Remembering 9/11

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AVMA Annual Convention-goers are in for a treat this year. Rudolph Giuliani, former mayor of New York City, will deliver the keynote address, Saturday, July 19, in Denver. Giuliani will meet with the veterinary profession to share experiences in unparalleled leadership, extraordinary heroism, and profound determination.

"We're honored that Mr. Giuliani will be joining us for the General Session," said Dr. Dennis McCurnin, chair of the AVMA Convention Management and Program Committee. "He was at the center of America's recovery, restoring faith and maintaining pride."

Mayor of America
In the aftermath of 9/11, Giuliani took on a number of roles, including homeland security spokesperson and crisis manager, performing each skillfully. His organization of the search-and-rescue efforts, constant news conferences and updates, and tireless efforts to rebuild the city were applauded.

England recognized his leadership by making him Honorary Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Time magazine named him the 2001 Person of the Year.

In addition to working out the physical logistics of restarting the city, Giuliani was also a father figure whose compassion touched many individuals. When he said "the number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear," he connected with people, speaking what many felt. His honesty amidst it all hooked New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers alike.

Giuliani, in a gutsy move, pushed for New York establishments to reopen when some thought they should stay closed for security reasons. Like a good coach who readies you for a race, he rallied New Yorkers with a "we will not rest until this gets fixed" attitude.

Trained and ready
Veterinarians can certainly relate to this sentiment, especially the VMATs. When terrorists crashed planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center the morning of 9/11, local veterinarians and veterinary technicians were among the first to respond, helping with human casualties at makeshift triage stations and treating the search-and-rescue dogs scouring the rubble for survivors. The Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams also sprang into action, per a request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Fifty-one members from the four VMATs aided search-and-rescue efforts at ground zero from Sept. 11 until Oct. 31. Two other VMAT members were deployed to Washington, D.C., to assess the relief efforts following the attack on the Pentagon. And one VMAT member was deployed to Pennsylvania to assist in the recovery effort following a downed airliner.

The VMATs at ground zero worked around the clock out of two mobile clinic sites, as well as the Jacob Javitz Convention Center, to provide more than 900 treatments to about 300 search-and-rescue dogs used at the former home of the twin towers.

The VMATs—highly trained veterinarians, veterinary technicians, board-certified scientists, and support personnel—are a federal resource sponsored by the AVMA and funded through the American Veterinary Medical Foundation. Through the AVMF's support, the teams are prepared to jump into action, if requested, when treatment is needed for animals used in search-and-rescue efforts, or for animals hurt or endangered by catastrophic events such as floods, hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes. VMATs also help monitor for zoonotic diseases and can address other public health issues.

Teams have provided assistance, for example, after Hurricane Floyd pummeled the eastern seaboard in 1999, and after tropical storm Allison caused flooding in Houston in 2001. In 2002, VMATs assisted in an avian influenza outbreak in Virginia and helped during the wildfire disaster in Arizona.

The first VMAT, based in Massachusetts, was formed in 1994. By the end of 2003, each of the four current VMAT teams will have increased their membership from the 15 per team in 9/11 times to 60 per team. According to Dr. Cindy Lovern, AVMA assistant director of emergency preparedness and response, a fifth team forming in the Midwest is pending approval from the Department of Health and Human Service's Office of Emergency Response.

These teams will be essential if future attacks similar to the magnitude of 9/11 occur.

A message for all
While the VMATs were integrally involved with the events immediately following 9/11, Giuliani's message at the 2003 AVMA Annual Convention will be relevant to all veterinarians. The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Homeland Security are calling on veterinarians for their help in the war on terrorism.

Veterinarians will most likely act as a first line of defense if a biologic attack should occur. Almost three quarters of diseases listed as possible bioterrorist agents are caused by zoonotic agents. Many veterinarians are experts in zoonotic diseases, and veterinarians in a number of fields will serve as informational resources for the general public.

"Mr. Giuliani has keen insight on the struggles and challenges Americans are facing post-September 11," said Joe M. Howell, AVMA president. "His message, 'Leadership in Troubled Times,' is one that is certain to be inspirational as veterinarians find themselves responding to increased demands, personally and professionally."

This increased demand is almost certainly going to continue. At press time, the Department of Homeland Security raised the national threat level from an "elevated risk" to a "high risk" of terrorist attack. As a result of the increased security level, veterinarians were put on high alert and asked to increase surveillance for foreign animal disease.