Saving the Alaska SeaLife Center - FEBRUARY 2021 - PIVOT, PLAN, AND BE NIMBLE - Mary Ellen Collins

Saving the Alaska SeaLife Center - FEBRUARY 2021 - PIVOT, PLAN, AND BE NIMBLE - Mary Ellen Collins

                             A publication of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums

                                                                 Saving the Alaska
                                                                  SeaLife Center

Saving the Alaska SeaLife Center - FEBRUARY 2021 - PIVOT, PLAN, AND BE NIMBLE - Mary Ellen Collins
February 2021


20                                28                              36                                    40
Saving the Alaska                 Pivot, Plan,                    Innovation                            Raising Funds
SeaLife Center                    and Be Nimble                   in a Pandemic                         in a Pandemic
The Center has endeared           When an Association of Zoos     The Commercial Member                 The dire economic impact
itself to droves of people        and Aquariums-accredited        Engagement Council                    of the coronavirus pandemic
over the last 28 years with its   facility is hit by a crisis,    was created as a way for              on Association of Zoos
4,000 resident animals and        colleagues quickly step up      Association of Zoos and               and Aquarium-accredited
its dedication to cutting-edge    to provide whatever they        Aquariums commercial                  facilities—most were closed
marine biology research.          need—manpower, supplies,        members to bring innovation           from mid-March for at least
But when COVID-19 started         or space to house animals.      and insight to the community          three months—has forced
spreading in mid-March 2020,      The pandemic is the first       at large. In 2020, after two          institutions’ staff to brainstorm
the seasonality, location, and    time every member of our        years of planning, the CMEC           events that can raise money,
mostly indoor operations          community, along with           faced its first major challenge:      engage community members,
made the situation quickly dire   individuals and organizations   COVID-19.                             and be conducted safely.
in terms of revenue.              the world over, is facing the   BY HILLARY RICHARD                    BY ALINA TUGEND
BY KATIE MORELL                   same challenge.
                                  BY MARY ELLEN COLLINS

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Saving the Alaska SeaLife Center - FEBRUARY 2021 - PIVOT, PLAN, AND BE NIMBLE - Mary Ellen Collins
28 | February 2021
© Henry Vilas Zoo
Saving the Alaska SeaLife Center - FEBRUARY 2021 - PIVOT, PLAN, AND BE NIMBLE - Mary Ellen Collins
Creating a

        Safe and
        Secure Visitor

               February 2021 | 29
Saving the Alaska SeaLife Center - FEBRUARY 2021 - PIVOT, PLAN, AND BE NIMBLE - Mary Ellen Collins
hen an Association of Zoos           unprecedented challenge of reopening
                               and Aquariums-accredited              in a way that will protect the health    experience their facilities. Thanks
                              facility is hit hard by a hurricane,   of visitors, staff, and volunteers and   to their efforts, thousands of visitors
                             earthquake, or fire, their zoo          the animals in their collections.        can be reassured that their local
                            and aquarium colleagues quickly              “It’s a balancing act. I’ve never    zoos and aquariums are offering fun
                           step up to provide whatever they          seen anything like it,” said Glenn       and entertainment with an emphasis
                           need—manpower, supplies, or space         Dobrogosz, chief executive officer       on health and safety.
                           to house animals. The pandemic is         of the Greensboro Science Center
                           the first time every member of our        in Greensboro, N.C. “We’re trying        Communication is Key
                           community, along with individuals         to remain optimistic. Nature’s been      When they reopened, facilities
                           and organizations the world over, is      through this for eons and when           had to communicate frequently
                           facing the same crisis.                   nature is tested, it either wins or      and visibly to make sure visitors
                                Zoo and aquarium leaders             goes extinct. We have to win and         understood and complied with a
                           spent the enforced closures last          come out stronger. We had to make        wide range of modifications. New
                           spring looking to the future and          tough decisions, but everyone was        signage was key everywhere with
                           reimagining every aspect of the           behind us, and we are confident that     the Seattle Aquarium* and many
                           way they do business. Knowing             we made the right decisions.”            other others opting for clever
                           that their facilities could offer the         Like Dobrogosz, leaders in           graphics to remind people about
                           public some much-need respite             the AZA community focused on             the six-foot rule, e.g., “stay a wolf eel
                           and entertainment, they faced the         winning by creating new ways to          distance apart.”

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Saving the Alaska SeaLife Center - FEBRUARY 2021 - PIVOT, PLAN, AND BE NIMBLE - Mary Ellen Collins
© Shedd Aquarium

                                                                                                     © Shedd Aquarium

     In order to accommodate visitors    Crowd Control
who wanted to be prepared before         Controlling the direction, pace,
they arrived, the Greensboro Science     and number of visitors requires
Center’s team put Safety in Focus,       different measures for different
their very detailed reopening plans,     types of institutions. “We designed a
on their website. The document           one-directional flow, and used straw
provides information on everything       bales to keep people going in one
from sanitization protocols to traffic   direction, to keep them backed up
around “at risk” animal exhibits.        from animal exhibits like the great
Dobrogosz also placed a priority on      apes, and to spread people out,” said
communicating with the community         Bert Vescolani, president and chief
via letters to the editor and messages   executive officer, Denver Zoo. “When
to members that emphasized the           we heard that Waterworld was not
Center’s commitment to beating           going to reopen, we said, ‘What if we
pandemic-related adversity and           could borrow some of their lifeguard
ultimately thriving.                     chairs?’ It was a very clever tool that

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Saving the Alaska SeaLife Center - FEBRUARY 2021 - PIVOT, PLAN, AND BE NIMBLE - Mary Ellen Collins
© Shedd Aquarium

                                         gave our staff a birds’ eye view to     for a family—with a cap of 10 people
                                         monitor the flow of people.”            in the group and one tour guide.
                                             For the Endangered Wolf Center      People walk down a two-lane road to
                                         in Eureka, Mo., executive director      the enclosures, and there’s plenty of
                                         Mark Cross said, “The majority of the   room to social distance.”
                                         time our guests are outside, which          Some institutions, including the
                                         has been a tremendous advantage for     Seattle Aquarium in Seattle, Wash.,
                                         us. When we reopened in June, we        and the National Aquarium in
                                         eliminated all public tours and large   Baltimore, Md., set their attendance
                                         tours of up to 30 people. We started    level below that required by their
                                         offering only private tours—typically   respective governors out of an

        32 | February 2021
Saving the Alaska SeaLife Center - FEBRUARY 2021 - PIVOT, PLAN, AND BE NIMBLE - Mary Ellen Collins
© Shedd Aquarium

                                          for visitors to experience the Zoo, it    Bob Davidson, president and chief
                                          also facilitated programming in their     executive officer, Seattle Aquarium,
              abundance of caution        Wildlife Museum.                          “and this touchless system has been
            for the safety of their           “We had planned on hosting a          very helpful. We went from less than
       guests, staff, and volunteers.     temporary exhibit, Return of the          three percent online sales to 100
    Seattle was allowed to open           Dinosaurs, in our gallery space, and      percent online.”
at 25 percent, and opted to stay          it was initially to be here from May          Shedd Aquarium Chief
at 15 percent; and National kept          through Labor Day,” said Interim          Executive Officer, Bridget Coughlin,
attendance 25 percent instead of the      Director, Kathy Tolbert. “We worked       reports that visitors can now
allowable 50 percent.                     with the vendor and pushed the            go through the entire facility
                                          opening to 4 July and we moved it all     without touching anything. “[We
Hands Off                                 outside. That allowed families to enjoy   have] touchless ticket with phone
Like most institutions, Rolling Hills     the dinosaurs in an open air space with   scanning; bathroom doors all have
Zoo in Selena, Kan., closed their         plenty of room to social distance.”       a foot pull installed at the base so
animal feeding experiences and                Timed ticketing has also been         you pull open the door with the sole
significantly increased the cleaning      a successful strategy for many            of your shoe; and hand sanitation
and sanitizing of every touch point in    institutions, as has reliance on          stations are foot pump activated.”
the institution, from strollers to soda   apps for maps and food ordering.          She adds that an important change
machines to high touch windows in         “As part of the planning for our          people can’t see involved changing
the animal exhibits. Their open, fairly   expansion, we had already planned         the air system filter from a MERV
rural location not only made it easier    to institute timed ticketing,” said       11 to a MERV 13 and conforming

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Saving the Alaska SeaLife Center - FEBRUARY 2021 - PIVOT, PLAN, AND BE NIMBLE - Mary Ellen Collins
© Seattle Aquarium

                                                                                     to the COVID-19 reopening
                                                                                     standards issued by the American
                                                                                     Society of Heating, Refrigerating,
                                                                                     and Air Conditioning Engineers.

                                                                                     Mask Up
                                                                                     Many staff are still working at home,
                                                                                     but those on site must be masked
                                                                                     whenever they’re not in their own
                                                                                     offices. Visitors across the board
                                                                                     are also required to be masked, and
                                                                                     most institutions report little, if any
                                                                                     resistance from their guests. “We
                                                                                     told the staff they were empowered
                                                                                     and expected to remind people to
© Seattle Aquarium

                                                                                     wear masks, and keep them up,”
                                                                                     said John Racanelli, president and
                                                                                     chief executive officer, National
                                                                                     Aquarium. “We all do it. We’ll do
                                                                                     whatever we need to do up to and
                                                                                     including escorting someone out. I
                     *Seattle Aquarium and Woodland Park Zoo opened in the summer        can count on the fingers of one
                     and closed again in November because of a governor’s mandate.       hand the number of problems
                                                                                      we’ve had.”

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Saving the Alaska SeaLife Center - FEBRUARY 2021 - PIVOT, PLAN, AND BE NIMBLE - Mary Ellen Collins
before returning to their jobs. “They
                                                                                                    were also supported by the creation
                                                                                                    of an Incident Command System
                                                                                                    run by the director of facilities.
                                                                                                    They would meet every day to make
                                                                                                    decisions about issues that arose,”
                                                                                                    said Davidson.
                                                                                                        Redeploying staff has been a
                                                                                                    common strategy to keep people
                                                                                                    working while also having enough
                                                                                                    people available to enforce safety
                                                                                                    restrictions. Woodland Park Zoo
                                                                                                    allowed any furloughed staff
                                                                                                    member to take on the new role of
                                                                                                    social distance attendant, and also
                                                                                                    hired new staff to fill some of those
                                                                                                    positions. At the National Aquarium,
                                                                                                    70 non-operational staff who were
                                                                                                    working their regular jobs at home
                                                                         © Endangered Wolf Center

                                                                                                    came onsite to do three or four guest
                                                                                                    services shifts per week.
                                                                                                        As we enter another year under
                                                                                                    COVID-related restrictions and
                                                                                                    accommodations, good news about
                                                                                                    vaccines gives us a reason to be
                                                                                                    hopeful. The lessons we learned in
                                                                                                    2020 have proven AZA member
                                                                                                    institutions’ ability to remain
    At the Endangered Wolf Center,      obstacle for some members of our                            flexible while successfully tackling
Cross said, “Everyone is required to    disability community. With help and                         unexpected challenges. Racanelli
wear a mask, but we let people have a   consultation from partners in the                           echoes other leaders when he credits
brief mask break during the portion     local disability rights community,                          the efforts of his staff for making
of the walk that’s on a paved road,     we were able to add reserved weekly                         sure the doors could open again.
especially during the hot weather.      hours to accommodate those with                                 “We had to embrace a new
Everyone’s been very respectful.        disabilities that prevent them from                         normal because change is persistent,
Only one group balked and once we       wearing a mask.” They plan to offer                         perpetual, and exponential,” said
had a conversation with them, they      longer accommodation hours on a                             Racanelli. “By embracing the idea
decided to reschedule.”                 quarterly basis in 2021.                                    that this is the new normal, our staff
    Michele Smith, chief financial                                                                  brought together a phenomenal plan
officer, Woodland Park Zoo*             Staff Support                                               for us to become a space that was
reports that her the team followed      Leaders agree that providing staff                          safe, fulfilling, and a beacon of hope.
a one strike rule for mask violators.   with the support they needed to                             We envision change will continue
    “We didn’t want guests policing     operate in a new environment was                            forever and we’re going to keep
other guests, and that had happened.    a critical aspect of their reopening                        adapting forever.”
If we asked someone to put a mask       plans. “We created a digital
on and they didn’t comply, we           communication tool for staff to                             *Seattle Aquarium and Woodland
asked them to leave and come back       log social distance and compliance                          Park Zoo opened in the summer and
when they can comply to the rules.      issues so we could address them                             closed again in November because of
While this decision was made to         internally,” said Vescolani.                                a governor’s mandate.
minimize risk and add extra safety          The Seattle Aquarium required
for staff, guests, and animals, we      every staff member to go through                            Mary Ellen Collins is a writer
found it was an insurmountable          customer service and safety training                        based in St. Petersburg, Fla.

                                                                                                                                      February 2021 | 35
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