Emergency planning for veterinary practices

Emergency planning

In this article
  • Learn the importance of disaster preparedness for your practice.
  • Discover the steps to create an effective emergency/business continuity plan.
  • Identify resources that can help you plan for an emergency.

Personal and family preparedness

These resources from ready.gov will help the whole veterinary team prepare for an emergency and keep families and loved ones safe.

Make a plan
Build a disaster kit
Prepare your family



Business continuity and emergency planning are key to business survival in a disaster situation. Though there's often little we can do to control or prevent a disaster, we can minimize its impact by being prepared.

These critical steps will help you prepare your veterinary practice for an emergency:

  • Identify the risks or hazards your practice might face.
  • Quantify the impact these risks may have on your operations.
  • Determine how to overcome or mitigate the potential risks.
  • Assess available resources you might need to use in an emergency.
  • Develop an emergency plan.
  • Test, practice, and improve your plan.

Veterinary practices vary dramatically in size, type, and location. The best emergency plan is one that's tailored to the individual needs of your practice.

Identify risks

Understand what types of emergencies are likely to affect your practice and team – both manmade and natural. These may range from a water main break to an earthquake to a chemical leak or disease outbreak. Some disasters are more common in certain parts of the country. Plan first for the situations that would most likely affect your area, then consider other possible emergency scenarios.

Explore all the risks your practice is exposed to: building damage, utility disruption, reduction or shutdown of business, personal injury, loss of medical records, and more. Download AVMA's Guide to writing a veterinary practice emergency/disaster plan for a more complete list of possible risks. Remember that an emergency can threaten more than your physical space. Be sure to consider potential risks to patients, team members, medical records, supplies, and equipment (lab equipment, X-ray machines, etc.).

Resources to help

Quantify impact

Conduct a business impact analysis (BIA) to identify and measure the potential impact of a loss or business interruption. For example, what happens if you lose internet or phone service, or if lab equipment isn't operable, or if clients can't get to your facility? By predicting the consequences of specific disruptions, you can devise better recovery strategies.

An analysis starts by recording the day-to-day activities your practice relies on. For each activity, identify the amount of time it would take for an interruption to impact the business. Then, decide what the operational and financial impacts would be. This will give you a clear picture of which activities are mission-critical to your practice, and the order and timeframe within which each must be recovered. This business impact analysis worksheet from ready.gov can help.

Reduce risk

Once you identify the various risks to your practice, the next step is coming up with strategies to mitigate them. These might range from moving critical supplies out of areas that are vulnerable to flooding, to signing up for emergency alerts, upgrading security and fire protection systems, installing a backup generator system, adopting an IT backup plan, cross-training team members to ensure redundancy, and implementing telehealth services.

Assess resources

Know what emergency resources are available in your area and who to contact in order to access them. These can include state and local veterinary associations, animal control and response teams, and emergency shelters. Which local and state agencies have authority over animal and business issues that may affect your practice? Build relationships with them before the need for help arises.

Resources to help

Create a business continuity plan

Think about your practice's day-to-day operations and what safeguards would allow you to keep treating patients, paying team members, and communicating with clients. Developing an emergency program should be a collaborative effort involving your whole team. It's valuable to get input from team members with varying roles and responsibilities because each one has expertise in some area of your operation. You'll also need the whole team to understand the importance of emergence planning and buy into your plan, so it's best to engage them from the outset. The AVMA has developed a training module for this, which is available for CE credit for any team member on AVMA Axon.

Resources to help

Test, practice, revise

Share the emergency plan with your team, and encourage more input – especially from any team members who weren't involved in the initial process. Make sure everyone knows and understands his or her role. Emergency preparedness is an ongoing process, so your program should be reviewed, updated, and practiced regularly.

CE certificate: Disaster and business continuity planning

Learn the essential elements of implementing a business continuity plan to safeguard your practice and minimize the impact of disasters.

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Tools for clients

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Emergency contact cards (member only)