Animal Emergency Management 101


Just starting out in animal emergency management?

So congratulations, you have decided to get involved in animal emergency management.

Whether you are a veterinarian, animal control officer, humane investigator, farmer, or a volunteer with an animal rehoming group, I am going to identify the top resources that I have identified over my 20 year plus experience in emergency management and animal welfare to get you up to speed on animal emergency management.

Step 1: Be inspired

First of all, some inspiration.

There is lots of amazing (endless) footage about Hurricane Katrina, the genesis of animal emergency management. Just do a YouTube search for “animals disaster katrina”! But here are two good starters.

There is also a very good documentary available from Amazon called Dark Water Rising: Survival stories of Hurricane Katrina animal rescues. It shows the contrast between spontaneous and organised responses and the impacts they have not only on the animals, but responders and the wider community too.

Once you have finished your 94 hour YouTube binge on animal disaster videos, you should be truly brain washed on how important your interest is, and that animal emergency management is not about saving fluffy bunnies, it is critical to the protection of human life during disaster too.

Step 2: Get some stuff on paper

Sebastian Heath, one of the world’s top experts on animal emergency management, along with others, developed three online courses available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. These courses only take  a few hours to do, but provide an excellent introduction to both companion animals and livestock issues in emergency management. If you are not a US citizen, you can get a FEMA student number easily before you start, so you can get your certificates emailed to you upon completion of the summative tests.

The American SPCA through ASPCAPro have some great online free courses to.

  • FIR 1: Rescuing Animals from Cruelty and Disasters
  • FIR 4: Large Scale Operations
  • FIR 9: Fundamentals of Emergency Sheltering

There are also some top reads, so get these books in particular:

I also have a number of articles and reports that you may find useful; in particular:

Step 3: Connect with animal emergency management online communities

There are some great online communities to share ideas and network.

Connect with these groups and join in the conversation:

You may also find your local or state emergency management office, humane society etc. also have online communities you can join.

For those in New Zealand, the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management has a free e-newsletter that you can subscribe to.

Step 4: Delve into local arrangements and responsibilities


Starting with the federal Pet Emergency & Transportation Standards Act 2006, gives context of what is required within the US. Then in most cases the state agricultural department or animal health commission is often the lead for animal emergency management and they may have information on respective arrangements.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, the Ministry for Primary Industries is suppose to lead animal welfare emergency management under the national plan. Check out the national plan and the associated guide, in particular the animal welfare sections.

The Ministry for Primary Industries, has a range of animal emergency management resources and information available from its website too. The animal owner preparedness guides should be useful as part of community readiness campaigns.

If you know of users of disability assistance dogs, then you may find this flyer useful as well (appears most have already forgotten about this, sigh).

You can also join New Zealand’s largest (and only dedicated) animal disaster management charity – Animal Evac NZ. Check out their website for more resources and information on their training for volunteers.

Step 5: Learn more about emergency management

Animal emergency management is a sub-function of emergency management. So its important you understand the wider context that you are going to be operating in.

Ensure you take courses in incident command/management, emergency operations centre, hazardous materials, community emergency response, basic water safety, basic urban search and rescue, which are all good practical courses to have under your belt.

There are also a few courses that again, can add to your toolbox of knowledge including:

Ensure you file these certifications for the next step.

Also have a read up on the Code of Conduct for humanitarian NGOs, which many leading animal disaster response organisations are signatories to.

Step 6: Think about ongoing professional development and credentialing

If you have go to this step, you are doing really well. Now its time to put some serious grunt behind your name and strut with some respectable post-nominals through doing a professional credential and/or graduate degree.

First of all, the International Association of Emergency Managers has a professional credentialing system registered as the Certified Emergency Manager or CEM®. They also have an entry-level credential known as the Associate Emergency Manager or AEM™ too.

As for university qualifications, there are huge range of courses. As an alumni, I highly recommend Charles Sturt University’s distance emergency management programme (the largest provider of emergency management education in the world), that includes graduate certificate, masters and doctoral level options.

Now if you have finished all that, best you join me in doing a PhD at Otago University!

Good luck!