Disaster preparedness: Planning for the worst, hoping for the best

Disaster preparedness: Planning for the worst, hoping for the best

May 01, 2011

NATIONAL REPORT — All disasters start locally.

According to Dr. Heather Case, director of Scientific Activities for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), it's a concept that drives emergency response during catastrophic events.

Even if veterinarians are not ready to invest in the necessary training to help in a response following the next hurricane, disaster planning for a veterinary practice makes good medical and business sense.

Veterinary practices are at risk, and it is very likely DVMs could be asked to respond to smaller-scale emergencies locally.

It could be in response to a clinic fire or an accident involving a horse trailer. Flooding could strand livestock or a chemical spill could force an evacuation. What about tornadoes or other severe weather events?

The point? About 60 percent of all U.S. households live with animals. Factor in horses and livestock, and the likelihood veterinarians will be called on when disaster strikes increases exponentially, Case explains. It's been proven many times over that veterinarians play an increasingly crucial role in helping animals in times of disaster.

For veterinarians, what can compound any disaster immeasurably, Case says, is simultaneously working through animal emergencies and damage or loss to the practice facility. "And if you don't have a plan for your family, you could be pulled in three directions."

To prepare, every practice in the United States should have a written disaster plan in place, she adds. Start by identifying the risks to your practice by assessing the geography of the area and the physical facility.

AVMA recommends that veterinarians address these seven areas when building a solid disaster plan, including:

1. Emergency relocation of animals

Central to any good disaster plan is a contingency plan based on the forced evacuation and relocation of patients. Do you have a temporary holding facility? Have you addressed animal transportation?

2. Medical records back-up

What if your records were destroyed by fire, flood or even tornado? Do you have safe storage of medical records, electronic or otherwise?