October 2021

In this VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog, Amy Newfield, CVT, VTS (ECC) reviews how to prepare your veterinary hospital for a disaster. If we all learned anything from 2020, COVID, and life, t’s important to have a clinic disaster plan!

STARTING A CLINIC DISASTER PLAN
Creating a veterinary clinic disaster team is important. During a disaster the local veterinarians are often sought after for advice or help even if they do not want to be involved. It is important that veterinarians and technicians in a community talk about and create a local disaster plan before the disaster occurs.

After Hurricane Katrina the PETS Act was passed by the Senate. PETS stands for: Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act and, while it serves to help animals, it is important to remember that the act was passed to help save human lives. In saving animal lives, the government realized it would also act to save human lives. The PETS Act requires local and state emergency preparedness authorities to include household pets and service animals in their evacuation plans. Local and state authorities must submit these plans in order to qualify for grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Storm Disaster planning

Furthermore, the Senate version of the PETS Act (S. 2548):

  • Grants FEMA the authority to assist states and local communities in developing disaster plans to accommodate people with pets and service animals.
  • Authorizes federal funds to states to help pet-friendly emergency shelter facilities
  • Allows FEMA to provide assistance for individuals with pets and service animals, and the animals themselves following a major disaster.

Prior to Hurricane Katrina no such Act was in place and very few towns included animals in their plans. Many towns still do not have plans for animals. As a member of the veterinary community you can contact your local town hall and ask about their plans. While many towns generally have provisions on how to evacuate or shelter, few have provisions on how to care for them medically. It is important that local veterinary clinics become involved in their community for that reason.

RESOURCES & LEGAL ISSUES
Your clinic disaster team should look at the resources you have and decide what you would be willing to do during a disaster. The conditions in which you may find yourself working may be vastly different than those of a clinic setting. You may be working outdoors in a field or in a truck. You may not have running water or electricity. Does your clinic have a generator? Is your clinic likely to be one of the first to be flooded? It is important that members of the clinic fully assess what they can offer versus what they cannot offer to the public. Can your clinic afford to give free services to every animal for two weeks straight? Veterinary clinic disaster teams should not expect local or federal aid to help them. Your clinic could be left footing the bill in the end. Would your clinic be willing to act as a boarding facility? Would you be willing to help another clinic and provide them with supplies if necessary? The role of your veterinary clinic disaster team could be endless. It is important to look at the entire situation and assess what would be most beneficial for the clinic as well as the clients.

Your veterinary clinic disaster team must talk about legal issues which surround being involved in the disaster. Worker’s compensation does not apply when you are injured outside of your job. Is the clinic going to be paying you for hours you work during a disaster? It’s possible you’ll be working 12-18 hour shifts. You don’t want any surprises after the disaster. There were many technicians that thought they were getting paid by their employer during a disaster only to find out that their employer assumed the technician was volunteering their time. You should not assume that your employer will pay you or cover you during a disaster. It is important to address these concerns prior to a disaster.

It is important to know that your clinic disaster team will likely fall under the protection of the Good Samaritan laws. In each state the Good Samaritan laws regarding animals may vary. It is important to find out if your state has a written Good Samaritan animal law which will protect you if you decide to work as a veterinary technician during a disaster.

The American Animal Hospital Association took a stand regarding veterinarians and technicians when they published their position, “Currently there is no legal duty in North America for veterinarians in private practice to provide emergency care to animals. However, under most circumstances, the American Animal Hospital Association supports the provision of humane or emergency care. In order to encourage veterinarians and veterinary technicians to assist with emergency veterinary care, the American Animal Hospital Association recommends the adoption of the following Uniform Good Samaritan Law by all states and provinces:

“A veterinarian or veterinary technician who, on his or her own initiative or other than at the request of the owner, gives humane or emergency treatment without fee to a sick or injured animal shall not be liable for civil damages as a result of his or her acts or omissions in the absence of gross negligence. The veterinarians may euthanize the animal as a humane act to relieve suffering. Any licensed veterinarian or veterinary technician who in good faith provides emergency care at the scene of an emergency to the human victim(s) shall not be liable for any civil damages as a result of any acts or omissions by such persons providing the emergency care.”

Veterinary Clinic Disaster Plan Check List

CREATING A CLINIC TEAM/PLAN

Who are the key players?

  • Coming up with the ICS system for the clinic
  • Creating a disaster task force/team in your clinic responsible for updating/maintaining system
  • Designated responsibilities for staff members
  • Keeping update contact information for all employees

Keeping a second set of papers off site

  • Insurance papers
    • AVMA Liability: Make sure your policy covers travel and multiple locations.
    • Business Insurance
      • Business Umbrella
      • Contents of Building: Make sure you have the policy updated every 3-5 years to cover new equipment purchases.
      • Business interruption
      • Flood
      • Signage
    • Professional disability
    • Health insurance
  • Inventory of everything with cost
  • Written business plan
  • A copy of computer records (updated and replaced every week)
  • Pictures and receipts of items
  • Pictures of the building
  • List of suppliers, contact numbers and how fast they can deliver

What will be the clinic’s role?

  • Policies should be created before the disaster
    • Should you accept wildlife?
    • Should you accept farm animals?
    • Can you function as a kennel for strays?
  • Charging clients
    • Are you going to work for free, at a discount or not at all?
    • What can you afford to donate?

Supplies for the Clinic (Keep in a secure and separate area)

  • Generators for the clinic
  • Tarps
  • Rope
  • Wet-Dry Vacuum
  • Leashes
  • Cardboard cat carriers
  • Disposable isolation gowns
  • Disposable medical gloves
  • Masks
  • Set of muzzles
  • Set of wildlife gloves
  • Caution Tape
  • Orange cones or flags
  • Digital Camera
  • Duct-Tape or other heavy duty tape
  • Portable flood lights
  • Flashlights

Training for the clinic disaster team

  • Hazardous materials: A couple people should take a level one course ICS system: A couple people should take a level one course
  • Online training: FEMA
  • On-site training: HSUS offers courses throughout the year that include hands-on
  • Have someone familiar with PTSD and have contact numbers on hand

Clinic Policies Established Before a Disaster

  • Have everyone trained on how to triage mass casualties
    • Agree on a method
    • Role Play
  • Have everyone familiar with medical forms used during disaster
  • Important Contact Numbers
    • Wildlife experts
    • PTSD help numbers
    • Grief Counseling numbers
    • Poison Control
    • Local/State/Federal official numbers

Emergency Phone List:

  • Small Business Association
  • Insurance Agent/Company
  • All Staff Members
  • Payroll Specialist
  • State Veterinarian
  • State/Local Veterinary Medical Associations
  • AVMA Disaster Assistance
  • FEMA Disaster Assistance: 1-800-621-FEMA Accountant

CREATING A COMMUNITY VETERINARY PLAN

  • Establishing a community veterinary disaster plan
  • Talk to fellow colleagues
    • Get contact phone numbers
  • Work out an agreement before the disaster occurs
  • Share profits
  • Use another clinic for a certain percentage
  • What equipment is available for use at other clinics? Can personnel help out in your clinic?
  • Find a clinic outside an affected area which may be able to help
  • If all clinics are down, is there a larger facility out of the area that can help?
  • Finding an off-site location where clinics can pool their resources
  • Compile a verbal “stock-pile” system of pharmaceuticals
  • Is there a facility that can be used for isolating animals?
  • Bite wound (rabies suspect) animals
  • Large number of animals with same disease

WORKING DURING A DISASTER

  • Maintaining accurate records of animals seen during disaster
  • Have a form in duplicate ready to go
  • Polaroid picture to document animal
  • Identification bands on all animals at all times
  • Be sure to take breaks and have designated shifts
  • Be prepared to work with other clinics
  • Maintain accurate records of supplies used/shared from other clinics
  • Maintain accurate records of services rendered (free and paid)

EVACUATING FOR A DISASTER

  • Copy/back up all patient records and all computer data
  • Arrange transportation for animals
  • Secure safe location to evacuate animals to
  • Secure computers and electrical equipment present in the veterinary clinic/hospital
  • Move all valuable paperwork, charts and retail items to a safe height or secure location within the facility. Use of water-tight, plastic containers.
  • Copies of insurance papers, employee contracts, leases, payroll information, financial data, checks and bank info water tight containers/bags
  • Copy of clinic employee address, phone number and emergency contact information laminated and ready to go
  • Secure all windows and glass doors
  • Remove artwork to a secure location. Insurance coverage is great for valuable artwork
  • Sand bags to prevent water from coming in
  • Banking information/check books taken in water tight container
  • Remove all controlled drugs
  • Take DEA registration and license numbers with you.
  • Animal Preparation If You Need To Evacuate:
    • Clean transport cage ready for each and every animal in the hospital.
    • Copies of the animal records of all the animals in the clinic at the time of the disaster/ evacuation in water tight container
    • Three day supply of food capable of feeding animals in water tight container.
    • Emergency drugs/supplies to-go kit transported with pets
    • Contact numbers of local veterinarians/shelters you plan to use

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