In 2008, Hurricane Ike devastated the upper Texas coast with many animals lost and many more suffering needlessly. This storm triggered a request for the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences to form a deployable veterinary emergency team.
The Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (TAMU VET) is comprised of veterinary faculty, staff, and senior veterinary medical students. Since the inception, the TAMU VET has been deployed for Hurricanes Rita and Gustuv, the 2011 Grimes County Wildfire and Bastrop Complex Wildfire, an Alzheimer’s patient search in Brazos County in 2012, and the 2013 West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion.
TAMU VET was formed in response to an increasing frequency of emergencies and disasters, the pressing need for veterinary support for the canine component of search and rescue efforts, and a societal decision that animals were worthy of care and support during disasters.
When a call to respond to a disaster comes in, an alert is put out to the team via a phone call down system, and everyone responds with their availability to deploy. The goal is to be out the door within four hours of a request to deploy. Working hand in hand with the first responders, one of the most important benefits of TAMU VET is their ability to be on the front lines of a disaster. Not only are they there to support, treat, and assist canine search teams, but the first responders are often the first groups to find or rescue animals that have been involved in the disaster. TAMU VET is able to coordinate the capture and rescue of found animals, and gives first responders a place to bring injured or ill animals.
This triage point for the field allows first responders to do their job and also begins the process of animal rescue and recovery early on. It has become the expectation that TAMU VET will be on the ground in an emergency because everyone realizes that animal issues are an aspect of any disaster. “First responders have told us repeatedly that it helps them do their job when they know we are there to help take care of their canine search teams, but also to take care of animals that might otherwise be ignored, left behind, or rescue delayed until the human response is completed. This is a truly special partnership and is one that we know works,” says Deb Zoran, Associate Professor and TAMU VET Medical Operations Chief at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
The diverse range of deployments has allowed the veterinary students to participate in serving the citizens of Texas while simultaneously providing professional development through the complex and rapidly changing disaster environment in which they are providing veterinary medical care. The educational value of emergency response deployments led to the development of a required clinical veterinary medical rotation during the fourth year of the veterinary program – the first of its kind in the United States.
The clinical rotation at TAMU is designed to provide veterinary medical students with the knowledge base and skills to assist their communities with planning to mitigate or respond to animal issues during disasters. The rotation is divided into two major parts: preparedness and response. The preparedness component requires students to make a personal preparedness plan, assigns them the task of working through the process of developing a practice preparedness plan, and introduces the students to the concept of developing a county emergency animal sheltering and veterinary medical operations plan. In the response component, students learn risk communications, medical and field triage concepts, and medical operations in austere conditions. They also have the opportunity to spend a day at Disaster City – a local training site for first responders from around the state and the nation to get to understand some of the medical and environmental conditions the first responders must work in.
As a leader in veterinary emergency preparedness and response, TAMU just marked the first anniversary of their required clinical rotation and continues to act as a strong service for animals in a disaster. For more information, visit the TAMU VET website.