August 2015 is still scarred into the minds of many residents of North Central Idaho. During that month, multiple wildfires ripped through the area, taking 48 homes with them. If the loss of structures and property weren’t enough, imagine the chaos as these homeowners were forced to leave their homes, and their animals, without much warning. Those with more time had to find somewhere to take their animals, which in the case of horses, goats, or other livestock was no easy task.
Whether it’s wildfires in the West, hurricanes in the South, tornadoes in the Midwest, or ice storms in the East, we’re all affected by natural disasters that cause mass destruction. You need to make sure your veterinary clinic is ready in order to provide your best services to support your affected clientele in their greatest time of need.
The Calm Before the Storm
It’s difficult to keep your head in an emergency situation; in fact it may seem like the seas will never be calm again. Setting sail with an emergency plan in place will help keep those seas calm, even in the middle of the storm, but where do you even start? The AVMA offers helpful guides and outlines on writing your clinic’s own emergency plan, but here are a few of the most important points to keep in mind.
Back up those records: In the event of a power outage or destruction of your veterinary clinic, make sure that those all-important medical records are backed up. I’m not talking about a storage unit full of printed copies; rather, think more network-based backup or keeping a drive stored at a separate location. Chances are if your clinic is damaged in a storm or other natural disaster, some of your clients are going to be in the same boat and may be in need of patient medications. Having your medical records backed up will allow you to transfer those prescriptions so that your patients don’t have to do without.
Alternate power source: In the event of a natural disaster or other emergency it may be a while before power is restored even if your clinic didn’t actually sustain any damage. An alternate power source, like a generator, can keep your services still available to those who need them. You also don’t want to lose all those valuable vaccines or other refrigerated medications if you lose power.
Find a sister clinic: Call it a sister, friend, or partner clinic; however you choose to define it, just find a clinic in a different area that you can rely on if your practice is damaged. Make sure this clinic has room for transferred boarding or hospitalized animals and a willingness to accept some of your clients on a temporary basis. This could be a great place to have those medical records backed up for easy access, as well.
Community outreach: You may even experience a situation in which your clinic is unharmed but the community around you is in great need. Revisiting the wildfire season of 2015, many residents were evacuated from their homes, leaving many of them scrambling for places to keep their pets and livestock. Some chose to turn horses and cows loose in hopes that they would find safer ground, while others tried to take them with them. The fairgrounds became an evacuation shelter for any large animals that could be confined there. While the animals were all safe from the fires, you can imagine the worry about spread of disease and injury with that many animals coming together in one location. Veterinarians were on call for any animal emergencies and were consulted for help with how to arrange the animals. Vets also performed daily walk-throughs looking for anything that seemed off. It doesn’t hurt to have a large animal evacuation area designated in your written plan. Fairgrounds, stockyards, arenas, or stables are great choices, and outlining your plan with the owners and operators beforehand can save time when time is of the essence.
You may also be called on to board the pets of evacuated residents or to help find alternative areas for them to stay. Some of these pets may not be your patients, so having some way to authorize treatment and prescription refills for these patients will be necessary.
Bring Clients On Board
As with many aspects of veterinary medicine, the more you educate your clients the easier your job becomes. Get your clients set up to weather the storm with emergency plans of their own.
Identification: You may end up with 11 black cats brought to your clinic following an emergency. Sorting out which kitty belongs to who may be nearly impossible. Encourage your clients to get some form of identification on their pets. While microchips are the most reliable, identification tags, rabies tags, and personalized collars work too. This goes for horses and livestock as well. Halter tags, brands, or tattoos will make it easier to reunite animals with their owners. Also, make sure those IDs are current, with up-to-date addresses and phone numbers.
First aid kits: Should an animal get a scrape or cut, bump or bruise, first aid kits in your clients’ hands may prove very useful, allowing them to take care of their own animal’s minor ailments. Provide your clients with a list of necessary first aid items or consider assembling kits of your own. Bandaging material, wound ointment, and anti-inflammatories are a good start, but feel free to add items as you deem necessary. Don’t forget instructions for using all items, and don’t leave out the large animals.
Food, water, etc: Encourage your clients to have a three- to four-day supply of animal food and water on hand, especially if their critters are on a special diet. They should also have any medications that their animals are on readily available should they have to leave in a rush. This will allow their animals to be taken care of properly even in the most chaotic situations. Remind them to watch expiration dates and rotate out the goods in their emergency kits as necessary.
Stay current: Up-to-date vaccinations and flea and heartworm treatments will help prevent possible illnesses that can arise from an upheaval like a natural disaster. You never know how much mixing of animals there will be or if the environmental conditions will be favorable for uncommon diseases or medical issues. This goes for large animals too.
With wildfire smoke still lingering in the western air and satellites busily scanning the Atlantic for tropical storms, it seems that none of us are ever really out of the woods when it comes to natural disasters and other emergencies. Make sure that your veterinary clinic and clients are well prepared for any catastrophe that comes your way. Write an emergency plan for how your clinic will stay steady at the helm and how your clients will be able to ride your calming wake.