MSD Manual

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Professional Version

Disaster and Emergency Response Planning in Shelter Medicine


Martha Smith-Blackmore

, DVM, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University

Reviewed/Revised Oct 2021 | Modified Nov 2022

Veterinarians can assist in mitigation planning for a natural or human-caused emergency or disaster that could impact the animal shelter. In addition, the shelter mission or mandate may require planning to assist the community or surrounding communities.

The first rule of rescue is “rescue yourself.” Know what type of disasters could affect your area, which could call for an evacuation and when to shelter in place. Animal shelters should develop a clear plan for protecting and evacuating animals housed at the shelter, as well as the people working there. Disaster planning requires protocols, inventories, and procurement of needed supplies, and the development of memoranda of understanding with other agencies and organizations.

The Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act passed in 2006 requires that state and local emergency preparedness authorities include how they will accommodate households with pets or service animals in disaster planning to qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding. Most regions have emergency managers and an interagency community emergency-operations planning team to identify risk, hazards, and needs in case of disaster; shelters can assist with developing the community animal response. Community planning for animals in disasters should include considerations for household pets, service animals, and both noncommercial and commercial production animals.

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