Miami Animal Import Center Holds Large Animal Rescue Meeting

A group of government agencies and individual stakeholders met in Miami, Fla., August 8 at the Miami Animal Import Center to discuss safety concerns associated with the transportation of large animals in air planes.

Groups represented at the meeting included the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Veterinary Officers, members of USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Miami International Airport Federal Aviation Administration tower operators and operations manager, Miami Port Veterinary Office, Miami-Dade's Police Special Operations and Fire Rescue Technical Rescue Team, Technical Large Animal Rescue Team members, Transport Safety Administration Homeland Security representatives, animal handlers from several commercial airlines (such as American Airlines), and animal transportation specialists and loadmasters in addition to several animal health technicians, private practitioners, and quarantine and identification coordinators.

Large Animal Rescue Training

A rescue crew works to free "Randy the Rescue Horse" from a shipping container to practice skills they might need to use one day on a live horse.

This is the first joint disaster exercise of its kind with animals as the focus of the emergency and was conceived in response to past incidents. The goal was to increase the communication between the stakeholders and emphasize their roles under Incident Command. A Federal, State, and Local collaboration, the event was coordinated by Kendra Stauffer, DVM, area emergency coordinator for USDA/APHIS, and John Haven, director of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine and steering council member of the Florida State Agricultural Response Team. This collaboration was expected to clarify lines of authority and jurisdiction for the various agencies that would be involved in an emergency scenario that involved large animals.

The product expected to come out of the exercise was to update the USDA-APHIS Veterinary Services "Standard Operating Procedures for Handling Emergency Off-Loading of Swine, Ruminants, and Equine at the Miami International Airport."

In the introduction, Dr. Francisco Collazo-Mattei, the Area Veterinarian in Charge from USDA-APHIS for Florida, said the background of this tabletop scenario was being based loosely on an incident that occurred more than 20 years ago in which 70 cattle died of heat stroke on a plane before they could be removed. Elizabeth Enciso, DVM, focused on the threats to humans on the aircraft by the animals, and her emphasis was on preparedness, training, and building response capabilities. Captain Jeff Strickland gave an overview of these incidents from the perspective of the Fire-Rescue department, who were prime movers setting up this week of training with the players involved. He mentioned recent experiences that have demonstrated the need for this type of training and pre-coordination.

Introduction of the scenario (in which a plane has a rough landing that results in several flat tires and no power; several horses are injured in the incident and others are upset) immediately raised questions by personnel of several agencies as to response times, procedures, and responsibilities. Discussion ensued on the questions that were posed by the coordinator, and that came up during the three hour exercise.

This was the first day of a week-long training schedule which pulls in the local expertise on station at the International Airport for emergencies and disasters with animals. Tuesday and Wednesday featured presentations on Technical Large Animal Emergency rescue techniques and features hands on practice with "Randy the Rescue Horse" mannequin provided by University of Florida, and a capstone full day technical exercise involving extrication of the mannequin out of trenches, a canal, and ultimately an aircraft shipping box on Thursday. Friday was the "hot wash" review of what went well and what could be improved for the next time an exercise of this type is done - especially if shared with the other animal import facilities around the United States.

This exercise demonstrated that Miami International Airport and their agency and private partners have set a high standard for animal health and humane care, and have already surmounted many of the obstacles expected when responding to emergencies of all types, despite the confounding factors presented by the dangers of working around planes and heavy equipment. Coordination exercises of this type are key to maintaining the level of communication and pre-disaster mitigation for a world-class facility.

About the Author

Rebecca Gimenez, PhD

Rebecca Gimenez, BS, PhD (animal physiology), is the primary instructor and President of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue. Her first book, Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, was published in 2008. She is an internationally sought instructor in technical rescue techniques, procedures, and methodologies, and she has published numerous critiques, articles and journal submissions on horse safety, technical large animal rescue and horse handling issues.

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