Hurricane Katrina was a wake-up call for states that hadn't planned how to handle animal issues during disasters.
North Carolina received an earlier wake-up call with Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Flooding from the hurricane devastated the eastern section of the state, killing more than 3 million animals—mostly poultry and pigs.
The North Carolina State Animal Response Team emerged in Floyd's aftermath. The public-private partnership follows procedures from human emergency management for a systematic approach to dealing with animals in disasters. The SART model emphasizes coordination among organizations and the training of local volunteers.
North Carolina has shared the SART model with many states. A number of states have other programs for animal emergencies. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, though, disaster planning has become a national imperative.
One of the next steps being explored is formation of a national alliance of all state programs for animal emergencies, including the SART programs. Meanwhile, the SART model continues to spread.
So far, the North Carolina SART hasn't faced another Hurricane Floyd. The team did respond in 2003 to Hurricane Isabel, which caused power outages at animal shelters and veterinary hospitals.
The North Carolina SART also helped respond to Katrina in 2005. An official request for team members with specific expertise came at 5 p.m. on a Thursday, three days after the hurricane hit Louisiana and Mississippi. Thirteen members who met all the requirements were ready at the start of the next week for a two-week trip to Hattiesburg, Miss.
North Carolina's team
North Carolina's team is the first example of the way the SART model works.
The program primarily follows the principles of the incident command system. Leonard S. Bull, PhD, executive director of the North Carolina SART, said the system is an almost military approach to emergency management, relying on discipline and logic and recognizing authority and responsibility. A team deploys only on the basis of an official request.
"We do not sanction people just getting in their cars and chasing fire engines, because the Lone Ranger approach is in no one's best interest," Dr. Bull said.
To manage local volunteers, the North Carolina SART created county animal response teams with county coordinators. Volunteers must complete training in appropriate skills.
"Having local teams ready to respond makes dealing with rescue and recovery and care—and reunion of animals with people, if they get separated—so much easier than if we had to bring in people from other places," Dr. Bull said.
Communication is key to the response, along with the identification of resources. The North Carolina SART maintains an online database of available volunteers.
Another principle of the group is to respond to the needs of any animal during disasters, said Dr. Bull, who is associate director of the Animal and Poultry Waste Management Center at North Carolina State University. Finding refuge for pets inside or near human evacuation shelters doesn't address livestock issues, for example, so the North Carolina SART also is talking to livestock owners about business continuity plans.
The North Carolina SART, which operates as a nonprofit corporation, works with government agencies in the areas of agriculture and emergency management as well as with various animal organizations. The group even has a desk at the disaster control center under the governor's office.
Bill Gentry, director of the certificate program in disaster management at the University of North Carolina's School of Public Health, said the state has recognized that public health emergencies tend to affect people and other animals.
Gentry started his involvement with the North Carolina SART as a trainer and now also serves on the board of directors. The group offers three regional training events for volunteers every year. Volunteers come from areas such as veterinary medicine, humane societies, equine organizations, and animal agriculture.
"It pretty much runs the gamut for folks who sign up and show up at our trainings," Gentry said.
The subject of a recent training event was ways to implement the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act. Gentry said the act focused attention on the need for SART volunteers from human evacuation shelters and animal control facilities.
State to state
Gentry also participates in SART summits for states that want to try the model. The two-day summits encompass 100 to 125 key people who plan to create a SART program in the state.
"We just immerse them in how we do North Carolina SART," Gentry said. "After that, they take that big jump and see how they're going to implement it in that state."
Gentry said the North Carolina SART has offered about a dozen state summits. The variety of the states, from rural areas to urban, is proof to him that the SART model is a generic system of public-private partnerships that benefits animal response no matter what the specific vulnerabilities or risks.
States can and do adapt the SART model to their situation. Some states create agricultural response teams rather than animal response teams. A SART can be a nonprofit corporation, Gentry said, or a SART can operate under the state veterinarian or state veterinary medical association.
Dr. Bull said the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service provided the first funds for developing and sharing the SART model. The funding allowed the North Carolina SART to create training manuals and a Web site, www.sartusa.org, and to bring several other states on board, starting out with Colorado.
The American Veterinary Medical Foundation sponsored that first SART summit in Colorado, and the AVMF also has provided operational grants for SART programs. Recently, PetSmart Charities has been providing matching grants to help establish new SART programs. PetSmart funded the entire amount for starting SART programs in Louisiana and Mississippi because of the effects of Hurricane Katrina in those states.
"We're receiving applications on a regular basis," Dr. Bull said. "My suspicion is we'll do five (summits on starting a SART) a year now for several years on out."
Dr. Bull said national coordination also is necessary—among SART programs and other state programs for animal emergencies—because disasters do not respect political boundaries.
"We're not interested in developing a bureaucracy at all," Dr. Bull said. "We're interested in some sort of alliance that has some sort of structure to it.
"The basis for whatever emerges is a comprehensive strategic plan that brings together the input of all of the stakeholders. We are seeking the resources to launch that planning effort. There are several groups that are holding discussions that will provide excellent input to that planning process now, and that is a good start."
A national alliance
Dr. Bull and Dr. Kevin Dennison, director of the Colorado SART, attended the Feb.12-13 meeting of the AVMA Committee on Disaster and Emergency Issues to ask for assistance with the planning process for a national alliance.
Dr. Dennison said the state programs for animal emergencies have held national meetings for the past three years. The AVMF sponsored the most recent meeting. More than 30 states already have some type of program, or they send key people to these meetings because they hope to start a program.
Dr. Dennison said the core conclusion of the recent meeting was the need to formalize a national alliance, and the meeting resulted in the establishment of a working group toward that end. The group proposed a tentative name of the National Alliance of State Animal and Agricultural Emergency Programs.
The alliance would continue current initiatives, such as annual national meetings and a monthly conference call among state program representatives. The alliance would emphasize communications, resources, and the best practices and models for state programs to respond to animal emergencies.
"We will not get cookie-cutter programs in 50 states," Dr. Dennison said.
The national alliance could operate as a nonprofit corporation with a state council as the anchor, but the actual format for organization and governance is currently under review by states and other stakeholders.
Dr. Dennison requested authorization for AVMA staff to participate in development of the national alliance. The Committee on Disaster and Emergency Issues approved making such a recommendation to the Executive Board for consideration during the board's April 12-14 meeting.