During the Student American Veterinary Medical Association (SAVMA) 2013 convention at Louisiana State University last week, 84 students had the opportunity to participate in a mock disaster drill with animals. With a swell in the number of incidents involving animals in disasters, the need for specialized training in disaster response has increased over the last two decades, and veterinary students are realizing their roles on scene. Students intend to bring this information back to their school to improve their tactics, techniques and procedures.

Veterinary students outfitted in Tyvek hazmat suits learn about decontaminating horses in the event of a chemical disaster.

Photo: Rebecca Gimenez

Collaboration between Louisiana State Animal Response Team (LSART), Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams (VMAT), Baton Rouge Parish Animal Control and Emergency Medical Services (HAZMAT division), LSU Veterinary School staff and faculty, Mississippi Animal Response Team (MART), Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue (TLAER), and the Stephenson Disaster Management Institute (SDMI) allowed the coordinators to set up and conduct a mini-scale disaster shelter wet lab. Many of the instructors flew in from all over the country to contribute their expertise to the scenarios.

Starting with a realistic scenario safety and logistics briefing (as they would normally get at the command post), the students were then transported by bus into a mock disaster zone at a facility near LSU. There they round robin into to three disaster response stations to actually participate in performing tasks that are commonly associated with animal response in disasters and emergencies. The mock scenario involved an overturned train with chemical gasses emanating, with the local people escaping with their lives and their animals. Unfortunately, some of the animals and people are covered with the unknown substance, and now they are showing up at the local emergency shelters with their pets (dogs, horses, cats, snakes, etc.) Also, while trying to evacuate one person called in with an exhausted horse that had fallen down behind their trailer when trying to be loaded.

At the hasty Animal DECON station at the shelter, the students actually put on hazmat suits before entering the warm zone to catch a live horse (donated for the day by an LSART volunteer). Then they conducted gross decontamination of both a large dog and the horse (with plain water for the mock scenario). Before and after, students were evaluated for their blood pressure, health and body temperature by paramedics--wearing these suits is extreme confinement and builds up heat quickly. Lively discussion of technical decontamination methods and hazmat protocols followed the exercise, as well as the opportunity to view actual equipment and tools used in a decontamination scenario for animals.

In another station at the animal disaster shelter, students learned how to set up the quarantine, check-in, triage, and treatment stations associated with the opening of a small animal disaster animal shelter facility (as might be found with a co-located human and animal shelter.) They learned by doing how to better manage the anticipated flow of hundreds of animal patients and their concerned owners (played by local volunteers who brought their pets of all shapes and sizes to descend upon the students at the shelter).

You can imagine how challenging this was to do, keeping the pitbulls away from the cats, and the “mange” puppies away from the other dogs, and the “injured” ones away from the rest. Oh yeah, and when the horses show up, what to do with them? (Since they really don’t fit into a dog crate!)

The last station involved learning to package and transport a large animal victim on a sked device called a Rescue Glide. This station featured the use of “Mayhem,” the new name of the 500 pound fully bendable Horse Rescue Mannequin recently acquired by LSU Veterinary School and LSART through the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF). Students had to first take on the roles of IC, Operations, Safety and Logistics Officers, to control the scenario through use of the Incident Command System. Then the medical team had to triage and provide first aid to a possible fracture, anesthetize and the operations team then packaged Mayhem onto the Rescue Glide. Then everyone got on the ropes and pulled him around to discover how easy it is to move a recumbent large animal on these devices.

It is hoped that through exposure to professional experiences with disaster coordination and planning that these future veterinarians will have increased knowledge as to proper techniques and methods that can be applied to disasters and emergencies.

For more information on the SAVMA 2013 disaster exercise, contact Rebecca McConnico, DVM, PhD Professor, Large Animal Internal Medicine LSU Veterinary School, Baton Rouge, LA (225) 578-9500 mcconnico@vetmed.lsu.edu