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HSUS response expands

The Humane Society of the United States has grown its disaster response operations.

BY HEATHER MOYER | GAITHERSBURG, Md. | January 19, 2007

The Humane Society of the United States has grown its disaster response operations in the last several years to address wider needs across the country.

"We want to be ready for more disasters," said Randy Covey, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) director of disaster services. He said one major expansion has been adding new vehicles to the HSUS fleet of disaster response trucks and trailers. The number of vehicles increased in the past year and several trailers are stored around the country ready to be deployed.

The move to add more vehicles to the fleet started in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, said Covey, but continued into 2006. "We can handle pretty much anything that needs a quick response," he noted.

Some of the new vehicles handle animal lodging, some house disaster staff, and one is now completely outfitted as the new HSUS emergency communications trailer. "That one will be very helpful in situations where the local infrastructure is destroyed," explained Covey. "It will help us talk to our own main office as well as getting information out to the public."

HSUS also expanded its disaster response training program in 2006 and hopes to continue growing the operation in 2007. The trainings teach local agencies and volunteers about the many aspects of responding to a disaster. "We've got a part about donations management, volunteer management, working with the media, how to deal with different types of animals and more," explained Covey.

"Our goal is to give information to local communities so they can create their own disaster response programs. The second goal is to have them trained and available to us should we need them."

The trainings last for two-and-a-half days and include a response simulation for the new trainees to try out their knowledge. Covey said they ran 23 trainings in 2006. "That's quite a bit, considering between 40 and 50 people attend each one."

The HSUS disaster response trainings can be requested by anyone and have been solicited from the HSUS around the country to animal control departments, local animal workers and city emergency management departments.

Covey emphasized that any volunteers wanting to help after disasters need to be trained - and that applies just as much to animal welfare agencies. "Sometimes people show up and think they can help us just because they have a pet at home, but it's more than that," he explained. "It's everything from knowing how to handle the entire disaster and its safety protocols, and so much more."

The HSUS also only responds to disasters where their help has been requested. The agency just launched a response to some stranded livestock in Oklahoma. They also helped respond to stranded livestock in Colorado after the holiday snowstorms because of a request.

"We make sure everyone knows our help is available if needed, but we have a strong commitment to responding only when we're asked," said Covey.

And the HSUS is equipped to help. As Covey toured the back of one disaster response trailer, he pointed out the various supplies the units carry. "We have all kinds of gear, we try to put anything in that is practical and might be needed in any situation," he said, nodding toward animal handling equipment, propane tanks and box after box of miscellaneous supplies.

And because the trailers are also equipped to house the HSUS staff, that helps make their response even more helpful. "The living quarters are nice to have. If you don't take care of your team, you start losing efficiency and effectiveness more quickly."

Training more HSUS volunteers is an HSUS goal for 2007, he said, adding that a stable national volunteer response of at least 1,000 would be ideal.

Covey thinks the public is more aware of animal issues in disasters these days and that many are creating disaster plans that include their pets. Continued public education is another goal for 2007, he said, so that everyone is aware of animal needs in disasters. He echoes the HSUS phrase emblazoned on the side of the response trailers.

"And always - when you evacuate, take your pets with you!"


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