Earthquakes, fires, tornados, lightning, avalanches and alien attacks! Natural disasters can happen at any time, without warning. Having a definitive plan can help coordinate the response and mitigate disruptive events that would severely disrupt a less well-prepared institute. Whatever your facility protects, either compliance records or an animal housing unit, a plan should be in place in case of unexpected area or infrastructure damage. While it is comparatively easy to setup and configure remote back-up servers to store critical data, providing safe housing options in the case of damaged animal facilities is not as easy.
State and federal governments have provided guidelines to help disaster planning for animal facilities which can be adapted to suit your own facilities’ specific needs. While caring for staff is always the primary concern, once immediate danger has passed, the animals’ needs should be addressed. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has put together a list of government approved disaster plans and resources organized by state. The USDA and OLAW have also published guidance on disaster planning. Further information can be found from IACUC.org.
Critical recommendations from these sources include assessing the natural environment around your facility, and knowing its history of dangerous weather or disruptive events. Furthermore, an assessment of the facility itself should be performed to identity likely failures, and how those anticipated problems could be prevented. An inventory of all property should be conducted, and insurance policies should be updated to cover any possible losses.
While these areas should be investigated before an incident, the post-disaster plan is just as important. Identifying an alternate site for equipment and animals can be useful if there is a slow moving disaster approaching (hurricane, blizzard, wildfire, etc.). Personnel with essential and non-essential roles should be identified, and back-ups created so duties can be planned in advance. A clear management plan will dictate responsibilities.
Regarding animal care, adequate food and water stocks should be maintained to provide for 2 weeks of reduced consumption. A stock of portable or temporary corrals for larger animals and disposable containers for rodent-sized animals should be on-hand.
Unfortunately with a disaster, not all animals will survive, and many will likely be injured to some degree. For moderate to severe injuries, depending on the species, value, size and other factors, euthanasia may be the only reasonable ethical choice. If possible, records should be maintained of animals lost in the disaster, and what was done for animals that were injured as a result. Special precautions should be taken with animals that are exposed to human pathogens, or who are housed in ABSL3/4 containment.