Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, or even blizzards can wreak havoc on a region, city and community. Disaster has an influence on thousands or sometimes millions of citizens living in an affected area. Multiply the number of families affected with the number of pets and farm animals that may be displaced and the number affected could grow astronomically.

Recently, more than 30 members of the National Veterinary Response Team (NVRT) joined more than 100 state, local and federal responders from across the United States at FEMA’s Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP), in Anniston, Ala. The NVRT is part of the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) and specializes in supporting communities after a disaster by providing medical care for both large and small animals.

“One of our priorities is to support communities and we appreciate that animals are integral to communities as they respond and recover from a disaster,” said Dr. Andrew Garrett, Director of the National Disaster Medical System. “A person has to look at the whole picture of what a community needs and we try to meet those needs when requested to assist.”

The CDP incorporated the veterinary team into its Integrated Capstone Event (ICE), a culminating exercise that combines multiple courses and response disciplines. The CDP coordinated with the local humane society to include live animals in the disaster scenario. While other hospital or healthcare personnel worked to receive injured and care for human patients in one location, the local animal shelter helped simulate the veterinary mission, following a disaster, in another.

“Building on knowledge based skills is always helpful and it is important to know that the NVRT is distributed all over the country,” said Dr. Robin Brennen, Veterinarian and NVRT Team Commander from New York. “We don’t always train together. So coming here to a central point builds teamwork, allows us to work face-to-face and solve problems together. Training is critical because otherwise, short of a disaster, we don’t have this opportunity.”

“I’m excited that animals or pets are included in the exercises,” said Shelly Hunt, Calhoun County Humane Society. “The [NVRT] is a valuable resource for communities. The fact they are receiving training [in our community] this week is a large benefit to us all because having live animals in the scenario will hopefully increase their efficiency during a disaster.”

Pets and farm animals are a major part of daily life and agricultural business or farming. Care is required to relieve household stress and also prevents disease from spreading throughout communities. This training was the first time the NDMS was able to include a local setting such as an animal shelter in training, including emergency responders from other disciplines. The training provided an opportunity to share best practices and communicate in a simulated disaster response.