Texas Emergency Management ONLINE2010 Vol. 57 No. 2

AGENCY PARTNERS: TEXAS ANIMAL HEALTH COMMISSION

Texas Animal Health Commission Seal

Disasters have a major impact not just on people but on animals and livestock as well. In this Question-and-Answer interview Amanda Barnes, the Texas Animal Health Commission’s Assistant Emergency Management Coordinator, explains the agency’s roles and responsibilities during severe weather events and other emergencies. TAHC coordinates response efforts with other agricultural organizations including Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA), Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), Independent Cattlemen’s Association (ICA) and others.

How does TAHC help Texans during a disaster?
The agency is charged with coordinating response efforts involving animals in disasters, including household pets and livestock. We assist in identifying holding facilities for livestock involved in evacuations before a storm, and for displaced animals after a storm. We also assist in the temporary care (feed and water), identification and return of displaced livestock to their owners. We provide assistance in disposal of livestock. Incidentally, livestock killed from effects of natural disasters are considered to be debris, therefore the carcasses can be disposed of in a similar manner as other debris. We communicate through our state Animal Response Team with agricultural producers and local jurisdictions to make sure their requests are appropriately addressed and resolved in a timely manner.

What was TAHC’s role during Hurricane Ike in 2008?
Hurricane Ike was the first time that state agricultural agencies had been involved in such an overwhelming disaster. More than 10,000 cattle were displaced. Few, if any, calves survived. TAHC helped coordinate the response efforts of a number of other agricultural agency partners, setting up an Incident Command Post in the impacted area for all animal-related operations.

Response operations involved capturing and corralling the animals, obtaining drinking water and forage to feed them, repairing fences, moving animals to appropriate pastures and obtaining donations for supplies and resources. We established a livestock supply point at Whites Park in Chambers County for obtaining and staging resources and supplies, as well as for assembling animals for subsequent movement to other areas. Assessment operations were conducted by helicopter, airboat and on land. Again, major aspects of response included identifying and returning displaced livestock to owners and assisting with carcass disposal.

Could you explain how TAHC damage assessments are used?
TAHC is responsible for conducting damage assessments on the severity of the impact of a disaster on animals and livestock in order to determine the level of response that is needed. These assessments are not used for reporting monetary losses; that task belongs to the local emergency boards and Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices. Rather they are used to determine the extent of response activities needed (e.g., help to animal agriculture production facilities, assistance with operation of temporary animal shelters, support to the veterinary infrastructure to get local veterinarians operational again, medical care to injured animals, etc).

Did you face any special challenges during the Rio Grande flooding this summer, since animals on both sides of the border were displaced?
Cattle displaced by flooding had to be apprehended and processed according to regulations for animals of an unknown health status. We did this through partnerships with other agencies, providing advice to local Animal Issues Committee personnel in support of stranded cattle situations.

How does the Texas Animal Health Commission assist Texans in preparing for disasters?
TAHC helps with preparedness in several ways. It assists local jurisdictions in developing disaster plans for all issues involving animals. It leads other agriculture-related agencies in the development of emergency plans related to animals, as well as development of response protocols. It leads the State Animal Response Team in responding to animal-related disasters, such as Hurricane Ike in 2008 and the wildfires in Montague County in 2009.

What can farmers and ranchers do to prevent losses during flooding or other severe weather events?
One of the most important things to do is for them to participate in their local Animal Issues Committees to help develop local plans for responding to disasters. The other key preparedness technique is to get the animals out of harm’s way as soon as an evacuation order is issued. They should also monitor their property for stray livestock as long as they have access and it is safe to do.

For more information, click on: http://www.tahc.state.tx.us and follow TAHC on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Austin-TX/Texas-Animal-Health-Commission/126403077376832 and Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/tahc

Front Page Photo: Members with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association work to rescue a cow stranded in Rio Grande River floodwaters in South Texas after Hurricane Alex. Photo courtesy of Omar Montemayor, County Extension Agent-Ag/NR, Texas AgriLife Extension Service.