Some disaster areas, such as Moore, Oklahoma, after the 2013 tornado, can look like war zones. Photo: Maj. Geoff Legler/Wikimedia Commons If you choose to volunteer in an emergency or disaster situation, there are a number of very important factors
Some disaster areas, such as Moore, Oklahoma, after the 2013 tornado, can look like war zones.
Photo: Maj. Geoff Legler/Wikimedia Commons
If you choose to volunteer in an emergency or disaster situation, there are a number of very important factors to consider before loading up and leaving—even if the destination is local:
In my present role with the Texas A&M veterinary team, along with four decades of experience, I’ve become very familiar with how chaotic these situations can be. Whether it’s an explosion, flood, wildfire, hurricane, or other event, both injured and “stray” animals abound. It’s unusual to find loose animals that have any usable form of identification. Thus, determining animals’ ownership and returning those rescued can be a dilemma.
Some animals are past anyone’s ability to save and must be humanely euthanized. Yet veterinarians must perform the procedure without an owner present; this is best addressed by obtaining at least two professional (licensed veterinary) opinions.
My experience is that volunteers lacking necessary skill sets, situational awareness, and common sense end up causing additional problems. Disasters can pose many potentially life-threatening hazards (down power lines, open gas lines, chemical spills, rushing water, criminal activity, etc.). Human safety is absolutely critical; remember that human recovery and safety always take precedence over animal recovery in these scenarios.
One very useful step you can take prior to a dilemma is to contact your county/jurisdiction emergency operations center, which is required to have an animal issues committee. Ideally, such a committee develops plans for evacuation, animal sheltering, and veterinary medical operations. By making contact, you can determine how to volunteer and network and what kind of credentialing is available.
A successful operation—and by that I mean returning as many healthy animals back to their owners as possible—requires an enormous amount of coordination and communication at all levels. The rewards, however, are simply untold!
William Moyer, DVM, Dipl. ACVSMR, is a former professor of equine sports medicine at and an active member of Texas A&M University’s Veterinary Emergency Team. He’s been both a volunteer and a leader in a variety of disaster situations, including barn fires, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, and chemical plant explosions.
Originally published in the July 2015 issue of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care.