Dr. Heather Case, assistant director, AVMA Scientific Activities Division, and coordinator for emergency preparedness and response, responds:
Changes in federal government policy after recent large-scale disasters such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina led to the creation of two separate yet complementary Veterinary Disaster Response Team programs: the federal National Veterinary Response Team and the AVMA's Veterinary Medical Assistance Team program.
The AVMA and the Department of Health and Human Services worked together in a public-private partnership for disaster response needs from 1993-2007. Teams housed by the AVMA responded as federal employees. Now the federal government has its own national veterinary response team and the AVMA operates its own private VMAT program, which allows for more flexibility and seeks to fill in gaps at the state level. It was created after the AVMA Executive Board approved the state-focused program and the AVMF Board of Directors authorized a grant to fund it, to financially assist the states.
How it works: upon request by a state, a VMAT will provide operational emergency response and preparedness programs to that state's animal health authorities. Success of the new VMAT program hinges on predisaster agreements with key decision makers within the state emergency management system.
The VMAT does not self-deploy, but instead, negotiates prior agreements with individual states about what would be required from VMAT, should disaster strike.
Specifically, VMAT offers three main areas of assistance.
Early assessment volunteer teams are four- to six-person, self-sufficient teams that are available on request by the appropriate state authority. Deployments are for 72 hours, not including travel time. Teams will focus on assessing veterinary conditions and infrastructure. They also gather verifiable data to enable state deployment of appropriate state resources.
Basic treatment volunteer teams are four- to six-person, self-sufficient teams that are available on request by the appropriate state authority. Deployments are for 72 hours, not including travel time. Teams provide primary field care to augment overwhelmed local capabilities. This could include establishment of a base of operations as a field staging area for state-based veterinary triage and veterinary medical care of displaced animals.
Training involves emergency-related programs for state veterinary associations, professionals, and colleges. Topics for one- or two-day training courses include, but are not limited to animal decontamination, disaster veterinary medicine and triage, hazmat awareness for veterinarians, critical incident stress management, leadership, risk communication, and occupational safety.
While it is anticipated the VMAT program will evolve beyond these functions, this is where the program will start. The AVMA program was developed through research and discussion with animal emergency management decision makers in multiple states. So far, VMAT has targeted a handful of states to implement initial agreements, with the eventual goal of forming agreements nationwide. These agreements will complement the states' existing plans.