The catastrophic events of the 2005 hurricane season also created a deluge of painful lessons in disaster preparedness and response. Residents of the Gulf Coast region of the United States were overwhelmed as hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma struck in succession, while disaster response systems that were assumed to be adequate proved to be far less.
Response efforts directed at helping animals achieved real success, but they also were confounded by many factors. Some of these were common to general rescue efforts surrounding these disasters, while others were specific to animal management and handling.
Beyond natural disasters such as the Gulf Coast hurricanes, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, dramatically increased national concern regarding biosecurity and bioterrorism, including bioterrorism directed at food animals and the food supply chain. The importance of veterinarians in public health has since become much more widely understood, and a shortage of veterinarians in public health roles has become more evident.
These events have fueled intense focus and activity around improving local, state, and national preparedness and response planning for biosecurity and the handling of animals in disasters. This collection of articles reflects the arduous work of experts who have grappled with the central questions and offered their findings and recommendations within the covers of the AVMA scientific journals.
In the first section, "Disaster response," a number of response and recovery efforts for animals are examined, with investigators presenting what went right, what went wrong, and lessons learned.
Of the 241 households studied, approximately 50% evacuated with their pets, approximately 40% evacuated without them but later attempted to rescue them, and 10% neither evacuated their pets nor attempted to rescue them. Pet evacuation failure was most common in households that thought the evacuated area was safe for pets. Risk of pet evacuation failure increased in households with many animals, low pet attachment, and low levels of preparedness. Cat evacuation failure was associated with not having cat carriers.
Fifty percent of households evacuated with their pets, 50% without. Low pet attachment, measured in part by asking owners whether pets had visited a veterinarian in the year prior to evacuation, was significantly associated with a greater chance of pet evacuation failure. Risk of failure was also associated with pet management practices prior to the disaster, such as dogs being kept outdoors most of the time or owners not having cat carriers for their cats. Mitigation of pet evacuation failure should focus on reinforcing responsible pet ownership and strengthening the human-animal bond.
The authors found that dogs and cats exported from the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricane disaster area had disease rates similar to those for animals in the region prior to the hurricanes. A concern noted was the increased risk of D immitis transmission to native dogs in low-prevalence areas after translocation of infected dogs into those areas from high-prevalence regions such as the Gulf Coast.
The section titled "The veterinarian's role in preparedness and response" contains commentaries and analyses regarding the many ways veterinarians can contribute by bringing their professional expertise to bear during times of local, state, or national emergency.
The unique qualifications of equine practitioners to diagnose and treat injuries and stresses affecting horses during disasters are explored in "The role of the equine practitioner in disasters." The authors found that the most important role equine practitioners play in disaster management is educating clients regarding disaster preparedness. They stress that effective approaches to disaster preparedness save more lives than any type of disaster response. Additionally, practitioners may play a critical role in developing local disaster response plans and setting up volunteer disaster response teams.
How can veterinary practitioners best prepare for an animal health emergency? This question is addressed in the section "Biosecurity and bioterrorism preparedness."
Foot-and-mouth disease virus was eradicated in the United States in 1929; therefore, current data concerning disease spread were not available. The authors explain that when information concerning likely outcomes of an outbreak is not available, a simulation model is especially useful in biosecurity planning.
The next section, "Search-and-rescue dogs," includes commentaries and studies that illuminate the nature of the work of search-and-rescue dogs and the hazards they face.
Mild but significantly higher serum concentrations of globulin and bilirubin and serum activity of alkaline phosphatase in deployed dogs suggested higher antigen or toxin exposure, but values for both groups were within reference ranges. The authors concluded that within the first year following the September 11 attacks, there was no evidence that responding dogs developed adverse effects related to their work.
These highlights reflect some of the information to be found in the AVMA Collection "Disaster preparedness and response." We hope you find this resource useful as you address disaster planning in your practice and your community.
To learn more about the National Response Plan and Incident Command System, visit the FEMA ICS Resource Center at:www.training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/ICSResource
More disaster preparedness resources can be found on the AVMA Web site at:http://www.avma.org/disaster