By Anna Loh

Financial Preparedness

This month, we delve into the topic of preparedness during a disaster, seen here in our blog entry last week. This week, we sat down with our board member and Treasurer, Mike Davidson to talk about financial preparedness in an event of an emergency. Mike is a senior auditor with Isler CPA, the IWRC’s accounting firm, and has experience in not-for-profit and financial institution audits, review of internal control and policy, and a strong knowledge in bookkeeping and review.

What are some financial advice you can give to non-profit organizations in case of a disaster?

Well, the most obvious is to have some form of back-up available. For example, if you are using QuickBooks Online (an online accounting software), it needs to be backed up. They do that pretty much already since it’s online and everything is cloud-based and off-site. If your location gets hit by a meteor, your organization will be fine, from a financial perspective.

With changes in the economy, you also need to have some form of reserve, savings, or unrestricted asset (whether cash or donation) that does not have a specific restriction on it by the donor for a specific purpose. That’s a big deal. Basically, having a plan is the most obvious way to go about it. It’s always best to think ahead in the future and not plan for next week. A good budget process helps in that, because you’re essentially saying, “We have a limited amount of assets and resources, so how do we spend these resources wisely?”

Are these financial steps different from what for-profit corporations would do?

There are similarities, but in the corporate world, the focus is based more on product lines and how these divisions will be affected by changes in the market. In the event of a disaster, some areas get affected but some others don’t. But in non-profit organizations, what is the overall community’s opinion towards giving? That’s one thing to be prepared for. While corporations are thinking about how their customers and products might be affected, the non-profit organization is more concerned about the community based in the particular industry: who will still support this cause?

What kind of information do you need to gather from donors when they donate?

Besides basic biographical information, tax information is needed too for tax deduction purposes. The most important thing is to understand if the donor has placed any restrictions on the donation. At the end of the year, we need to disclose big restrictions on our funds; money that can only be spent on a certain cause, and if you don’t, the donor has the right to take their money back. It’s important to track donations – what’s given and restricted and to ensure it matches accordingly to our expenses.

During the end of the year, what does a non-profit organization need to do financially?

When you’re closing down your year, it involves a review of your transactions, balance sheets, income statements and asking yourself, “Are we complete?” Transactions such as invoices and bills  that should have been recorded the previous year but have been received in the current year record an accrual.

The next question is if we are ready to present the statements to the board and to answer questions they might have. The board will be interested in the net position of the organization, which basically means how financially well-off are we? We can see right away how we’re doing in comparison to last year and that helps to make decisions in the next year, be it understanding our givers and changing what we’re doing to be able to make our community donate more to our cause.

Surviving an Emergency

A fire incident that occurred on the afternoon of August 7 near Spencer Butte, Eugene, Oregon caused a gutted house, several burnt vehicles and charred trees. Fortunately, no one was injured in the fire and firefighters managed to prevent the fire from spreading. Located northeast of Spencer’s Butte, Cascades Raptor Center (CRC) decided to execute their evacuation plan the moment Executive Director Louise Shimmel saw a billowing plume of smoke a quarter mile away from the center.

How important is it to have a disaster preparedness plan?

“Extremely important,” said Shimmel. CRC’s detailed emergency action plan was put together by a graduate student at the University of Oregon who had past work experience with Red Cross. The Eugene Fire Department also inspected the center and gave their feedback, such as regulating parking spaces onsite for emergency vehicles and installing a staging area for staff and volunteers to meet and decide the next course of action during an emergency. According to Lane County’s Fire Safety Standards for Roads and Driveways, driveways should be at least 20 feet wide to allow access for fire fighting vehicles and turnaround as well, which CRC already has.

“In general consideration of state fire prevention guidelines, there were some things we could do and others we could not. We try to maintain a 13-foot high ceiling for fire trucks to get in but we don’t have a 30-foot perimeter around the buildings,” Shimmel said. “We want a comfortable habitat here for birds but that puts us more at risk.

Emergency transport boxes ready to go. When not in use they are stored flat in the emergency shed. Photo credit: Cascades Raptor Center
Emergency transport boxes ready to go. When not in use they are stored flat in the emergency shed. Photo credit: Cascades Raptor Center

As part of implementing the action plan, CRC’s volunteers helped build an emergency shed (generously funded by one of their volunteers) that stored supplies such as walkie-talkies and collapsible carriers for animals; marked drawers containing vital information and set up a backup procedure for their computers. Quarterly assessment checks on all batteries were carried out as well.

“It’s kind of hard to do a fire drill when you know that it isn’t real. But in this case, it was real,” Shimmel explained.

On the day of the fire, there were only eight people at the center; after activating the phone tree, another 19 volunteers and staff were there within 20 minutes to help with the evacuation. CRC’s Education Director, Kit Lacy, directed the evacuation plan: sprinklers on the side of the property toward the fire were turned on; with some 100 birds on site, dozens of carriers and transport boxes were put together and set up with towels and with sheets to cover them; any equipment with gasoline and any combustible items like oxygen tanks were moved away from the buildings; critical file and medical supply drawers were emptied, packed, and loaded into vehicles; computers were backed up.

Shimmel was grateful for the efficient fire and police response during the incident, and particularly their understanding and support of the magnitude of CRC’s evacuation requirements.  Some of the roads leading to the butte were blocked to prevent traffic from entering, but police allowed responding volunteers through.  A police officer was stationed near the driveway to CRC, keeping staff and volunteers in contact with the fire response effort.  Just as volunteers were about to start loading birds into carriers, the police officer informed them the fire was contained, and staff decided to stand down.  From start of activating the phone tree to the finish of putting away all the carriers, files, equipment, the whole exercise took about two hours.  Staff had previously estimated – though without a fire drill to be sure – that it would take about two hours to get everybody ready to leave, depending on how many birds were on site and how many staff and volunteers were here to assist.”

What could have been done differently?

“Part of our plan is to, if necessary, simply release any flighted bird.  When it came down to contemplating that, it’s clear that we would need to install release hatches on bird cages, instead of opening the doors and expecting them to fly down from 20 feet to 8 feet and then fly out,” Shimmel said.

What should all wildlife centers have in place?

Shimmel stressed the importance of a disaster preparedness plan for other situations (not merely fires) and having supplies set aside for emergencies – supplies that are not for daily use, but only for emergencies, even though that requires duplication. Regular checks should be done on batteries for electrical equipment such as walkie-talkies. A reciprocal agreement with other rehabilitation centers within the same area should be planned in case animals need to be held at another shelter if the center is not safe or has been damaged. Smoke detectors should be installed in all buildings along with frequent checks on the batteries.

The next imperative step is to have designated organization staff that are aware of the emergency plan and who know how to initiate it during an emergency. “We have staff here all the time along with volunteers, so they will know our plans and how to put it in action,” Shimmel said. Prevention is always better than cure – she contacts the non-emergency police and fire dispatch whenever she or anyone from CRC hears sirens nearby or a helicopter in the area, just to make sure it is not a hazardous incident that will affect the center.

CRCFireOver
Fire alert over! The Cascades Raptor Center staff and volunteers resting before getting everything back in its place, post emergency alert. Photo Credit: Cascades Raptor Center

At the end of the day, Shimmel was thankful that the fire did not affect the center directly and that the preparedness plan worked out despite not testing it out previously – post-event evaluations collected from everyone who assisted have also led to some good suggestions on how to improve the plan. “We had a good crew here who knew what to do. Everyone was so shaky afterwards. Adrenaline is tough,” she said. “It was, in the end, a good experience.”

 

 

Platypus Rehabilitation

As August 30 is Frankenstein Day, we thought of an animal that checks all the boxes for being unorthodox and nature’s most unique specimen – the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus).

platypus
Photo by Wikipedia

The platypus is a monotreme and one of the two that are only found in Australia, the other being the short-beaked echidna. The platypus has water-repellent fur, webbed feet and a leathery bill similar to a duck’s. They are difficult to observe in the wild because of their aquatic and nocturnal nature. Platypuses hunt underwater and are bottom feeders. Hence, one of their biggest threats is pollution and rubbish clogging the waterways especially in urban areas.

According to Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital veterinarian Dr. Claude Lacasse, wildlife rehabilitators in Australia require a specialized permit with appropriate training and facilities to rehabilitate platypus. Because they are heat-sensitive and have a low body temperature, they do not thrive in temperatures higher than 30°C/86°F.

Platypuses can get very stressed in care because of their shy nature. They tend to expend their energy looking for means to escape in captivity. A quiet and stress-free environment with minimal disturbances is needed to ensure they do not experience complications from stress. Platypuses do not bite as they have no teeth, but adult males have venomous spurs on their hind legs, which can cause severe pain in humans that even powerful pain relief medications cannot alleviate. However, infant and juvenile platypus are generally easier to handle and can be managed similarly to other mammal species.

Adult platypus in water. Photo: Healesville Sanctuary
Photo: Healesville Sanctuary

According to Dr. Paul Eden, senior veterinarian at Healesville Sanctuary in Zoos Victoria, platypuses can be picky eaters as they rely on their ability to sense electrical activities from their food items in order to locate food. Water access is provided to platypuses in rehabilitation for them to perform their natural behaviors of swimming and food foraging. This also aids them to groom and maintain the health of their coat themselves.

Dr. Lacasse points out that Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital usually receives only 4-5 platypuses in a year, mostly when the young disperse from their maternal burrows and hunt by themselves. The hospital rehabilitates young platypuses that become anemic and weak because of ticks. According to Dr. Lacasse, sometimes the platypuses are too far gone for rehabilitation, but anti-parasitics, vitamins and good nutrition strengthens them enough to be released eventually. In Healesville Sanctuary, an average of 2-4 platypuses are rehabilitated because they often get entangled in discarded fishing lines and nets and elastic bands, according to Dr. Eden. These items can restrict their movements, preventing them from feeding and causing infected wounds.

Although the platypus is not an endangered species, wildlife experts are concerned that their populations are waning due to habitat destruction and illegal trapping. Run off of fertilizers and pesticides into waterways can affect invertebrate organisms living in creeks and dams, which in turn affects the platypus because these are important food items. Changes in flood patterns can cause erosion to river banks and sometimes flooding burrows, affecting the waterways. Also, entanglement in litter is an issue for platypuses that live in urban waterways. According to Dr. Eden, Zoos Victoria encourages people who fish to discard unwanted fishing lines by installing bins along popular fishing spots. Waste items such as rubber bands and plastic bottle rings should also be cut through to prevent animal trappings.

For more information on platypus ecology and conservation, read this informational guide by the Australian Platypus Conservancy.

Peer-Review Process

Why do we have peer review?

As wildlife rehabilitation is a fairly new profession, the credibility of the field and the work of wildlife rehabilitators are constantly questioned. IWRC’s courses are science-based with live classroom courses and online training options to choose from. In order to meet minimum knowledge standards, IWRC’s courses, journals and books are peer-reviewed and developed by professionals from different aspects of wildlife rehabilitation and medicine. These resources are both single- or double-blind reviewed and addressed to a scientific audience as well as individuals who are not from a science-based background.

However, webinars and web content are reviewed differently and are mostly evaluated by professionals or volunteers prior to publishing online, instead of undergoing a full peer review process.

 

What are the different types of peer review?

1. Single-blind review process: The reviewers are not identified to the author but the reviewers are aware of the author’s identity.

The advantage of this process is that it allows unbiased decisions by the author that are free from influence as the reviewers are anonymous. However, the authors may be concerned that reviewers from the same field may delay the review in order to delay publication as this enables the reviewers to publish first1.

2. Double-blind review process: The identities of authors and reviewers are concealed from each other.

This method is the most effective for journals with material that is free from referencing geographic study areas to ensure that research authors are not easily identified when a study area is described in a manuscript. However, reviewers can sometimes identify the author through the paper’s style or subject matter1.

 

The Peer-Review Process
Adapted from The Wildlife Professional
Adapted from The Wildlife Professional

Peer reviewers are not perfect — as humans, they make mistakes too. However, peer reviewing verifies that the best science and practices are used. It is also “the best system we have been able to devise in order to maintain the integrity of the scientific publication process,” according to Leonard Brennan, former editor of the Wildlife Society Bulletin2.

 

References:

1White, G. More than 50 shades of gray. The Wildlife Professional. 2014;8: 22
2Brennan, L. Editorial guidance and wildlife science: the role of wildlife society bulletin associate editors and reviewers. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 2012;36(2):396