Following Hurricane Katrina, the AVMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams managed to treat thousands of animals, despite the lapse of a formal agreement between the AVMA and the federal government regarding disaster response.
In mid-February, the AVMA signed a new memorandum of understanding with the Department of Health and Human Services to help clarify the roles of each entity in providing veterinary services during disasters and other emergencies. The memorandum sets the stage for ongoing coordination between the AVMA and the HHS.
"The AVMA is pleased to have reached this agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services highlighting both parties' strong interests in continued communication and collaboration in the delivery of veterinary services during emergencies," said Dr. Heather Case, AVMA coordinator for emergency preparedness and response, who oversees the Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams.
The memorandum also distinguishes the VMATs from the federal government's newer National Veterinary Response Team, which has evolved from the longstanding AVMA program.
A 15-year history
The AVMA created the VMAT program after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, when disaster plans did not account for the displacement of hundreds or perhaps thousands of animals. In 1993, the AVMA signed a memorandum with the HHS that established the VMAT program as a public-private partnership to aid the federal government by providing veterinary emergency preparedness and response services.
In that original model, the AVMA maintained the teams and trained the members, with funding from the American Veterinary Medical Foundation. The VMAT members became temporary federal employees under the National Disaster Medical System during each deployment. Team members responded to numerous natural disasters, were on hand at major events, and provided veterinary care to search-and-rescue dogs at the World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks of 2001.
Following Sept. 11, the structure of federal emergency management began changing in ways that constrained private oversight of components such as the VMATs. In the post-Katrina period, federal officials have developed the National Veterinary Response Team as a program that operates entirely under government oversight to provide veterinary emergency preparedness and response services. The situation necessitated rewriting the memorandum between the AVMA and the HHS and differentiating the VMATs from the National Veterinary Response Team.
"We are very pleased that this has come to an agreeable solution," said Dr. Terry Ryan Kane, who serves as the VMAT representative on the AVMA Committee on Disaster and Emergency Issues. "Now that the lines are no longer fuzzy, we can work together as separate entities."
Looking ahead, the AVMA is exploring new directions for its VMAT program, such as aiding state governments with emergency preparedness and response services. The VMAT mission remains the same—to assist with animal care, animal issues, and public health during and after disasters.
A working agreement
The AVMA will continue collaborating with the federal government. According to the new memorandum, the AVMA and the HHS each will appoint a liaison to communicate on matters relevant to veterinary emergency preparedness and response. The AVMA has appointed Dr. Case as its liaison. At press time, the HHS had not yet appointed its liaison.
The AVMA will assist the HHS in identifying expertise to address existing and emerging veterinary issues. The AVMA also agrees to help promote opportunities for veterinary professionals to participate in the National Disaster Medical System.
On the government side, the HHS agrees to designate a liaison from the assistant secretary for preparedness and response to represent the department's views at meetings of the AVMA Committee on Disaster and Emergency Issues.
Additionally, the HHS will provide guidance on the procedures and requirements for individuals to serve as intermittent federal personnel within the National Disaster Medical System. The department will administer programs for registering, credentialing, organizing, training, equipping, and deploying the intermittent federal personnel.
The AVMA-HHS memorandum is subject to review every three years.
Highlights of past deployments of the AVMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams
- Hurricane Marilyn, 1995
- Hurricane Floyd, 1999
- New Mexico wildfires, 2000
- Democratic National Convention, 2000
- Presidential inauguration, 2001
- State of the Union address, 2001
- Special Olympics, 2001
- Tropical Storm Allison, 2001
- World Trade Center, 2001
- State of the Union address, 2002
- Olympics in Salt Lake City, 2002
- Rally in Washington, D.C., 2002
- Assistance in surveillance testing during a Virginia outbreak of low pathogenic avian influenza, 2002
- Arizona wildfires, 2002
- Independence Day in Washington, D.C., 2002
- Hurricane Lili, 2002
- State of the Union address, 2003
- Hurricane Isabel, 2003
- State of the Union address, 2004
- G8 Summit, 2004
- President Reagan's funeral, 2004
- Democratic National Convention, 2004
- Hurricane Charley, 2004
- Republican National Convention, 2004
- Hurricane Frances, 2004
- Hurricane Ivan, 2004
- Hurricane Dennis, 2005
- Hurricane Katrina, 2005
- Hurricane Rita, 2005
- Hurricane Wilma, 2005
- Tropical Storm Ernesto, 2006