Housing zoological collections in regions of severe weather extremes presents a number of challenges that require careful planning and collaboration. Zoo Miami is located at the south- eastern point of Florida and annually encounters storms during the hurricane season that range from heavy rain and wind, to serious hurricanes and tornados. The Zoo has developed an extensive disaster management plan that includes contingency plans and emergency response teams, and the staff updates this manual on an annual basis.
Within the Zoo
Hurricane preparation meetings are held on a regular basis well before the start of the storm season. Early identification of supplies and equipment needed for each area and department ensures that these materials are ordered and procured in advance of their need. Inspection and service to the generators on grounds, and identification of shelter locations is also performed 3–4 months prior to the start of hurricane season. Each area develops a detailed checklist for their immediate section with tasks related to the timing and level of storm. This process allows for the gradual and complete ability to secure the area and animals. As the threat of a storm develops, a command center and ride-out team are designated, and emergency contact information is distributed. This team is responsible for maintaining communications with senior staff off site, and once weather permits, assesses the welfare and safety of the collection animals and the integrity of the facility. Once the zoo has been cleared for staff to return, all that are capable of getting to the facility are assigned to areas of most critical need for repair and clean-up duty.
Outside the Zoo
Early communication with outside vendors to relay both immediate and post-storm needs is important to ensure adequate supply of food, medications, bedding, disinfectants, and other materials. Loss of power for a prolonged period of time should be anticipated, and reserving refrigerated and freezer trucks is recommended. Prior to any storm, staff should photograph enclosures, buildings, and structures as documentation. These photographs are important for any future FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) claims. Fostering good relationships with the local authorities is essential, and the emergency response plan is shared with first responders on a regular basis. Additionally, maintaining communication and support with other surrounding zoological facilities is mutually beneficial. As part of the Miami-Dade county system, the zoo is fortunate to have information, reminders, and support from the Department of Parks and Recreation’s Employee Hotline for staff to call to receive updates. This helps provide comprehensive communication to all staff.