Maryland doesn't endure as many disasters as some states, but leaders still perceived a need to form a state animal response team as well as a veterinary corps.
Ron Sohn, executive director of the Maryland VMA, said stakeholders looked to North Carolina and Pennsylvania to learn about the emerging SART model for bringing together organizations and government agencies to respond to all animals during disasters.
Last summer, Maryland held a SART summit. Then the VMA incorporated the Maryland SART as a nonprofit under the direction of the state veterinarian's office. Rather than acting as an operational team, the Maryland SART will serve as a coordinating agency for county animal response teams—at least in the beginning.
Right now, the Maryland SART is in the early stages of formation. The group is assembling CARTs, recruiting volunteers, looking into training sessions, creating promotional exhibits and fliers, building a Web site and database of resources, and asking for donations.
"The hardest part is securing enough funding long term to truly make a difference," Sohn said.
Another challenge will be holding onto volunteers in a state that doesn't endure a disaster every year.
"We want to be ready, but it's like having a fire department that never has a fire," Sohn said.
Nevertheless, Sohn said, stakeholders want the Maryland SART to become one of the leading state animal response teams. Other state and national groups also are developing or improving disaster plans for animals along with comprehensive response teams and veterinary corps.
Maryland isn't starting totally from scratch. Dr. Jacob Casper, coordinator of disaster services for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said the state created a committee on animals and disasters in the 1990s.
The Animal Disaster Planning Advisory Committee included representatives from government agencies, animal industry, humane organizations, and other animal-interest organizations that chose to participate. The committee met quarterly to advise the state's agriculture department, the lead agency for animal issues during disasters.
North Carolina developed the first SART in 1999, and Maryland is one of the latest states to move toward the model. Maryland organizations that had not participated in the state's advisory committee also have joined the effort.
Dr. Casper said several counties already are working on animal response teams and animal protection plans, with smaller counties taking a regional approach.
"The big thrust here in Maryland is really trying to push the CART concept," he said. "We feel the counties are much more familiar with their resources, their real estate."
The Maryland SART has printed a recruitment brochure for volunteers that it based on a brochure from the Pennsylvania SART. The Maryland SART also continues to seek out more organizations that can offer assistance during disasters.
Dr. Casper said the Maryland Volunteer Veterinary Corps became operational as the SART model was taking hold in the state. The corps can work with the SART or independently to provide veterinary expertise during disasters or disease outbreaks. So far, the corps has recruited almost 100 veterinarians and veterinary technicians in a relatively small state. The corps also has held meetings and training sessions.
Veterinarians with the corps and the Maryland SART alike receive training in the incident command system, a cohesive approach to emergency management that many organizations and government agencies have adopted.
"You don't have to teach a veterinarian to be a veterinarian," Dr. Casper said. "But we do have to teach them how to operate under emergency conditions under the incident command system."
Dr. Casper noted that he always asks the state veterinary board for continuing education credits for training sessions.
The national situation
Maryland is just one of many states that have started a SART or veterinary corps in recent years, and most states have some sort of disaster plan for animals. Most of the plans are online at www.avma.org/disaster
Dr. Cindy Lovern, the AVMA's assistant director for emergency preparedness and response, Division of Scientific Activities, said states that have a disaster plan might not have an actual animal response team or veterinary corps in place. For a plan to be successful, though, it must include contact people to take care of all the necessary activities.
"If a state has a plan but no committee, no team, no disaster exercises, et cetera, then the plan is just a piece of paper," Dr. Lovern added. "A disaster plan must be developed with workers to implement the plan and exercises to test the plan."
The National Response Plan does not yet address all animals in all disasters under one primary lead group, she said. Veterinary expertise is available during disasters or disease outbreaks, however, from the AVMA's Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams and Department of Agriculture's National Animal Health Emergency Response Corps. One of the four VMATs has Maryland as its base.
A VMAT always works within a state's structure for responding to animals during a disaster—whether the structure is a SART, a similar program, or a different program. The VMAT supplements local efforts to address veterinary issues and public health.
"All disasters are local, so all response starts locally," Dr. Lovern said. "Therefore, the local and state response needs to be the best possible."
Veterinarians who wish to volunteer for local disaster response can contact their state veterinarian or VMA. More information about the SARTs is at www.sartusa.org.