Animal facilities need to plan for disasters

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A heart-wrenching video of animal rescue after Hurricane Katrina brought home the message of "Disaster Planning for Animal Facilities," a July 17 session at the AVMA Annual Convention in Hawaii.

The speaker was Laura Bevan, director of the Southeast Regional Office of the Humane Society of the United States. She said last year's hurricane season demonstrated that no animal facility is safe from disaster.

"Who needs a plan? Well, everybody," Bevan said. "Everybody who routinely handles animals."

She said disaster plans protect animals and people, reduce damage and downtime, and provide a usable facility in the aftermath. Bevan said only 15 percent to 20 percent of veterinary clinics on the Mississippi coast were operational after Katrina and that Katrina damaged or destroyed three dozen clinics in New Orleans.

Hurricanes aren't the only disasters. Other risks are structure fires, hazardous materials, winds, floods, earthquakes, wildfires, and winter storms. A facility's vulnerability depends on structural integrity, building design, and safety features.

Bevan said the four steps to developing a plan are mitigation, preparation, response, and recovery.

"Living things are always the top priority," she said.

Mitigation involves physically changing the facility, perhaps by adding shutters or improving drainage, to decrease the probability of damage. Preparation can include establishing procedures for backing up records, identifying safe areas, and acquiring equipment such as power generators.

"Be part of the local community emergency plan," Bevan said.

She said evacuation plans take extensive preparation and practice. In an evacuation situation, she suggested leaving early in case multiple trips are necessary.

"Make a written, chronological list of what you want to do," Bevan said.

Contact information is crucial because disasters do not necessarily occur during the workday, and employers should arrange a meeting place for employees in case lines of communication fail. Employers also must realize that their employees might need to tend to their own families.

Other obstacles to response and recovery range from a disruption in deliveries to an influx of animals from other facilities. Bevan advised stockpiling key supplies, educating pet owners about how to prepare for a disaster, and ensuring that insurance coverage is adequate.

Some resources for disaster planning are available through HSUS at and through the AVMA at