pups. The care of sea otter pups is very labor intensive and requires a well-trained and dedicated staff. Three eight-hour shifts are needed to care for the pups.

The animal food coordinator supervises the kitchen staff who prepare the frozen or fresh seafood for the otters. Only a daytime and evening shift are needed for the kitchen staff, because the otters are not fed between midnight and 7:00 AM.

The veterinary coordinator supervises the veterinary staff to ensure that the otters receive prompt medical care on a twenty-four-hour basis. Three eight-hour shifts are needed for the clinical veterinarians and veterinarian technicians. All otters that die in the center should be necropsied within two hours by a veterinary pathologist and tissue samples taken for toxicological and histopathological analysis (see Chapter 1). The USFWS may provide a veterinarian to conduct or supervise the necropsies and tissue collections. This person may also assist the clinical veterinarians in verifying that rehabilitated otters are healthy, disease-free, and ready for release.

The husbandry coordinator, animal food coordinator, and veterinary coordinator maintain inventories of essential equipment, supplies, and seafood. When shortages are identified, purchase requests are given to the operations supervisor, who forwards them to the procurement coordinator. The animal food coordinator and the veterinary coordinator should institute quality control procedures for all perishable supplies, especially seafood and drugs.

The capture team coordinator directs capture operations and works with the personnel supervisor to ensure that capture teams are properly trained. As mentioned above, this person may be the USFWS coordinator. The capture team coordinator works with the transportation coordinator, communications coordinator, procurement coordinator, and the USFWS coordinator to ensure that capture boats are chartered and that capture efforts are properly coordinated with the aircraft or ship-based transportation of sea otters, personnel, and supplies. Good communication (by radio or cellular telephone) with the capture boats is vital to ensure the prompt transportation of newly captured sea otters to the rehabilitation center.

The security coordinator controls the movement of personnel into and out of the facility by placing security guards at all entrances and issuing photo-identification badges to all personnel. These security procedures are needed to prevent the accidental introduction of domestic animal diseases into the animal quarantine area by unauthorized visitors. To ensure that the quarantine is maintained, a veterinarian or a trained specialist with expertise in quarantine procedures for domestic animal diseases will, as the quarantine officer, assist the security coordinator.

Logistics Supervisor

The logistics supervisor is responsible for chartering capture vessels and crews, transporting personnel and animals, maintaining communications between the rehabilitation center and field operations, procuring equipment and supplies, maintaining the facilities and equipment, and, in remote areas, feeding the staff. This person relies on a transportation coordinator, a communications coordinator, a procurement coordinator for supplies and equipment, a facilities maintenance coordinator, and a cafeteria coordinator (Figure 13.1). Under the logistics supervisor are the aircraft and ship scheduler, the ground transportation scheduler, drivers, radio and cellular telephone dispatchers, electronic technicians, purchasing staff, maintenance personnel, janitorial and laundry staff, cafeteria staff, and secretaries.

The transportation coordinator charters or leases boats, helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, trucks, vans, and cars. This includes leasing cars or trucks for use by the director, supervisors, and other key personnel. The transportation coordinator relies on the ship and aircraft scheduler to coordinate the aircraft or ship-based transportation of sea otters, personnel and supplies between the capture boats and an airport or harbor. The ground transportation scheduler arranges for the transportation of otters, personnel and supplies by van, truck, or car to and from the rehabilitation center, relying on a team of drivers who maintain radio contact with dispatchers in the communications room.

The communications coordinator should establish a radio and cellular telephone communications network between the capture boats, aircraft, ground transportation, and the rehabilitation center. Supervisors and other key personnel should carry hand-held radios and wear pagers so they can be contacted twenty-four hours a day. A dedicated communications room should be established in the rehabilitation center to coordinate communications with all field operations. The communications coordinator should use dispatchers to transmit and receive information and trained communications technicians to keep the equipment operational. The inability to reliably communicate with the capture boats greatly impeded the sea otter rescue effort during the Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS).

The procurement coordinator for supplies and equipment is responsible for locating vendors and preparing purchase vouchers for all equipment and supplies. Purchase requests should be received through the appropriate supervisor before a voucher is prepared. The voucher is then approved by the financial supervisor and a copy sent to his office after an order is placed with a vendor.

The facilities maintenance coordinator ensures that the rehabilitation facility and its equipment are in good operating condition. This includes the physical structure, all amenities (lighting, climate control, plumbing, the seawater system, etc.), outdoor pens and pools, and the landscaping. This person works with the operations supervisor and staff to establish maintenance priorities for the facility. Maintenance work can be conducted by in-house staff or independent contractors. If contractors are used, the facilities maintenance coordinator should negotiate maintenance agreements before a spill occurs. This will help ensure prompt service and a more competitive price. All maintenance agreements must be approved by the financial supervisor. The facilities maintenance coordinator also supervises the janitorial and the laundry staff, who keep the facility interior clean and wash the towels and coveralls used by the animal care staff.

In remote areas, the cafeteria coordinator is responsible for feeding personnel at the rehabilitation facility, relying on the cafeteria staff to prepare or cater the meals which should be served in a sanitary room separate from the animal care area (see Chapter 12). The cafeteria coordinator works with the procurement coordinator to purchase food and supplies.

Personnel Supervisor

The personnel supervisor is responsible for hiring, discharging, and ensuring that personnel are trained in accordance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards (see Chapter 14). For spills in remote areas, this person also is responsible for staff housing. This supervisor relies on the personnel coordinator, training coordinator, personnel housing coordinator, and secretarial staff (Figure 13.1).

The personnel coordinator works with the operations supervisor and logistics supervisor to determine the number and type of personnel needed in the rehabilitation center and on the capture boats. This person actively recruits paid and volunteer staff during an oil spill response (see below), maintains personnel records, and works with the payroll officer to administer payroll.

The training coordinator works with the operations supervisor and capture team coordinator to ensure that all personnel receive specific job training according to OSHA standards before commencing work, and that they understand their employee responsibilities and rights. To avoid labor disputes and possible lawsuits, a personnel handbook should be prepared. The handbook should clearly describe the rules of employment, including job responsibilities, the chain-of-command, proper attire, safety, hygiene, benefits (health and disability insurance), overtime, promotion, and dismissal.

If the spill occurs in a remote area, the personnel housing coordinator is responsible for staff housing. This may be accomplished by arranging for staff to stay in private homes, leasing apartments or condominiums, bringing in trailers, or constructing temporary buildings.

Documentation Supervisor

The documentation supervisor ensures that: 1) sea otters are properly identified when captured, 2) data forms are completed, filed, and copies sent to the USFWS, and 3) data is entered into a computer database, analyzed, and made available to appropriate staff at the rehabilitation center. To accomplish this, the documentation supervisor relies on an archivist, computer programmer, and data entry personnel.

The documentation supervisor works with the training coordinator to ensure that capture teams, husbandry staff, and veterinarians understand documentation forms used during the capture, rehabilitation, clinical care, necropsy, release, and transfer of sea otters (see Appendix 2 Download PDF). This person also works with the capture team coordinator and husbandry shift coordinator to ensure that each otter is identified with a flipper tag for tracking from capture until release, transfer, or death.

The archivist maintains all records and distributes copies to the USFWS. The computer programmer maintains a computer database, supervises the entry of all data, and prepares daily status reports on the number of otters in the facility, their food consumption, and medical condition. This person also assists supervisors in maintaining computer hardware and software.

Public Relations Supervisor

The public relations supervisor works with the director, the spiller, the on-scene coordinator, and the USFWS to coordinate daily press briefings and media interviews.

The press will request access to the rehabilitation facility to photograph and videotape the otters and staff. This poses several serious problems. First, the presence of visitors makes it difficult to quarantine animals and increases the risk of exposure to domestic animal diseases. Second, the added commotion is stressful to the otters. Organizing a press pool (a single representative for the entire press group) is one solution. Alternatively, the facility should be designed with viewing areas that are isolated from the animal care area by glass (see Chapter 12). Video cameras may be placed in key locations throughout the facility so that visitors can view the rehabilitation process on video monitors outside of the quarantine area.