In a previous article, I discussed lab animal allergies in lab animal staff. But what happens if conditions in nature cause the air quality to become worse? How does it affect both people with and without allergies?

While most animal facilities have modern HVAC systems that may scrub out gases, smoke and particulate matter, there are many older faculties or outside facilities where issues in the air will get into the vivarium. Or the staff may have to work in conditions made more difficult by nature.

Air Quality Issues
This summer, massive wildfires devastated California. The air quality was poor, even in areas not directly affected by fire. Staff that were already susceptible to lab animal allergies found themselves having asthma attacks, unable to work outside due to breathing issues, or with reduced stamina. Animals in kennels, barns or pastures were affected due to poor air quality, showing signs of distress or respiratory issues.

In situations like this, the animal issue should be addressed by the attending veterinarian. Industrial fans may have to be provided or animals moved to cleaner areas. Staff may have to wear N95 or other respirators full time indoors and outdoors. Your occupational health professional should be brought in to discuss measures that can be taken with staff. HEPA room air filter machines for tech offices, hallways, breakrooms or other heavily trafficked staff areas can be set up to run 24/7.

Other Natural Disasters
Natural disasters such as blizzards or “nor’easters” may cause the humidity to drop below Guide standards or the heating systems may not be able to keep up with the outside air and sub-zero conditions. Staff may not be able to make it to work and outdoor staff may not be able to tolerate such cold conditions.

Those areas affected need to prepare ahead of time with extra heaters, humidifiers, possible overnight accommodations for staff, extra food and water, and even the possibility that the power may go out. How will the animals and staff be kept warm? AAALAC and the USDA allow for emergency conditions over short periods of time but a prepared facility will get through the disaster better and the staff will be safer.

In 2015, Boston transportation was shut down for 45 days. The average disaster plan usually handles up to a week. What do you have in place for a catastrophic disaster?

Planning for Disaster
Aside from an Injury Illness Prevention Plan, every Emergency Action Plan (EAP) should include an Emergency Operations Plan for care of the animals. The EAP for people may give instructions for chemical hazards, evacuation, active shooter and criminal activity, but many institutions neglect to include the natural disasters in their area as well. How will your staff get out if there is flooding, torrential rain, whiteout snow conditions, tornados, hurricanes or local fires? Is there an emergency plan in place to move animals and people if they are in danger?

These plans should be done in sync with Occupational Health, Police, Fire, senior management, veterinary staff, IACUC, husbandry staff, and institutional officials who would be involved such as Environmental Health & Safety, Incident Command Services, and safety officials.

Emergency Operation Plans should also include disasters where the animals may not survive such as Superstorm Sandy that hit New York University in 2012. How are animals going to be disposed of? What if they have to be euthanized?

One of the easiest things to take care of is to make sure your institution has some form of a Corporate Emergency Access System. All animal husbandry and vet staff should be on city and county essential personal lists so if they can get to work they will be let in through police lines. Make sure your plan includes contact and access to the State Emergency Operations Plan. If your area or state is declared a “State of Emergency” then knowledge of the state operations will give you access to additional help from the National Guard, Red Cross and other government agencies.

Overall we cannot prepare for the hundred year flood or the blizzard of the century, but with recent increases in massive weather fluctuations (droughts, floods), hurricanes, or fires every year that damage hundreds of thousands of acres, we need to think long term. Sometimes it is too easy to say “there is no money” or “it has never happened so why worry.” But conditions are changing and so should we.

Cheryl Pater, BS, RVT, RLATG, CMAR is a Training/Safety Specialist at the University of California, Davis. She has over 30 years of work experience in veterinary private practice and biomedical research and is an active member of LAMA, LAWTE, AALAS, NAVTA, CVMA, SLAVT, and SV AALAS. She also runs CP Consulting, which delivers expertise and experience to ensure that projects comply with all industry and legal standards.

Training/Safety Specialist at the University of California, Davis.