Melissa J. Nixon, DVM
You will want to research some things right from your desk, using a computer with Internet connection, a telephone, and a printer with a good supply of paper and ink. If your eyes can handle it, some things can just be read online; others will need to be printed for your own growing information binder or to share with others later when you explore further afield.
Do a search on your county name + your state name + "emergency plan"
Hopefully this will bring up whatever county plan has been published online for your area. If you find the site for county government, look for links to emergency plan. First try to find the plan for humans. Then look to see if any plans are already in existence for animals during emergencies or disasters. Also look for animal control regulations that might apply during a disaster response. Look for a county agricultural commissioner. You may also want to do the same search for any towns and cities in the area for which you wish to be a first responder. Some areas do not publish their plans for security reasons, but it is always good to read them if possible before you begin your own planning.
Print relevant plans and any contact information you have found.
Do a search on each of the following:
your state name + emergency planning
state name + governor's office
state name + veterinary medical association
state name + department of food and agriculture
state name + department of fish and game
state name + animals + disaster
state name + county fairs + expositions
state name + attorney general office
state name + veterinary board of examiners
state name + "state veterinarian"
state name + "veterinary extension"
state name + secretary of state office
Print information relating to local first responders for animals during disasters.
Print contact information for each office.
Make inquiries regarding any laws applicable to a local first responder group for animal care during a disaster. It may take weeks to months to obtain answers, so do this early!
You will specifically be interested in topics such as:
Use of fairgrounds by ARG for training and during disaster incidents and any costs
Credentialing of disaster service workers and whether they will be eligible for insurance
Any requirements regarding fostering of animals prior to adoption to a new home
Interstate shipment of animal evacuees after a disaster
Co-evacuation of animals and humans
Licensing requirements for out-of-state veterinarians volunteering during a disaster
Credentialing of out-of-state ARG volunteers
Liability for ARG and ARG volunteers in case of human or animal injury or death
Requirements for forming a nonprofit organization
Contact your state veterinary medical association
Do they have any plan for care of animals during disasters?
If so, is the plan for first responders interested in rescuing, sheltering, and treating animal evacuees? Is the plan only to provide veterinarians upon request of a local or state agency? Do they have a disaster response committee?
If you are a veterinarian, consider volunteering to sit on the committee if any openings come up. If a plan already exists for first responders, ask if you can join that effort. Rarely is there any need to reinvent the wheel; if a program already exists, see if you can volunteer with that program rather than starting a competing program.
Using the websites and contact information you have found, explore the following:
Local demographics - human and animal. Where are populations concentrated, are there any big facilities that will need a plan of their own and possibly help from the ARG, such as racetracks, dairies, feedlots, large kennels, zoos, or horse barns? What about large apartment complexes that allow pets? Housing areas below weak levees?
Local geography - you may want to check on obtaining maps used by local real estate agents, as these tend to be highly detailed street maps. Topographical maps will also be useful in determining areas of higher risk.
Local disaster history - what has happened, what is likely to happen in your area? Consider natural disasters such as fires, floods, earthquakes, winter storms, summer heat spells, landslides, tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, etc., then look at manmade disasters such as terrorist events, toxic waste spills, train wrecks, nuclear power plant problems, airplane crashes.
Explore insurance issues
If you are a veterinarian, contact your professional insurance broker to explore liability issues and what options are available if you are doing response work outside your regular practice environment.
Talk to your personal insurance broker regarding what coverage you have for health, disability, liability, and vehicles. You will later want to require each volunteer to explore these issues for their own coverage.
Time to study
You will want to learn the basics. Besides this manual, I recommend the following online resources:
AVMA: Disaster Preparedness and Response
UCD veterinary extension: DANR Guide to Disaster Preparedness
CDFA: California Animal Response Emergency System
CDFA: Disaster Volunteer Liability Fact Sheet
CDFA: County Animal Disaster Preparedness and Response Guide
University of Florida Extension: The Disaster Handbook
Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams
HSUS: Disaster Planning, Community Planning
State of Rhode Island Emergency Response Plan
FEMA Independent Study Program
In particular, you should take IS 10 (Animals in Disasters Module A), IS 11 (Animals in Disasters Module B), IS 100 (Introduction to Incident Command System), IS 111 (Livestock in Disasters), IS 120 (An Orientation to Community Disaster Exercises), IS 200 (ICS For Single Resources and Initial Action Incidents), IS 288 (The Role of Voluntary Agencies in Emergency Management), IS 700 (National Incident Management System NIMS, An Introduction), IS 800 (National Response Plan NRP, An Introduction). Several other courses on the list would be beneficial for you as well. These are free, online courses. http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/crslist.asp
FEMA: Typed Resource Definitions: Animal Health Resources
Note: These links were all functional as of May 2006; if you find a link no longer valid, please notify the author at Figaro@saber.net so the link can be updated.
Wait, there's more:
I strongly recommend signing up for some Red Cross courses:
First Aid/CPR (human)
First Aid/CPR (animal)
Introduction to Disaster Services
Introduction to Disaster Services Mass Care: An Overview
Emergency Assistance to Families
One more suggestion:
Established national animal response groups have all been inundated with requests from folks wanting to train as volunteers since Hurricane Katrina. Get the rest of the training under your belt right away, and then when these groups have an opening in a training class, snap it up. Not only do you receive valuable training and get a chance to compare techniques, you will also build bridges to other agencies that you may be working with during actual disaster incidents.
Code 3 Associates
Before you go out in the field, prepare the following documents:
Your curriculum vitae - specifically angled towards what makes you capable of starting and maintaining an Animal Response Group. Include FEMA course completions, applicable professional degrees and associations, any first responder experience you have already gained, and evidence of cross training with organizations such as Red Cross, HSUS, etc.
A sample Memorandum of Understanding between your ARG and another agency
A sample Mutual Aid Agreement between your ARG and another agency
A sample Volunteer Contract
A Training Program Outline
Your County Animal Disaster Response Plan
Your Incident Command Tree
Copies of any applicable local, county (or parish), and state animal disaster response plans you were able to find during your Internet searches.
Any information you were able to find on your own local disaster response plan for humans.