How we’re helping animals and people during natural disasters
The FVMA is partnering with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in maintaining the Florida Veterinary Corps, a volunteer program that provides veterinary assistance following emergencies.
“The cooperation between a state association, university and government is vital to protect animal health and well-being,” says Jim Naugle, the FVMA’s executive director.
The Florida Veterinary Corps asks veterinarians and veterinary technicians who are willing to volunteer to respond to animal emergencies in Florida. Volunteers will be kept informed as to the status of emergencies and the need for volunteers depending upon the specific emergency and can most often see activation proceeding natural disasters.
Volunteers may serve in veterinary infrastructure assessment teams, in triage or emergency animal treatment teams and in animal disease surveillance or control teams under an incident command system.
The Florida Veterinary Corps aims to emphasize animal care. In times of emergency, federal or other outside assistance regarding a high-risk animal disease emergency may not be available for hours or days.
“What we learned, especially after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, was that if people did not have an option for their pet, they were not going to leave them behind,” says FVMA Disaster Response Committee Chair Terry Clekis. “People stayed behind.”
The PETS Act is a 2006 federal law requiring disaster relief plans to “account for the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals before, during, and following a major disaster or emergency” for states to receive federal funding for their disaster relief plans. Florida’s plan accounts for animal assistance, but Clekis says aiding animals during a disaster is an essential responsibility of the veterinary profession.
“Medical care is both healing and preventative,” Clekis says. “Preventative healthcare is integral to what veterinary medicine is, and part of that is ensuring family disaster plans include pets.”
The Florida Veterinary Corps is a continuation of the increased emphasis on the effects of pets on human well-being. Over the past several decades, domesticated animals transitioned to household pets from their previous primary roles of helping tend farms.
Volunteers have had the opportunity to participate in the Florida Veterinary Corps since its establishment, and it now will see increased capacity to catalog veterinarians as it becomes overseen by Florida’s singular state veterinary association.
The Florida Veterinary Corps is a component of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services under its Florida State Agricultural Response Team. The FVMA will host the application online while maintaining the volunteer list year-round. It also provides a list of resources for veterinarians to use in advance of an impending natural disaster.
Those resources are available for all without requirements or restrictions, but Florida Veterinary Corps volunteers must complete four Incident Command System trainings to be eligible. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides the courses online, free of charge. It is estimated to take 12.5 hours total to complete all four courses.
Volunteers will only be activated in response to specific emergencies. Volunteers called upon may decline service at any time.
“Protecting agriculture in Florida begins locally and requires cooperation, participation, and partnership,” says LeiAnna Tucker, emergency programs manager for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Animal Industry.