I was thrilled to join Dr. Dick Green at the recent one-day conference , Animals after Disasters, hosted by the Georgia Department of Agriculture Emergency Management with Dr. Venessa Sims-Green and Augusta Animal Services Director Sharon Broady.  The intent of this conference, attended by representatives from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Maryland was to improve our understanding of the scope of disasters from the financial, legal, and logistical response considerations.

Dr. Green has done field rescues or been involved in improvements in animal welfare on every single continent except Antarctica--from hoarder situations in the United States to animals trapped in volcanos to the Philippine cyclones. He also championed the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition of animal disaster shelter organizations as well.  Over the years I have watched him build continued success and coalitions of coordinated people in the animal disaster and animal welfare movements. Although animal disaster organizations tend to focus on small animals, in this conference we also discussed horses and other large animals.

Dr. Green’s keynote lecture began with a historical overview to demonstrate how far we have come in disaster preparedness and, particularly, response. He started with Biblical references to animal welfare and humane treatment (Noah and the Ark, etc.). His timeline included 1822 in the United Kingdom with the passage of the first legislation in the known world for large animals which would later become known as the Royal Soceity for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Richard Martin drove this, and then Henry Berg was part of this movement for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1824). The seed was planted in the United States, and in 1916 the Red Star program for horse ambulances on the battlefields of Europe were started by American Humane Association.

The movement to protect animals from maltreatment (you will remember “Black Beauty” the famous book by Anna Sewell was written in 1877 and while forthrightly teaching animal welfare, it also teaches children how to treat people with kindness, empathy, and respect) was started way earlier than laws preventing children from being labored in the mines and dangerous jobs (passed in the United States in 1938). Civil Defense programs for humans came about in the 1950s, followed by many new national and international humane animal organizations in the 1960s.

Remember, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) only came about in the 1970s, and emergency management for people as a profession has only been considered a career path for about 20 years. In 1993, the disaster veterinarians came together under American Veterinary Medical Association’s Veterinary Medical Assistance Team (MAT) program, later split into VMAT and the DHS/NDMS program National Veterinary Emergency Response Team (NVERT)

Disaster work with animals really started in 1992 with Hurricane Andrew. None of the animal welfare folks showed up and knew anything or had any gear at that time, they actually showed up in the disaster zone with no coordination from all the groups across the state. There was no command structure--Nick Gilman was the American Humane Assocation boss and it was very frustrating to him to try to get people to work together, especially since donation management was poorly coordinated. Back then, animal rescue people were viewed as very unprofessional and more worried about their “turf” on the scene than working together.   <\p>

This was a wakeup call to emergency management officials to include animals into our planning.

Dr. Sebastian Heath conducted interviews after this incident and created the Animals in Disaster series of programs on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s site, which started getting people involved in incident command structure and training. This made them more professional, more team oriented, and more involved in the bigger picture.

During flooding in Sacramento, Calif., in 1997, issues still existed between the groups. They literally staked their claims on the different parts of the river without cooperation, mostly because of the money donations. Very little communication, collaboration, and cooperation between groups and even less between the federal and state governments and nongovernmental organizations. Why? Field disaster responders are expensive to maintain and field. On average, it takes seven disasters to generate enough donation money to cover the first six. True, these groups can raise a lot of money after a disaster, but it takes a lot of money to respond and logistics are horrifically expensive. To remain viable they have to get the donations to be able to fund their efforts.

Hurricane Floyd 1999 had some very close calls. Dr. Janice Baker (also in the audience) supplemented her experiences here where the Dept. of Agriculture and Emergency Management and the NGOs or even “experts” brought in for the response were at odds as to financial impact on the industry versus welfare concerns versus saving animals. The concept of working together were part of the lessons learned after the floods, and for the first time North Carolina started a concept called the State Animal Response Team (SART), which has since then spread to 28 states.

Trust wasn’t there yet – in the 2000s an effort was made to start the National Animal Disaster Coalition and the Animals in Disaster Conference. They didn’t last long but were a good first effort.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina showed the huge resource management difficulties when then moved over 10,000 animals through the Lamar Dixon shelter in Louisiana. About 40% of these animals were rehomed – the rest found their owners. But it forced the NGO and federal authorities to play together, and HSUS was really well set up financially and infrastructure and delegation of authority to operate the shelter.  HSUS absorbed the rest of the NGO and federal groups into their command structure… and caused the lessons learned to include recognizing the importance of animals into disaster planning. It waked up the NGOs to get more IM and ICS training… and the importance of evacuation planning.

In 2006 NARSC was started and represents some real heavy hitters on all levels; and National Alliance of State Animal and Agricultural Emergency Programs (NAASEP) evolved as a national network of stake holders to promote effective all hazards animal and agricultural emergency management with best working groups and has a national summit. Meanwhile, out of the PETS act of 2006 (although unfunded and untoothed) but it amended the Stafford Disasters and Relief Emergency Assistance Act. This was crucial for the first time it defined pets and service animals and encouraged operational planning.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pets_Evacuation_and_Transportation_Standards_Act there was an emphasis for the first time on working together at all levels from local on up to federal, and with the NGOs who were often much better set up to respond to disasters from large hoarding cases to natural disasters.

Finally we see a lot of improvement in evacuation for everyone by Hurricane Gustav in 2008 in Louisiana where over 3 million people evacuated--went flawlessly--only 1,200 animals were sheltered and with a 100% rehoming rate. The state declared a state of emergency six days before out of their lessons learned, and experienced a huge success.

Since then there have been ever increasing numbers of disasters, and the animal issues have been constantly addressed in an ever increasingly successful manner. Large animals and horses remain the most difficult to deal with due to their size, fractiousness, and sheer logistical challenges with collecting and sheltering them. Where are we today--everything that we know comes from the human rescue side "best practices" where we have built a curriculum for animal rescue personnel. As soon as human issues are addressed, the animal issues are next priority since they are planning from the instant the disaster occurs, as it should be.

The future: ASPCA recently received a large grant from Disney to build a disaster MASH for animals affected by disasters. And in May 2015 there will be eight days of training, a simulation of the largest full scale evacuation is planned including all the partners. I will certainly report on this event,  and hope that those of you that have been affected by disasters are getting involved at the local level to make things change there. That is where it all starts.  

Do you have stories of disasters and how they have affected you and your horses?