In the event of an animal disease outbreak or disaster, veterinarians are on the frontline to respond. Julie Gard DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACT, Auburn University, spoke to veterinarians at the 85th Annual Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas this week about their role in assisting with these types of events. She used foot-and-mouth (FMD) disease as an example.

“It is imperative that FMD be identified as quickly as possible in an outbreak to minimize the repercussions and for persons to be trained appropriately,” Gard said. “According to a modeled study it was estimated that 500,000 individuals would be needed to respond to a FMD in the U.S.” However, she said, there are only approximately 81,000 veterinarians in the country with approximately only 2,500 of these working for the federal and state governments.

“We have 89 veterinarians working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and 41 in the states working in public health. Of these numbers, at the most, approximately 2,000 are trained to deal with some biological agents and approximately 1,000 or less have been trained in ‘all hazards’ emergency response with a good number of these recently retired or on the verge of retirement. Obviously, one can see how the number of individuals trained in emergency response which could efficiently respond to one outbreak of FMD is far below what is projected.”

Gard said it is of upmost importance that practicing veterinarians are ready and willing to help in the face of an outbreak or disaster. “There are a little over 400 veterinarians in the USDA, few in Department of Homeland Security, and about 80 in CDC and along with our state veterinarians this combination makes far less than 800 to help in an outbreak. The USDA is regionalizing more and more. So, the trend is to local response and it is imperative that practitioners are a part.”

Food animal veterinarians as are extremely good at identifying disease and assisting in emergency programs because that is what they do day in and day out. A large part of a food animal veterinarian’s day revolves around evaluation of livestock and livestock management such as assessing nutrition, evaluation of standard operating procedures, evaluation of facilities and identifying diseases and management issues and how to prevent disease states through implementation of appropriate biosecurity, vaccination, and management protocols.

“Food animal veterinarians bring the appropriate mindset, knowledge, experience and work ethic to be a tremendous asset to assist in emergency programs,” Gard stated.

Where to start
The first step toward involvement in emergency programs, Gard suggested, is to contact your state veterinarian and state emergency operations coordinator, along with your state and local veterinary medical associations and emergency management agencies. “Often training opportunities are advertised and becoming a member of the local and state response is a good starting point.”

Gard noted that for federal involvement, membership in the National Animal Health Emergency Response Corps (NAHERC) will allow for veterinarians to be called as the USDA deems necessary. APHIS established the NAHERC in 2001 to respond to exotic disease outbreaks and other disasters which affect livestock, poultry, companion animals, and wildlife. “It is widely known and advertised that more volunteers are urgently needed to assure a decisive response to any potential animal health crises,” Gard said.

Veterinarians can register for the NAHERC here.

Additionally, joining the Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams (VMAT) provides another opportunity to be a willing participant in emergency response. The AVMA's VMATs serve as first responders to ensure high-quality care of animals during disasters and emergencies. Requested by a state, VMATs provide operational assistance in emergency response programs to state animal health authorities, and organize and provide training preparedness programs to animal health authorities, veterinary medical associations, and other relevant organizations. The VMATs are funded by the American Veterinary Medical Foundation.

Emergency response training opportunities are numerous from online courses on the FEMA and USDA websites to hands-on training at the Center for Domestic Preparedness.  

The National Preparedness Directorate (NPD) online Course Catalog provides searchable, integrated information on courses provided or managed by FEMA’s Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP), Emergency Management Institute (EMI), and National Training and Education Division (NTED). The online course catalog is now available, however, it is still under construction.  For questions or comments contact EMI at

The Center for Domestic Preparedness has online training available as well. Contact Sandra Pagan at or 256-847-2328 for availability of specific classes such as the Technical Emergency Response Training (TERT) which veterinarians and veterinary students can take.