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Improving the federal veterinary disaster response for state, local partners

Friday, July 17, 2015  
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Improving the federal veterinary disaster response for state, local partners


Becoming more nimble in emergency response and having a relationship with your customers ahead of the event: those were the goals of a recent restructuring of the National Veterinary Response Teams that provide medical care for working and companion animals when state and local resources are overwhelmed in disasters.


“Whenever our state and local partners need assistance, we want to ensure we can provide the appropriate response for their needs in the most efficient and flexible manner,” said Dr. Ty Vannieuwenhoven, Chief Veterinary Officer for HHS’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), Office of Emergency Management in which the National Disaster Medical System and its NVRT are housed. “We also want the NVRT’s customers to know them personally before they are needed.”


“To serve our state and local customers’ needs and our veterinary providers better, we wanted a re-envisioned approach to the federal veterinary response whether we’re providing support after disasters or during high-profile public events,” he explained.


The new approach streamlines the team structure and could put providers in place faster after disasters. Before the restructuring, the nation had five 30-member teams dispersed across the country. The new structure features a national team consisting of smaller teams of veterinarians and veterinary technicians aligned to the 10 geographic national emergency management regions. The national NVRT is led by Dr. Robin Brennen Stupack.


The structure includes an NVRT veterinarian who supports the ASPR regional coordination staff by representing the NVRT program for veterinary medical assessment, planning, and response with its jurisdictions within that region.


“This effort aligns the NVRT members’ skills into units that can address specific pre-identified areas of requirement in disasters,” Vannieuwenhoven said.

The NVRT has numerous response capabilities in its toolkit. The teams can assess veterinary medical needs of the community following disasters; provide treatment for injured or ill small and large animals after disasters, supply veterinary care for sheltered, working or research animals and conduct veterinary health screening at airports or other points of embarkation and debarkation.


The importance of providing quality veterinary care during disasters has been long understood. What is today known as the NVRT began following Hurricane Andrew in 1992 with a vision shared by professionals in the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Foundation and was incorporated into the federal emergency response the following year.


Today, although several federal agencies support animals affected by disasters, under the federal Emergency Support Function 8, NVRT is the primary federal resource for treating ill or injured pets, service animals, working animals, laboratory animals, and livestock impacted by disasters.  It aligns this support with the non-governmental organizations that provide many of the other needed services for animals post-disaster most of which are organized under the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition (NARSC).


Most recently, the veterinary teams were part of the federal response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, providing care in the damaged areas of Long Island and to the animals in the large disaster shelter in Brooklyn. NVRT members also provide care and treatment for working animals at special events, including the Fourth of July celebration and other events in Washington, D.C and the political conventions in 2012.


States and local jurisdictions can learn more on requesting NVRT assistance by contacting ASPR Regional Emergency Coordinators located in each region. Their contact information is available online at


To learn more about the National Disaster Medical System’s National Veterinary Response Team, visit


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