A note to the OTN community on our operations during COVID-19


April 3, 2020

Dear Network members:

We are writing to update our stakeholders on current OTN operations under the new constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a project of Dalhousie University, OTN headquarters personnel are following University procedures to limit the spread of the virus. As such, most OTN staff are working from home, with the exception of our field team when they are executing functions that are classified as essential services. However, OTN is continuing its daily network operations, while establishing risk management and action plans to forecast, monitor and implement priority activities over the next six months.

The data team, directed by Jon Pye and Lenore Bajona and including Angela Dini, Brian Jones, Ryan Gosse, Bruce Delo, Naomi Tress and Caitlin Bate, are full-speed ahead and maintaining normal operations and schedules. We are currently working to add a data analyst to our staff. This individual will increase capacity to meet the team’s ever-growing workload and subsequent demands for data services, as many of our collaborators suddenly find themselves with the time to work on delayed data activities. For collaborators who are re-allocating time not spent in the field to data analysis, the OTN data team will soon be advertising virtual ‘office hours’ for teleconferencing support. Please monitor our Twitter and Facebook channels for additional information on data support in the coming weeks.

Anja Samardzic and Maggie Sutherland in the communications department are planning communications projects, revamping the website and social media feeds, preparing our annual report, responding to ongoing inquiries, and disseminating OTN information to a variety of stakeholders. They may be in touch with you to seek your assistance or solicit your stories and images.

Our project management office, staffed by Amy Hill and Evelien VanderKloet, are maintaining their full range of services. They continue overseeing highly qualified personnel and operations on a variety of existing research infrastructure projects (including processing requests for critical equipment loans), as well as leading the preparation and submission of new grant and funding requests.

The need for servicing OTN infrastructure (especially that which might otherwise fail) has been reviewed by the University and deemed an essential service. As such, the field team remains operational on an as-needed basis, while adapting to new working conditions under COVID-19 regulations. The landscape with respect to vessel availability and scheduling is an ever-shifting target. Additionally, technical staff that are required to travel to service infrastructure are being subjected to 14-day self-isolation protocols upon their return. Joe Pratt and Brendal Townsend are tasked with coordinating personnel work schedules under COVID-19 constraints, and Joe, together with Nathan Glenn, Cassandra Hartery, and Iago Gradin, are keeping operations flowing when they are not in isolation. We are continuing to service and ship equipment out to our collaborators to meet their schedules and support their research objectives. In sum, our infrastructure will continue to be fully operational. We will continue collecting data on tagged animals, including any that are added to the OTN data system going forward. If there are any delays in data collection by partners or data pushes to OTN collaborators resulting from COVID-19, we will notify them immediately with an updated timeline for data delivery.

Our autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs, a.k.a. Slocum gliders and Wave Gliders), remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and new side-scan sonar system are also operating in support of essential training and research. Adam Comeau’s team (Tyler Byrne, Sue L’Orsa, Jude Van der Meer and Zack Viva) are preparing the gliders for missions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to assist PI Kim Davies with protecting endangered right whales from ongoing shipping and fishing activities. The Wave Glider will be used to run the Halifax Line and other sites where there are VR4s present to ensure the infrastructure is operational and to retrieve data. ROV Pilot/Technician Mike Roberts continues training and maintenance of the equipment, so we are ready to go if an essential service or emergency response needing any of this equipment is required.

All required financial and other reporting is also being looked after by the financial and management staff of the Major Science Initiative (MSI) project. Our reporting deadline (June 15th, 2020) to our major funder, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), will proceed as planned, so Brendal Townsend will be reaching out to some of you shortly about completing the online reporting we will need. We are especially grateful for the guidance of Dennis Kebaya, our financial manager, and Cormekia Clayton, our office manager, as they navigate a smooth transition of operations to a remote basis. 

Please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have questions, are planning a new project or need assistance from the Network’s staff. We are here to help.

Please feel free to share this update with anyone who may be interested. Please monitor the OTN website for updates on how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting OTN activities.

We wish you all the very best as we cope with a brave new world.

Fred, Sara and the OTN HQ staff


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