• Decrease font size
  • Return font size to normal
  • Increase font size
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

  • Print
  • Share
  • E-mail

CVM Animal Health Specialists Deployed to Louisiana, Mississippi After Hurricanes

FDA Veterinarian Newsletter July/August 2005 Volume XX, No IV

Animal health specialists from the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) participated in the Federal government’s response to the damage from hurricanes Katrina and Rita. CVM veterinarians and a veterinary technician were deployed to take care of the thousands of displaced pets, in some cases treating them for exposure and injuries from the storm, and in other cases just keeping them housed and fed.

Shortly after Federal Emergency Management Agency officials realized the extent of the damage, the Public Health Service (PHS) began deploying its officers to Louisiana and Mississippi to help protect human and animal health.

Two CVM veterinarians were deployed to the disaster area as members of the PHS’s Commissioned Corps. A third CVM employee, a veterinary technician with experience in dealing with emergency situations, was able to go when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted her special -permission.

PHS veterinarian CDR Charlotte Spires worked at the largest of the shelters, established at the Lamar Dixon Exposition facilities in Gonzales, LA. The 250-acre site was used for several disaster relief functions, including as a staging area for emergency services, as well as shelters for human and animal refugees.

The Lamar Dixon site served as a shelter for a total of nearly 6,400 animals during the emergency. As many as 400 volunteers worked there. The site was set up by the Humane Society of the United States.

Dr. Spires, who works in CVM Office of New Animal Drug Evaluation, worked for much of the time at the Lamar Dixon site as a triage veterinarian, assessing the health of incoming animals to determine which ones needed immediate treatment.

Working conditions were tough, she said. Fans provided the only cooling, but the heat index during the day reached 118°. At midnight, the temperature would drop only to about 90°. Workers were on their feet for far longer than normal eight-hour shifts.

Rescue workers would bring 200-300 dogs a night to the shelter, said Dr. Spires. In some cases, she said, displaced individuals would give rescue workers an address where a pet had been abandoned, so the rescuers could retrieve the animal. In another case, the rescuers would bring in animals not associated with any owner but found in the flooded area. Some of the animals were hard to handle because of the experience they had been through. Other animals were feral and not used to being handled, Dr. Spires said.

Shelter workers frequently suffered from animal bites and heat exhaustion—the two most common human health issues, Dr. Spires added.

The second largest shelter was set up at Louisiana State University AgCenter’s John M. Parker Coliseum, Baton Rouge, LA. It was established by the Louisiana State Veterinary Association.

The Parker Coliseum site processed nearly 2,000 animals. Most animals brought to the Parker Coliseum shelter were “owner identified,” meaning that they were placed at the facility until the owners could find someplace to live and then reclaim their pets.

The PHS deployed LCDR Elvira Hall-Robinson, a veterinarian with CVM’s Office of Research, to the Parker Coliseum. She conducted environmental and public health needs assessments at animal shelters in New Orleans parishes, collected animal and volunteer data from Parker Coliseum and Lamar-Dixon and made sure local authorities were aware of the situations at these local shelters.

While there, as part of her duties, Dr. Hall-Robinson and other members of the veterinary team contacted other animal rescue shelters that were not affiliated with the State Department of Agriculture to promote outreach to bring these facilities under the State’s Incident Command structure. These unaffiliated shelters were set up by many animal rescue support groups. Most did a good job following pet-owner reunification rules.

In addition to that, Dr. Hall-Robinson and other Commissioned Corps veterinarians helped the LA SPCA shelter veterinarian and provided veterinarian care to LA SPCA shelter animals, allowing the shelter veterinarian a chance to rest and start looking for a place to live.

Environmental assessment

Dr. Hall-Robinson’s deployment to the Parker Coliseum was actually her second deployment to the Katrina area. Although a veterinarian, she also has a strong background in food safety, and worked in that capacity in the U.S. Army. PHS made use of this background and sent her for her first post-Katrina deployment to serve as part of an environmental assessment team working in Mississippi.

Her work on the environmental assessment team was to check basic sanitation, including the safety of the food available to storm refugees.

Within a few days of the hurricane, the PHS environmental assessment teams were canvassing the areas affected by the hurricane to identify the areas in which storm refugees were sheltered, determine the number of people in the shelters, and check out basic sanitation. In addition, the teams were trying to -identify individuals who needed medical attention or had special needs.

Site Management

Another CVM employee who was not a PHS member, but was able to travel to Louisiana to help under a special arrangement with FDA, was Sharon Ricciardo, a Consumer Safety Officer in CVM’s Office of New Animal Drug -Evaluation.

Ms. Ricciardo is a certified veterinary technician, licensed paramedic, and firefighter, and she has received specialized training in disaster response. Within days of the disaster, FDA had granted her administrative leave and CVM excused her from her regular duties, allowing her to travel to the Parker Coliseum site.

The initial challenges at the Parker site were organizing crates, collecting food for the animals, and receiving veterinary medical supplies. (Most supplies at the Lamar-Dixon and Parker sites were donated.) The Parker Coliseum site Incident Commander, a local veterinarian and lead member of the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association, specifically requested assistance from Ms. Ricciardo to coordinate these logistics, due to Ms. Ricciardo’s expertise in disaster relief management.

Approximately 150 individuals worked at the Parker Coliseum shelter daily. Ms. Ricciardo’s job was to coordinate the staff, which included veterinarians, veterinary students, technicians, and general volunteers, some of whom had lost their houses in the storm, but still came to the shelter to work. Ms. -Ricciardo was also in charge of site safety and security, establishing shift rotations, talking to the press, and overseeing general site operations.

[Boxed text follows]

Public Health Service’s Commissioned Corps was originally organized in the late 1700s to take care of merchant marine sailors. It has a military type organization, and its members hold ranks similar to those of officers in the U.S. Navy.

The Corps is designed to be deployed quickly—possibly within hours—in crisis situations to provide human and animal medical emergency services. The Commissioned Corps includes physicians, nurses, dentists, veterinarians, and others with health -specialties.

CVM has several Commissioned Corps members, who, when not deployed, work alongside the Center’s civilian employees.