Conference Stresses Disaster Planning and Large Animal Rescue

The 2006 National Conference on Animals in Disaster (NCAD) was held May 31-June 3 in Arlington, Va. The event was hosted by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and was sponsored by a variety of animal rescue organizations. More than 650 individuals came, including veterinarians, emergency response professionals, and animal care and control professionals. This meeting was dedicated to learning from the 2005 hurricanes, and it included a focus on animal disease/avian influenza preparation and resource typing as part of the Department of Homeland Security's National Incident Management System (NIMS).

The animal disaster planning, preparation, response, and recovery cycle has become significantly more advanced since the last NCAD Conference in Pennsylvania in 2004. (The meeting is held every other year, and this was the fourth gathering.) This improved response is likely due to the recent passage of the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act and experience gained in the thick of disaster response by numerous animal organizations during the 2005 hurricanes. The issues and lessons learned are fresh in the minds of deployed personnel, so it was a good time to expand on communication and collaborations to make future responses more streamlined and effective. Equine issues and concerns were addressed in many portions of the conference, although the emphasis was generally on pets and companion animals.

Reflecting on the 2005 hurricane season, HSUS representatives said, "In this catastrophe, relief efforts of all kinds suffered from a lack of cohesive planning, insufficient training, and critical resources hung up in the system, incorrectly used, or not available. Some long-standing relationships collapsed under the crushing demands of the moment. These procedures and relationships need to be repaired and made more robust not only to prepare for the next catastrophic event, but also to prepare communities across the country for the everyday disasters that disrupt lives and families year-round."

On a positive note, many attendees related their individual and collective team success stories about the response and recovery of animals of all species, including livestock, equines, and even wildlife.

Attendees at the conference included the veterinary medical assistance teams (VMAT), southeastern state veterinary medical officers (VMOs), state veterinarians, public health service (PHS) personnel, Department of Homeland Security delegates, U.S. Army personnel, and copious non-governmental and private organization representatives. Many of these disaster workers originally met "in the trenches" following Hurricane Katrina or Rita, or in the aftermath of other recent disasters from the Indian Ocean tsunami to the chlorine leak in Graniteville, S.C. Those newly built relationships and the mutual respect that developed as volunteers and agency personnel worked side-by-side for weeks and months were further cemented as colleagues shared resources and ideas that can be built upon by others.

Attendees could earn continuing education credits in more than 50 hours of seminars, panel presentations, lectures, and workshops that were designed to inform individuals of all levels and experience. During a welcome address, HSUS President & CEO Wayne Pacelle emphasized the importance of owners having a disaster/evacuation plan and taking personal responsibility for their animals. Educational materials were in abundance, as one emphasis of the conference was to provide resources that attendees could take home to enhance leadership at the local and state level.

Featured speakers included the Honorable George W. Foresman, under secretary for preparedness for the Department of Homeland Security; Barbara Childs-Pair, director, District of Columbia Emergency Management Agency; and Bruce Baughman, director, Alabama Emergency Management Agency and president of the National Emergency Management Association. The keynote speaker was Ron DeHaven, DVM, administrator of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Each speaker addressed their perspective on animals in disaster. The new "Preparing your pets for emergencies makes sense. Get ready now" pamphlets developed by a partnership of animal organizations (HSUS, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the American Kennel Club, and the American Veterinary Medical Association) and the Department of Homeland Security was unveiled at the conference. It is available to download free at .

Disaster and emergency response organizations are working hard to include pets and livestock/horses in planning and response activities. On May 22, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the PETS Act 349-24; the act requires state and local preparedness offices to take into account pet owners, household pets, and service animals when drawing up evacuation plans. Offices that fail to do so would not qualify for grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Action on a Senate companion bill is pending.

Kimothy Smith, DVM, chief veterinarian at the Department of Homeland Security, acknowledged that the agency recognizes the public concern for welfare of animals in emergency situations. Although the PETS act does not apply to horses, which are not considered companion animals or pets, it is a significant step forward in involving all animal owners in evacuation planning and personal responsibility for their pets.

The Large Animal Issues in Disasters panel presentation was moderated by the author and featured Allan Schwartz, disaster responder for the HSUS Disaster Services Department. Schwartz spoke about his large animal and equine experiences during a six-week deployment to the Gulf Coast hurricane disaster area in 2005. Schwartz stressed evacuation planning for horse owners that live in areas expected to be affected by various types of emergencies from trailer wrecks to flooding to earthquakes.

"It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when," said Schwartz, who described the special problems that horses present for transportation, sheltering, identification, and disease prevention.

The next panel speaker was firefighter Paul "Willy" Baker, animal rescue advisor for the Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service in England. He gave an overview of the emergency animal response and rescue efforts in the United Kingdom, outlining equipment and training employed at the local level. U.K. fire brigades are responsible for almost 10,000 technical animal rescues per year; of these approximately 10% are large animal rescues. The increased training in methodologies and equipment, as well as advisor assistance on scenes, has improved their success rate in the three counties that feature this program from 4-10%, to almost 96%. The crowd of more than 200 people in the presentation was amazed at the cutting edge status of the British program, which is soon to be promoted country-wide.

Barbara Ford, of the Virginia Horse Council (VHC), spoke to local and state disaster planning volunteers about her experiences in putting together educational materials and people to coordinate an effective response plan for Virginia animals. Virginia now has put together a task force, which this year recommended that the VHC appoint a representative to the Virginia Disaster Animal Care and Control Committee. The committee is working with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management to keep the horse industry involved in the development of a statewide disaster plan, in concert with Cooperative Extension.

HSUS disaster center is accessible at

To see the conference schedule, go to 

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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