Emergency Planning is Critical for Veterinary Hospitals

April 5, 2020

Emergency Planning is Critical for Veterinary Hospitals, Too

“Quick, there’s a fire. Call 911!”

The very thought of a disaster within your veterinary hospital must bring shivers to your spine. Those who have experienced it wish they never had and those who prepared for it are grateful they did!

The Institute for Business and Home Safety estimates that 25 percent of companies are unable to reopen after a major disaster. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes, then a business considers the importance of disaster planning and emergency preparedness.

Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) requires small businesses to create a fire prevention and emergency response plan. This includes veterinary hospitals! Phil Seibert, CVT (SafetyVet) advises, “When it comes to preparing for emergencies, the best advice is to leave all rescue duties to the professionals and establish a triage and treatment area for the animals once they are evacuated.”

We can envision natural disasters as emergencies. But what about other circumstances that disrupt the veterinary hospital? Consider the uncooperative client or robbery at gun point (which has occurred!). Do you have protocols in place to assist your team in those cases?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can help you determine historical disasters within your state. Identify and create a list that is relevant to your veterinary hospital.

Once you have an idea of what may occur, how will you deal with it? Creating an Emergency Action Plan can be a big endeavor yet required and in the best interest of your team, patients, clients and business.

Ideas to consider:

  • Identify a “Disaster Coordinator” or establish a Disaster Team for larger veterinary facilities.
  • Inform all employees of Emergency Guidelines, expectations and possible scenarios.
  • Consider a “Lunch and Learn” where a fireman or police officer discusses emergency evacuations and safety.
  • Design drills around a variety of scenarios.

It does happen

Nadja Torling, a veterinary professional in the Denver area, was working at a boarding kennel when a fire broke out in the kitchen and laundry area. She was the first to arrive when she smelled a hint of smoke. As she entered the kitchen area she was horrified to find it filled with smoke. At that moment, a second employee came in and Nadja yelled to her co-worker, “call 911!”

During previous training sessions, the employees were concerned if they could leave the building without saving the animals. It is the policy of the boarding facility to evacuate the people first and allow the trained fire fighters to do their job.

As the day unfolded, it was apparent their emergency training had paid off.  Everyone let the professionals fight the fire and evacuate the dogs, the way they had trained in their drills.

Torling says, “It is important to continuously review protocols to keep them current and have drills where you physically have to go through the motions. If you’ve done it in training, it’s a lot easier to know what to do when there’s an actual emergency.”

The best advice; allow the professionals to take care of the evacuation of animals. Team safety is PRIORITY!

Design a Drill

Think about real situations that might occur. Assign the role of Disaster Coordinator to a team member and put that person in charge of designing and executing the drill.  Being the Coordinator will take extra time so plan for that in the person’s daily schedule and update duties in their job description.

Designing a drill can be as simple as turning out the lights for an hour and emulating a power outage to staging something major and having people act out parts.

Once the drill is identified, first hold a team meeting to inform all employees of emergency guidelines, expectations and possible scenarios. Then verbally walk them through an emergency situation.

Finally, physically execute the drill at a prearranged time.  Make sure the day has been assigned in order to have a lighter appointment schedule.  Then hang a sign on the door stating your team is in training, inform local emergency agencies if they will be included, turn over the phones to a message service, and allow for debriefing of the drill. Give yourself at least 2-3 hours for the mock disaster to unfold.

For example, consider the following during a “fire” drill:

  1. Who will call 911 (is there an established relationship with local fire departments and police)?
  2. Is there a map of the facility with locations of fire extinguishers, exit routes and emergency gathering places?
  3. Is there a list of all employees, patients and client contacts for the day (difficult if no electricity or on a standard computer or cloud-based)?
  4. Is there access to enough leashes and carriers for all animals on-site?
  5. Where will a triage treatment area for evacuated animals be set up? Can supplies be easily accessed?
  6. Have you identified a prearranged, temporary facility (for example, establish relationships with nearby veterinary hospitals or boarding facilities)?
  7. How will medical records be preserved or accessed?

Stuffed animals may be used in the drill to facilitate evacuation and triage “realness.” Use your imagination, consider as many glitches that may occur and toss the scenario out to your team.

Difficult Conversations

The most difficult conversation your team may have is around the topic of an immediate evacuation with an anesthetized surgical patient on the table. Who will make the medical decision? How will your team feel about walking away? This is a tough concept, full of frustration and uncertainty, although it must be understood, TEAM SAFETY is PRIORITY. Understanding the liability risks and having a reality check ahead of time will help.

Planning for an immediate disaster evacuation may seem overwhelming and daunting. However, don’t let this stop you from doing it! There are resources to assist you. Click here to download a modifiable checklist that you can use as a guide to look at the project in bitesize, manageable pieces.

Your local, state and national veterinary professional associations may be great resources for you as well. Networking with professional organizations may be crucial to emergency planning and disaster recovery.

Veterinary teams are encouraged to step up, speak with management and create a Disaster Plan to include written documentation and periodic training drills. The safety of the team, clients, patients and business depend upon it!

Yours in Emergency Preparedness,

Rebecca Rose, CVT


I Survived a Kennel Fire.

Tips for Veterinary Hospital Disaster Planning,

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