Disaster drill shows preparation pays

Sep 28, 2009

A WSPA veterinary emergency response unit simulates the safe removal of cattle from a site of volcanic activity in Costa Rica

On Saturday, a simulated disaster relief operation in Costa Rica tested years of preparation between WSPA and local agencies. The operation gauged the agencies’ and community’s ability and readiness to care for animals if the Turrialba volcano were to erupt.

With immense natural resources comes the intrinsic risk of natural disasters, and Costa Rica has had to deal with several different kinds of emergencies in the recent past, threatening both people and animals.

So risk reduction work – planning ahead to mitigate the impacts of any natural disaster – is especially critical in here, where the rural economy relies on cattle and other animals.

Drill tests animal protection

The cattle taking part in the volcano simulation are dewormed after they have had their eyes and noses cleaned thoroughly

On Saturday September 26, all the local agencies that would normally be involved in disaster relief operations – the Red Cross, Servicio Nacional de Salud Animal (SENASA, the government agency responsible for the welfare of animals), the police and civil defense – were joined by a WSPA team and a veterinary emergency response unit (VERU) in the drill.

While the risk reduction message has been spreading for some time, this is the first truly large-scale disaster simulation to be held in Costa Rica, involving over 5,000 cattle.

Dr Francisco Ureña, Director of Operations for SENASA, said of the exercise: “Although we cannot predict emergencies with any accuracy, we can mitigate risks, and we are here today to train and learn and practice together with WSPA so that the least number of errors are committed in actual emergencies.”

Step by step simulation

Each element of a disaster relief operation was simulated with the local community, including:

  • setting up and managing a command center
  • transforming a dairy farm into an animal shelter
  • administering emergency relief to combat immediate effects of volcanic ash fall on animals
  • evacuating animals and people from a collapsed farm and bringing them to safety.

As well as draft and working animals, which provide income, companion animals like dogs and cats are also important to the people of Cartago Province.

SENASA, the VERU and volunteers from WSPA member societies took advantage of the veterinary clinics that had been set up as part of the simulation, and mobilized local people to bring in their companion animals to be treated for parasites and minor infections and vaccinated against rabies. Over 1,000 dogs and many cats were treated.

Planning pays off

Local police cordon off the area as a joint team of Red Cross and WSPA staff simulate a rescue operation for people and animals trapped in a collapsed structure

Gerardo Huertas, WSPA Director of Disaster Operations for the Americas said, “The simulation exercise validates the assumptions made during our risk assessment. Now each agency, and indeed each participant, is faced with a clear picture of their own strengths and weaknesses. This will strengthen our combined ability to respond to a disaster and minimize the risk to animals and the communities that need them.”

And with over 200 participants in the day’s events, it was clear how deeply embedded WSPA’s core animal welfare message is in the local community. The day ended with a cultural program staged by the people of Santa Cruz,  demonstrating the success of WSPA’s community education program.

The rich local talent effortlessly integrated animal welfare messages into traditional folklore, with theatre, dance and music all reiterating that animals matter to this vibrant community.

It won’t always be a test. Your support means WSPA can protect and save animals – and the communities that rely on them – when they are in greatest need. Please donate today >>

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