“Animal Disaster Response Workshop” – Wakefield, VA

In early April, Chris Thompson, Cat Graham, and I traveled to Wakefield, VA to attend the Virginia SART (State Animal Response Team) “Animal Disaster Response Workshop”. It was sponsored by the American Kennel Club, Virginia Federation of Humane Societies, Farm Bureau Virginia, Greater Peninsula Veterinary Association, and Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech. Attendees were from numerous veterinary care groups, animal rescue organizations, animal shelters, and EM organizations. They were an interesting, diverse cross-section of people in various capacities working to help animals.

The workshop was presented by the “Animal Response and Rescue Coalition”. The principal speaker was instructor, Jo Ellen Cimmino, LVT, who has had extensive experience working as a vet tech. Most of the instructors included in this organization have deployed for extended periods of time following such storms as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.

The workshop topics included: SMS “state managed shelter” Protocol, Triage/Medical Protocol for incoming animals, medicating, feeding, isolation procedures, Incident Command briefings, lost animal reclaim procedures, and demobilizing procedures.

Processes of setting up, operating, and disbanding, and moving temporary shelters to other locations due to changing weather conditions were described. Much discussion was presented about common interpersonal situations that can arise. A baseline reminder was that everyone, and particularly pet owners, is acting under extremely stressful conditions, and that pet owners may not always be reacting and behaving appropriately due to these stressors.

The presenters gave detailed accounts of what it is like to participate in running a temporary shelter, and what is involved in preparing for deployments. They stressed that volunteers should bring feel-good type items (e.g., favorite books) with them, and should take enough regular breaks in quiet locations away from the main shelter operation. They advised that volunteers deploy for no longer than 2 weeks at a time.

The workshop concluded with a mock exercise involving creation of an emergency shelter, with follow-up reports from the various ICS leaders, and general evaluation and feedback from participants.

I came away from this workshop with a deeper understanding about what it is like to operate temporary field animal shelters, and what is involved in providing optimal response under stressful and demanding conditions. I think the workshop was very educational and comprehensive in its presentation of the required knowledge base needed before attempting to participate in deployments that help animals and humans through very stressful periods of time in their lives.
Cindy Becker
Animals in Disaster Team Leader