Preparing a Veterinary Practice for a Hurricane

Careful planning can help a veterinary practice, its patients, and the area equestrian community to ride through and recover from a hurricane. Dana N. Zimmel, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, Dipl. ABVP, clinical assistant professor in the University of


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Careful planning can help a veterinary practice, its patients, and the area equestrian community to ride through and recover from a hurricane. Dana N. Zimmel, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, Dipl. ABVP, clinical assistant professor in the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, described steps for veterinarians in hurricane-prone areas to take long before a storm hits. She addressed a room of practitioners at the 52nd annual American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 2-6, 2006, in San Antonio, Texas.

Before a storm is even forecast, evaluate your location. Consider what wind speed any buildings at your practice can sustain, as well as their proximity to water in case of a storm surge. Zimmel noted that some horses that were not evacuated before Hurricane Katrina in 2005 drowned in their stalls, trapped in the 12-foot storm surge. Also consider the number of large trees and electrical lines in the area, and the damage they could cause if they fall.

Ask if your water source will be sustainable in the case of a power outage. If you have a generator, what is it capable of powering and how much fuel will it require? If you need to make a choice between the refrigerator and other appliances, consider the implications of the loss of vaccines and drugs requiring a consistent temperature.

“(The refrigerator) may not seem to be too important, but in Marion County following Frances, we were without power for 14 days,” Zimmel said.

Having a phone tree or command center already in place before a storm hits can decrease confusion among staff members and clients. If phones go out, having a contingency plan, such as every staff member listening to a particular radio station at a predetermined time, can also help.

Identify equine transportation companies that will be able to help evacuate horses.

The hospital might become unsafe to use or it might not be large enough for the patient load following a disaster. Making arrangements for an equine hospital and rescue center at an alternate location before it’s needed and publicizing this information will assist staff members and horse owners in knowing where to go in a storm’s aftermath. These facilities can be sales facilities or show grounds.

Evaluate the number and type of stalls at the facility, amount of accesible power, and water availability. Consider manure removal and where you will obtain basic farm supplies–are there enough buckets? Are there snaps for buckets to affix them to stall walls? Are there enough pitchforks to clean stalls for the number of horses you anticipate?

“All these basic things really become tremendous when you have no power and it’s not set up like a good horse farm,” Zimmel said.

Along with supplies, evaluate the facility to see if there’s sufficient space to store hay and bedding in a dry location. An isolation area is also necessary in case a horse starts showing clinical signs of a potentially contagious disease.

When a storm is forecast, move quickly. Evacuate horses at least 48 hours before winds over 40 mph are projected to hit. Contact the emergency command center to secure permits for government fuel and a badge to be out after any imposed curfew.

Communicate what will be available to clients after the storm, and tell them how to contact you if the phones go out. Zimmel suggested a dry erase board system–clients can come to clinic and sign up for the services they require on the board which is treated as a check list. If they can’t get to the clinic, the veterinarians will try to get to them at their locations.

If it is necessary to rescue horses from outside locations, organization is key. Document the horses as they come in. Look for tattoos or microchips (you’ll need a scanner) and record where horses were picked up. Be strict in requiring proof of ownership when horses are claimed. Zimmel noted that many horses were stolen following Hurricane Andrew.

Designate one person to coordinate all the personnel working with rescued horses. Zimmel noted that while veterinarians and veterinary students make excellent volunteers, a lot of the work required of volunteers is basic animal husbandry, including feeding and stall cleaning. It’s crucial to have a group of core volunteers there for the duration. Continuity with the horses is important so slight variations in a horse’s condition and behavior are properly noted. All volunteers must sign a waiver releasing liability.

Another important position within the rescue operation is a donation coordinator, who keeps track of all the veterinary supplies and donations available and knows where they are located.

“The events of 2005 underscore the importance of being self-sufficient and investigating pathways to protect your practice and your community,” Zimmel concluded.

Get research and health news from the American Association of Equine Practitioners 2006 Convention in The Horse’s AAEP 2006 Wrap-Up sponsored by OCD Equine. Files are available as free PDF downloads

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Written by:

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care.

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