In my travels around the country, I meet the most fascinating people, and I realize that there are so many programs that are being implemented to plan and assist animals (of all species, but including horses) in emergency situations. I would like to share a few of these with you in upcoming posts that will focus on equine disaster planning and response at local and regional levels.

The University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine Veterinary Emergency Treatment Service Team

This week I'd like to introduce John Haven, director of the University of Florida’s (UF) School of Veterinary Medicine. John and I met about 10 years ago. He was driven to improve his team’s response capabilities and provide training to their members. Since then he has taken the entire State Animal Response Team (SART) model as originally drafted by North Carolina, and pushed it to becoming a nationally known, cutting-edge program for other teams to consider modeling themselves after.

In a state that is well known for its horse evacuations, this is a wonderful thing.

In the beginning:

UF’s College of Veterinary Medicine Veterinary Emergency Treatment Service team was a product of the response requirements placed on the college by the state during the devastating 2003 hurricanes. Despite having no dedicated equipment, team assignments, or training, John rallied volunteers and deployed to Hurricanes Charlie, Frances, and Jeanne, and included medical, logistical, ICS command, and rescue responsibilities.
At the end of 2003, the State Veterinarian’s Office, the Florida Veterinary Medicine Association, and the College of Veterinary Medicine leadership met to decide what kind of a role the college would play in future responses. It was decided the college should provide:

  1. Rapid veterinary infrastructure assessment;
  2. Logistical support for open veterinary clinics unable to obtain supplies or fuel;
  3. Operate a self-contained veterinary clinic of up to 18 team members for all species; and
  4. To perform animal technical rescue.

The college director was also added to the state SART steering council. The college proceeded to purchase trucks, trailers, tents, generators, medical equipment, etc., and the team obtained extensive training through TLAER, Inc.

Where they are today:

The team typically participates in at least one deployment exercise a year with other national, state and local partners to practice its hospital and deployment capabilities, and practices its technical rescue skills with local agencies on a regular basis.

The team works with multiple student clubs to develop a series of labs involving animal technical rescue skills with the goal of preparing UF veterinary graduates to be able to assist their communities during disasters or technical rescues. Many of these students take Incident Command System classes through the UF CVM Maddie’s Shelter Medicine program, and higher level ICS 300 and 400 classes are also provided. This ensures that they know how to “plug in” to emergency response programs and on scene.

The significant size and capability of the team makes it one of the largest in the country. The team is deployable under federal declarations, to include EMAC to other Southern states, within the state under a governor’s declaration, and locally under mutual aid agreements, or for technical rescue 24/7/365 within a two-hour range of the Gainesville, Fla.

The team has been involved in several local or regional horse, dog, and cow technical rescues, including mud extrication and high angle sinkhole rescues. The team has transported animals related to wildfires and assisted local agencies with several large (600+) animal hoarding cases performing medical evaluation and animal transport.

Realizing that Florida is a large state, and needing coverage beyond the UF coverage zone for animal technical rescue, the college developed a DHS approved Operations Level course for animal technical rescue, and has delivered this two-day, hands on, high intensity training, to the seven Regional Domestic Security Task Force zones across the state.

Besides this training, FL SART was able to obtain equipment caches for each of these teams. All of the equipment is on the AEL-approved equipment list, including the large and small animal technical rescue equipment. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue has a team and two caches.

Into the future:

Recognizing there is a broad range of animal technical rescue training programs, and that few fit into the “awareness,” “operations,” and “technician” level standards followed by first responders, many fire departments are uncomfortable performing animal technical rescue. In most cases they do the best they can, but sometimes at great risk to themselves and the animals they try to rescue.

To attempt to improve this variety of programs into a standard, in March 2012 John joined the National Fire Protection Association and convinced the 1670 Committee on Technical Rescue that there was a need to develop a standard. He was appointed co-chair of a task group on animal technical rescue to and spent the last year working with subject matter experts from TLAER, Inc., University of California, Davis’ vet school, and various other agencies around the country.

The standard was addressed by the committee in Feb 2013, to be published in late 2013. and will outline the standard for team capabilities and standards for the next five years. Its next task will be to work on individual training standards (NFPA Committee 1006). The VETS team equipment and training has been funded primarily through grants and donations. For more information, please contact John Haven, CVM, director and VETS team leader, at 352-294-4254.