Commentary: Disaster Preparedness: The Time is Now

It is time for equine veterinarians, owners, and other stakeholders to become effectively engaged in preventing the catastrophic and heartbreaking losses of human and animal life associated with disasters. We can no longer continue to play the odds of "it probably won't happen to me." The truth is "wanna bet?"

As the day (May 13, 2011) ends here in Louisiana State University's School of Veterinary Medicine, approximately 100 yards--a mere football field's length--separates a flagship university from a rising and mighty Mississippi River, presently at major flood levels. Even with this imminent situation, a naive public and horse-owning population across this region play the odds on whether the river will cause catastrophic damage to the land and its inhabitants, possibly resulting in immense human, animal, and property loss.

It is prudent that we learn by our mistakes and misfortunes and those of others in terms of disaster response. By joining with our colleagues and neighbors towards building an effective "all-hazards" disaster plan, we will become stronger and more resilient communities, thus building stronger states with the ultimate goal of building a healthier nation and planet. If we turn large-scale natural- and human-induced disasters such as hurricanes, oil spills, tornado outbreaks, wildfires, earthquakes, and massive flooding into substantial training exercises, we can engage with our community leaders and emergency managers and become empowered to take responsible control for the well-being of ourselves and the animals that provide us companionship, service, and enjoyment.

Since the fall of 2005, members of the Louisiana State Animal Response Team (LSART) have worked diligently to build solid and effective community engagement involving both government and non-government organizations, including humane groups, agriculture extension agents, government officials, veterinarians, and other first responders, in order to develop effective community disaster animal response and mitigation planning. Because of this planning, in 2008 all 12 (of Louisiana's) coastal parishes were successfully evacuated to safe shelter when Hurricane Gustav hit. The team demonstrated that people and their animals can evacuate safely and that preparation is vital preceding a disaster of such magnitude.

State animal response groups such as LSART require a willing team of strong leaders and volunteers. Coordination of these trained and experienced resource groups is vital for an effective disaster response; these groups also must dovetail their efforts with state and federal plans and infrastructure. They can also assist with identification of resources, organization of animal evacuation, and animal sheltering.

With the number of federally declared disasters doubling and even tripling in some cases in the United States since the 1960s, it is not a matter of "if" but "when." We can either be prepared, or we can ask ourselves why we weren't prepared. The time is now for us to work together in our home communities for disaster planning that includes an effective plan for our horses.

CONTACT: Rebecca S. McConnico, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, 225/578-9500,, Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

This is an excerpt from Equine Disease Quarterly, funded by underwriters at Lloyd's, London, brokers, and their Kentucky agents.

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Equine Disease Quarterly

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