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How to develop a step-by-step guide for coping with disasters
Traditionally, the American Red Cross is there to help people in the event of a disaster. However,because they have no provisions for pets, many people have turned away from that aid to remain with their pets.
Traditionally, relief agencies are there to help people in the event of a disaster. In many cases, there are limited provisions
for pets. Drs. Eugene M. Kravis and Sandy Stoddard have developed a plan that communities could adopt in case
of an emergency.
Does your community have a plan?
Traditionally, the American Red Cross is there to help people in the event of a disaster. However,because they have no provisions for pets,many people have turned away from that aid to remain with their pets. They have thus put themselves in jeopardy. Our motto “Animal rescue is people rescue” comes from these facts.
The role of animal control departments has traditionally been to round up stray animals during and after the disaster.Veterinarians stayed in their hospitals doing what they could. The need for a coordinated, cooperative effort is the focus of this plan.
In response to the widespread suffering in Florida during and after Hurricane Andrew, the Oakland fires and other disasters, the California Veterinary Medical Association requested all local veterinary medical associations to develop a disaster preparedness plan. In response to this request, in Sonoma County, the Redwood Empire Veterinary Medical Association (REVMA) formed the Disaster Response Committee of which I was a founding member.
In working out a plan,we met with the Red Cross and the Animal Regulation Department developing Memos of Understanding and protocols.We also made a 20-minute video to air on our local public access channel to bring this information to the people.
I was appointed to the position of liaison officer to the Red Cross by James T. Murphy, DVM.REVMA Disaster Response Committee founding coordinator. In this role, I worked closely with Sandy Stoddard, the director of Disaster Services for the Sonoma County Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Many of the protocols, positions and paperwork were developed from the Red Cross tried and true methods of efficiently helping people. Significant parts of this plan have been tested in two disasters, which have proved to be a smooth operating cooperative effort between the local veterinarians, the Red Cross and the Animal Regulation Department.
This plan is a work in progress with some elements still to be finalized, particularly in relation to developing state and federal government mutual aid plans.
The tragic problem of people having to leave their pets behind, or staying behind themselves to suffer with their pets no long happens in Sonoma County. All pets are allowed,with their owners, on all evacuation transportation to the Red Cross shelters.We hope this plan will also help other communities.Animal rescue is people rescue.
VMA Disaster Response Committee (DRC)
The DRC gets its authority to act by appointment of the local VMA and sanctioned by the state veterinary medical association. It has the following responsibilities:
1. The DRC liaisons with state and federal mandated disaster programs.
2. The DRC liaisons with non-governmental disaster responding organizations (Red Cross, Salvation Army etc.).
3. Activation in a disaster (see Call Out Procedures below) is initiated by the County Office of Emergency Services (OES) through the Red Cross and County Animal Regulation.
4. The DRC appoints a volunteer coordinator,whose duties should be:
a. Assist in training of volunteers to staff field animal shelters during disasters.
b. To prepare call out schedules for volunteers during disasters.
c. Establish a shelter opening and close down squad.
5. The DRC appoints a small animal veterinary coordinator, who operates the call out schedule of duties for veterinarians at Red Cross shelters, during disasters.
6. The DRC appoints a livestock veterinary coordinator, who develops and staffs a large animal rescue plan in cooperation with the volunteer coordinator.
Red Cross liaison officer
A DRC veterinarian is appointed by the DRC to liaison with Red Cross, (RCLO) concerning all physical aspects of disaster animal shelter operations. The RCLO also establishes a command post in the Red Cross building, when activated during disaster.The RCLO minimum duties, in a disaster are:
1. Makes certain that a proper animal shelter space, that meets the following requirements, is available at the Red Cross shelter locations:
a. Has separate outside entrance.
b. Can be completely sealed off from rest of Red Cross shelter.
2. Answers all incoming phone calls on animal rescue, which come to the Red Cross during disasters.
3. Notify state and state veterinary medical association offices of status.
4. Sign out and return cell phones from Red Cross.
5. Dispatches animal shelter supplies from Red Cross store room to field shelters.
6. Supervise the “opening and close down squad,”which sets up the field shelter, and after the disaster, the return of supplies to the Red Cross store room and to individuals, who have volunteered supplies and equipment, and the refurbishing of supply boxes.
Call out procedures
These protocols are designed to ready the volunteers. It gives the volunteer coordinator the time necessary to get volunteers scheduled to staff shelters.
1. Condition Green: Pre-disaster preparations.
2. Condition Yellow: Office of Emergency Services (OES) expected to ask Red Cross to open shelters within 8 to 12 hours.
3. Condition Red: Red Cross shelters opened.
a. Small animal and large animal volunteer coordinators dispatch staff.
b. RCLO opens command post at Red Cross office and executes duties, as above.
c. RCLO notifies Animal Regulation to be prepared to pick up evacuated pets from Red Cross shelter locations within four hours.
Forms and administrative procedures
A consecutively numbered triplicate admission and release form for animals is needed: one copy each to owner, animal regulation officer and DRC.Additional forms may be necessary to satisfy Red Cross and animal regulation.Animal regulation has special procedures and considerations for animals brought in under these conditions, including no charge for up to five days beyond the emergency.
Different counties have different degrees of insurance protection.Check yours! Some county volunteers are protected when officially called out through OES chain of command.Additional insurance against animal loss may be available through state veterinary associations, if your county protection is not available. If key members of the DRC,both veterinary and lay volunteers take specific Red Cross classes, (see Volunteer Training section) Red Cross Insurance may be available at no charge.
A local VMA can tax itself. REVMA members pay $10 per year to fund their plan. There may be local foundation grants available. REVMA received three.
Local pet business cooperation
A local Sonoma County boarding kennel provided the majority of cages used in the field shelters during 1998 floods. Local dog and cat clubs provide source for experienced pet handler volunteers. Volunteers should be 18 years old and have a driver's license.
Under ideal circumstances, all positions should be backed up. Individuals should know each other's job.Any of three REVMA veterinarians could take over the Red Cross liaison if RCLO was unavailable in an emergency.
Uniforms, signs and badges
REVMA has chosen a green vest with white letters to identify all REVMA personnel in the field. (Other colors are used by other agencies). Also, each volunteer receives two picture ID badges; Red Cross and County OES.
The county provides this service. The badges are given after the first formal training session (see below). These badges will help volunteers to cross official boundaries to get to their stations. Signs and banners for posting at the field shelters, are also in green and white.
A minimum three-hour training session should be given to new volunteers.
Subjects to be covered are:forms, bureaucracy and call out procedures,interaction with disaster victims (to be given by a psychologist), animal handling and sanitation.
Ideally, four social/educational meetings should be held per year to keep the cohesiveness and morale of the volunteer group at high level.
Guest speakers can include: Red Cross disaster personnel, animal control personnel, local humane society personnel, fire department personnel, county and municipal officials, public utility officials, state and local VMA officials.
A frequent newsletter is highly recommended.
There are training courses available from the Red Cross,which have application to animal emergency field shelter operations.The courses are given free of charge and take one to two evenings each. It is recommended that the DRC members and advanced volunteers take the following three courses, minimum:
- introduction to disaster
- mass care
- shelter operations
Earthquake and major disasters
Protocols when communications are totally inoperative, including transportation. When a major disaster like an earthquake
occurs with many thousands of people displaced and homeless and communication is down,pets may be allowed to accompany their owners into Red Cross shelters. This would be a field decision by individual local Red Cross disaster directors, according to Sonoma County's Sandy Stoddard. DRC veterinarians and volunteers would be asked to assist.We should be prepared to assist in the following areas:
1. All animals must be registered with the DRC and wear an Identiband or other visible means of DRC registration.
2. Dormitory space should be assigned for three categories:
- Dogs only
- People only
- Cats only
- Exotic animals will have to be handled on an individual basis.
3. A toilet area for dogs should be set up with containers and scoops at a proper distance from the facility. The cat problem will have to be designed for the facility i.e.: a separate room with many disposable cat boxes and sand/soil etc.
4. Arrangements for food, water and bowls should be able to be made through the Red Cross kitchen manager. If human food can get in, so can animal food. People may have to share with their pets for awhile.
5. A medical aid station for pets should be set up. Supplies from the human medical aid station may be helpful.
6. Volunteers with animal handling experience, from the victims themselves, can be very helpful and a therapeutic experience for them.
Interested parties may receive a copy of a 20-minute video and sample forms by sending a check or money order for $39.95 to:
Santa Rosa, CA 95406
1. Appoint HSUS national veterinary director (DVM degree),whose duties are:
a. Develop disaster education programs for local veterinary medical associations (VMA).
- Brochures for hospital distribution
- Teaching workbooks
- Situational exercises
b. Liaison with national Red Cross to obtain acceptance and eventual absorption into Red Cross.
c. Attend VMA events, regional and national.
d. Develop mutual aid system
e. Develop veterinary school and technician school teaching programs.
2. Motivate local VMAs to accept the plan by offering annual grants for the following:
a. Volunteer training (See d above).
b. Attend regional and national disaster meetings
c. Match local VMA per capita tax. (See Funding of plan)
3. Additional teaching aids available:
a. Lay volunteer training questions.
b. Video: Interview with animal regulation director, REVMA, RCL and Red Cross disaster director (20 min).
c. HSUS coloring book (in progress).
d. REVMA/Purina public handout brochure.
This model disaster plan is based on my work as the founding Redwood Empire Veterinary Medical Association (REVMA) liaison officer to the Sonoma County Chapter American Red Cross (ARC). I was appointed to this position by the REVMA founding Disaster Response Committee coordinator, Dr. James T.Murphy, Sebastopol, California. This committee was established by a directive from the California Veterinary Medical Association to all California local veterinary medical associations as a response to the major disasters in Florida and elsewhere in the 1990s.
The plan is basically a smooth operating coalition between the Sonoma County Animal Regulation Department, REVMA and the ARC. I am now a fully trained ARC technician, able to work in any ARC shelter, doing people rescue and sheltering, anywhere in the United States. I took the techniques from ARC training courses and worked it into this animal disaster response plan for animal rescue and sheltering, particularly the methodology for volunteer training.
- Eugene M.Kravis, DVM
We, in the Sonoma Chapter, ARC are deeply indebted to the efforts of Dr. Kravis and the member veterinarians of the REVMA in solving the formerly tragic problem of owners having to leave their pets behind in a disaster. Due to this plan, this tragic problem no longer occurs, I have encouraged the disaster chair persons in other chapters to contact their local VMAs to draft the same type of plan.
- Sandy Stoddard