Emergency and Disaster Planning at Ohio Animal Shelters

Decker, S. M., Lord, L. K., Walker, W. L., & Wittum, T. E. (2010). Emergency and disaster planning at Ohio animal shelters. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 13(1), 66-76.

Research Question

The Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standard (PETS) Act, which was signed into law in 2006 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, mandates that state and local governments include companion and assistance animals in emergency disaster response planning. The current study examined Ohio animal shelters’ emergency and disaster response planning.

Sample

Representatives of 115 animal care and control agencies in Ohio were surveyed. Respondents included dog wardens and staff of humane societies and municipal animal control agencies. Only those agencies that had a physical facility were included in the survey (i.e., rescues that relied solely on foster homes were not included).

Methodology

The 115 study participants completed a survey developed by the study team. The survey consisted of four sections: contact information, facility information, veterinary services, and emergency preparedness.

Facility information:

  • Types of animals housed at the facility
  • Number of cages available for cats and dogs
  • Age of the facility
  • Remodeled or non-remodeled facility
  • Square footage of the facility
  • Usable land area available in the event of an emergency or disaster

Veterinary services:

  • Agency’s utilization of veterinary services
  • Availability of space for veterinary services
  • Number of veterinarians available in the event of an emergency or disaster
  • Agency knowledge of local Veterinary Medical Associations (VMA).

Emergency preparedness:

  • Contact with groups pertaining to emergency and disaster planning
  • Level of emergency and disaster planning done at the agency
  • Agency’s view of the importance of developing a plan
  • Resources the agency would provide in the event of an emergency or disaster
  • Extent of employee training on implementing a plan
  • Agency’s awareness of the PETS Act of 2006

Surveys were completed between August and November 2007.

Findings

Most agencies reported housing dogs (110), with somewhat fewer (66) reporting housing cats. Other animals housed included livestock, poultry, exotic birds, pocket pets, reptiles, and amphibians. Seventy-three percent of respondents reported that their agency offered veterinary services. Forty-nine percent (of 114 agencies) indicated their agency had been in contact with other agencies or groups regarding emergency and disaster response planning. Twenty-four percent of respondents reported that emergency and disaster response planning had not been discussed at their agency. One percent reported that their agency had developed a written disaster plan and conducted a simulation exercise.

With respect to their agency’s ability to provide assistance in the event of an emergency or disaster:

  • 20% would be unable to provide any resources
  • 52% would be able to provide personnel
  • 57% would be able to provide temporary housing
  • 15% would be able to provide veterinary care
  • 7% would be able to provide monetary support
  • 41% would be able to provide medical and/or food supplies

Only one-third of respondents were aware of the PETS Act. Of note, half of agencies that had completed a written emergency and disaster plan were unaware of the PETS Act.

Limitations and Strengths

Overall, Ohio animal care and control agencies are ill-prepared to respond to an emergency or disaster. Although most animal care and control agencies in Ohio agreed that emergency and disaster response planning is important, very few actually had a written plan. Veterinary care needed during a disaster is also lacking. Most agencies rely on a few local veterinarians who would be unable to meet the demand for care in the event of a disaster. One option to increase capacity is partnership with local VMA’s that may be able to provide communication with a larger number of veterinarians during a disaster. Two-thirds of agencies that had a written emergency and disaster plan had some form of contact with their local VMA, though most agencies in the study reported that there was either no VMA in their area or they were unaware of a local VMA.

Increasing coordination among agencies is important for effective disaster relief efforts. Most agencies can provide some, but not all, of the resources needed. Emergency responders at the local, state and federal levels must work together to increase coordination of these agencies’ resources. Fewer than half of the agencies reported contact with disaster coordinators such as the Red Cross, County Emergency Management Agencies, County Emergency Management Departments, and Community Emergency Response Teams.

Survey respondents also reported inadequate training on implementation of an emergency and disaster plan. Only a small number of the agencies were aware of the PETS Act and few were involved with disaster and emergency response planning at the local or state level. State and local governments do not appear to be reaching out to animal care and control agencies in Ohio. Educating veterinarians and animal care and control agency representatives about the PETS Act may increase their involvement in emergency and disaster planning and improve their efforts to train staff to respond to an emergency or disaster.

It must be noted that study participants included only those whose animal care and control organizations had permanent facilities. Smaller rescue groups that lacked such facilities were not included. The study was also limited to Ohio and may not be representative of other areas of the country. Given the findings in Ohio, however, other jurisdictions may want to strongly consider assessing their animal shelters’ emergency and disaster response planning efforts and capacity.

Summary by Erin Jones

 

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