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Disaster Preparedness

Are You and Your Staff
Prepared For the Unexpected

Written by Jon R. Pennell, DVM, MS, NREMT-I

Are you prepared for the unexpected? We live in an ever changing world and veterinarians are well suited to provide expertise in many areas. We have a background in zoonotic diseases, communicable diseases, herd health, public health and we believe in the tremendous power of the human-animal bond. At some time in our careers we will be called upon to help with anything from an overturned semi-trailer full of pigs, cattle, or sheep to a possible outbreak of a foreign animal disease. Throw in the natural disasters that can cause mass evacuations of people and animals and at some level our skills will be needed. Disaster preparedness is extremely important for people in areas of the country that experience flooding, hurricanes, fires and tornadoes. Nevada has some flooding and fires, but for the most part has been lucky when it comes to a large scale disaster. Just because we don’t have hurricanes doesn’t mean we can be complacent. Preparedness is the key to any response. The more prepared we are, the better we can respond to any possible contingency and strive for the best possible outcome. As veterinarians our clients and in many cases our communities will look to us for guidance.

Any emergency response starts on the local level. You and your family have to be prepared before you can help your community. If your family isn’t safe you won’t leave them to help elsewhere. Every family should have a preparedness kit that will supply food, water, medications and any special provisions needed for a minimum of 72 hours -- 7 days is more desirable. This kit can be utilized for in place sheltering (stay in your home) or loaded in your car if an evacuation is ordered. I have heard the expression, "YOYO” which stands for, "You’re On Your Own” and that is exactly correct. Help will not arrive immediately and you need to be self sufficient.

Our clients and staff also depend on us. All of us, professionals and clients, should have pet emergency kits that include food, water, medications, medical history and identification. Pets are members of the family and should be saved. The old message of "leave your pet behind with food and water” has changed to "never leave your pet behind”. Many of our clients will gladly sacrifice anything for their pets. This brings us to the last "preparedness” and that is hospital preparedness. In the event of an evacuation it is likely your hospital will become a drop off zone for your clients.

When I was volunteering at the LSU Veterinary School Hospital after Hurricane Katrina I visited with a veterinarian from Baton Rouge that had more than 250 pets in his hospital. Many belonged to his clients, but many were dropped off by people that had to evacuate New Orleans. He and his staff did what was necessary to stay open and provide care to these patients. When our NVRT team was deployed to Beaumont, TX after Hurricane Rita the entire town had been evacuated. National Guard soldiers were at all of the entry points. I visited multiple veterinary hospitals and with the exception of one hospital all were staffed and functional. Everyone left town but the veterinarians and their staff! The hospitals were full of pets and it was hot, humid and miserable. When asked what supplies were needed the only request we usually received was for a generator. All of them had enough food, water, medicine, etc. to go for a long period of time. One hospital had its own generator and even had its computers running. This type of dedication isn’t surprising to any of us because we belong to a profession that exemplifies caring.

A functional evacuation plan that has been practiced may prove crucial and possibly save lives in our hospitals. Who is in charge if you have to evacuate? Where will you and your staff members meet? Who will be sure everyone (animals and staff) is accounted for? These are just some of the many things we need to think about. The AVMA stresses the importance of having a written disaster plan for your practice which includes five elements:

  • emergency relocation of animals
  • medical record back-up
  • continuity of operations
  • security
  • and legal issues.

They have an excellent website on practice preparedness at Other helpful websites on preparedness are:

There are many opportunities to learn more about preparedness and volunteering. In Southern Nevada the Medical Reserves Corps is very active and is always looking for veterinarians and technicians. Please contact Paula Martel at 702-759-0877 or

Dr. Keith Forbes is in charge of the NVMA’s Disaster Preparedness Committee and may be contacted at or 775.353.3707. On the national level USDA has NAHERC (National Animal Health Emergency Response Corps), AVMA has VMAT (Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams) and NDMS has NVRT (National Veterinary Response Teams).

Re-printed with permission from the Nevada State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners'
Annual Board Update - November 2010


Helpful Websites on Disaster Preparedness

Department of Homeland Security

American Red Cross

AVMA Disaster Preparedness for Veterinarians

AVMA Practice Preparedness Brochure

National Weather Service


Southern Nevada Health District



Medical Reserve Corps

Volunteer Yourself and Your Facility to Help In the Event of a Disaster

Veterinarians and Licensed Veterinary Technicians can choose to be part of response teams which will help the community in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.

Click here, if you are interested in providing the following services during a disaster:

  1. Treat injured and sick animals
  2. Evacuate and house animals
  3. Transport animals
  4. Humane euthanasia of injured or dangerous animals
  5. Immunization in animal disease outbreaks
  6. Help with animal rescue efforts

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Nevada Veterinary Medical Association
P.O. Box 34420 Reno, NV 89533
phone 775.324.5344 | fax 775.323.1432 | e-mail: