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April 15, 2011

Disaster Response Training in Haiti

Vets learn disaster preparedness

Humane Society International

  • The team assembles for the initial briefing. Alice Smeets

  • HSI's Chris Broughton-Bossong demonstrates the use of billet system. Alice Smeets

  • Preparing a haul line for the rescue drill. Alice Smeets

  • The haul line must be secured before the team can start their descent. Alice Smeets

  • A member of the team ready for the descent. Alice Smeets

  • After completing the rescue, the team successfully makes it back to the top. Alice Smeets

  • The trainees suit up for the water rescue phase of the training. Alice Smeets

  • The team gathers to begin the water rescue drill. Alice Smeets

  • Demonstrating safety measures for water rescue operations. Alice Smeets

by Chris Broughton-Bossong

Humane Society International first had an opportunity to develop animal welfare- and public health-focused programs in Haiti after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit that nation in January 2010. After our immediate disaster response, we put our resources into assisting with long-term infrastructure development and capacity-building programs. 

Still, it was very apparent that there were no plans in place to attempt to safeguard or even respond to the needs of animals on the island during a natural disaster. Given our introduction to working here, with the support of our partner, Best Friends Animal Society, we made developing a nationwide animal disaster response team for the Ministry of Agriculture a key focus of our programs.

Help ensure we can be there for animals affected by disaster.

This veterinary disaster response team is the first of its kind in Haiti. As a vast number of Haitians rely on animals for their income, transportation, heavy labor, and security, building a team prepared to deal with the needs of these animals is imperative. Haiti is unfortunately subjected to a wide array of natural disasters, including flash floods, mudslides, hurricanes, brush fires, tsunamis and earthquakes. Sadly, in most cases, there has not been enough warning or planning for evacuation to avoid heavy losses of human and animal life when such events occur. The veterinarians involved in the development of this new team communicated a great sense of both pride in and appreciation for the opportunity to take on such a vitally important endeavor in their communities.

Climbing to new heights

This week, our first series of technical animal rescue courses was launched outside of Port-au-Prince for a group of 12 Haitian veterinarians from around the country. During the training, we outfitted them with safety and response equipment for both rope and water rescue and spent time at several different locations along the coast, taking part in classroom presentations, team-building exercises, and actual drills.

We faced some initial challenges, both in terms of this material being completely foreign subject matter and in the translation of the more technical jargon ("knot work," "water response techniques," "safety hardware," etc.). However, our team was very impressed with how quickly the vets grasped the methods and procedures that they were learning. By day two, we had them scaling trees to set up haul lines to retrieve team members who had descended into a ravine to retrieve a mock "injured animal." They quickly began to appreciate that the safety and effectiveness in a disaster response setting is dependent on good teamwork and good communication. By our final day, they were able to run through lowering a descent team and hauling them back up a ravine with the "animal" in hand using only whistle and hand-gesture communications.

After taking part in this first training, I have the utmost confidence that this group will continue to excel and become an invaluable resource in the months ahead as Haiti braces itself for the daunting challenges that come with the approaching rainy season. We will be continuing to work with this team and the Ministry of Agriculture, providing the resources and training necessary to become a cohesive group of professional and expert assets to their country.

You can help: Donate to our international disaster response fund

Chris Brougton-Bossong is Haiti Program Coordinator for HSI.

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