Planning for disaster

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As emergency crews respond to the tsunami crisis in Japan and flooding in California, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is reminding pet and livestock owners in a video to create emergency plans. Heather Case, DVM, the AVMA’s disaster response expert, says many people are completely unprepared to protect their animals in the event of a disaster like an earthquake, wildfire, tsunami or flooding.

Though the video centers mainly on preparedness for pets and horses, livestock owners should also have many of the same plans in place should any type of disaster occur. All animals can benefit from proper identification from collars and tags with owner information and microchipping (on pets and even horses) to ear tags and brands on cattle. As seen during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita several years ago, many livestock became commingled with others and difficult to differentiate, or even unidentifiable after death which could confound insurance claims. 

“Proper livestock identification is extremely important during and after a disaster, as cattle are far more likely to be commingled with other animals at a new location if they are evacuated,” Case says. “If the livestock owner doesn’t have a good way to identify their livestock during an evacuation this could create a large problem maintaining control of those animals and keeping them safe and healthy.”

Livestock also face challenges in that they are not as portable as pets. Producers should have access to trailers and vehicles to pull them, as well as plans for where they may be able to take livestock in the event of an emergency. Supplies of hay, other feedstuffs and water also need to be in the plan. “A working disaster plan for livestock must include access to a trailer and also contact information about feed lots and facilities capable of housing livestock,” Case states. “This doesn’t necessarily mean that the livestock owner must own a trailer to haul their animals.  Instead, it can be helpful to form an emergency network of livestock owners in their area that can be contacted during an emergency evacuation to assist in transport.”

In an emergency situation livestock may be commingled with other animals, or even face increased disease risk from things such as contaminated flood waters, so producers should work with their veterinarians to make sure livestock are up-to-date on vaccinations. “Disaster situations certainly can result in disease outbreaks,” Case says. “Some of the diseases that we will see in those situations are the same that producers may be concerned with when they take their animals to market such as respiratory issues. Naïve animals and herds are at a disadvantage against certain infections and are generally more likely to have a higher prevalence and severity of illness from illnesses that typically occur when cattle from different sources are co-mingled. The AVMA supports the appropriate use of vaccinations for zoonotic and animal health diseases.”

Veterinarians and producers should discuss potential disasters that are likely for their areas (floods, blizzards, earthquakes) and other disasters such as fires, and plans for disaster response. “It’s very important for veterinarians and producers to discuss emergency plans,” Case advises, “this should be done before the disaster strikes.”

For more information on disaster preparedness, visit www.avma.org and read its disaster preparedness brochure, Saving the Whole Family. For an online course on Livestock in Disaster by the Federal Emergency Management Preparedness Agency, click here.



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