December 15, 2008


 Veterinary response teams offer opportunities to volunteer

Groups attend to animal and public health during disasters, other emergencies

Posted Dec.1, 2008

Many veterinary response teams have evolved in recent years, providing multiple avenues for veterinarians to volunteer in disaster situations and other emergencies.

Dr. Heather Case, AVMA coordinator for emergency preparedness and response, said the teams offer valuable structure and, often, training for volunteers. She noted that veterinarians can contribute special expertise and experience to response efforts.

"Successful emergency response requires quick thinking, flexibility, adaptability, and balancing several tasks at once," Dr. Case said. "The nature of veterinary practice parallels emergency response in many ways, uniquely qualifying veterinarians to actively participate in emergency preparedness and response activities."

For all federal agencies, the Emergency Support Functions provide the protocol for coordinating interagency support. Veterinarians can contribute to ESF 8, public health and medical services, and ESF 11, agriculture and natural resources. ESF 11 includes animal disease, food safety, and the well-being of household pets. The protocol for emergency response varies at the state and local levels.

Veterinary response teams operate at the national, state, and local levels. Groups differ in their oversight, structure, and deployment. The major teams or types of teams include the following.

2007 training session

Members of the AVMA Veterinary Medical
Assistance Team learn how to don personal
protective equipment during a 2007 training
session in Minneapolis.

AVMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Team

Historical deployment examples: 2006—Tropical Storm Ernesto; 2005—hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Wilma

AVMA and the American Veterinary Medical Foundation

Structure: The AVMA VMAT is a volunteer team of veterinarians and veterinary technicians. The team has its own equipment, and members participate in ongoing training.

The VMAT program historically worked with the federal government. This year, the AVMA Executive Board approved retooling the VMAT as a private program that will work with the states.

Deployment specifics: On the request of state authorities, self-sufficient volunteer teams of four to six VMAT members can deploy for 72 hours to provide early veterinary assessment or basic veterinary treatment in a disaster or another emergency. Members also can offer one- or two-day training sessions for state emergency responders.

Web site/contact:; Dr. Heather Case,, (800) 248-2862, Ext. 6632


Dr. Elaine Rayne

Dr. Elaine Rayne, a volunteer with the National
Veterinary Response Team, examines a dog
at the Ford Arena outside Beaumont, Texas,
following Hurricane Rita's landfall in 2005.

National Veterinary Response Team

Deployment example: 2005—Hurricane Rita in Texas

Oversight/support: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Disaster Medical System

Structure: The NVRT is a group of volunteers from veterinary medicine, public health, and biomedical research who serve as intermittent federal employees under the National Disaster Medical System. They train together and have equipment.

Deployment specifics: In emergencies requiring a federal response, the NVRT can provide veterinary services and assess the extent of disruption to animal and public health infrastructures.

Web site/contact:; Cmdr. Meta Timmons,


Dr. John G. Golden of San Antonio took this
snapshot of a chicken in a California flock of
about 100 birds that he helped test as a volunteer
with the National Animal Health Emergency
Response Corps during the 2003 outbreak of
exotic Newcastle disease.

National Animal Health Emergency Response Corps

Deployment example: 2003—California outbreak of exotic Newcastle disease

Oversight/support: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary Services

Structure: NAHERC is a list of veterinary and animal health professionals who can work as individuals or teams in response to animal disease or other emergencies that affect animals.

Deployment specifics: Volunteers deploy within 72 hours and become temporary USDA-APHIS employees for assignments in the United States or abroad that generally last 21 to 30 days. Volunteers may decline assignments.

Web site/contact:; Tom Cunningham,, (301) 734-4933


Dr. Katherine Waters

Dr. Katherine Waters tends to a cat in Iowa
after the flooding that inundated several
Midwestern states earlier this year. She is
a member of the University of Minnesota
Medical Reserve Corps.

Medical Reserve Corps

Deployment examples: 2008—Midwest flooding, hurricanes Gustav and Ike

Oversight/support: Oversight of MRC units by local government or organization, such as a health department or nonprofit organization, with support from the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General

Structure: MRC units include medical and public health professionals such as veterinarians, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, and epidemiologists—with other community members in support positions.

Deployment specifics: Volunteers not only prepare for and respond to emergencies but also promote health literacy throughout the year. MRC units supplement existing emergency and public health resources, and they can choose to support communities in need nationwide.

Web site:



David John and Josh Fleming, staff at the
University of Florida College of Veterinary
Medicine, practice water rescue in October
during a training exercise for volunteers with
the college's Veterinary Emergency Treatment
Service. The veterinary college is a lead member
of the Florida State Agriculture Response Team.

State or county animal response teams, state veterinary reserve corps

Deployment examples: 2008—Midwest flooding, hurricanes Gustav and Ike

Oversight/support: State or county government or organization such as a veterinary medical association or veterinary college

Structure: Animal response teams are interdisciplinary, with veterinary volunteers and other responders among the members. The model emphasizes coordination among organizations and the training of local volunteers.

A veterinary reserve corps is a group of veterinary professionals. In some states, the veterinary reserve corps has become a unit of the Medical Reserve Corps.

Deployment specifics: A state animal response team or veterinary reserve corps usually deploys within the state. Another state can request volunteers through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a national agreement that Congress ratified in 1996 to provide structure to interstate mutual aid.

Web sites/contact:,; contact the state agriculture department or veterinary medical association