NATIONAL REPORT — He didn't stage a heroic rescue effort or man an impromptu staging area when Hurricane Charlie battered Port Charlotte, Fla.,
in 2004. He had more pressing duties: picking up the pieces of his shattered home and displaced family.
"You can't fight the forces of nature," says John Stevens of Animal Medical Center in Port Charlotte, Fla. But practitioners
can take precautions to protect their homes and practices. Above, clean-up continues in Mississippi along Highway 90 after
"Home and family truly comes first. That's where the survival mode comes in. If you are exposed and totally damaged, then
you are not going to be helping anybody else," says Dr. John Stevens, proprietor of Animal Medical Clinic in Port Charlotte.
"So you first need to get into that survival mode and get that secured, and then you can go on and help other people."
Operating a veterinary practice during a disaster requires preparation and wherewithal, but Veterinary Medical Assistance
Team (VMAT) leaders say practitioners will be rendered useless to the animal population if they fail to take proper care and
preparation at home first.
"I don't know if you can be an effective veterinarian if your family is not out of harm's way," says Dr. Jim Hamilton, VMAT
3 founder and commander. "If I truly believe that my calling in life is to be a steward to the animal population, then consistent
with that stewardship is my earnest effort to prepare myself and my family such that I can leave them to provide that very
necessary service and not feel as though I've left them in harm's way."
Some of the same steps needed to sustain a practice can keep a home secure. First, a generator back-up system can provide
emergency electricity, phone service, charge cell phones and provide critical home operations. A one-week fuel reserve for
the generator can keep freezers and refrigerators operational until primary power is restored.
Second, stock about one week's supply of fresh water and canned or dried food, just in case.
Third, have a network of family and friends who might be able to take you in should your community be declared a disaster
zone or be uninhabitable for a time. Try to select family or friends who will not be impacted by a far-reaching disaster,
such as a large storm or forest fires.
Fourth, understand your insurance policy. Your agent and the companies they work for will be swamped if disaster hits, so
you'll want to know what policy coverage entails prior to a disaster. It's a good idea to use a video recorder to catalog
a home so you and your insurer can assess the damage properly.
When securing a practice, back-up power is critical to keeping practices afloat during compromised infrastructure.
"Generator capability is probably the single biggest thing we can do to prevent major consequences after a storm whether it
be small or big, whether it be local or statewide," says Dr. Barry Kellogg, VMAT 1 founder and medical director for the Humane
Society of the United States (HSUS) Disaster Services. "There are a couple of really good back-up systems out there that are
automatic. They click on to test themselves to make sure they are working. They don't allow back current into the utility
lines that endanger people who are working on them. They aren't that unreasonable in terms of cost; just the loss of refrigerate-able
drugs alone would almost cover the cost of a generator."
Back-up systems for computer-dependent practices are critical, too. Medical records, inventory/accounting mechanisms and ways
to take payment might need to be done manually.
A periodic videotaping of inventory can help protect practice owners from theft, fire, flooding or other unforeseen events