Veterinarians prepare for Hurricane Irene

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Aug 24, 2011
By dvm360.com staff
Gainesville, Fla. —While Hurricane Irene churns its way up the East Coast, veterinarians are preparing to respond.

“We’ve reviewed our disaster plan to understand what we are going to do and what our capabilities would be during a disaster,” says John Haven, director of medical/health administration at the University of Florida's veterinary college. “But as of this afternoon’s tracking, it’s showing it missing Florida all together.”

So, UF veterinarians have shifted their strategy, he says, making plans to head up the coast, if needed, when Hurricane Irene makes landfall in the Carolinas on Saturday morning.

Officials in charge of a coordinated emergency response in South Carolina have been alerted to UF’s readiness to help, he says. UF can offer one of the largest, non-federal deployable veterinary resources, and is available on request, Haven adds. In North Carolina, state officials have excellent veterinary response resources to tap through North Carolina State University, he adds.

If UF were to deploy an emergency response team several states over, it would likely only send three to six people, in the hopes that local volunteers could be added to the response infrastructure. The veterinary college’s maximum deployment is 17 people, Haven says, but sending that large of a team so far away would be costly and put a strain on college operations at UF.

For veterinarians located in areas along the East Coast that expect to be impacted by Hurricane Irene, Haven recommends they start preparing now.

Practitioners need to talk with their staff first and coordinate a solid disaster plan. Will employees evacuate? Will the practice be closed? If the practice closes, what will it do with any animals left behind by evacuating owners? Those are the kinds of questions that need to be addressed early, Haven says.

In Florida, Haven says practitioners are advised to find a “sister” practice farther inland, away from the path of the hurricane, where animals could be moved in the event of an evacuation. If that’s not possible, coordinate with county emergency management officials so they know they have a priority to monitor shelter and feed any animals left at the practice, he says.

Veterinarians who have mapped out their own disaster plans and want to do more can offer their assistance through local emergency management organizations, and can even be paid or reimbursed for any care they provide to companion animals under the Federal Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS).

More information about volunteering can be found on the North Carolina State Animal Response Team’s (SART) website at http://nc.sartusa.org.