Many types of disaster and crisis situations can involve and affect wildlife: natural disasters (tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires), oil spills, and even terrorism. When a disaster strikes and animals are involved, many people’s first reaction is to rush to the scene and attempt to save as many animals as possible! However, I’m learning as I undergo training to become a volunteer for the Minnesota Veterinary Reserve Corps, an organization that responds to emergency and disaster situations involving animals, that immediately running to the frontlines is not always the right thing to do.
The details and planning that go into emergency preparedness for any given city, county, state or country are very complex and very carefully designed. We all know that disasters and crises are going to occur, so law enforcement agencies, state and federal agencies, and tribal groups have established a plan for responding to those events. There is a definite chain-of-command when it comes to responding to an emergency, and that means not just anyone can jump in and help. Oftentimes, hundreds to thousands of people want to help however they can; however, sometimes more is not necessarily merrier. Emergency response is executed very specifically, and all responders must be called upon to assist by a superior in the chain-of-command.
For example, during the Gulf Oil Spill of 2010, many well-meaning people wanted to help by rescuing oiled birds. In the process of doing so, many NON-oiled birds were scared off the beaches and ran into the oiled waters, jeopardizing their lives as well. Instead of the problem becoming minimized, it became maximized. Therefore, sometimes it’s best for the safety of the people and animals involved to allow only professionals and experts to handle the situation. Rescuing and caring for oiled wildlife requires expert knowledge and a very specific rehabilitation process, and should never be attempted by an untrained person.
If there is ever a disaster situation involving animals and you’d like to help, instead of rushing to the scene and putting yourself to work, ask officials how you can help. Join a community or state-wide volunteer reserve corps for emergency situations, such as the Red Cross, where you can receive training and be called upon in the event of a disaster or crisis situation.
I did not realize how intricate and organized emergency preparedness was until I started training for the Minnesota Veterinary Reserve Corps. I used to be the person who wanted to run to every crisis where animals were involved and start scooping them up one by one and take them to safety. I never realized that by doing that, I could be doing more harm than good!