Disaster network would offer animal care training

Disaster preparedness to aid wildlife in the event of oil spills and natural disasters has been in the forefront of Alaska SeaLife Center efforts for nearly two decades, and now, boosted by a $455,119 grant, the center will help take that work national.

The grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services will allow ASLC to work with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to create and sustain a nationwide network of animal care professionals to respond to oil spills and other disasters, says Tara Riemer, ASLC president and chief executive officer.

“By sharing the expertise and knowledge of the Alaska SeaLife Center with animal care professionals at AZA accredited zoos and aquariums, we will significantly enhance disaster preparedness across the United States.

“We are very grateful to the Institute of Museum and Library Services for recognizing this need and supporting this ground-breaking effort,” she said.

ASLC will work in cooperation with the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center of the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine to develop and deliver training courses, a mutual aid framework, and searchable database to facilitate rapid identification and deployment of appropriately trained specialists from the AZA community, she said.

The three-year grant will allow ASLC to expand an already existing program, involving a combination of online and live instruction in Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) in classes across the continental United States and Alaska, said Chip Arnold, ASLC operations director.


Over the last 18 months, ASLC has done these blended classes six times, the most recent one just completed at a zoo in Detroit.

HAZWOPPER training is critical for those responding to provide aid in disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico.  In that case, half of the responders sent by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to help wildlife were turned away because they lacked HAZWOPPER training, Arnold said.

“Disasters do happen, and we have a responsibility to prepare as thoroughly as possible to support wildlife and the animals in our care,” he said.

Updates and refresher certification programs for those previously trained will also be provided, and a train-the-trainer program will be implemented to broaden the network’s reach and support for its sustainability.

HAZWOPPER certification must be renewed annually, Arnold said.

The training will also support preservation of animal collections in zoos and aquariums in the event of natural disasters.

According to Steve Olson, vice president of federal relations of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, noted that disaster preparedness is a priority for zoo and aquarium collections and wildlife. Olson said that bringing the expertise of ASLC to the AZA is vitally important to AZA’s mission.

The ASLC opened in 1998 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit research institution and public aquarium, and is an accredited member of AZA, also a 501(c)(3) non-profit, dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the area of conservation.

AZA represents over 230 institutions in the U.S. and overseas.