Melissa J. Nixon, DVM
Many difficult lessons were learned during Hurricane Katrina. In the future, it is likely that federal, state, and local governments, as well as Red Cross, will be much more supportive of co-evacuation, side-by-side sheltering, and the service animal/human partner relationship. More areas may allow trained crews to pass through early roadblocks to retrieve specific stranded animals. After the experience in Louisiana, some state governments and local entities may be reviewing the legally required terms of fostering and adoption of unclaimed, relinquished, or unowned animals. Roadblocks may be set up to prevent unauthorized removal of animals across state lines from a disaster zone. Greater efforts may be launched to keep animals within the boundaries of their home state. More precautions will be in place to reduce the incidence of animal theft.
Some states are considering requiring licensed dogs to be micro chipped. Federal guidelines may require microchip identification of food animals. More states may follow Louisiana's lead in requiring a microchip or other permanent identification for horses receiving Coggins tests.
There is a strong movement at the national level for certification of disaster service workers, including specifically those working to rescue and shelter animals. It is unlikely that "convergent," "instant," "independent," or "self-deployed" volunteers will be allowed to help if they have not received training and certification with a bona fide disaster agency prior to the disaster incident.
At the California state level, and possibly in other states, volunteers helping to rescue, shelter, reunite, or administer veterinary care for animals affected by a disaster need to be certified with a recognized response group prior to the disaster incident. This may be done either at the local or at the state level. Volunteers must take an oath of loyalty to state and nation and complete appropriate training prior to certification. As a condition of maintaining certification, volunteers must participate in ongoing training. Comprehension of the Incident Command System, Standardized Emergency Management System, and National Incident Management System is required and is often accomplished by completion of FEMA courses offered online at no cost.
All of these will likely facilitate our primary goal of supporting the human-animal bond during a disaster. It is imperative, however, that we stay abreast of current law in our home area and become familiarized as soon as possible with applicable law in areas we deploy to under a mutual aid agreement or official invitation.
Licensing of veterinarians and registered veterinary technicians is currently done at the state level; federal accreditation is required for a veterinarian to issue health certificates; a DEA license is required for the dispensing of controlled drugs. When these professionals are deployed to a state where they are not already licensed, they may need to obtain temporary licensing. Again, this may change in the future, as some federal documents are indicating a need to facilitate this process for medical professionals and certain responders such as police and search and rescue.
In California, certified Disaster Service Workers are eligible for protection under Good Samaritan laws and for insurance under the state workman's compensation program at no cost to the volunteer. Do be aware that while transportation to and from a disaster incident is covered, along with participation in training events and actual disaster events, any problems incurred during transportation to and from a training event are not covered. Another significant gap is that there is no insurance coverage of animals being transported to and from an evacuation shelter. Professionals will not be covered if deemed to be grossly negligent. Vehicles are not covered. Thus, we strongly recommend that volunteers maintain professional liability insurance, personal liability insurance via a homeowner's or renter's policy, vehicle liability and collision insurance including coverage for horse or livestock trailers, and personal medical insurance. Facilities used for sheltering are excluded from liability claims by state law.