When disaster strikes...where will you be? - Veterinary Economics
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When disaster strikes...where will you be?
You can play a crucial role in helping animals and pet owners in the wake of hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, and other disasters.



The first SART team was established in North Carolina after Hurricane Floyd killed more than 3 million domestic animals (pets and livestock) in 1999. Since then, other states have organized teams using North Carolina's model. SART and CART teams provide a structure for local governments, animal control organizations, humane societies, veterinary clinics, and other groups to work together to plan for animals in disaster.

Dr. Warren Hess, Utah's assistant state veterinarian, helped establish Utah's response team, called the Utah Emergency Animal Response Coalition (UEARC). The coalition has three large trailers equipped as emergency shelters for small animals. Each can house about 75 pets and can be rapidly deployed statewide for such emergencies as wildfires and floods. UEARC has also organized Large Animal Technical Rescue Training courses to teach police, fire, and animal control personnel techniques for rescuing large animals, such as a horse trapped in an overturned trailer. UEARC recently participated in the Great Utah ShakeOut, a statewide earthquake drill. During the drill, UEARC worked with the American Red Cross to collocate shelters for human "earthquake victims" and their pets.

"The greatest accomplishment of UEARC has been successfully engaging state agencies as partners in animal emergency response," says Dr. Hess. "We're developing relationships between the Department of Agriculture, emergency managers, and state CERT directors."


All disasters start and end locally. In a major disaster, first responders (fire, police, and emergency medical services) will be quickly overwhelmed. You, your family, and your neighbors will be on your own. CERT teams provide training and organization for neighbors and coworkers to help these groups provide light search and rescue, fire suppression, and basic life support.

"I love the CERT model," says Dr. Poll, "because it focuses on the essential nature of handling emergencies on a local level rather than waiting for outside help to arrive."


I've been working with SAR dogs and handlers for several years and find it very rewarding. The partnership between canine and human is amazing, and the dogs' scenting ability is phenomenal. Most SAR dog handlers are volunteers. They do the job because they are dedicated to helping people. I recently joined FEMA's Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Utah Task Force 1 to provide medical care for the dogs both on- and off-duty.

US&R focuses on assignments in urban environments, like rescuing tornado victims from a collapsed building. Other SAR teams focus on wilderness searches, such as finding lost children, stranded hikers, or victims of a mountaintop airplane crash. Dogs are an integral part and may be certified as live-find or cadaver dogs. Veterinarians can join SAR teams as canine handlers, horseback-mounted searchers, technical rescuers, or search managers in charge of planning and logistics.

Dr. Alan Fudge, Dipl. ABVP (Avian), of Bird Doctor Housecalls in El Dorado Hills, Calif., is a member of El Dorado County Search and Rescue (EDSAR), which works with country sheriffs. EDSAR covers the Sierra Nevada and Lake Tahoe wilderness areas and includes swiftwater (river), Nordic (snow), high-angle (cliff), and K-9 teams. Besides treating search dogs' injuries, Dr. Fudge is a rigger on the cliff rescue team.

"We have an incredible variety of highly educated people in all fields participating plus locals who bring huge skills and knowledge to the team," Dr. Fudge says.

Dr. Jennifer Bouthilet of Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Maplewood, Minn., is a member of K-9 Emergency Response Teams (KERT), a multi-specialty search and rescue organization based in Wisconsin. She has two certified SAR dogs: "Gem," a live-find Wilderness Area Air Scent dog, and "Cliff," a Human Remains Detection (cadaver) dog. Dr. Bouthilet says the greatest reward of SAR work is of course, finding a lost person, but she also loves to watch the dogs at work.

"The dogs think it's a great game," Dr. Bouthilet says. "I love watching Gem run through the woods and then suddenly turn her head and take off in a completely different direction because she's caught wind of the subject who's still too far away to be seen."

Disaster preparedness and emergency response can take many forms at the local, state, and national level. So both veterinarians and lay staff members have ample opportunity to volunteer their time and expertise to help people and pets in need.



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