Pet project: NCDA&CS division works to ensure companion animals can get shelter from storms

by | Sep 16, 2009

Today marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Floyd, which caused massive flooding throughout Eastern North Carolina in September 1999. The storm killed 52 people and millions of animals. It damaged crops, barns, equipment, businesses and homes. The level of devastation was unlike any the state had experienced.

Staff from the NCDA&CS Emergency Programs Division conduct training in using a Companion Animal Mobile Equipment Trailer.

Staff from the NCDA&CS Emergency Programs Division conduct training in using a Companion Animal Mobile Equipment Trailer, also known as a CAMET.

In the aftermath of Floyd, N.C. leaders began developing ways to prevent or mitigate the impact of future storms. Floyd’s impact on farms and animals was one of the reasons the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services created an Emergency Programs Division to address agricultural disasters.

“The Emergency Programs Division plays a vital role in preparing the state for emergency situations such as natural disasters and disease outbreaks,” says Sharron Stewart, the division director. “We work hard with many partners to ensure both livestock owners and pet owners will have the support they need from the state of North Carolina during disasters.”

The division prepares for a variety of emergency situations, but one of its most well-known projects is the development of plans that take into account the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals during emergency situations, Stewart says.

Another important event in the evolution of the Emergency Programs Division was Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast in 2005. After seeing the problems posed by people’s unwillingness to evacuate New Orleans because of their pets, Emergency Programs staff began working with the state Division of Emergency Management, the State Animal Response Team, N.C. Division of Public Health and the American Red Cross to tackle animal sheltering issues and make sure similar problems wouldn’t occur in North Carolina.

Out of this committee came the idea for Companion Animal Mobile Equipment Trailers, or CAMETs. “These trailers ensure that citizens will have sheltering for their pets and service animals when a natural disaster strikes,” says Dr. Kelly Jeffer, a veterinarian with the Emergency Programs Division.

The trailers can be deployed to shelters in areas affected by disasters. So far, 24 CAMETs have been built and equipped with crates, bowls, cleaning supplies, a generator, administrative supplies and other materials. Each trailer can serve about 50 animals. Funding has come from the N.C. Veterinary Medical Association, the American Kennel Club, N.C. Farm Bureau, the Humane Society of the United States, Schering-Plough and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“CAMETS are a valuable emergency management resource to our state and region because they enable communities to assist with sheltering animals in their counties,” Jeffer says. “People love their pets, and they are more likely to evacuate when they can take their animals with them.”

Another way the Emergency Programs Division is enhancing the state’s response capability is through training the N.C. Veterinary Response Corps. These volunteer veterinarians and animal health professionals have been trained in the Incident Command System, sheltering and biosecurity protocols, emergency management concepts and operations and foreign animal disease response. In addition, they have taken part in CAMET demonstrations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is funding future CAMET trainings. Training dates and locations will be posted on the division’s Web site.

“The CAMETs and Veterinary Response Corps are only two pieces of the puzzle when it comes to EP’s disaster preparedness and planning,” Stewart says. “We will continue to work with other state and local agencies as partners to ensure our state is the best prepared in the country.”