After the Webinar: Animal Disaster Basics. Q&A with Jen Toussaint

Webinar presenter Jen Toussaint answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Be Prepared: Animal Disaster Basics. Here are just a few of her responses.


Audience Question: Often wildlife rehabilitators have to disperse animals amongst volunteers or other centers during a disaster. Do you have any other methods, examples, or advice on how to handle wildlife evacuation? 

Jennifer Toussaint: That’s a fantastic question, Katie. Thank you for asking. So as somebody that works in wildlife rescue specifically, I’m very passionate about this topic. Similar to animal welfare professionals, wildlife centers have that in-home-based rehabber community in order to create those relationships and be able to evacuate animals, should your center become compromised. I would really, strongly encourage you to e-mail me to maybe talk through specifics of your locality, some of the effects that you potentially prepare for, and things that we can mitigate those concerns. But the wildlife community, we have wildlife centers, those large standalone centers. And then we have wildlife rehabbers that rehab animals from their home. We’ve worked here in the state of Virginia to create a resource in which we all support and talk with one another. It’s kind of like an advisory group so that we can be upfront and honest. One of the examples for instance, for a disaster, was avian influenza hitting earlier this year. That advisory group, all of us, began talking and quickly realizing that nobody had the personal protective equipment they needed. And so, my jurisdiction was not negatively affected yet. But we were hearing from jurisdictions across the southern part of our state. And we were able to resource out some PPE and transport it down South. So, that collaborative relationship, already existing, was also, it’s not just transporting and moving animals, it’s also transporting and moving resources.

Host: Outstanding. Again, those kinds of relationships. You got to develop them on sunny days, right? They can’t be developed when the disaster is started.


Audience Question: Where should we start when developing an Emergency Disaster Response Plan in the CART team? It seems very overwhelming. There were so many components. 

Jennifer Toussaint:  Colleen, that’s fantastic. So, I recommend you jump into the handouts first and assess the disaster risks for your location or agency, or jurisdiction. I don’t know what your responsibilities are. Obviously, if you’re overseeing municipal animal control, we’re talking about jurisdiction, but maybe you’re running the municipal animal shelter. And so, you really want to focus on your animal shelter needs first. I think starting with assessing your disaster risk is first for either one of those situations, then secondarily, reaching out to your emergency management team, and introducing yourself. The fall is a great time to do that. Because before Christmas and the holiday season, they have a little bit more bandwidth than they might have at other times of the year, just like us. They’re very, very busy in the summer and hurricane season. But as I deactivate from that, set up those meetings and talk to them about your concern and take their professional recommendations. Maybe they have somebody that will actually assist you in writing a plan. And then, once you have the plan, you start talking about things like community animal response teams or onboarding volunteers. And you can use things like the volunteer description that I have resource links in the handouts as well. Once you get to that, that place. But first, assess the risks. Secondarily, make contacts. Third, make a plan. And fourth, begin to do the work.


Audience Question: I would love for you to weigh in on other webinars our presenters have talked about, with those risks, that you always put it on a matrix. On one side, it’s the severity of the impact of this particular issue, or disaster happening, and on the other axis, you would have the likelihood of that happening. Is that a good approach? Is that something that you’d recommend in this case? 

Jennifer Toussaint: Correct. Yeah, so the handout that I linked to talks about exactly that, what are the potential risks and what is the potential impact or likelihood of those risks? And then you move down through starting with the highest potential. So again, here in Arlington County large-scale apartment, complex fires are actually pretty high on our list because they regularly occur and unfortunately they displace quite a few people when they do. But if you live in a rural jurisdiction, large-scale impact, large-scale fire is not always even going to be on your list or it’s going to be down at the bottom with a 0% next to it. So that’s why you want to have that sit-down meeting after you’ve filled out your personal assessment of disaster preparedness risks for animals. You sit down with your emergency management, and they can give you some of those statistics that you’ll need to create a plan.


Audience Question: Do you have a checklist of what is contained in your emergency pet shelter trailer that you might be able to share? 

Jennifer Toussaint:  Please email me directly if you would like a checklist for your emergency pet shelter trailer. My email is I have a checklist of, first of all, what our trailer has, and then second of all what our trailer has in a perfect world. So, you should always be maintaining a list of what is actually physically in your trailer. We pulled PPE at the start of COVID because we needed those masks and gloves in order to continue veterinary operations at our shelter, so those items have now been replaced. But, yes, please, just e-mail me. I can get you, the list of places of the things you should start with, and then also a list of in a perfect world, things you might also have.


Audience Question: In terms of maintaining that inventory list, isn’t something like an Excel spreadsheet or something like that, or do you use some sort of disaster management software? 

Jennifer Toussaint: So, we use an Excel spreadsheet for our community animal response team because we have just one trailer, if you were a locality that was larger and had multiple trailers. You could integrate into your Emergency Operations Center and ask to maintain your spreadsheets through them perhaps. We just find that because we have a tendency to take and replace things very frequently, we find it easiest to maintain our own personal checklist. But again, that’s also what is your bandwidth and how much can you engage in this work.


Audience Question: What makes an EOP emergency operations plan, realistic or unrealistic? I’m reviewing an old plan and trying to determine what needs to be changed. 

Jennifer Toussaint: So, I started with an existing emergency operations plan when I took over our field response for disasters here in Arlington. And in one of them, it intimately talked about the place where we were going to co-locate animals. And I thought, well, that’s interesting. And so, I went out to the building and I actually physically walk around pretending that this plan was activated. And I was moving animals and I discerned that we would have to use an elevator for the dogs. It’s like, well, that doesn’t work. So, some of it is going to be hands-on, actually. Do a drill with your existing plan. Say you have an old emergency operations plan. Do a small drill with that plan and make notes as you go. And in emergency preparedness after drills, we do something called a hot wash, which is essentially just a breakdown, what were three things that went really well? What were three things that went horribly wrong? In one of ours, the first ones that I did, with our existing plan, I got onto the trailer, and I thought, there’s no bilingual signage. And so, in many communities, throughout Arlington, the signage that we had would be completely inadequate. People wouldn’t be able to read it, and so they wouldn’t know where to go or how to get inside or how to check their pet in. So, we actually had to drill with the bad plan to figure out how to write one and come up with all of the small details that make our plan so strong.


Audience Question: Is there funding or grants available for emergency trailers? 

Jennifer Toussaint: So, there was, and there is. So, there were a lot of us who have disaster trailers who have had them since Katrina. We were able to purchase them through the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security grants that were available to many localities across the country, just post-Katrina. The ASPCA does have a disaster preparedness grant. That grant opens multiple times throughout the year. It unfortunately just ran a cycle that closed in July, but it will open again. And so, if you’re trying to build capacity for preparedness in your locality, I strongly encourage you to apply. They’ve done some really great things and supporting a lot of localities that are getting their foot in the door for doing this kind of work. If you can’t afford a trailer upfront, maybe talk with your emergency management professionals and see what their insight is as to how to get your supplies to where it needs to be. I know one of the jurisdictions I work with, their emergency management, rented out a storage unit, in a non-floodplain area, for them to store their disaster supplies. And then they plan that the fire department will assist them in transporting it over whatever works best for your locality. There are definitely other ways to do it than just having a trailer.


Audience Question:  Is there an online link that you can share to where the Virginia list of landowners that will receive evacuated animals is located?

Jennifer Toussaint: Yeah, and I recommend you e-mail me. It is maintained on the backend, so it’s shared specifically through a horse council that’s run here in the state of Virginia. If you would like access to that link or you want to engage in that work, I can definitely get you connected to the correct people. It’s not just shared on an open site. It is something that is shared amongst the community and our response teams. And with the State Animal Control Association. So, I can definitely get you to access to engaging with that if that’s what interests you.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Be Prepared: Animal Disaster Basics.


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