Disaster Risk Assessment for Captive Wildlife Facilities: The Buck Starts Here
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2013
Mark Lloyd, DVM
Wildlife Medicine Management and Disaster Planning, Winterville, GA, USA


Every effective disaster risk plan must begin with situational risk analysis. Risk analysis evaluates potential threats unique to a defined geographic location, species-specific wildlife collection, and other outside factors beyond the perimeter boundaries and the control of an institution. Appropriate disaster training, planning, response, and recovery all begin with a complete and accurate risk assessment. Emergency risk assessment-based protocols are a small, but integral part of a disaster risk assessment (structural fire within an institution, animal escape, individual human health crisis, etc.). Emergencies occur within disasters and may be multiple and simultaneous (moat flooding allowing animal escapes, electrical fire with blocked transportation, etc.). A well-managed plan may prevent or mitigate an emergency within the disaster.


A disaster declaration is made by the local, state or federal government. Consult local, regional, state, and federal agencies, including the State Veterinary Office and the USDA, for their list of regional risks. Veterinary involvement and considerations are essential at captive animal facilities. Risk assessment must consider risk to the animals from the basic event, risk to the animals from secondary situations created by the event, risk from the animals to human health, and potential risk to the facility and animals from subsequent human activities.

Compounding Events and Threats

When conducting risk assessment, consider the secondary and compounding risks. Disasters spur novel emergencies or disasters within. Hurricanes spin off multiple tornados. Seismic activity overlapping areas with nuclear plants provide a roadmap to dual disaster. Floods are not only destructive, but may disperse sewage, fertilizer, etc., thus perpetuating and expanding the impacted area.

Staff familial responsibilities impact them just as other disaster zone residents. Mandatory evacuation orders include facility staff and family too. One Texas zoo set up temporary employee childcare when the local scholastic infrastructure collapsed in the aftermath of a hurricane.

In worst case scenarios, the initial event creates more serious sequelae; these should be anticipated in risk assessment. Hurricane Katrina destroyed property and lives. Subsequent levee failure caused an ongoing flood crisis. In 1888, the “Great White Hurricane” blizzard in NYC was initiated by the Krakatoa eruption in Indonesia. The debris altered global weather patterns. Transportation halted, over 400 died and snow drifts approached 50 ft. The storm was the impetus for the elevated NY “subway” above the snow.

Transportation and Resources

Transportation limitations are potential risks with almost any disaster. Transportation both into and out of an area may be simultaneously interrupted/altered. Analyze multiple escape/evacuation routes for risk from river crossings, urban congestion, etc., that may mean entrapment vs. escape.

Resource loss risk or unavailability of ongoing resources may require an alternative to sheltering in place even if the wildlife facility infrastructure is intact. Post-disaster events may lead to additional loss of resources. A New Orleans zoo’s diesel fuel was commandeered/confiscated for a local hospital after Katrina. Risk assessment must include resource interruption.

Administration of any facility is essential to continued function. Banks, fund transfers, animal and institutional databases are all at risk. Institutional data back-up may be adequate, but banking, payroll and billing are routinely outside services. Consult with providers to assess risk of administrative jeopardy and alternatives.

Information Resources

Risk assessments have already been created by many governmental agencies. Acquire and use them. Local Emergency Response Services (EMS) and State Emergency Management Agencies (EMA) may have the best basic geographic risk assessment. Risk assessment can start with geographically specific threats.

Many years of historical data assist future risk assessment. Hydrological risk factors have copious data utilized by insurance, Army Corp of Engineers, FEMA, etc. However, many locations that have not experienced flooding in several decades have become complacent and facility managers do not competently consider flood risk.

Nuclear accidents are rare; nevertheless, they do occur. Thermonuclear plant locations are available online. Consider proximity, watershed and prevailing weather direction in risk assessment. Nuclear radiation can impact distant locations. The jet stream, thus plume effects and atmospheric shifts in North America generally flow west to east, and north to south.

Winter storms may encompass and isolate entire regions. As climate change occurs, volcanoes like Krakatoa erupt, and winter storms occur outside weather projections; more preparation may be required for heavy snow, ice or ultra-low temperatures.

Fire risk analysis, historical data and real time wildfire information are available through the US Forest and Fire Services. A massive explosion and fire in urban Kansas City, MO was triggered by a natural gas leak downtown in February 2013, placing thousands at risk.

Rail and highway hazardous materials transportation creates risks to facilities in close proximity. The State EMAs use hazmat transportation information for response planning. Location-specific information can also be acquired through the Federal Railroad Administration and US Dept. of Transportation.

Terrorist events and the risk they pose are far more difficult to predict. Target cities such as NY and Washington DC are at highest risk. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may be the best source for risk assessment recommendations. It may require visiting a local DHS office, often located in major air terminals such as Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport.

Infectious and Zoonotic Diseases

The veterinarians’ influence is strongest with infectious disease. The epidemiology of zoonotic diseases and wildlife may be complicated further by the outbreak response. Federal and State health officials’ wildlife concerns may be overwhelmed by concern for agriculture and human health. A veterinarian may use this compelling argument for infectious disease facility resource allocation.

A complete infectious disease risk analysis must consider the animal collection with regard to susceptibility/reservoir species, transmission and vectors, enclosure design, chemical control agents, and medicinal stockpile stability. For example, standing water post-flooding can be a breeding ground for massive vector population explosions. Vectors can be a prime propellant for a secondary disaster.

USDA infectious disease educational information is available to assist facilities. Veterinary accreditation information is an exceptional risk evaluation reference. Take advantage of every risk assessment resource.


Speaker Information
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Mark Lloyd, DVM
Wildlife Medicine Management and Disaster Planning
Winterville, GA, USA

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