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September 01, 2021

Veterinary First Responder Certificate Program moves apace

Competencies identified, some training courses will start this fall
Published on August 11, 2021

Updated April 5, 2022

The AVMA has identified nearly three dozen competencies necessary to receive a certificate in what would be the nation’s first standardized training program for veterinary disaster and emergency planning and response.

The 35 competencies address a broad range of logistical and health issues that a certified veterinary first responder must be ready to address during a disaster or animal health emergency, from resource procurement to recognizing the circumstances when mass animal depopulation is the humane solution.

A tornado on the ground shortly after destroying a small neighborhood.


The AVMA Committee on Disaster and Emergency Issues finalized the list of competencies this summer. The CDEI is now in the process of accepting submissions from organizations to have their training courses approved as teaching these competencies, according to Dr. Warren Hess, an assistant director in the AVMA Division of Animal and Public Health who is overseeing the Association’s certificate program.

Last November, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation board of directors voted to provide $80,000 for the AVMA to develop a certificate program for veterinary first responders. As the CDEI explained in its funding request, the program is needed as no standardized program for training veterinarians in disaster and emergency planning and response currently exists.

Dr. Hess said news that the AVMA is developing a certificate program for veterinary first responders was welcomed by national and regional organizations, such as the National Alliance of State Animal and Agricultural Emergency Programs and the Southern Agriculture and Animal Disaster Response Alliance, and even in Great Britain and Australia.

Some training courses will air this fall on AVMA Axon—the Association’s continuing education platform—but most courses, at least initially, will be provided directly by veterinary colleges or other organizations whose training content is approved by the CDEI, Dr. Hess explained.

The 35 competencies for a veterinary first responder fall within the following categories:

  • Demonstrates skills needed for personal and family preparedness for disasters and animal health emergencies.
  • Demonstrates knowledge of one’s expected role(s) in organizational and community response plans activated during a disaster or animal health emergency.
  • Demonstrates situational awareness of and solutions to actual or potential health concerns that may be encountered before, during, and after a disaster or animal health emergency.
  • Demonstrates knowledge of potential impacts of various types of disasters and animal health emergencies on resources and how they impact animals along with potential solutions/workarounds to those impacts.
  • Demonstrates knowledge of biosecurity and animal welfare principles that may be required in dealing with animals in disasters or animal health emergencies.
  • Demonstrates knowledge of reporting and responding to zoonotic, transboundary, and foreign animal diseases and how to mitigate potential impacts on human and environmental health.
  • Demonstrates knowledge of humane euthanasia and depopulation techniques for various animal species and appropriate disposal options for animal carcasses (both small and large numbers) that may be required for animals in disasters or animal health emergencies.
  • Has completed three specified Federal Emergency Management Agency online courses.

Dr. Hess said it will be a state-by-state determination on whether agencies add this certificate as a requirement or recommendation for authorized veterinary first responders.