Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Wild Fires: Are you Prepared?

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This summer’s hurricanes and East Coast earthquake have underscored the need for practitioners everywhere to have a written disaster preparedness plan in place for their veterinary practices.

The Florida Veterinary Medical Association offers advice on how to prepare for and cope with a natural disaster. Below are the recommended seven basic steps to follow when creating the master disaster preparedness plan for any veterinary practice/clinic:

Emergency Relocation of Boarded and Hospitalized Animals
Are there enough trucks and trailers on your site to evacuate hospital patients? Be sure to plan for appropriate, pre-arranged animal transportation and a temporary animal holding location.

Medical Records Backup
This includes off-site computer backup. Fireproof safes will not prevent melting. Off-site copies of important documents, itemized inventory (both on- and off-site) and digital storage should be investigated and put into use.

Continuity of Operations
Since communication in a disaster is vitally important, do not rely on landlines, cell phones or pagers for all disasters. Cell phone tower structures that transmit signals for cell phones and pagers are usually working without problems through most disaster situations. The same is true of telephone landlines as long as electrical power is available. When either of these might be a failure factor to consider is in a tornado or hurricane disaster where wind may damage telephone poles and cell phone towers.

An alternate electrical power source includes generators. What is ideal, yet costly, is the professionally-installed generator that is able to provide long-term power to the entire facility. Otherwise, portable generators are effective, although you may need more than one, especially to secure continued refrigeration. The generators include regular maintenance and operations training for your staff. For all generators you will need to remember to store plenty of fuel.

Also included in the continuity of operations is a list of supplies with current 24-hour contact information available for suppliers who might be working throughout a disaster. Remember to include alternate food and water sources in case of contamination: five to seven days worth of food and water for on-site staff and patients, and five to seven days of personal medications for on-site staff.

Security of Building and Personnel

Outline preferred means of reporting emergencies, including a designated person for communicating with local emergency responders. The local fire department can provide free inspection and evacuation drills.

Other thoughts on security include a water system independent from the electrical system; oxygen tanks isolated for safety; securing the practice from theft, looting and other crimes; a floor plan or diagram that clearly shows the location of all fire extinguishers, control valves, dangerous areas and escape routes; unobstructed escape routes; emergency lighting; and keeping all staff informed. A pre-arranged meeting place for staff to keep everyone accounted for is a good idea and an office phone-tree for 24-hour numbers is a necessity.

General Emergency Planning

This plan should address appropriate responses to all foreseeable emergencies, including hazardous chemical spills. Employee training is needed here because there is a need for information and the proper equipment required to respond to the disaster. Maintenance of equipment, surveillance and detection of leaks and containment of spills by trained employees is essential. Employees should wear protective clothing and practice proper disposal techniques.

Fire Prevention

Identify major fire hazards in the workplace, proper handling and storage procedures, potential ignition sources such as open flames and electrical sparks, and the type of fire protection equipment necessary to control each major hazard. Regular maintenance of safeguards installed on heat-producing equipment is essential. Appoint employees responsible for maintaining equipment to present or control sources of ignition or fires.

Insurance Coverage and Legal Issues

A current and comprehensive insurance policy is necessary for the veterinary practice. Discuss the details of a disaster drill with legal counsel to make sure you are covered by insurance for any injuries that might occur during the drill.

Keep receipts for all purchases, keep a videotape and photograph inventory and, in the event the practice is damaged, it is important to take measures to avoid further damage (roofs should be covered to prevent rain water damage to interior).

For more information and a helpful checklist, go to Ready.gov. It provides disaster preparedness information for your business and personal needs. But don’t procrastinate. Start your planning today.