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?
3. Continuity of operations
Can you continue to operate without electricity? Do you have adequate supplies to carry you for 72 hours? Is there a system in place to get needed pharmaceuticals or vaccines in times of crisis? Do you have appropriate contact lists to communicate with clients?
While the government recommends that businesses and residents prepare for 72 hours, Case says, "I think you might want to prepare for two weeks." Decide on how long to stock supplies, but, even more importantly, have a system in place to get access to needed supplies in an emergency. Some practices have successfully collaborated with neighboring practices, and some local veterinary associations are helping to centralize this kind of contingency planning. Keep in mind that, during an emergency, your staff may have to deal with other personal emergencies as it relates to family. Many of the staff members may simply not be around the practice during an emergency. It's important to recognize it, and plan for it, Case adds.
Veterinary hospitals house medications and certain DEA-scheduled substances. Build a security plan based around these important issues.
5. General emergency planning
Does your staff know what to do in case of an emergency or disaster? How will your team members respond? Are all of your practice's job functions appropriately assigned? Make time to practice the most probable disaster scenarios as a staff. This activity could also help improve your team's performance.
6. Fire prevention
Premise fires rank as the top disaster. Work with your local fire department to develop prevention and safety protocols for the practice.
7. Insurance and legal issues
Are you covered in the event of a flood? What happens when hospitalized patients are lost due to a catastrophic event? Can you legally treat a patient when an owner cannot be contacted? All of these questions need to be discussed with your practice's attorney and can be addressed in the hospital's disaster plan, Case says.
Veterinarians can also help clients prepare for emergencies by discussing identification and evacuation plans, she says.
"Preparedness and prevention are peace of mind. Help clients understand evacuation plans and the importance of up-to-date identification. "It's a huge role veterinarians can play on a day-to-day basis."