One Health Committee Report, Followed by: Collaborative Intelligence for Veterinary Professionals
World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress Proceedings, 2018
Hayley Squance, BAppSc (VTM), MEd (Adult Ed), PhD student
BML Consulting Limited, Animal Welfare Emergency Management, Palmerston North, New Zealand

Collaborative Intelligence for Veterinary Professionals


When a disaster strikes, there is a period of time where there is very little information of who has been impacted, how they have been impacted, and what their immediate needs may be. Therefore, decision-making is based on assumptions and previous experience until further intelligence is collated and interrogated, allowing for impacts and needs to be supported by “ground truthing”. The volume, complexity and fluid nature of this work demands collaboration across a diversity of people, disciplines and organisations.1 This is achieved by collecting real-time data from organisations who are at the coalface. It provides the evidence base for strategic planning, as well as baseline information upon which situation and response monitoring systems will rely. Additionally, the information gathered will allow the response team to analyse and make decisions on support actions, confirm resources and deploy the required level of response for the affected community. It helps to build a picture of current, emerging and diminishing needs. Collectively, this creates situational awareness of the disaster, which requires constant “checking in” due to the fluid nature of disasters.

Veterinary professionals are key actors and are instrumental for animal welfare disaster management decision-making. They have local knowledge and the ability to collect raw data through their networks of clients and communities, participate in ground truthing, can identify any emerging issues that may require forethought, and are subject matter experts (SMEs). Collaborative intelligence is vital for crisis decision-making. However, for the data to be meaningful, it requires an understanding of what intelligence is needed (purpose) and how stress can impact collection and interpretation of the data.

Purpose of Data

As a disaster unfolds, no one has a complete picture of what is happening. In the early stages, decision-making is based on assumptions and previous experience. However, the latter can quickly create an environment whereby the focus of the response is skewed and highly probable that the response will be inadequate. Much more bridging of knowledge and insight is needed to deepen the collective knowledge of how we can, together, more effectively respond to the crises.2 This in part is achieved by raw data collection at the coalface by those with local knowledge and at varying stages of the disaster. The assessment process occurs in sequential steps and has three phases (rapid initial response, response and recovery) to ensure the information collected is of use. The general process remains the same through each phase, but the detail of information, speed at which it is collected and how it is collected differ. During the early stages, rapid information is required to protect life and reduce further impact on welfare, infrastructure and recovery. This is known as the rapid initial assessment. The next phase is a full needs assessment. This assessment involves assessing the situation to confirm the information being received is an accurate reflection of the event. It also ensures that any subsequent response is coordinated, targeted, effective and reduces the likelihood of duplication of effort. This is a crucial phase in any response work, as a poorly conducted assessment is likely to lead to poor planning decisions and an inadequate response. This often has flow-on consequences affecting recovery efforts.

The information that is pivotal to decision-making is intelligence, which helps us to understand the current impacts on animal welfare and what may impact later on. For example, in a flood event, the initial rapid assessment needs to assist with an understanding where the flood impact is and what assistance may be required. Are people self-evacuating? What are your clients doing? Are they asking for help? What is your community doing? Do they have adequate access to veterinary care? Thinking ahead, what are the risks associated with animals being in floodwater during the event, as well as having access to contaminated grounds once water has started to recede? This is where proactive thinking about zoonotic diseases from a public health perspective should occur. Animals tend to be the initial indicator, as animals usually become sick before people do. In New Zealand, like many countries, the regions identified as high risk for leptospirosis exposure are growing at an exponential rate.3,5 Therefore, if cases of such diseases are presenting at veterinary clinics post flooding, this should be communicated as an environmental indicator to the agencies responsible for coordinating the recovery. The risk index for exposure to people and animals after a flood event continues to rise and should be regarded in proactive public health measures—a pertinent example of collaborative intelligence.

Stress Physiology

When a disaster occurs, people affected by the traumatic event experience a range of early reactions (physical, psychological, emotional and behavioural).4 These reactions may interfere with their ability to cope and can impact how we observe and interpret what is occurring around us. When in a relaxed state, the parasympathetic system dominates; however, this can change when the fight-or-flight response is initiated. This is our usual response when we come across an emergency situation. When in an aroused state, the sympathetic system dominates to assist with our survival. This is very effective to increase alertness and prepare us for a quick response; however, we need to ensure it is kept at an optimal level, as we can tip over the edge and become ineffective due to paralysing stress.

When comparing what our bodies are doing physiologically in a relaxed state as opposed to a fight/flight response, we can see where some of the positive and negative responses come into play. Our brains do not distinguish between physical threat (attacked by a dog) and psychological threat (stress of making decisions in an emergency). When in survival mode, the brain is in a stressed state, and this reactivity makes it quite challenging, if not outright impossible, to be open and receptive to others. We become hypervigilant, experience negative thinking, have a sense of urgency (“I have to get it done, and it has to be done now!”) and have tunnel vision. This affects our ability to concentrate; we forget things and start to ruminate (thoughts going around and around). You have no doubt experienced this on occasion and see it often in your clients. This is a dangerous state to be in, as we need our smart brain to “click” in, the neocortex. This part of the brain allows us to think and reason along with regulating the limbic system, our emotions. It allows us to see what is going well, gives us patience and the ability to wait. It creates calmness, equanimity (remaining calm and undisturbed), allows us to be able to keep an even keel, see the subtleties and sustain attention. These are all the qualities that are required to be a valuable resource in an emergency situation. This is known as mindsight and is vital for collaborative intelligence. Part of the process of developing mindsight involves reducing reactivity when it is not actually necessary. This can be achieved by stopping, taking deep breaths and focusing on the task at hand. After doing breathing exercises, we can start thinking rather than simply reacting.

Actions need to be driven by objective decisions rather than by emotions. Therefore, you need to ask yourself, “Am I thinking or just reacting?” The answer could mean the difference between success and failure in an emergency situation.


Collaborative intelligence is the measure of your ability to think with others on behalf of what matters to us all. To access that intelligence, we must learn to dignify differences in how we think and use them to face complex challenges.2 Expertise in one area is of little use if not open to collaborate with others to make the expertise valuable. Veterinary professionals are key actors in disaster management and are instrumental for crisis decision-making through collaborative intelligence.


1.  Hackman JR. Collaborative Intelligence: Using Teams to Solve Hard Problems. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.; 2011.

2.  Markova D, McArthur A. Collaborative intelligence: thinking with people who think differently. Roundhouse Publishing Group; 2015.

3.  Merchant R, Benschop J, MacPherson N. Lepto a changing scene; disturbing public health data, plus the findings from the FLAG Dairy study and reports of lepto cases following floods. NZVA Dairy Cattle Vets Newsletter. 2017;35(1).

4.  New Zealand Red Cross. Psychological First Aid Training. Wellington, New Zealand; 2015.

5.  Pijnacker R, Goris MG, Wierik MJ, Broens EM, van der Giessen JW, de Rosa M, Wagenaar JA, Hartskeerl RA, Notermans DW, Maassen K, Schimmer B. Marked increase in leptospirosis infections in humans and dogs in the Netherlands, 2014, Euro Surveill. 2016;21(17):pii=30211.


Speaker Information
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Hayley Squance, BAppSc (VTM), MEd (Adult Ed), PhD student
BML Consulting Limited
Animal Welfare Emergency Management
Palmerston North, New Zealand

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