Preparedness Teams Train to Help Pets During Disasters

The Center for Domestic Preparedness worked with responders in Alabama to address the needs of veterinarians and animal rescue groups should disaster strike.

by Brian Anderson, The Anniston Star / August 18, 2014
Many stray dogs were found in areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

(MCT) — The mission of the Center for Domestic Preparedness is to keep members of the community safe. And that includes the parts of the community that walk on four legs.

While the center, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has trained thousands of emergency responders in how to deal with medical attention for humans, it's paid less attention to what to do about the population’s feline and canine companions. But on Friday, a training program in Anniston helped address that need.

In a simulation scenario at Calhoun County Humane Society’s animal shelter, veterinary teams with the National Disaster Medical System evaluated the needs of local veterinarians and animal rescue groups should disaster strike. The teams have been training this week at the CDP.

“We often forget about pets and what to do to keep them safe,” said Andrew Garrett, the director of the National Disaster Medical System, which has more than 7,000 members nationwide who can be deployed to assist in medical emergencies during disasters. “The animal population in the community is also affected by these events.”

The Center for Domestic Preparedness has used its location in McClellan for years to coordinate large-scale disaster simulations — including realistic sets and scenarios and actors playing the roles of victims — for students from around the country.

Friday’s simulation at the animal shelter was, by comparison, not quite as grand. The students didn't actually handle any of the animals at the shelter, but were asked to assess the health and welfare of the cats and dogs there and to create a plan to help the community keep the animals safe.

It wasn’t as dramatic as the typical training that goes on at the center, but Shelly Hunt, the president of the board for the Calhoun County Humane Society, said the training is just as valuable.

“We’re so happy to have this partnership with the Center for Domestic Preparedness,” Hunt said Friday. “Pets are part of the family for a lot of people, and what to do with pets and keeping them safe is an additional level of stress in an emergency situation.”

This week’s training marked the first time the center hosted teams specifically dealing with pet and animal issues. Robin Brannen, one of the students at the center this week, said the National Veterinarian Response Team, which is part of the National Disaster Medical System, has 160 members nationwide who can be called upon to aid shelters and other animal groups after a mass disaster. But because team members are spread across the country, it’s rare that they get a chance to train all in the same place.

“This gives us the opportunity to be face-to-face and work out problems we have,” Brannen said. “That’s really significant.”

Garrett said residents can get tips on how to keep themselves, and their pets, safe and prepared in case of an emergency at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website at

©2014 The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.