Members of an AVMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Team tend to a dog
following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The AVMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Team program received the go-ahead from the Executive Board to move in a new direction, focusing on disaster preparedness and response activities at the state level.
The VMATs provided veterinary emergency services for the federal government from 1993-2007. The federal government recently developed its own national veterinary response team, so now the VMATs seek to fill gaps at the state level. The AVMA VMAT program will offer services in the areas of early assessment, basic veterinary treatment, and training in disaster response.
Dr. Heather Case, AVMA coordinator for emergency preparedness and response, said a recent survey by the Department of Agriculture found that only a small percentage of states have an animal response plan in place along with elements to support the plan. She said many of the animal response teams at the state and county levels are still in the formative stages.
"The goal of this new state-focused AVMA VMAT program is to work within the states' emergency response systems to assist in disaster preparedness and response," Dr. Case said. "In some states, this may mean identifying which state resources are required following a disaster. In others, this may mean assisting the state in developing these critical resources."
The state-level VMAT program will not supplant current state programs, such as animal response teams and veterinary corps, but attempt to enhance existing efforts and help establish programs where necessary.
Dr. Case added that the VMAT name has garnered national recognition, and the disaster response community wants to know what direction the program will take.
"My feeling is that we have a very well-structured vehicle in VMAT that has been acknowledged as the template for emergency veterinary response," agreed Dr. John R. Brooks, the board member who serves as liaison to the Committee on Disaster and Emergency Issues.
Dr. Brooks said the VMAT members will bring their experience and eagerness to the grass roots, working with states that need a great deal of help with disaster response as well as states that are ahead of the curve.
The AVMA now seeks $200,000 in funding for the VMAT program from the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, longtime sponsor of the program. The funds would pay for administration, training, equipment, and anticipated deployments for a year.
Ideally, Dr. Case said, the AVMA will launch the new VMAT program in time to provide service during this year's hurricane season.
The board also approved other items relevant to emergency issues during the April meeting.
A new policy urges the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Congress to coordinate implementation of the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act by revisiting the PETS Act along with the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act and National Response Framework.
Another new policy encourages all federal agencies to implement strategies from the National Incident Management System. The background to the recommendation states that the use of NIMS strategies would allow agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration to improve emergency operations, interagency coordination, and information dissemination when responding to incidents such as last year's massive recall of pet foods.