The graphic pictures of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is something not soon forgotten. The hurricane storm season is approaching again. It may be another bad one in a continuing cycle of increased storm activity forecast for the next couple of decades. With the approach of storm season here in the hurricane-prone South, disaster and recovery plans along with other preparations should already be in place and exercises planned. Although hurricane season may serve as a catalyst for action here, we are all subject to a wide variety of potential disasters that can have severe impact on operations. Floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards, ice storms, fire, heat waves, loss of utilities, terrorist or activist activities can all have major effects on operations and the health or survival of personnel and animals in one’s care.

While catastrophic disasters grab everyone’s attention, professional emergency managers have long recognized that regardless of cause their impacts are often similar. Because of this fact, emergency managers have long emphasized adopting an “all-hazards” approach to emergency planning and recovery. An all-hazards approach focuses on preventing the likely detrimental effects from any type of disaster and reducing the consequences from these effects. Emergency plans should use function-based planning and not incident-based planning. Power loss is an example of a result of many potential hazards (a windstorm, downed tree, ice storm, or even a car hitting a power pole). Regardless of the cause, there are actions that must take place to ensure the well being of employees and animals within the facility.

One can think of emergency management as having four primary phases: • to handle an emergency or disaster.

• Preparedness: the planning and preparations required to handle an emergency or disaster.

• Mitigation: the steps and activities related to preventing future emergencies or minimizing their effects.

• Response: the actual activation of the emergency plan when the need arises.

• Recovery: the actions needed to restore normal operations.

Let’s briefly touch on each of the four phases of emergency management.

This is perhaps what is traditionally thought of as emergency planning. This includes development of written plans and procedures to ensure critical operations are maintained. One recognized approach is to develop an emergency management structure with elements that would be common to all emergencies (e.g. command structure, critical operations, etc.) and then develop specific annexes to deal with unique problems. Preparedness includes identification of essential supplies and actions, critical positions, specific roles, responsibilities, orders of succession and delegation of specific authorities, communication, and safety for staff. Facilities should be assessed for potential vulnerabilities and strengths. Issues as mundane as elevator or loading dock access or even light for seeing in animal rooms can become very important when their use is denied. One plan does not fit all and plans should be customized to your region and the likely potential hazards. In areas that can be struck by catastrophic hazards without any warning such as earthquake in the West or along the New Madrid fault, it may be necessary to store a supply of drinking water and extra food and, where possible, a reserve of clean cages and extra plastic bags for waste disposal. In circumstances where there may be warning for some disasters such as here in the South where a hurricane can sometimes be tracked for days before landfall, fewer reserves may need to be kept on hand but other preparations may need attention, to be accomplished.

The most important aspect of emergency planning is for the safety of the staff during an emergency. One or more secure locations should be identified for staff during an emergency. Communication methods must be identified and tested between locations. It is often advisable to offer refuge for the families of staff. Workers are often more apt to volunteer for extended work or work during an emergency if they do not have to be worried by thoughts of safety for their families. Mutual aid agreements and emergency aspects of vendor contracts should also be reviewed as part of this process. It is also very important to exercise all sections of your plan. This can be accomplished via a variety of approaches from tabletop drill to full-scale exercises. One word of caution, limit the scope of each exercise so meaningful information may be learned. If the exercise is too ambitious and too many failures occur too early in the process valuable lessons may be lost.

This aspect helps keep problems from occurring in the first place or limits their severity. These are typically engineering-type solutions to address vulnerabilities identified through the planning process. Examples might include an emergency generator to power critical equipment, secure storage area for food and water, portable heaters or air conditioners, flood control and even protection of computer based information through frequent backup and off-site storage of data and records. It is important once vulnerabilities are identified that organizations budget toward solutions. In some cases grant monies from state or federal sources are available for certain types of hazard mitigation.

As the old sports adage goes “you play like you practice,” the same holds true in disaster response. First and foremost during a disaster is the safety of personnel, then the safety of animals. The staff should be in secure quarters and not take action until they may do so safely. In some instances, this means not entering damaged structures until assessed by engineers or emergency personnel. Lines of communication must be maintained during the event.

Restore normal husbandry routines as soon as possible after the event. However, it is likely that not all issues can receive equal attention especially following a major event. This will be a time of competing needs when staffing shortages are likely and those that are able to come to work are overwhelmed by the tasks they must complete. It is imperative to have developed and exercised a plan where position assignments were made in advance and a clear command structure exists. Left to their own devices, many will take on more responsibilities than they can handle resulting in tasks being inadequately performed. In addition to immediate care of the animals, actions such as damage assessment, emergency repairs, clearing immediate hazards, and contracting with vendors for assistance may be required. In certain circumstances, especially for public institutions, costs may be recoverable from FEMA. The rule here is document, document, and document! If you cannot prove a cost was incurred, FEMA will not pay. A related activity that is often a separate plan is called a “continuity of operations plan” (COOP plan) or a business continuity plan (BCP). A COOP plan address those critical functions that must be carried on in the short term (typically for up to 30 days) should the normal business location become unusable. The foundation of this plan relies on establishing potential alternate facilities in advance. Associated with the identification of the alternate facility is development of the system to move critical operations, tasking and training essential staff for plan activation, and securing the equipment and supplies needed to accomplish this effort. Using the power loss example above, if a major transformer is damaged and power is unavailable for a particular facility for several days, animals may need to be relocated.

This discussion just scratches the surface in emergency and disaster planning. Adequate planning and practice can make even a large-scale event more manageable and help speed recovery efforts. There is a wealth of information available from federal and state resources. Local emergency planning officials are often happy to lend assistance and review plans. The returns in investment will more than pay for itself should a disaster ever hit your facility and animals along with valuable research systems are saved.

• Department of Homeland Security


• OSHA Hurricane Safety

• Emergency Management Guide For Business & Industry

• IFAS Disaster Handbook

• Florida Division of Emergency Management

• California Emergency Planning Information

The Safety Guys welcome your comments and questions. You can email them at

Vince McLeod is a Certified Industrial Hygienist by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene and the senior IH with the University of Florida’s Environmental Health and Safety Division. He has 15 years of experience in all facets of occupational health and safety and specializes in hazard evaluation and exposure assessments.

Glenn Ketcham is a Certified Industrial Hygienist with 20 years experience in the health and safety field. He is currently the Risk Manager for the University of Florida. He has worked as a USDOL/OSHA compliance, laboratory and chemical safety, workplace ergonomics, disaster preparedness, and classical industrial hygiene with 10 years direct experience in animal care areas.