AVMA disaster relief efforts-Is your state emergency management agency doing all it can to get you the help you need in a disaster?

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The American Veterinary Medical Association sponsors the Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams. These teams of veterinarians, technicians, and support personnel are ready at a moment's notice to come to your aid. But they need to be invited in by your state—and that is sometimes easier said than done.

Convincing your state emergency management agency to consider VMAT resources in times of disaster can make the difference between recovering from the disaster or just getting through it. The VMAT are federal veterinary resources that will enable you to get back to practicing veterinary medicine as soon after the disaster as possible.

The U.S. Public Health Service can deploy the teams, after state officials request VMAT assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. You can help by bringing animal issues to your state emergency management agency's attention. Incorporating VMAT resources into your state emergency operations plan now will save precious time after a disaster. In that way, you can focus on recovering from the disaster and not on getting access to federal resources that you needed yesterday.

VMAT history
The AVMA disaster preparedness and response efforts resulted from an agreement between the AVMA and the Office of Emergency Preparedness of the U.S. Public Health Service.

With the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in May 1993, veterinary services became incorporated into the Federal Response Plan for disaster relief as part of the National Disaster Medical System.

VMAT-1 (Photo: Courtesy of Amy Newfield, CVT, VMAT-1)

In New York, Drs. Lori Gordon and Dennis Dougherty
(right) of VMAT-1 treat a lacerated paw on their first
patient, a FEMA task force team member accompanied
by its handler, at the triage station they established
at the Jacob Javits Convention Center

The system was developed to provide supplemental medical care to victims of catastrophic disasters in the event state and local resources are overwhelmed and federal assistance is required. Federal recognition of the need for animal care provided the framework for veterinary professionals to be organized into Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams that would respond to the needs of animals during a disaster in the same way that Disaster Medical Assistance Teams provide medical aid to human casualties of disasters.

The AVMA is also a signatory on a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Agriculture and on a Statement of Understanding with the American National Red Cross.

Deployments under Federal Response Plan
The VMAT are the only response teams recognized in the Federal Response Plan that provide veterinary medical treatment and address animal and public health issues resulting from natural, man-made, and technologic disasters.

The VMAT mission is to provide veterinary care to injured animals and veterinary oversight concerning animal and public health issues when the local veterinary community is overwhelmed.

If state officials, through consultation with the state veterinarian, state public health veterinarian, state veterinary medical association, or local veterinary community, determine that the local veterinary community is overwhelmed, the state emergency manager can submit a Request for Federal Assistance form through the Federal Emergency Management Agency state coordinating officer.

The state coordinating officer will consult with the FEMA federal coordinating officer, and if the latter approves the request, a mission assignment will be made and the request for VMAT assistance will be forwarded to the U.S. Public Health Service, resulting in a VMAT deployment. Generally this process does not take more than 24 hours, once the state submits the request.

Once deployed, the VMAT are released by the AVMA. The team members become temporary federal employees under the direction and guidance of the National Disaster Medical System. They answer directly to the Public Health Service.

State VMAT deployments
In the event of a disaster that does not result in a presidential declaration freeing up federal resources, the VMAT can respond directly to a state request without FEMA involvement. That state would have to have a VMAT response incorporated into its overall state emergency operations plan, however, and be able to provide licensure waiver for veterinarians not currently licensed to practice veterinary medicine in that state. The state must provide personal liability insurance coverage for the responding team members and pay for all expenses associated with a VMAT deployment and mission, including the cost to restock all used supplies during the response. These expenses should be defined in Memoranda of Understanding between individual VMATs and the s tate prior to a deployment.

VMAT structure, mission
Although VMAT are designed for response to large-scale disasters, they are flexible enough to respond to disasters of limited scope. The initial response to disasters occurs at the local level, but resources within a disaster area may be inadequate to fully cope with the aftereffects, or local resource providers may need time to recover before resuming complete responsibility. The VMAT provide assistance during those times when the local veterinary community is overwhelmed.

The four VMAT provide nationwide coverage during times of disaster and can be deployed to any state or U.S. territory. Currently the VMAT are established in California, Massachusetts, Maryland, and North Carolina.

VMAT team members triage and stabilize patients at a disaster site and provide austere veterinary care. These teams are mobile units that can deploy within 24 to 48 hours. The members carry a three-day supply of food, water, personal living necessities, and veterinary supplies and equipment, if needed. Each team is capable of establishing a field hospital and providing other services needed to support a complete disaster relief effort.

Response capabilities
The VMAT come prepared to:

  • Assess the medical needs of animals
  • Treat and stabilize animal patients
  • Provide animal disease surveillance
  • Provide zoonotic disease surveillance and public health assessment
  • Provide assistance to maintain or reestablish food and water safety
  • Mitigate hazards
  • Provide biological and chemical terrorism surveillance
  • Decontaminate animals
  • Provide veterinary services for Secret Service dogs and search-and-rescue dogs

The VMAT will supplement the relief efforts already under way by local veterinarians and emergency responders. The goal is a cooperative animal relief effort during times of disaster among VMAT; federal, state, and local officials; the state veterinarian; the local veterinary community; state and local veterinary associations; emergency management personnel; humane groups; local chapters of the American Red Cross; and search-and-rescue groups.

Qualified applicants who are assigned to one of the VMAT are preprocessed for federal employment and issued National Disaster Medical System identification cards. They can then be called to federal service for up to 14 days as "special needs" employees of the U.S. Public Health Service. If activated, the personnel are paid a salary, covered by federal workers' compensation. They are protected under the Federal Tort Claims Act against personal liability, within the scope of their temporary federal employment, and are exempt from licensure, certification, or registration requirements.

AVMF disaster relief fund
The American Veterinary Medical Foundation Disaster Relief Emergency Fund supports VMAT and veterinary-related emergency preparedness, response, and recovery efforts for animals affected by disasters, and the veterinarians who treat them. The ability to provide financial support for disaster relief is dependent on the amount of available dollars contributed to the fund.

Contributions to support AVMF disaster relief efforts can be made via the AVMF's secure Web site, www.avmf.org; by calling (800) 248-2862, ext. 207; or by mail sent to the AVMF at the AVMA address.

Additional questions
If you have questions or require additional information, contact Dr. Cindy S. Lovern, assistant director of emergency preparedness and response for the AVMA, (800) 248-2862, ext. 261, or clovernatavma [dot] org.

Joining a VMAT

   Visit www.avma.org, www.vmat1.com, or www.vmat1.org to learn more about each Veterinary Medical Assistance Team. Those interested in joining a VMAT should contact the team leader or the administrative officer of the team closest to you or the one you are most interested in joining. You do not have to reside in the team leader's state to join that team.
    Each team leader will be able to tell you more about the team and how it may differ from the others; however, the teams have the same overall responsibilities in a disaster situation.

Dr. Barry Kellogg
VMAT-1 Team Leader, Massachusetts
bnkelloggathome [dot] com (bnkellogg[at]home[dot]com)

For an application to join VMAT-1:
Contact the administrative officer
LynGarson, CVT
noahsarc88ataol [dot] com (noahsarc88[at]aol[dot]com)

Dr. Frederick Lewis
VMAT-2 Team Leader
ricktlewisataol [dot] com (ricktlewis[at]aol[dot]com)

For an application to join VMAT-2:
Contact the administrative officer
Beth Henricson, PhD
Bhenricsonataol [dot] com (Bhenricson[at]aol[dot]com)

Dr. James Hamilton
VMAT-3 Team Leader, North Carolina
Jhamilton7atnc [dot] rr [dot] com (Jhamilton7[at]nc[dot]rr[dot]com)

For an application to join VMAT-3:
Contact the administrative officer
Christy Whitelaw, CVT
cwhitelawattriad [dot] rr [dot] com (cwhitelaw[at]triad[dot]rr[dot]com)

Dr. John Anderson
VMAT-4 Team Leader, California
California [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] [dot] amvethospitalatjuno [dot] com (amvethospital[at]juno[dot]com)

For an application to join VMAT-4:
Contact the administrative officer
Dr. Lorna Lanman
lldvmnazataol [dot] com (lldvmnaz[at]aol[dot]com)