Animals as Part of the Whole Community

Animal issues are people issues. As such, all species household pets, service and assistance animals, agricultural animals/livestock, wildlife, and other animals (including zoo animals, shelter animals, and animals used in medical research) – must be an integral part of a community’s disaster plan at the local, state, and federal levels.

Animals are integral to American society, and all hazards that pose risks to humans pose risks to animals as well. When a society’s normal state is undermined, people naturally cling to family, which for many includes the animals in their lives. People have strong bonds with animals and often go to great lengths to protect them. This bond is often heightened in times of stress. There are countless examples of people putting their lives at risk to rescue animals left behind and similar examples of families not evacuating if they were not able to take their animals with them.

People are much more inclined to cooperate with emergency responders’ instructions if provisions are made to safeguard their animals. In addition, certain animals can present clear human health and safety risks to emergency responders and the public if not effectively managed. Recognizing these risks, it is incumbent upon the emergency management community to prepare for and manage animal issues during responses to better protect human life.

Resources & Response Management 

Understanding the full range of animal issues in the community, as well as engaging animal resources that are present within a jurisdiction, will ensure that a jurisdiction is equipped to address animal issues ‚Äď both planned (e.g., evacuation and sheltering) and unplanned (e.g., escaped animals from a farm or zoo). An all-hazards/all-species approach will help during the planning process for the many response issues that animals present. All-species responses should plan for household pets, service and assistance animals, agricultural animals/livestock, wildlife, and other animals (including zoo animals, shelter animals, and animals used in medical research) within a jurisdiction. Animal issues occur in both Stafford Act and non-Stafford Act incidents, either as incidents (e.g., an animal disease outbreak) or as secondary issues within a larger incident (e.g., zoo evacuations, household pet search-and-rescue operations, and animal decontamination).

From a response management standpoint, keeping people and their animals together whenever possible greatly simplifies managing an incident. Fully integrating whole community all-hazards/all-species animal planning into the human responder framework is essential to efficiently and effectively manage incidents and coordinate resources.

Animal responses require multiagency coordination at all levels, with a well-established coordinating structure that encompasses the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and various levels of government. Success depends on an integrated emergency response requiring a full spectrum of capabilities. Based on its risk assessment, each jurisdiction should determine how animal response activities need to be integrated into its emergency operations plan.

Animal Response at the Local & State Levels

Specific authorities, resources, and capabilities associated with animals, including household pets and service animals, are dispersed across a broad range of response providers, government agencies, and emergency support functions. Many jurisdictions have a legally designated lead agency for animal responses. Typically, at the local level, the animal control agency is the authority having jurisdiction for animal issues. At the state level, the Department of Agriculture, Board of Animal Health, State Wildlife Management Agency, Public Health, or the Emergency Management Agency coordinate animal response activities. Whether a designated authority exists or not, or when there are diffuse authorities (e.g., when different state agencies have authority for agriculture animals, wildlife, and pets), jurisdictional emergency operations plans should clearlyentify the lead agency/organization tasked with managing animal emergencies.

Emergency management officials, planners, and coordinators, as well as elected officials, should plan for plausible animal responses and, where practical, integrate existing¬†infrastructures. Animal emergency management will always be a whole community effort ‚Äď a blending of emergency management and animal welfare expertise.

The animal infrastructure at the local level includes veterinarians, farmers, animal control agencies, humane organizations, breeders, and wildlife rehabilitators. These entities should be encouraged to collaborate with government agencies to meet emergency animal needs. Many states have integrated animal response capabilities, such as state and/or county animal response teams and veterinary medical reserve corps.

Animal Response at the National Level

Nationally, the coordinating structure for animal response includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of the Interior, and other federal agencies, along with nongovernmental partners including the National Alliance of State Animal and Agricultural Emergency Programs (NASAAEP) and the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition (NARSC).

NASAAEP includes the agencies within a state that have authority to manage animal emergencies and animal resources. NASAAEP facilitates state-to-state resource sharing and has convened national subject matter experts to compile best practices, which are available to communities and states to help plan for animal disaster issues. Additionally, NASAAEP will host its 2016 Summit on Animal Emergency Management in College Station, Texas, 17-19 May 2016, to share information and best practices with animal emergency managers.

NARSC is a coalition of the leading national private sector and nongovernmental organizations that have agreed to follow the guidelines established in the National Incident Management System, train together, and share resources to provide surge capabilities, as needed, to augment animal response activities by states and local jurisdictions. During emergencies, NASAAEP and NARSC have agreed to participate in a multiagency coordination system to most effectively coordinate limited resources. This is a flexible and scalable way to effectively and efficiently support animal incident management.

In summary, animal response issues, at their core, are people issues. Animal issues are relevant to all five mission areas and the core capabilities as defined in the National Preparedness Goal. As such, animals cannot be considered independently of the human aspects of preparedness, response, and recovery issues.

For more information about how animal functions relate to the core capabilities outlined in the National Preparedness Goal, please refer to the Community Agricultural Relationships to Federal Core Capabilities Crosswalk, developed by the Extension Disaster Education Network.

Significant contribution to this article was made by David (Dave) Sacks. Since 2013, he has been the communications officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Care, after serving four years as the organization’s media spokesman. Before that, he was a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Marshals for 14 years, and an editorial assistant with Discovery Channel.

Anne McCann

Anne McCann (pictured) is the national emergency programs coordinator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal Care Program. In this capacity, she supports the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency planning initiatives, serves as program liaison to Emergency Support Function #11 (Agriculture and Natural Resources), and works with government and nongovernmental partners to build and sustain a shared national strategy and capabilities for pet/animal emergency management. Before coming to USDA, she served as an all-hazards planner with the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, supporting planning for pets, unattended children, and people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs, and as vice president of the National Alliance of State Animal and Agricultural Emergency Programs (NASAAEP).

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Richard Green

Richard (Dick) Green is the senior director of disaster response for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Before the ASPCA, he was the emergency relief manager for disasters at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). He has responded to well over a hundred international and national disasters. International responses include typhoons in Taiwan, Philippines, and Australia, volcano eruptions in Philippines and Iceland, and earthquakes in China, Haiti, and Japan. Recent domestic responses include the Hawaii lava flow, Butte County Fire, Santa Barbara Mudslides, and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Florence. He has trained hundreds of responders in disaster prevention and response and has developed training curricula for Slackwater Rescue, Water Rescue for Companion Animals, and Rope Rescue for Companion Animals. His book, ‚ÄúAnimals in Disasters,‚ÄĚ was published in February 2019.

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