sealPurdue News


July 1995

New Indiana plan provides for animals after disasters

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Indiana recently became the first state to adopt a comprehensive plan for handling animals after major disasters such as floods and tornadoes, thanks to an Indiana Veterinary Medical Association committee led by a Purdue University veterinarian.

"Basically, Indiana now has a model plan for the rest of the country," said Dr. Sebastian E. Heath, on leave from Purdue's School of Veterinary Medicine to work out details of the plan and pursue a doctorate from Purdue. "It's comprehensive because it includes recognition of personnel who will deal with the animals and their owners, and it also grants authority to the appropriate agencies.

"The basic premise of the plan is the capture, containment and treatment of injured animals; public-health issues such as contaminated food and carcasses; and reuniting animals with their owners."

Heath said the plan focuses on helping pet and livestock owners cope after a widespread disaster that affects their animals. It was developed by the Indiana Veterinary Medical Association Disaster Preparedness Committee in response to Heath's disaster relief work with horses in Florida after Hurricane Andrew hit that state in 1992. The American Veterinary Medical Association also has been encouraging state veterinary groups to develop disaster-rescue programs.

"This is not a plan so much for animals but for animal owners," Heath said. "The primary responsibility for taking care of animals still resides with the owner. But the state is prepared to help in a mass disaster. What we've been able to achieve is a very simple mechanism by which a very effective response can be prepared."

Indiana has an estimated 31 million pets and livestock, Heath said. The livestock is worth an estimated $1.2 billion, and that doesn't include family pets and expensive exotic animals and horses.

Heath became involved in animal disaster planning after he and a small group of Purdue veterinary students helped treat some of the estimated 150 injured horses in southern Florida after Hurricane Andrew. "That was when I first realized the intensity of disasters," he said, recalling how injured horses ran loose for days after the hurricane hit. "Florida had no coordinated response, which is why things were so chaotic afterwards."

After a killer tornado hit Tippecanoe County shortly after midnight April 27, 1994, and destroyed part of a West Lafayette mobile home park, Heath, several Purdue veterinary students and Tippecanoe County Humane Society personnel rounded up and cared for about 30 animals of park residents. They sheltered and fed the pets until the owners could return safely.

"Even though the state plan was still being developed at that point, it was important to respond immediately to the needs of these owners and their animals," Heath said. "People who are evacuated are concerned about their pets and will go back to the site to rescue them, which can be dangerous."

David P. Barrabee, state planner with the State Emergency Management Agency, said the Indiana plan is unique because it recognizes how animals affect people's reactions after a catastrophe.

"You have to worry about the emotions and stress of people who have been hit by a disaster," said Barrabee, who also worked with victims after Hurricane Andrew in Florida. "We're trying to make the appropriate agencies such as the Red Cross and humane shelters at the county level aware of the impact of animals on people in a disaster. These agencies need to find out things such as what local hotels take guests with pets and what veterinary practices could house animals on a short-term basis."

Dr. Bret Marsh, state veterinarian, said the plan will allow his office, the Indiana Board of Animal Health, to work closely with SEMA and the other agencies involved in the plan.

In the event of a disaster in which animals are affected, SEMA will oversee all relief efforts after the governor declares an emergency. The state veterinarian will appoint a staff veterinarian as liaison between that office and SEMA. The staff veterinarian will work closely with an emergency field veterinarian appointed by the Indiana Veterinary Medical Association. The field veterinarian will oversee all veterinary medical personnel, who will deal with domestic animals.

Indiana Association of Animal Control personnel will rescue, capture, house and maintain domestic livestock, poultry and companion animals. Veterinarians will treat the animals, assisted by members of the Indiana Veterinary Technicians Association. Captive wildlife, whether from zoos or owned privately by individuals, will fall under the care of personnel from accredited zoos in the state, Cincinnati and Louisville. Native wildlife will be handled by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

As part of the plan, local and state animal-control agencies will make every effort to reunite lost and injured animals with their owners, Heath said.

Veterinarians and veterinary technicians who want to be part of the response team must complete an independent study guide from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Sources: Dr. Sebastian Heath, (765) 494-9173; home, (765) 497-1984; Internet,
David Barrabee, (765) 233-6116
Dr. Bret Marsh, (765) 232-1344

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