National Rapid Response Gatherings at Best Friends

Animal protection groups, volunteers, meet at the sanctuary, working in an unprecedented coalition.

Nine of the nation’s major animal protection groups are meeting at Best Friends to take the next step in a coalition that’s aimed at working closely together whenever disaster strikes the animals.

The Incident Management Team, as the coalition is being called, is comprised of 30-plus people – mostly public information officers from the various organizations.

The series of meetings began informally after Hurricane Katrina, and has evolved into a strong coalition that includes training, planning, and ironing out issues so that everyone can work together effectively in disaster situations.

The purpose, according to Best Friends’ Rapid Response Manager Richard Crook, was to pull individual groups together.

"What stemmed from Katrina was the need to put a coalition together to deal with the government bodies like FEMA," Crook said. "We needed some weight, and the only way to do that was to pull together."

The groups – American Humane Association, the ASPCA, Code 3 Associates, Humane Society of the United States, International Fund for Animal Welfare, National Animal Control Association, Society of Animal Welfare Administration, United Animal Nations and Best Friends – came together following Hurricane Katrina.

Dick Green, emergency relief manager with IFAW, said he’d tried to form a coalition in 1999 following Hurricane Floyd. But the timing wasn’t right. What’s changed now, he explained, is that there’s more trust between the organizations. And a disaster the size of Katrina showed the animal welfare community that they needed to come together.

"Floyd wasn’t as big as Katrina," Green commented during a break in meetings at the sanctuary. "Katrina brought everybody together. We now realize collectively that our experience, knowledge and voices are much bigger together."

Rapid Response operations training

Coincidentally, Best Friends is simultaneously holding its first annual Rapid Response Operations Training at the sanctuary. A hundred volunteers from 31 states and Canada are going through real-life exercises in base camp operations, animal admissions and ISO procedures. A mock base camp has been set up and all volunteers are self-sufficient, bringing in their own food, tents, solar showers in a remote area on the sanctuary grounds.

The coalition is also going through some mock exercises, including animal admissions with dogs from Best Friends Dogtown, which happened on Wednesday.

"To see all the groups working together this morning, was something to see," Crook said. "The strength behind a coalition is powerful."

Photo by Best Friends staff