USDA to Facilities Regulated Under the Animal Welfare Act: When Disaster Strikes, Be Ready

In response to a string of recent natural disasters, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service published a rule in December making it mandatory that all dealers, exhibitors, intermediate handlers, carriers, research facilities, and other entities regulated by the agency under the Animal Welfare Act have an emergency or contingency plan—the better to save the lives of employees and animals in the event of an emergency or natural disaster. The plans, maintained at the facility and subject to review by USDA inspectors, must be in place by July 29, 2013, and all employees must be trained regarding the plan by September 27.

Most research facilities should already have some kind of disaster plan in place as a result of either their Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) accreditation or their Public Health Service (PHS) Assurance. The same is true of exhibitors accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Under the new rule, facilities maintain the flexibility to design their own plans, but all plans must, at minimum, do the following:

  1. Identify the kinds of emergencies that are common in their locality;
  2. Identify emergencies that could happen at a facility such as theirs;
  3. Outline specific tasks to be undertaken during emergencies;
  4. Establish a clear chain of command for implementing the plan;
  5. Identify available materials and resources for use during an emergency; and
  6. Affirm that employees are trained on the plan.