For equine practitioners, education is key to disaster preparation

For equine practitioners, education is key to disaster preparation

Feb 01, 2007

Disaster struck at the latest meeting of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP).

There were floods, forest fires, tornadoes, infectious disease outbreaks and bioterrorist attacks.

They all occurred in Room 214A of the San Antonio Convention Center, site of the AAEP Equine Disaster preparedness session.

Stranded: Two horses stand on high ground on this flooded farm in Washington's Snohomish Valley after the Snohomish River breached its levee in November. The American Association of Equine Practitioners says that, because communities will look to veterinarians for leadership in post-disaster recovery, they need to be prepared.
Those scenarios were part of a discussion to help prepare equine practitioners nationwide for similar real-life emergencies.

While Hurricane Katrina's effects on horses and other animals along the Gulf Coast last year raised awareness, disasters come in many forms and were an issue for veterinarians long before Katrina.

For instance, California forest fires in 2003 and the series of hurricanes that pounded Florida in 2005 both necessitated evacuation and relocation of horses.

Out in the cold: Weather emergencies, such as the Midwest ice storms and the recent blizzards in Colorado, are the types of scenarios for which owners and practitioners need to have a plan in place. It is the key to saving more lives, officials say.
Equine practitioners also have faced emergencies in recent years from ice storms, floods and traffic accidents involving horses in transit.

More recently, a rhinopneumonitis outbreak in South Florida and the blizzards in Colorado forced veterinarians to deal with quarantine issues, animal movement and food-distribution problems.

Good planning is needed to prepare for these and similar emergencies.

According to the AAEP Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Guidelines written in 2003, the equine practitioner "is qualified to understand and treat the injuries and stresses of horses in a disaster as well as understanding the logistical factors associated with a rapid or planned evacuation of horses."

That report adds that, for veterinarians, "triaging is a part of everyday life. The community will look to the practitioner as an important resource in the post-disaster period."

As a proactive move, AAEP recently developed the State Equine Emergency Network (SEEN) program, to designate equine practitioners in each state as liaisons among AAEP staff, members and state animal-emergency management officials during emergencies.

Many veterinarians were frustrated after Katrina because people who wanted to assist injured and stranded horses simply couldn't get into the hardest-hit areas, and supply deliveries were hampered.

Therefore the SEEN program's first objective, and the first item in the AAEP Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Guidelines, is education.

"Effective preparedness saves more lives than any type of disaster response," says Dr. John Madigan, writing in An Equine Disaster Response for Horse Owners, published by the American Horse Council in 1999.

Equine veterinarians can help educate and prepare horse owners through 4-H talks, pony-club presentations, local seminars, newsletters and simply by stressing disaster planning during routine veterinary care for clients.

Simple questions can generate discussion and move clients to consider an emergency plan.

For example, practitioners might ask clients how they would deal with the loss of power for a few days or longer.

Do they have generators to run water pumps and fuel for those generators? Do they have enough food to last a while and the means to distribute it to their horses?

What if some or all the structures on their farms were lost in high winds or floods? What would they do if they had to get all their horses moved in a short time? Do they have trucks and trailers in working order?