Disaster Planning

“Disasters do not create new conditions; they simply exacerbate existing ones.”

Wait a minute! Disasters don’t create new conditions? Horses trapped in flood waters, in fires, in wind-damaged barns are not new conditions? Horses wandering free in fenceless areas are the norm? Lacerations from flying debris. Evacuation orders. No water or electricity for days or weeks on end. Veterinary clinics destroyed. Highways impassable.

These all are existing conditions?

In a way, yes.

Horses are trapped every time we put them in a stall, a barn, a paddock, or a field. We limit their options and select their environments. We put them in areas where there are metal, all types of debris, and limited food and water that depend on human management. We have intermittent problems with road construction that make us re-route, truck or trailer failures that keep us at home, short-term inability to reach our veterinarian or farrier when needed, cars going through our fences, and dogs running through our fields.

Free-ranging horses can seek shelter away from storms in low-lying areas, flee oncoming fires or other hazards, and head for high ground in floods. They can travel to find their own food and water, or leave the scene if they are afraid.

What we are trying to say is that potential disaster conditions exist, and we deal with them on lesser levels every day. One of the definitions of a disaster is something which overwhelms our ability as individuals or a community to deal with a problem finan-cially, physically, or through resources (human or material). If it doesn’t overwhelm, it isn’t a disaster.

Remember the day the city water was shut off and you had to pack water from the neighbor’s farm (cistern-fed water). While it wasn’t really a disaster, you thought about what would happen if the water were off for more than a day or two.

Remember the ice storm when neither you nor your horses could walk safely for two days? It took intense labor on your part to keep the horses fed and watered (and the stalls mucked, and the muck stacked, and the paddocks passable, and the farm paths—forget the roads—in some shape to keep you from injury at every step). There was no electricity, no heat, no running to the store or feed dealer.

Remember the hailstorm that dented your new trailer and put bruises on you and the horses when you tried to bring them into the barn?

Remember the drought when pasture became extinct and hay was more dear than a blue ribbon at an A show?

Remember the wind that tore a section of the roof off the run-in shed?

Remember the fires in the hills a few miles from your place, or the field fire caused by a carelessly tossed cigarette during a dry spell?

Remember the flash flood that washed away a neighbor’s fence line bordering the normally calm creek?

Remember the heat and humidity a few summers ago that stressed all your horses and resources (not to mention your temper) to the breaking point?

Remember the train derailment in your state? What would have happened if you were downwind or downstream of hazardous material?

Remember the night the dogs (coyotes) chased your yearlings?

Remember the news reports of the tornado that touched down only a county or so away, and all the destruction it brought in just a few seconds?

These all are disasters you have faced or to which you have been exposed. But what would you do if any of these things happened on your farm, occurred over an extended period of time, or struck a large area of your community?

Sebastian Heath, VetMB, MPVM, DACVIM, DACVPM (preventive medicine), is an Assistant Professor at Purdue University’s School of Veterinary Medicine in West Lafayette, Indiana. He literally “wrote the book” on Animal Management in Disasters, which was released earlier this year. Besides his interest in the subject, he had extensive experience in actual relief in various disasters throughout North and South America, including one of the largest disaster efforts in U. S. history—Florida’s Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

He said one of the principal rules he learned from his hands-on work is that a disaster’s effects on animals were due not as much to the impact of the storm as to the consequences of the chaos that followed.

“Nobody knew for sure how many horses were involved (in Hurricane Andrew); what their injuries were; who was procuring food and water, disposing of manure, and handling donations; or whether what was being done had any financial or legal implications.”

Based on statistics from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), approximately three million Americans are affected by small-scale disasters every year at a cost of more than $1 billion a week!

“The principal goal of the animal care professions in the management of animals in disasters is to reduce the occurrence and impact of common, local, and personal disasters. The underlying principle is that preparedness for disasters that occur every day is the best preparation for extraordinary disasters.

“In this context, it is important to realize that individual animal owners have the greatest potential to protect their animals from all disasters. People who are unprepared and unable to take care of their own needs when disaster strikes will not be able to help others.”

Human-Animal Bond

Heath noted that in disasters, horse (and pet) owners have three concerns: protection of human safety, protection of animal safety, and protection of property. He said that several threats to public health arise out of society’s close association with animals. These fall into two broad categories—food supply and safety, and the physical and mental well-being of animal owners.

The physical health of animal owners can be threatened by owners who will not evacuate because of their animals. This is particularly the case for livestock and horse owners, noted Heath, but also is prevalent in households that have pets (especially if they do not have children). He noted that the safety of animal owners and their animals also is threatened when owners evacuate without their animals and later attempt to rescue them. The third threat is to health from zoonotic diseases and injuries sustained from animals.

The term “human-animal bond” is important because it is the basis of the behavior of animal owners in disasters.

Preparing For A Disaster

Heath’s chapter on horses in his book gives pages of guidelines specific for horses. He notes that preparedness for disasters is the key to avoiding disastrous consequences. In other words, bad weather or other natural occurrences might strike, but with proper preparation, a horse owner might be able to avoid being overwhelmed by the response needed after the disaster.

In Animal Management in Disasters, Heath said when disaster first threatens, horses should be rounded up immediately. This will make it easier to catch and rescue them if it becomes necessary. Human safety should not be placed at risk to save horses. Other actions that should be taken when the threat of a disaster arises are the following:

  • All electrical appliances should be unplugged. If a light must be left on, it should be a ceiling fixture.
  •  If water is not available from reliable troughs, it should be provided in large, heavy bowls that cannot be tipped.
  • All flammable and poisonous chemicals should be secured.
  • If there is a danger of flooding, horses should be led to higher ground early. Often, higher ground can be reached only by first traversing low ground. Food and water should be available at the higher location.

Horses cannot be transported across state lines or boarded in many places without a current negative Coggins test. Owners should keep copies of this test and other documents, such as registration, ownership, and vaccination and medical records, in a safe place (such as a safe deposit box, household safe, or in a sealable plastic bag in a freezer). If horses must be left behind, owners should have with them when they evacuate a sealable plastic bag with a photograph of the horse, copies of pertinent ownership and medical papers, and information about electronic or other animal identification.

In cases where horses have to be left with little notice, some horse owners will etch or paint the horse’s hooves for identification, use non-toxic paint on the animal’s coat, or put a neck band on the horse. Another suggestion is to braid a luggage tag into your horse’s tail. Do not attach ownership or Coggins papers to your horse. That makes it much too easy for someone to steal him and sell him at auction or slaughter. An owner also should include contact information for a friend who lives out-of-state who has copies of all pertinent papers. That way, if the owner and horse are separated or there is too much destruction of property to locate essential paperwork, there will be an available copy kept out of harm’s way.

An owner also should make sure that whoever is caring for the horse knows where the owner can be contacted, where the horse will be kept in case of evacuation, and what each horse’s needs are likely to be (special medication, etc.).

In Hurricane Andrew, there were reports of “hundreds” of horses killed. Heath reported that he knew of only a few—horses which had died from drowning in drainage ditches in which the sides were too steep for the horses to climb out or which were killed in collapsed barns. A very few were euthanized in emergency veterinary clinics because of injuries or disease. One horse was euthanized because it was dangerously aggressive toward people and was not reclaimed by an owner.

“Perhaps the largest cause of death in horses after Hurricane Andrew was horse thievery,” said Heath. “Within a few days, horses living in the hurricane-affected areas were being delivered by thieves to feedlots out of the state.”

Again following on the opening theme, horse thievery is a problem that horse owners face on a daily basis across the country, but it is a problem that is exacerbated by disaster and confusion. Taking time to identify animals before an emergency strikes possibly could save the horse’s life during a disaster. (The same is true of other pets.) Electronic microchips or tattooing both are good methods of permanently identifying your animals.

Owners reclaimed nearly all of the approximately 500 horses which were pastured in emergency facilities after Hurricane Andrew, Heath reported.

In caring for horses during an emergency, a “buddy system” of responsibility can be invaluable. If everyone on your farm were injured or kept away, would a neighbor know how many horses you had on your property, how much to feed them, or how they were stabled (which horses get along well)? Would someone besides yourself or your immediate family members be able to identify a horse as yours or know if a horse were stolen or lost from your property?

Setting up a “telephone tree” now to call neighbors and offer assistance in disasters can foster closer relationships year-round. The “tree” should be tested several times a year, including after severe weather that is not considered a “disaster” or an emergency. You never know when lightning will strike. (Actually, lightning can strike up to 10 miles from a storm, and frequently strikes within two miles, even in the absence of rain. As a general rule, if thunder can be heard, lightning is within striking distance.)

Horses should have leather halters and rope lead shanks, especially in transportation situations. Leather is more likely to break under stress than nylon, and leather won’t melt into a horse’s skin in case of fire.

A first aid kit should be equipped and ready for immediate use. General supplies could include bandages for wounds, antiseptic, gloves, scissors, wound tape, duct tape, tweezers, and an extra halter and lead rope. Your veterinarian can suggest other items for your kit to personalize it to your horse’s individual needs. Never use any medications or drug administration techniques with which you are unfamiliar—you can do more harm than good. (See sidebar on disaster and first aid kits on page 22.)

You should check with your local power supply company to see what your farm’s status is in the event of emergency power outage. Some rural locations are low priorities for power restoration, and that could mean days or even weeks without electricity. You might want to consider the purchase of a generator to supply some of your needs and an alternative heat supply for your home.

Needless to say, fire extinguishers are a must in barns, homes, and other buildings on your farm. Professionally installed alarm systems and lightning rods also are recommended to mitigate the possible severity of fire or storms and increase response time. Storage of flammable materials and chemicals away from horses and barns is recommended.

You have to consider that in a disaster, emergency services and personnel will be overtaxed, and assistance to rural areas will be reduced or nonexistent. Communication systems could be down, or intermittent at best. Also, a barn fire will not receive the same priority as an apartment or house fire during a disaster.

You also should consider that veterinary clinics and hospitals might be damaged or destroyed in disasters.

It should go without saying that you need to know before disaster strikes what your insurance policy covers, and what it doesn’t cover. Now is a good time to call and schedule an appointment to determine whether you are insured against “normal” disasters in your part of the country. Heath noted that the “named perils” that most insurance policies cover for horses include fire, lightning, windstorm or hail, explosion, riot or civil commotion, aircraft, vehicles, smoke, vandalism or malicious mischief, theft, electrocution, drowning, accidental shooting, collapse of buildings and structures, attack by wild animals or dogs, freezing, and hypothermia. Reimbursement for animals usually is based on a fair market value at the time of loss. Again, check with your insurer to see what your coverage includes.

Handling Horses In Disasters

When horses are stressed, moved, or mixed into new herds—such as might happen after an evacuation or when free-roaming horses are caught after a natural disaster—common sense and horsemanship should prevail. Horses should be kept in safe enclosures free of obvious dangers (nails, debris, wire, electrical hazards, etc.). Smaller groups of horses will be less likely to fight than horses in densely stocked pens or paddocks.

Such mundane practices as manure removal, feeding, and watering are important to daily health of horses after a disaster, whether the horses are at home or in a shelter. Getting palatable hay and potable water in quantities for horses could be a problem in a disaster situation. Alternative housing options should be explored by groups or disaster management teams long before they are needed. (Those locations could include racetracks and fair/show grounds.) All of these matters need to be addressed in a written disaster management plan.

Heath pointed out that many apparently healthy horses (up to 25%) carry Salmonella bacteria in their intestines. When horses are stressed or go without feed for a day or two, the bacteria can overpopulate the gut and cause diarrhea. Stressed horses—such as those surviving a major disaster—can develop Salmonella diarrhea. They are a risk to other horses and their human handlers. In disaster situations, these horses might have to be euthanized to prevent spread of disease.

Getting the right kind of help can be a problem in a disaster, even when there is an outpouring of assistance. There is a federal program called National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (NVOAD) that reviews methods by which volunteer organizations gather resources and make them available to disaster victims. There are state levels of this group, too.

During Hurricane Andrew in Florida, hay, halters, and feed were sent to help equine disaster victims. Unfortunately, as Heath noted, well-meaning sponsors frequently sent items that they considered important, but for which a need had not been established. Case in point in Florida was four tons of halters and lead ropes sent by organized youth groups to use for rescued horses after the hurricane. Also, a wagon of hay was sent to the emergency care facility at Tropical Park in Florida, but there were not enough staff members available to unload the hay. After sitting in the sun and daily rain, it was useless and was added to the debris that had to be removed. The need for items should be confirmed before they are sent to a disaster site.

Heath noted that the best permanent solution to funding the care of animals in disasters is to make the response for animals part of the official local (such as Pony Clubs) and state (such as horse councils) emergency management systems. Money and material donations can be given through these nonprofit groups and donors will know the money is being sent where it was intended.

This, he said, has been achieved for declared disasters in states such as Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, and Ohio. Individual humane groups or veterinary organizations have established these systems in California, Florida, Indiana, and Ohio.

What do you, as a horse owner, do if you have your farm situation under control in a disaster? One of the first suggestions is to post signs that keep out “volunteers” or “sightseers” who try and enter your property. These people not only could be injured by anxious horses or protective dogs, but could undo your contingency plan by opening gates or taking down fences for access.

What do you do if someone else’s horse (cat, dog, emu, cow, etc.) appears on your property following a disaster? There are legal ramifications in taking charge of and harboring someone else’s animals, such as decision-making for medical treatment, reimbursement of costs of caretaking, and responsibility of injury to the animal or to other animals or humans while the animal is in your control. This potential scenario should be discussed with your attorney and the local or state disaster management team before a disaster strikes.

Thunderstorms And Tornadoes

In his book on disaster management, Heath noted that thunderstorms and their sequelae are the single greatest cause of human death in natural disasters in the United States. Each year, approximately 100,000 thunderstorms develop in the United States, and of those, about 10% (10,000) are severe and about 3% (3,000) produce tornadoes. Severe thunderstorms are characterized by sustained winds of more than 58 miles per hour, hail that is three-quarters of an inch or more in diameter, or the development of tornadoes.

According to federal statistics, between 1953 and 1992, more than 30,000 tornadoes resulted in 3,653 deaths in the United States.

In 1998, 64 major disasters were declared, according to FEMA statistics. Of those, 24 (37.5%) were because of severe storms or tornadoes. Those storms occurred in January, February, March, April, June, July, August, and September. (The end of the year disasters mostly were declared because of hurricanes and floods.) States affected were Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Flooding damages that result from various storms cause an estimated $2 billion in damages each year. Sixteen other major disaster declarations due to storms and flooding were made in 1998, bringing the total percentage of storm-related disasters to 62.5%. (That figure does not include tropical storms, hurricanes, or severe winter storms.)

Horses and other livestock are the domestic species most likely to be struck by lightning since they mostly live outdoors. Heath noted that horses are especially vulnerable because if they are pastured where there are large trees that aren’t fenced off, horses will congregate around them in a storm. If lightning strikes a tree, the electricity frequently is conducted through the animal on its way to the ground.

The states east of the Rocky Mountains are the most common sites in the world for tornadoes. In southern states, they occur most frequently from March to May, whereas in northern states, they usual happen in the summer months. Heath noted that tornadoes have been recorded in every month of the year and at most times of the day and night.

Advances in the detection of tornadoes now provide an accuracy of prediction of more than 90%, reported Heath. The weather services usually can give approximately 20 minutes of warning time over most of the United States. The deficiency in the system comes at the local level, where there sometimes is a lack of sirens or warning signals.

In his book, Heath says that although the warning time provided by modern tornado detection systems in most cases provides an opportunity to seek personal protection, it is too short to evacuate or move horses to safety.

“Therefore, the only way to mitigate the effects of tornadoes on farms and in other situations involving large numbers of animals that cannot be moved to safety in a hurry is to build appropriately secure buildings where they can seek shelter themselves or be housed,” he said.

“Housing for animals should be constructed with the building’s narrow sides facing east and west to avoid the most likely high impact of high winds. The local geography may indicate other directions. Pastures, paddocks and fields where horses are kept should have low-lying areas with easy access for animals so that they will naturally congregate there during strong winds.”

Other measures Heath mentions are replacing windows in barns with materials that when broken will not shatter and cut animals or people, and securing any tanks for hazardous material (such as heating oil or propane).

He said if a tornado watch is issued and the barns housing horses are not tornado proof, turning horses out to an open pasture should be considered, but only if there is no danger to animals from flying debris. As a last resort, horses should be turned out in a treeless pasture as far as possible from any buildings, especially buildings with metal roofs. They also should be as far away from power lines and utility poles as possible. If there is a low-lying area, animals often will choose to lie down and protect themselves.

After a tornado, fire hazards such as broken electrical wires or damaged electrical equipment, gas, or oil leaks are possible. Downed utility lines should be reported immediately.

Hail falls most commonly in Colorado and southern Wyoming, but it has been recorded in every state of the union. Heath noted that the cost of hail damage in Colorado alone in the last decade was about $1 billion.

Wind damage occurs not only from wind, but what the wind blows. Dust storms can be deadly and can deposit large amounts of unwanted sand. Winds also can disseminate infectious diseases by blowing vectors such as insects and rodents into susceptible areas.


Hurricanes are the largest, most destructive, and costliest disasters that affect the United States, noted Heath. On average, six Atlantic hurricanes occur each year, usually from August to October. The entire weather system of a hurricane usually is more than 1,000 miles in diameter. Within that system, gale-force winds cover more than 400 miles and hurricane-force winds extend more than 100 miles.

The types of damages you can expect from hurricanes include direct damage from winds and rain, direct damage from the storm surge, and secondary damage during the cleanup. The storm surge is responsible for about 90% of hurricane-related deaths.

Veterinary issues related to hurricanes primarily center around re-establishing the veterinary infrastructure, noted Heath.

“This includes ensuring that veterinary practices are operational and prepared to care for injured animals and to coordinate relief efforts,” he stated in his book.

The greatest need identified by veterinarians during the recovery period was for generators. Also in demand were mobile clinics, increased cash flow for repairs, accountants, architects, access to communications, and mental health counseling. (The greatest mental stresses for veterinarians were their feelings that their relationships with their clients had been “severed,” said Heath. Their community responsibilities and accompanying arguments over control of the relief efforts, out-of-state veterinarians treating animals already under the care of a local veterinarian, and free clinics set up in competition with functional hospitals also were seen as stressful.

Vector-borne diseases are usually the greatest veterinary public health concern after a hurricane, Heath said. The reason is that the storm often leaves suitable breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

When an area is placed under a hurricane watch, horse owners should know their options for evacuation and have a plan in place. Owners without trailers need to have contact with someone who is willing to evacuate the horses. Owners also should consider who would evacuate or care for their horse if they were not available (trapped out of state or away from the farm).


Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the United States, noted Heath. Floods account for approximately 75% of all federal disaster declarations. Each year on average, floods drive more than 300,000 people from their homes, 200 flood-related fatalities occur, and $4 billion in damage is sustained.

Needless to say, horses should not be tied up or left stabled if threatened by a flood. Evacuation should occur as soon as possible, because horses will seek high ground, which might get cut off due to rising water. Early evacuation also is a necessary precaution due to the need of trucks or trailers to haul the animals to safety. If roads or bridges are impassable, removal of horses is not possible.

Paddocks and pastures that were covered by flood waters might be contaminated, left full of debris, or ruined for grazing in the immediate future. Before horses are returned to property that was flooded, fences and pastures must be checked for safety. Metal detectors might be needed to expose debris that could be harmful to horses in the fields.

Winter Weather

Heath stated that cold winter weather might be responsible for more deaths of animals than any other type of disaster. Statistically, the United States is one of the snowiest countries in the world. Disasters can occur because of blizzards, heavy snowstorms, or ice storms.

Total amount of snowfall is a less important predictor of problems that will arise than is how well the individual or community is prepared to handle snow. Heath said that issues that arise from winter weather probably are underreported. This could be because problems are spread over large areas, and because many of the affected areas are inaccessible.

“An example of how underreported winter-related problems are is the winter of 1993,” wrote Heath in his book. “At the same time that the media focused on the damages from the Northridge, Calif., earthquake, more building collapses and human deaths occurred in Pennsylvania because of snowfall than in California because of the earthquake. However, virtually no national reports were made on the Pennsylvania disaster.”

Attempted rescues of animals in winter weather cause the death or near-death of people each year. A common thread to these stories is that the rescuer goes out underdressed or unprepared for weather extremes, and has to be rescued. Or rescuers try to save an animal trapped on ice, and fall through the ice themselves. Alcohol consumption on the part of the rescuers also plays a role.

Water lines can freeze and burst, limiting the supply to a farm. This is a problem due to the tremendous amount of water needed each day for horses. The potential inability to fight fires due to lack of water is also a problem. Buildings can be damaged because of drifting snow or heavy snow, or from snow- or ice-laden trees falling on buildings. Power lines can be downed, causing electrocution potential to humans and horses. Snow drifts also can create escape routes out of fields and pastures by covering fences.

Dehydration can be a problem in severe winter weather. Not all horses can get enough water by eating snow to keep them healthy and hydrated. Frostbite and hypothermia also are concerns.


It is estimated that 109 million people and 4.3 million businesses in 39 states are at risk of earthquakes, noted Heath in his book. The greatest threats of earthquakes are reported to be the following:

  • A 50% probability of an earthquake of magnitude 6.0 along the New Madrid Fault in the Midwest before the year 2000.
  • A 60% probability of a magnitude 7.0 or greater along the San Adreas Fault in Southern California before 2025.
  • A 60% probability of a magnitude 7.0 or greater along the San Andreas Fault or the Hayward Fault in the San Francisco area before the year 2025.

Safety of buildings before and after an earthquake is important. Constructing or retrofitting buildings that meet certain codes in earthquake-prone areas is the biggest deterrent to loss of life and property. Having buildings inspected before using them following an earthquake will prevent post-disaster injuries. Hanging heavy equipment or other items in lofts above horses is not recommended in earthquake-prone areas. The items in lofts could fall and injure or frighten horses.

Drought And Heat

Drought brings with it the problems of reduced forage for horses, and the heightened threat of fire. Drought can be caused by weather conditions, by increased demands on a water supply, or by both. The worst droughts in U.S. history were during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s, and the drought of 1988-89. In those later years, the drought affected nearly 70% of the United States and was estimated to have cost the country $39 billion due to losses in agriculture, river transportation disruption, water supply problems, wildfires, and other economic impacts.

Some grasses can cause toxic conditions in animals under drought conditions, and some plants that normally aren’t grazed will be eaten under drought conditions. Horses also are large consumers of water, needing eight to 12 gallons per day in hot environments.

Along with drought can be intense heat. This in and of itself can cause problems to horses, which are more adapted to cold weather than hot. In certain areas of the country, heat and humidity combine to cause even more distress in horses. Information on heat and humidity’s effects on horses increased greatly due to studies conducted prior to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.


Most injuries and deaths in fires are due to smoke inhalation. Add to that fact that many barns are built of and filled with flammable materials, and have electrical devices used regularly inside, and you have a potential disaster for great loss of life.

Heath said it has been estimated that 80% of fires in agricultural buildings are caused by faulty electrical wiring, and occur in buildings five or more years old. Some of the recommendations in Heath’s book for fire preparedness are as follows:

  • Display a fire escape policy in the barn and give copies to everyone who uses the barn.
  • Organize a fire drill once or twice a year.
  • Work with firefighters to train them in handling horses, and allow horses to become familiar with firefighters dressed in working gear and dragging hoses.
  • Implement a no-smoking and no-alcohol policy in the barn.
  • Have fire extinguishers available and train people in how to use them.
  •  Install fire detection equipment.
  • Put in emergency exit lights.
  • Have wooden latches on doors because metal ones might get too hot to manipulate during a fire.
  • Keep a lead rope at every stall, and have leather halters either on or at the door for every horse.

Fires on farms can occur in dry fields or lots or on road frontage. Vegetation should be cut back along roads to reduce the chance of wildfire. Tree limbs should be trimmed to allow for emergency equipment to pass beneath trees. Space should be left around and between buildings to allow firefighters room to work.

Hazardous Materials

Heath reported that approximately 1.6 million carloads of hazardous materials are transported on U.S. railways every year, and many more tons are transported on highways.

Horses can be exposed to hazardous materials in several ways. Train derailments or tractor-trailer accidents along transportation corridors probably are the highest disaster potential. Exposure to hazardous materials during or after flooding or storms also is possible. Contamination of hay, food, or water supplies can occur miles away from the farm and be unknown to horse owners.

Man-Made Disasters

One of the areas most people don’t want to discuss is deliberate disasters caused by man. These can be bombings or other terroristic attacks. In one manner, the equine industry already has felt the fallout of that threat.

In 1995, the shipment of equine botulism vaccine Bot Tox-B to veterinarians and horse owners was delayed for several months with little or no explanation. It was revealed that the vaccine production facility for Bot Tox-B was a major supplier of vaccines against biological warfare agents for the Department of the Army and other military groups. When it was confirmed in January of that year that Saddam Hussein had imported 39 tons of media capable of growing botulism and anthrax, and it was learned that Saddam’s nephew had bought a spray dryer capable of preserving such organisms, military leaders stepped up preparedness programs. When the terrorist cult in Japan was infiltrated, it also was found to have large quantities of botulinum toxins. The botulinum toxoid in the equine vaccine is compatible in the manufacture of a penta-valent human vaccine. Therefore, the Type B toxoid that was destined for the equine vaccine ended up in a vaccine for the potential protection of thousands of military personnel.


Preparing for the small-scale and everyday problems you might experience on the farm or away from home is the best means to be ready for large-scale disasters and avoid getting into a situation where your needs outstrip your resources. Establishing your own disaster plan, getting neighbors together to discuss a community plan, and working with local and state officials will ensure that not only are you and your family members safe, but your horses are cared for as well.

There are many places to go for more information on disaster preparation. A partial listing can be found on our web site (see address at left). The FEMA Animals in Disasters courses can be taken for continuing education credits.

Disaster planning starts now. And while it is hoped you will never need to use any of your plans, averting even one small personal disaster will make all the investment of thought, time, and money worthwhile.

Kimberly S. Herbert with Sebastian E. Heath, VetMB, MPVM, Dipl. ACVIM, Dipl. ACVPM

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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