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Disaster Response (DRD)

 OESR Disaster Response Division main graphic on section page

The OERS DRD responds to disasters or emergencies in a wide variety of circumstances or environments. Whether it is a pod of stranded dolphins on a secluded beach or animals caught in tornadoes , hurricanes or other weather catastrophes, OERS is equally prepared to respond.  No matter what the species (pets, wildlife, live stock) nor the scale of the operation (local, regional or national) OERS DRD is willing to help. As well, the OERS DRD can act in a supportive role, lending our expertise, volunteers, equipment,  and supplies to any on site emergency and assist public authorities in whatever manner is required.



New Developments
OERS-DRD now has Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue (TLAER) training

 tlaer article picture image On July 5-7th OERS Disaster Response Division (DRD) team members participated in a 3 day Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue (TLAER) course offered by the world authorities in this field, Tomas and Rebecca Gimenez, who literally wrote the book on this subject. They have trained rescuers around the world and it was both an honor and a privilege for OERS-DRD to be a part of their first course in Canada. It was held at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown PEI with 40 participants, some of whom had travelled from as far away as British Columbia and New Zealand. In addition to OERS-DRD, there was representation from fire rescue, first responders, horse handlers from racetracks, veterinarians and local veterinary students.

Read more on this recent OERS activity.



OERS-DRD: Quebec deployment - September 2011

 quebec deployment article picture image, september 2011  quebec deployment article picture image, september 2011  quebec deployment article picture image, september 2011

One of our OERS-Disaster Response Division (OERS-DRD) teams recently returned from assisting the government of Quebec (MAPAQ) and Humane Society International Canada with the removal of over 500 dogs from a “large commercial breeding facility” in rural Quebec and ensuring they arrived safely at their temporary shelter. The animals ranged from small Yorkshire terriers to full grown Great Danes and Mastiffs. The team’s expertise in animal rescue following disasters was requested to assist authorities in the safe evacuation and transport of the dogs from this facility. OERS deployed a team with animal handling and sheltering experience consisting of Dr Carin Wittnich (OERS lead veterinarian), Erica Longman, Luke Tan (Team leader) and Deb Chute. The team assisted with cage setup at the temporary shelter location throughout the first day of their arrival. Then the following day they deployed to the breeding facility to help with the animal extraction. The team worked through the evening and well into the night (0300 am). With only a few hours rest, they returned to continue their dedicated and hard work throughout the following day, ensuring that every last animal was safely loaded on the climate controlled final transport unit.During the OERS-DRD team’s work, Dr Wittnich also provided triage for a number of the animals. The team then followed the transport unit on its’ journey, helping ensure the safety of this precious cargo. Upon arrival at the temporary shelter, they also assisted with the unloading of the animals, helping to get them settled in. The following day the team worked with shelter personnel to ensure optimal housing arrangements, medical care and general husbandry for all the animals including special care for the female dogs with pups. It was obvious that even by the second day the animals were more relaxed and looked forward to their walks and any human contact they could score. OERS was pleased to have been able to contribute its expertise in disaster animal rescue to assist with this effort.

The team worked as a unit as they went from task to task, impressing everyone with their professionalism, dedication and hard work. It was gruelling demanding work but extremely satisfying, as everyone had a chance to utilize skills acquired from both previous deployments and during ongoing training done as a member of OERS-DRD. This also allowed OERS to showcase to other organizations the vast array of skill sets within the organization. Additionally, the ability of OERS-DRD teams to work as a unit within incident command and co-operate with a diversity of other organizations from government to other NGOs was evident. The legal nature of this event currently prevents us from providing further details, but stay tuned- as more personal accounts will be forthcoming when such information can be released.

 quebec deployment article picture image, september 2011  quebec deployment article picture image, september 2011  quebec deployment article picture image, september 2011



OERS-DRD now trained in Light Urban Search & Rescue (LUSAR)

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From the 26-29th of august, 2011 OERS- Disaster Response Division (OERS-DRD) was in Vancouver BC to obtain full Light Urban Search and Rescue (LUSAR) training. The training was given by a well recognized professional organization made up of individuals with years of experience in fire-rescue in disasters. This was the largest training deployment in the history of OERS. OERS-DRD was exposed to all the breadth and depth of skills and knowledge required to conduct safe search and rescue in risky situations. Though the training was for human search and rescue, the techniques are equally valuable for OERS’s animal work. The knowledge gained continues to develop DRD expertise in disaster response – making us more prepared to assist anyone requiring help. This professional level of training also ensures OERS-DRD is able to work side-by-side with other first responders and professionals such as fire, police and armed forces.  image from article on Light Urban Search and Rescue (LUSAR


The training was filled with a combination of learning styles including classroom, discussions, hands on techniques and mock field exercises. The team learned safe entry and search techniques for damaged buildings, proper recording and identification of victims. Then the team learned the rescue techniques used for their stabilization and safe extraction from the building. Many hours were spent in the mock wreckage of a large building containing numerous human ‘victims’ that the team had to find, assess, stabilize and extract safely. This, all the while, conditions were constantly altered with unexpected setbacks and challenges. The team spent many hours crawling through wreckage in the dark with only flashlights and their wits. Despite the heat and uncomfortable conditions, safety gear which included filter masks, safety goggles and hardhats kept them safe while they put their newfound skills to the test.There is no doubt that OERS-DRD is far more skilled now with LUSAR training under its belt. OERS continues to be ready to assist as needed, working within the ICS system, any organization requiring their expertise.


 image from article on Light Urban Search and Rescue (LUSAR  image from article on Light Urban Search and Rescue (LUSAR



OERS-DRD learns Large Animal Rescue from world expert

In April 2011, OERS- Disaster Response Division (OERS-DRD) was enormously fortunate to learn from the best person in Canada on the subject of Large Animal Rescue. Jennifer Woods through her company J Woods Livestock Services provides her expertise to train primary responders including police, fire and organizations such as various SPCA and livestock handlers both within Canada and around the world. This training session, done exclusively for OERS, was focused on issues related specifically to large animal rescue after catastrophes such as truck rollovers or scenarios related to livestock transport. The knowledge from this course helped to develop DRD member’s expertise in this unique situation and further expand our disaster response readiness and contributes to the ability of OERS-DRD to work side-by-side with professionals who are normally involved in these situations. In addition, this knowledge is equally of value for handling of large animals caught in disasters where this type of rescue may be needed.

Discussions, supplemented with video helped to cover many scenarios on how best to handle these large animals for the safety of all concerned. The team learned the basic principles related to various species and their extraction from wreckage and safe transfer to other transport units. The use of simple roping techniques, equipment like portable fencing and gates as well as basic knowledge of the differing species behaviours when stressed combine in optimizing success of any rescue initiative. OERS-DRD learned a lot from Jennifer but most of all it re-emphasized that thorough pre-planning, proper tools and a methodical unrushedapproach are key to mounting a successful rescue. This exclusive and unique opportunity to learn from the best was very much appreciated by all and OERS-DRD has once again added to its arsenal to help animals during disasters and other emergencies.

image from article OERS-DRD learns Large Animal Rescue from world expertimage from article OERS-DRD learns Large Animal Rescue from world expert image from article OERS-DRD learns Large Animal Rescue from world expert




OERS-DRD learns Large Animal Rescue from world expertOERS-DRD called to action in Florida!

OERS-DRD team members assisting with manatee rescue in culvert at Crystal River FloridaOn December 12, 2008, while working on a research project with USGS under Robert Bonde, studying the health of Florida manatee in the wild, OERS Director Nesime Askin and OERS Volunteer Co-Ordinator Luke Tan were called upon to assist in the rescue of 3 stranded Florida manatee. They assisted the Florida Fish & Wildlife, United States Geographical Society, Crystal River and Chassahowitzka Wildlife Refuges, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, University of Florida and the Volusia County Marine Mammal Stranding team who collaborated together to save the three stranded Florida manatee that became trapped in a small stream near the Crystal River after a storm and flooding the night before.

At approximately 2pm that afternoon a call came in that a passerby had seen the trapped manatee in the culvert and that there was no way out for them, the water had receded preventing them from returning to the river. It was cold and without the hot springs to warm them it was only a matter of time before they weakened and their survival would be in doubt.  This rescue was fraught with difficulty, the stream was small, one end boarded up to prevent any water from spewing out of it into the culvert that ran under the road about 20 feet away. The plan was to guide the manatee down to the side of the stream closest to the road where it was feasible for them to be netted and hauled up onto a muddy embankment to conduct quick medical assessments and then hauled to a transport trailer for the quick journey to the hot springs at Crystal River and their release. First the water in the culvert was a bit high and needed to be drained so that the manatee would be easily accessible for the rescuers. Always ready to help, OERS-DRD members were asked to jump into the waist-high waters in the culvert and help create a human chain across the culvert and herd the manatee toward the area for the eventual capture, preventing them from going further up the culvert in the wrong direction. Two males and a young manatee were rescued, which somewhat surprised everyone, expecting that the mother would have stayed with its’ young. In case the female had been missed the entire culvert was rechecked but nothing was found, perhaps because the youngster was old enough to be considered independent.  The entire rescue was long, cold but successful and it was great to know OERS-DRD’s help was appreciated. The locals were cheering everyone on and provided not only moral support but hot chocolate and a welcome ride back to the warmth of the hotel at the end of the rescue! They were quite taken that a group from Canada was there to assist and the event was covered by the local newspaper, the Citrus County Chronicle! The article can be found at:
http://www.chronicleonline.com/cgi-bin/c2.cgi?071+article+News+20081212214045071307

The final chapter of this OERS-DRD deployment was when the second OERS research team attended the health studies there one month later and were told by the lead scientist that the young manatee rescued had been seen swimming with its’ mother and was doing well.



Montreal Puppy Mills – September 2008

OERS-DRD first team with HSUS and CSPCANo matter where, no matter what species, OERS is always ready to assist animals in distress or assist any group who might call us. Which is why OERS-DRD accepted the call when it came to assist the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (CSPCA) in the closure of two large puppy mill operations just north of Montreal. This event took place over several days with the first rescue on September 29th and the second rescue operation on October 1st, 2008. These operations required the full co-operation between the HSI (Humane Society International-the HSUS’s international arm), the CSPCA, United Animal Nations (UAN) and OERS-DRD.

The CSPCA called the two rescues, happening within 6 days, as being “unprecedented” and that Quebec is referred to as the puppy mill capital of North America. A total of 268 animals were rescued including dogs, cats, and a rabbit. Many of these animals were living in horrendous conditions and suffered from neglect and malnutrition. A large number of these animals are now in the custody of the CSPCA or the HSUS and are being cared for before finding new homes.

OERS Vet discussing operations with HSUSOERS responded by sending our emergency vehicle loaded with supplies, 2 rescue teams consisting of veterinarians and technicians and having a third team on standby to assist if required. Always professional and always team players, our OERS-DRD teams worked long hard hours performing veterinary care, medical treatment and looking after the daily welfare of these unfortunate ones. As there were a large number of puppies involved, warm laps and cuddling hands were in high demand! Although it was in very tragic circumstances, OERS-DRD was extremely pleased to work again with our ‘old friends’ from the HSUS/HSI (the last time during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita) and establishing new relationships with the CSPCA and UAN. OERS continues to strive for and will always work towards stronger provincial, national and international efforts between all professional groups to assist in the welfare and care of animals during any kind of crisis.

OERS-DRD cleaning a very matted dogOERS would like to acknowledge our DRD team members: Michael Belanger, Dr Carin Wittnich, Dr Eric Foote, Nesime Askin, and Steve Soric for all their dedication and hard work and a BIG Thank You to Dr Mary DeCaire and Crista Finch for being ready to deploy should they have been needed. The professionalism and dedication of all of our OERS volunteers, from those who go out in the field, to those who coordinate rescue efforts at home, to those who stand by for a call, will truly be appreciated by those who can only communicate their thanks with a wagging tail, a peaceful purr or a wet tongue.



Disaster Experience

OERS believes that responding to animals in crisis is essential for the welfare and protection of the public, to reduce unnecessary pain and suffering to the animals, and to alleviate the psychological stress in the owners. As well, the OERS DRD can play a leadership role in quickly arriving on site and establishing a sense of organization and relief for all involved.

Practical Experience

So far the OERS DRD has performed numerous local animal rescue operations regardless of the size or number of the animals. Numerous animals have been rescued from a variety of circumstances including several wild ducks, seagulls and geese and even Kermit the weary Tree frog who had traveled from Florida in tropical plants!. 

On a larger scale, the OERS DRD sent a rescue team at the request of the United States Humane Society to help with their rescue efforts during Hurricane Katrina. Up to 150 animals per day arrived for treatment or care and ranged from cats, dogs, chickens, ducks, pigs, horses, donkeys. One lucky dog, Hurricane, a yellow Labrador mix was rescued and has found a new life as the official OERS embassador.

OERS holds wildlife permits from both the Federal and Provincial authorities to treat and rehabilitate migratory bird species, local bird and mammals species. Dr Carin Wittnich, an OERS Director, is also with the Canadian Veterinary Reserve and trained as a Canadian Food Inspection Agency veterinarian to respond to any animal infectious disease emergency. Both Dr Wittnich and Mike Belanger are registered with the HSUS N-DART program for disaster response.

OERS holds wildlife permits from both the Federal and Provincial authorities to treat and rehabilitate migratory bird species, local bird and mammals species. Dr Carin Wittnich, an OERS Director, is also with the Canadian Veterinary Reserve and trained as a Canadian Food Inspection Agency veterinarian to respond to any animal infectious disease emergency. Both Dr Wittnich and Mike Belanger are registered with the HSUS N-DART program for disaster response.

Response Exercises

In addition, OERS is committed to continuously improving and expanding its preparedness and coordination of disaster planning. To that end OERS-DRD team members have attended a number of exercises. Key ones are highlighted below.

In 2006, OERS was invited to send observers during a simulated disaster response exercise organized by the Inter-professional Disaster and Emergency Preparedness Action Studies or IDEAS. IDEAS held a 2 day conference on human related emergency and disaster response and planning in Toronto, Canada. The OERS group watched this exercise and although not animal related, many ideas and problems were considered for incorporation into the OERS protocols for animal disaster management.

Recently OERS was invited by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to participate in the ‘Exercise CADUCEUS  MAJOR Official Observer Program’ in November 22-24, 2007. This exercise in disaster response capabilities by the NOHERT teams was one of the most ambitious and possibly largest ever in Canada. OERS-DRD group was able to see first hand how important the co-ordination of all aspects of mounting such an impressive response was and began discussions on how an animal component could fit.

Together with this exercise was the annual HUSAR exercise by Public Safety Canada named COHESIVE RESPONSE. This featured the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue units from across Canada. OERS –DRD team observers were there to witness a different aspect of disaster responses – that of collapsed building victim retrieval and care. This aspect is another critical component to what OERS-DRD can be involved with and what was learned there will prove  extremely useful. The OERS-DRD observer team made new contacts and was able to communicate the importance of an animal response consideration to such an effort in future.  

All of these both practical and exercise  efforts have proven invaluable in allowing the DRD staff and OERS volunteers to gain the knowledge and handling skills to rescue and treat the various animal species.



OERS Invited To Attend Canada’s Largest Real Time Disaster Exercise

 image from article OERS Invited To Attend Canada’s Largest Real Time Disaster Exercise The Oceanographic Environmental Research Society (OERS) was invited  by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and the Canadian Veterinary Reserve to send 2 observers to Canada’s largest real time disaster exercise that was held on the site of the soon to be demolished Constellation Hotel near the Pearson Airport in Toronto. OERS Directors Mike Belanger and Dr Carin Wittnich reported to the site on November 23, 2007 to observe the combined exercises of EXERCISE CADUCEUS MAJOR and COHESIVE RESPONSE which was organized by the National Office of Health Emergency Response Teams (NOHERT), Ontario’s Emergency Medical Assistance Team (EMAT) and Public Safety Canada’s Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) Program. The HUSAR component of the exercise named COHESIVE RESPONSE which was organized to “demonstrate a continued ability to deploy and sustain operations using a unified command system” involved the 5 HUSAR teams from across Canada- Vancouver, Calgary, the Province of Manitoba, Toronto and Halifax. This also included a team of Search & Rescue dogs which were a part of the HUSAR team.

CADUCEUS MAJOR was scheduled from November 22-24, 2007 in order to “test the ability of the Team to deploy and treat simulated patients with a range of injuries and ailments over a 24 hour period.” The exercise scenario was described as occurring “in a fictitious community of Constellation Ontario-described as the financial centre of Canada. An explosion has occurred in a busy office complex linked by a pedestrian walkway- it will not be known if the explosion is a terrorist attack or accident. It will quickly become apparent that outside assistance will be needed to support intense efforts to stabilize damaged buildings, rescue trapped victims and provide immediate medical aid.” The exercise was one of the largest ever held in Canada with close to 1,000 personnel including responders, “victims” and evaluators who worked 24 hours a day for 72 hours straight.

The Constellation Hotel site was chosen as it will soon be demolished and therefore represented the ideal opportunity to have a site that could be staged as a mock disaster area. This included thick concrete walls, a large multi-leveled underground parking lot filled with dangling wires and concrete debris, simulated pockets of living and non-living victims and a large marshaling area for response equipment, personnel housing and medical facilities. Plus the weather conditions being cold and damp were a confounding factor which only added to the realism of the exercise and to the stress of the responders.

 image from article OERS Invited To Attend Canada’s Largest Real Time Disaster Exercise Both Carin and Mike were greeted warmly and openly by the exercise organizers and treated as VIP’s. After being welcomed by Donovan Arnaud (NOHERT), the exercise briefing described what was in store for them. The observers would be able to watch the exercise as it was taking place and would be on hand to witness actual search & rescue operations. This included- watching the slow meticulous work of the rescue personnel as they worked inside cramped and dirty areas to stabilize cracked concrete pillars using shoring braces that were cut to fit on site. Seeing how the teams, looking for survivors or victims,  worked their way through a layer of cars that had fallen on top of each other creating a stack of steel pancakes. Hearing the dogs working in a dizzying maze composed of mounds of rubble, steel, concrete, and wiring. Seeing the victims being pulled out of confined restrictive pockets composed of concrete slabs and being rushed off to the medical facilities where triage was performed and treatment commenced. Talking to the emergency personnel who had only slept 3 hours in the past 36 hours and weren’t expecting to get much more until the exercise ended. The atmosphere of the disaster site was credible and the professionalism of all involved was superb and beyond reproach.

As observers, Mike & Carin experienced first hand the vast range of organizational skills required to orchestrate the vast number of people and huge mountain of equipment necessary to undertake such an exercise. This knowledge will be used to implement and maintain the effective concept of emergency management and response within the OERS Disaster Response Division. It will also be used to help establish other new initiatives such as ODARN which brings together other stakeholders who will come together to play key roles in responding to disasters which will help to save the lives of pets and animals, lessen their pain, and reduce the risk to public health.

OERS would like to thank everyone at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the National Office of Health Emergency Response Teams (NOHERT), Ontario’s Emergency Medical Assistance Team (EMAT) and the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) for inviting Mike & Carin to their exercise thereby sharing their vast knowledge and broad range of experience.



Policy Setting


OERS has taken a leadership role in helping various government agencies and professional groups in setting standards, policies, and organization for Canadian animal disaster response. See the following examples.


National:

Canadian Veterinary Reserve: The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) organized a Civil Emergencies Sub-Committee of the Canadian Veterinary Reserve or CVR to advise and make recommendations on the formation of the Canadian Veterinary Reserve (CVR) which will respond to nationally declared civil emergencies in Canada. Two OERS directors have been asked to participate on this committee. Dr Carin Wittnich on account of her experience and leadership role during Hurricane Katrina has been chosen to chair this committee and Michael Belanger as representative of the Canadian Non- Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Michael was also on the Task Force that created guidelines to harmonize the three principle participants (Veterinarians, Animal Health Technicians and NGOs).

PHAC – CEPR: The working group on Animals and Emergency Management Training is under the Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response (CEPR) within the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). Dr Wittnich serves on this committee representing the CVR national initiative while Michael Belanger was asked to join representing OERS- DRD. This group is made up of representatives from across the country who deal with emergency preparedness and its’ mission is to provide guidance and advice to the CEPR for their training modules and how best to ensure best practice for the animal component. OERS is proud of its work to assist in this endeavor.


Provincial:

CEMC - Ontario: Mike Belanger has been meeting with various government  emergency planners in Ontario to inform them on animal issues and OERS-DRD and other initiatives to promote an awareness and develop support for an integrated response (see ODARN).

ODARN: OERS-DRD has created the Ontario Disaster Animal Response Network (ODARN) made up of key stakeholders in the animal care and emergency response fields. The mandate of ODARN is to develop a coordinated plan and deployment of trained teams to assist emergency responders in Ontario to handle the animal component of a provincially declared disaster. Mike Belanger has been meeting with various levels of municipal emergency planners across Ontario. Follow ODARN  link for details on this key initiative.


OERS participates in major Animals in Disaster meeting!

Wittnich, last on right side, serves on panel of expertsIn June 2008, anyone that is serious about disaster response for animals was at the national conference on animals in disasters in Sacramento, California. Our very own Dr Carin Wittnich and Mike Belanger were invited speaDrs Kellogg (HSUS), Wittnich (OERS) and Lloyd (HSUS)kers and panelists, sharing the podium with U.S. leaders in the field of disaster animal medicine and response co-ordination. The speaker list was a ‘who’s who’ in this field and OERS was proud to be recognized among such leaders and thrilled to participate and share its experience and expertise. In addition, there was a one day advanced first aid for first responders training session where Dr Wittnich served as a subject matter expert, practicum instructor advisor and provided input on their training material.



OERS Establishes Its First Atlantic Canada Facility

image from article OERS Establishes Its First  Atlantic Canada FacilityThe entire OERS Family is extremely excited with the establishment  its first training facility and field research station located near Digby, Nova Scotia. The facility is located on waterfront property near the opening of St Mary’s Bay (just off of the Bay of Fundy) in the community of Comeauville. A multi year lease assures OERS of being able to set up this facility for long term use and allows OERS to significantly contribute to that region’s potential disaster preparedness from both a marine and terrestrial animal perspective. This station will also be used for field courses, emergency response training, and environmental research within the local ecology.

image from article OERS Establishes Its First  Atlantic Canada FacilityThe property is slightly over 2 acres with 3 buildings on the site and 175 feet of waterfront with a rocky beach which makes it ideal for boat access and for training purposes. The largest of the 3 buildings will be transformed into a research center which will consist of lecture/teaching rooms, an open concept laboratory, a necropsy section with 2 large walk-in freezers and dormitory facilities for students. The other 2 buildings can be used as a research center or further living accommodations.

OERS will be developing and using this site for its activities within the Atlantic region, holding courses and running training exercises. Stay tuned for more news as these plans unfold.


Emergency Management Ontario invites OERS to annual conference

OERS disaster response division members Steve Soric and Carin Wittnich were invited to attend a 3 day conference on ‘The Future of Emergency Management in Ontario,’ hosted by the Government of Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. Dr Wittnich was also an invited speaker to address animals in disasters. The purpose of the conference, held at the Ontario Police College in the city of Aylmer from December 10 - 12, 2007, was to bring together experts and stakeholders in the field of emergency management in order to foster cooperation, enhance coordination, and disseminate knowledge, skills, and information to further advance emergency management in Ontario.  Distinguished speakers presented topics ranging from emergency prevention through to recovery strategies following emergencies.   Field exercises carried out by Emergency Management Ontario, the Office of the Fire Marshal, the Ontario Provincial Police, and the Provincial Chemical, Biological, Radiological & Nuclear Response teams provided first hand opportunities to observe emergency response resources and equipment being used in simulated incidents.

Carin had the privilege of sharing her expertise on animal welfare during emergencies during a workshop session held on the final day of the conference.   Facilitating the workshop, which was titled ‘Accommodating Diversity:  Practical Steps and Strategic Approaches in Emergency Management Planning for Vulnerable Populations,’ was Mr. Dan Hefkey, Chief, Emergency Management Ontario.  Carin spoke about the special needs and requirements for individuals with service animals during emergencies, and how existing emergency response structures must expand and include provisions to take care of service animals and pets during emergencies. Her presentation was well received and emergency managers from across Ontario were positive to hear about OERS-DRD and its’ initiative in Ontario (ODARN).

Overall the conference was very informative and instructional.  OERS is thankful for being given the opportunity to present at the conference and to listen to the many presentations by the other expert speakers.  The knowledge gained over the 3 days will further help OERS strengthen emergency animal preparedness in Ontario.


Further News About the Ontario Disaster Animal Response Network (ODARN)-Second Working Group Meeting!

            OERS hosted the second ODARN working group on October 19th which furthered the work started at the first meeting. In attendance were the following stakeholder groups: OERS, the Ontario Society for the Prevention Of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA), the College of Veterinarians of Ontario (CVO), the Association of Animal Shelter Administrators of Ontario (AASAO), the Ontario Veterinarian Medical Association (OVMA) and the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). There were other participants invited such as the municipal emergency planners who sent their regrets but did email their enthusiasm for this initiative and their comments.
            This meeting had a very different flavor from the first meeting. No longer was this a ‘fact-finding’ session for those in attendance. It was clear that based on the fact that representatives from these stakeholder groups were in attendance that there was a lot of enthusiasm for this key initiative. Michael Belanger, President of OERS outlined the general structure whereby ODARN will be housed under OERS (Disaster Response Division) and each of the stakeholders described their potential role of support. This very productive discussion ended with an agreement that in its formative stages this initiative was well represented by the current stakeholders. In future, once the structure of operations has been clarified, other valuable contributors could be brought on line. Future meetings are planned to solidify how best to bring this concept to fruition. The next meeting to be held sometime in December.


OERS Takes a Leading Role in Organizing the First Working Group Meeting of the Ontario Disaster Animal Response Network (ODARN)!!!

image from article OERS Takes a Leading Role in Organizing the First Working Group Meeting of the Ontario Disaster Animal Response Network (ODARN)OERS organized and hosted the first working group of ODARN on the campus of the University of Toronto on August 9th, 2007. ODARN is a new initiative that will bring together groups from across Ontario who would be responding to the needs of animals (pets, livestock, wildlife) during or following disasters or emergencies. With the lessons learned from its rescue mission to Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina, OERS wanted to prevent the same mistakes from being made here in Ontario. The plan is to train and equip teams of volunteers consisting of veterinarians, animal health technicians and other groups such as OERS, OSPCA, Humane Societies, etc. that will be available to assist animal owners whenever aimage from article OERS Takes a Leading Role in Organizing the First Working Group Meeting of the Ontario Disaster Animal Response Network (ODARN) disaster strikes anywhere in Ontario. Following welcoming remarks and a presentation by Mike Belanger (OERS President), the group discussed such topics as the need for ODARN, the present state of preparedness for animal rescue/response, integration of a province wide plan, legal ramifications for ODARN volunteers and funding for such an initiative. Generally, it was accepted that the concept of ODARN was necessary and that continued discussions would further expand the concept and the roles of all of the interested parties. The meeting was adjourned with the agreement that the working group would get together on October 19th to continue further discussions.



Dr. Wittnich discusses animal welfareAt the recent Caring During Crisis meeting in Guelph, Carin Wittnich (OERS Director and Chair of the Canadian Veterinary Reserves Civil Emergency Subcommittee) was asked to discuss “How is animal welfare addressed within Canada’s emergency response plan”. Using tragic photos from her experiences of treating and saving animals following Hurricane Katrina, Carin revealed that at this present moment Canada has no strategic guidelines or plans when it comes to mass evacuations of people including their pets or livestock.

Following her talk, a panel made up of Carin, Dr Brian Evans (Can Food Inspection Agency), Mr Randell Covey (Humane Society of the United States), and others was organized for further discussions. The audience members were in agreement with Carin that it was time to better organize evacuations including our pets, livestock and wildlife. There was frustration and anger at the fact that at the municipal or local levels, the public was being told that their pets would have to be left behind in the event of an evacuation!  Carin assured everyone that the present meeting and ongoing talks with the Canadian Veterinary Medical Associate was a positive start and the first of many steps in protecting animals during or following disasters. Randell Covey of the Humane Society of the United States, personally thanked Carin for her initiative and hard work in this area and assured those in attendance that she would organize efforts to save as many pets, livestock and wildlife as possible.

Dr. Brian Evans, Mr. Randell and Dr. Wittnich leading the panel discussion


Ontario Disaster Animal Response Network (ODARN) Is One Step Closer

image from article Ontario Disaster Animal Response Network (ODARN) Is One Step CloserThe third ODARN meeting was once again hosted by OERS-DRD on December 7th 2007. In attendance were the following stakeholder groups: OERS, the Ontario Society for the Prevention Of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA), the College of Veterinarians of Ontario (CVO), the Association of Animal Shelter Administrators of Ontario (AASAO), the Ontario Veterinarian Medical Association (OVMA) and the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). As well the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and Ontario Ministry of Agriculture sent representation in an expression of their interest in ODARN and to offer their comments or suggestions.
image from article Ontario Disaster Animal Response Network (ODARN) Is One Step Closer

Following some discussions to clarify some matters, this meeting concluded with the approved motion that the ODARN working group be dissolved and be replaced by an ODARN Executive Committee. This Committee would be comprised of the above mentioned stakeholders (OERS, OSPCA, AASAO, OVMA and OAVT) with the CVO taking part an advisory capacity only. The first meeting of the ODARN Executive Committee was to be decided upon.



Equipment & Facilities


The flexibility to respond to a wide variety of disasters involving any species of animals or to assist the authorities in any manner is a major strength of OERS. OERS has experienced professional people and highly trained volunteers who are backed up with modern, up-to-date equipment.

OERS Emergency Response Vehicle

OERS Emergency Response VehicleIn 2006, OERS procured a new GMC Savanna truck, with a unicell body in order to mount fully equipped emergency responses. This vehicle is deployable to anywhere in North America that OERS is called upon to provide support in response to animals caught in disasters.  This ranges from marine mammal strandings, oiled and other distressed wildlife, to pets and farm animals. The truck is outfitted with a large portable generator to provide power in remote areas or during power “blackouts”.

This mobile unit is equipped will transport caging, temporary fencing for various sized animals, medical supplies and equipment needed to render first aid including various sized stretchers to transport injured animals to the unit from remote areas. The stretchers can accommodate up to 800 pounds of weight.  Specific equipment to handle marine, wildlife or other species is also included such as personal protective gear, gloves, herding boards, capture netting and tranquilizer gun used to immobilize fractious animals. Supplies and equipment to perform necropsies and collect pathology specimens is also part of the equipment should this be necessary.

OERS Rehabiliation Centre

OERS Rehabilitation CentreThe new OERS rehabilitation/treatment facility opened in 2006. The facility is state-of-the-art with all the equipment needed not only for the immediate treatment of rescued animals but their surgical/medical management. This includes overhead and mobile surgical lights, stainless steel operating and examination tables, appropriate caging and housing including intensive care management for a variety of species, including aquatic wildlife.  

The centre is staffed by experienced volunteers and has a full time Veterinarian at their disposal.  It is temperature regulated, providing heated environment in the winter and  air conditioning in the heat of the summer. As well, this facility is capable of full operations off the grid, as it has a generator capable of supporting all the electrical requirements, and independent water and washing capabilities should power or other services be lost.

The hospital unit is supplemented with outdoor housing to accommodate wildlife who have recuperated enough to begin re-introduction to the ‘wild’.  This housing includes a pond and space to allow short flight capabilities for any waterfowl to tone their flight muscles in preparation for release. 

The rehabilitation centre also serves as the OERS Education Centre, the home base where OERS courses are run. It has built in LCD/computer technology and classroom capabilities for up to 20 trainees.



Disaster Training

An essential component in any disaster response is having properly trained teams and volunteers who would respond to various disasters in a quick, proper, AND safe manner. The safety of every OERS volunteer is paramount during any rescue operation. As such, ongoing training is essential to maintain both the proper physical and mental skills. The disaster training offered by OERS includes both lectures and simulations that cover important skills to successfully mount any and all emergency responses. These course cover a wide range of topics including basic animal health, animal physiology, basic and advanced human first aid, learning boating skills, and numerous others.


OERS Directors Cover Ethics of Animals in Disasters at Sheridan College Animal Health Care Program – November 2008

Following up on their previously well received lecture, OERS directors Mike Belanger and Carin Wittnich were invited back to Sheridan College (Davis campus in Brampton) in November 2008 to talk to the students in the animal care program. Michael spoke on the ethics of caring for animals during and after a disaster including the state of including animals in disaster plans both in Canada and specifically OERS’s initiatives in Ontario. He also covered the order of how things are handled as a disaster unfolds with the initial burden at the local and municipal level, only moving to provincial or federal if declared such at the local level. The issue of whether governments at all levels have adequately addressed the animal component of disaster response triggered animated discussions.  Carin, as lead Veterinarian for OERS-DRD then covered their deployment in response to Hurricane Katrina, where the team provided requested aid to HSUS, FEMA and the local public health authorities and what was learned from that deployment. She also covered some more recent OERS-DRD deployments both within Canada and the USA. The response from the students was enthusiastic with an exchange of ideas, comments and questions.

This was a follow up visit from a previous talk given by Mike & Carin at Sheridan in April 2008 that was so well received that Ms Wendy Higginson (Ethics Instructor) requested a return visit. OERS has already been invited back to talk to another group of Sheridan students at the end of March ‘09.


OERS-DRD Lead Veterinarian Dr Wittnich invited keynote dinner speaker Winnipeg CVR/CFIA training, November 21, 2007. 

Our Lead veterinarian, Dr Carin Wittnich, was invited by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) to be their keynote speaker at a dinner held for the latest CVR (Canadian Veterinary Reserve) reservists undergoing training to assist with foreign animal disease outbreaks. She shared her experiences with disaster responses when she and an OERS-DRD team deployed to provide Hurricane Katrina aid in 2005. 

Over 51 trainees sat and listened as she described the chaos and destruction in the Gulf Coast and the work done by her team. At the request of state and national government authorities the team’s deployment was extended an extra week in order to provide critically needed assistance to animals in the Gulfport area. She detailed the need for animal concerns to be addressed in any disaster. The veterinarians in attendance were enthusiastic in their appreciation for what OERS-DRD had accomplished.


OERS-DRD Presents to Sheridan College Students

Thanks to the efforts of Erica Longman, a dedicated OERS volunteer and ODARN member, Michael Belanger received a formal request to come and address the Sheridan College students pursuing Animal Care training, regarding animal disaster preparedness in Ontario and OERS-DRD efforts in that regard.

As this is clearly within OERS mandates, he was happy to accept and after some emails back and forth and some tricking schedule juggling on everyone’s part,  our President Mike Belanger and the OERS-DRD Lead Veterinarian, Dr Carin Wittnich, were off to Brampton, the home of Sheridan College to address their students about the exciting initiatives being mounted by OERS. 

Over 90 students sat and listened as Mike shared his view of ODARN while Carin spoke on her experiences leading the OERS-DRD relief team responding to Hurricane Katrina. While Carin had the ‘awww’ factor with the always emotionally stirring pictures of the many animals rescued, Mike had the tough but exciting job of describing what ODARN hopes to accomplish in Ontario, and why Ontario needs this level of response.

The students were engaged, asking very perceptive questions and at the end of the day, clearly were thrilled that such an initiative was finally being undertaken. Many expressed an interest in getting involved and their enthusiasm was great to see.

The program Director for this section at Sheridan asked OERS if we could come back again to address the next class, which of course we were happy to agree to.



Disaster Coordination and Response

Once OERS has received a request to respond to a disaster or rescue from a government agency or individual, OERS will mobilize its own DRD teams and volunteers as well as start coordination efforts with other NGO groups depending on the size of the disaster or deployment request.

In addition, in Ontario, OERS has spearheaded the formation of the Ontario Disaster Animal Response Network or ODARN, made up of key stakeholders who will provide a coordinated response in Ontario during a disaster.

The scope of the emergency and location dictates which level of response OERS will initiate.



Post Disaster Management


OERS also ensures that the care of wildlife or pets continues beyond the disaster site. OERS ensures that the smooth transition of care from its'  hands into those of other NGOs who will be caring for the victims following a disaster is done in an efficient and as stress free as possible manner. This involves coordinating local veterinary facilities for followup care or sheltering agencies for temporary or long term housing and care of displaced pets or wildlife. In the event that OERS is involved in the care or management of wildlife affected by any disaster, OERS will ensure that they are released in accordance with any regulatory laws or procedures governing these animals.



Pets, Livestock & YOU


Welcome to our public information site for the OERS-DRD. The purpose of this section is to try to provide you, the public, with practical tips on how you and your family can prepare for and respond to an emergency or disaster as it relates to your animals with an emphasis on Canada. It is by no means complete or meant to be anything other than a resource. Municipalities and regions across Canada may differ in their guidelines and policies on animals in disasters or emergencies and those would take precedent over these suggestions. The information contained within this section has been obtained by widely perusing websites in both Canada and the USA which included HSUS, SPCA, animal rescue and other disaster service groups. This information was then summarized based on what we felt made sense for Canada and would be the most likely to provide help. We would like to acknowledge their contributions to this summary and encourage anyone interested to explore their sites as well.

The information provided is all based on the concept that “you are on your own” and anything you can do for both yourself and your animals ahead, during and after a catastrophe will be wise. Current government information suggests self-sufficiency for at least 72 hours before any real help will arrive. That said, it is the belief of OERS that in a severe catastrophe, that time would be significantly extended (3-4 weeks) and therefore we have made recommendations to address that.

The information is broadly divided into a companion animal and a livestock section. Within these section is a check-list you can print up to help you track your progress on preparedness, including what to do and when to do it as the disaster potential increases. Keep this handy - as often when these events unfold, panic and fear will result in chaos. These lists will help you to focus on the critical tasks at hand.  With each number on the check-list, there is a link to a more detailed explanation should you need it. 

OERS-DRD hopes you never find yourself in any situation requiring this information. However, we hope that all your preparations will result in a safe response and that we will be there to assist you!

Please feel free to contact us that any comments or suggestions.

Follow the links below for check lists and details:

- Companion Animals - Livestock -



If you have any questions regarding JMATE please contact us at editor@oers.ca.


This page was updated on August 27, 2014
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