Maine Benefits From Multi-State Virtual Pet Sheltering Exercise


July 21, 2014


During disasters, emergency managers not only aim to protect the civilian population, but must also figure out how to protect animals and livestock within the affected area. Often people will not leave their homes during times of emergency unless they know their pets or livestock will be taken care of. As Maine is a rural state with a prominent farming industry, this piece of Maine’s emergency management is especially important.

On July 9th and 10th, Maine took part in a virtual, multi-state, multi-jurisdictional exercise in their Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The exercise focused on the sheltering of livestock, pets and captive animals during a natural disaster, and how state agencies in Maine would go about both requesting necessary resources and responding to other state’s requests.

Twenty-four states participated in this exercise which was developed and administered by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. In the Maine exercise, participants included the Maine State Veterinarian, Michele Walsh, the director of the Maine Animal Welfare Program, Liam Hughes, representatives from Cumberland County Animal Response Team and the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) as well as MEMA staff.

According to the University of Kentucky, the point of the exercise was to test the states’ “abilities to request resources” and “exercise their ability to respond to another state’s request for animal resources.”

“The University of Kentucky did a great job with this, said Walsh. “They were extremely organized, and it was really a treat to work with them.”

“It was a good exercise overall and I think we all learned something from it,” said Faith Mayer, the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) Coordinator at MEMA. “The communication part of it went well and so did the staff working together in the EOC.”

During the first day of the exercise, participants were given a scenario in which they needed to request resources from other states, agencies or organizations. During the second day, they responded to mock resource requests from other states. The entire exercise was done electronically via virtual modules and conference calls.

“The exercise went very well,” said Debra Couture, Senior Planner for MEMA. “It enabled MEMA and DACF Veterinary staff to identify our strengths and weaknesses and where we needed to update our plans.”

“There are always areas for improvement—that is one of the purposes of these kinds of exercises,” said Richard Higgins, the State Volunteer Agency Liaison and Individual Assistance Officer at MEMA. “And one of ours is having a better inventory of what resources (physical and human) we have at the state’s disposal and making sure that we regularly update those lists and contacts at least every couple years.”

In addition to updating plans and maintaining a better inventory of resources, participants also wanted to take part in or facilitate similar exercises in which they are given the opportunity to test functions of their Emergency Operations Plan to learn more about they connect. Other suggestions included updating their memorandums of understanding, standard operating procedures, and identifying predetermined resources that they can have available for other states during an emergency.

“The purpose of exercises is to determine what you know and where the gaps are,” said Laurie Levine, State Relations Disaster and Red Cross Liaison at MEMA. “Yes, we had gaps, but overall the Great State of Maine did well – we learned a lot and we pulled together as a team.”

For more updated information on training and exercises visit our MEMA calendar or call (207) 624-4400.