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Home Back Issues No. 78: Disaster preparedness: Accounting for animal welfare

May 23

No. 78: Disaster preparedness: Accounting for animal welfare

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Disaster preparedness: Accounting for animal welfare

Reader question: The recent tornadoes have caused some disruption to our lab-animal trial. Some animals were injured, some had to be moved while we cleaned up the lab, and the rest were no doubt disturbed by all the commotion. We’ve managed to get emergency food supplies and medical treatment, and our lab vet is putting in long hours and has behaved heroically. Is there a better way to be prepared for something like this?

Expert comments: You can prepare for such disasters so that putting in a heroic number of hours is not necessary. You’ll always have to ask people to step up a little, but you can respond in an orderly, calm and controlled fashion. Regardless of the animal species involved — or whether you are in a veterinary clinic, research facility or even a zoo — there are common steps you can take to be prepared:

      1. Recognize that you can prepare. That’s the first step. It will be much easier to move, treat and calm animals if you have a plan in place beforehand. You’ll always have to adapt, but you should have initial action steps and a backup plan.

      2. Identify your potential risks. Every region in the country has different risks — tornadoes, hurricanes and floods, among others. Identify your susceptibility to various natural disasters, and you can plan for these risks.

      3. Determine how you will care for the animals. Think about feeding, medical treatment and supplies. Make contacts with a veterinary clinic to provide additional vets for the extra care, if necessary. Have a backup clinic roughly 100 miles away, and plan for transport.

      4. Come up with an evacuation plan. Have two evacuation locations if possible. In some cases, the facilities damaged are likely to be geographically contained.For example, a tornado will probably not affect both your facility and your first choice for evacuation. In a flood, you should have a second choice that’s outside the flood plain.

      5. Plan for communication. This is crucial. One of the first things to be disrupted in an emergency is communications. Land lines may go out, and cell phone coverage may be affected as well. But cell phone texting may still work. Plan for a specific meeting time so you can execute your emergency response plan. Make sure, if the disaster gives you warning, that you set up this meeting time via a phone tree.

      6. Run drills, or at least “war game” an emergency.Practice evacuations (run drills) so they run as smoothly as when you transport animals under normal circumstances. This practice will make you calmer around the animals, which will reduce their level of reaction. Drills can help you can spot potential problems earlier — for example, the traveling cages may not be easy to access. People will get used to doing it, and so will the animals.

In some cases, however, you can also learn a lot if you “war game” the reaction. Sit down with employees, ask “what ifs,” and require everyone to describe how they would react after each change. Every plan will face difficulties at crunch time, but the more you plan and prepare, the better you’ll be able to adapt in the event of a disaster.

Expert comments by Heather Case, DVM, director of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Scientific Activities Division and Coordinator of Emergency Preparedness and Response team.

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