As Hurricane Matthew moves away from the East Coast of the U.S. our thoughts continue to focus on the well-being of the animals and humans in its path. Once the storm passes, the focus will be on assessing the damage and starting the recovery process.
We’re been monitoring the storm. As a member of the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition (NARSC), the AVMA participates in nightly calls with NARSC members, affected states, federal agencies, the National Alliance of State Animal and Agricultural Emergency Programs (NASAAEP) and others to coordinate response efforts. States in the storm’s path implemented their evacuation and sheltering plans and significant numbers of people and their animals evacuated and sought shelter from the storm.
The highly trained and experienced volunteers of the AVMA’s Veterinary Medical Assistance Team (VMAT) program are currently on standby to assist in the response if needed and requested by a state. These teams provide boots-on-the-ground support for animal health and public health needs during disaster response.
The natural response to large-scale disasters is to want to help in any way, but it’s critical that all assistance is provided through the existing emergency management structure. Disaster-affected areas are dangerous; entering the area without being part of the organized response effort and without proper training and equipment is extremely hazardous and puts you, other responders, and residents at risk. During disaster response, well-intentioned yet misdirected actions by self-deployed (uninvited and unexpected) individuals and groups can compete and interfere with necessary functions and can even put themselves in danger, causing unnecessary diversion of resources to rescue or assist them. Unless you are a trained responder, the best way you can help is to stay home and provide support in other ways.
Veterinarians, please keep in mind that state veterinary licensing requirements remain in effect in the disaster area. Providing disaster veterinary care without a valid license may be considered unauthorized practice and may also have professional liability implications.
Here’s how you can best help the response efforts:
- Volunteer within the system. If you are in an affected state and would like to volunteer in the response and recovery efforts, contact your state veterinary medical association or other volunteer coordination agency for information about volunteer opportunities.
- Give to the disaster response charity of your choice, but beware of charities that may use this disaster to collect money without actually assisting those affected by it. As with any charitable donation, do your homework first to make sure you’re comfortable with how your money will be spent.
- Monetary donations are preferred, because transportation of donations of supplies and products requires a lot of resources and may be delayed due to damaged or obstructed roadways. Donating money allows the responding organizations to purchase the supplies that are most needed in the affected areas.
- If you’re interested in helping veterinary clinics affected by the hurricane, contact the veterinary medical association in that state to see if they have a relief fund. Be patient when contacting them, because they may be experiencing communication difficulties due to damaged power and telephone lines as well as impaired cellular service. Keep in mind that they’re also in an affected area, and are facing damage to their homes and concerns about their family’s safety.
- Learn about disaster response. If you’d like to better understand disaster response efforts, the FEMA Emergency Management Institute offers online modules about the Incident Command System, animals in disasters, and more.
Following disasters, we often receive a surge of inquiries from veterinarians and veterinary technicians about training to become disaster responders. If you are interested in becoming a veterinary responder, contact your state veterinary medical association for information about veterinary response organizations in your state. These groups will provide training so you can become part of the organized animal emergency response for future disasters.