Veterinarians who may respond to emergency incidents should be aware that traditional first responders (eg, firefighting, emergency medical, and law enforcement personnel) typically establish control zones around contaminated or otherwise dangerous sites. Work inside these zones is organized according to the Incident Command System, which requires that tasks be assigned to those who are trained and certified for them. Inside these zones, there are also requirements regarding the use of PPE, which are typically dictated by Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards. Use of some components of PPE, especially respiratory protection, requires regular training, certification, and recertification. People and equipment that leave the controlled areas must be decontaminated to protect themselves and others and to prevent dissemination of harmful agents.
One of the earliest and most important steps in mitigating the dangers surrounding any incident involving the potential for mass casualties is identification of the causative agent. If the incident is possibly the result of terrorist or other criminal activity, the potential for multiple harmful devices or agents must be considered. Should the attack or accident potentially involve a biological agent and especially if it affects animals, a veterinarian's expertise, advice, or opinion may be valuable in establishing the character and details of the response, such as the appropriate disinfectant to be used.
Identification of the agent that causes an incident is imperative because the components of a safe and orderly response depend on knowledge of the causative agent. For instance, the shape and size of the control zones around an incident caused by an explosive device depend on the size of the explosive charge, while the control zones around an incident caused by a chemical agent depend more on the particular agent and the direction and speed of the wind. Likewise, the type and extent of PPE and decontamination depend heavily on identification of the causative agent.
Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams1,2 functioning as part of the National Disaster Medical System under the National Response Plan and, more locally, State Animal Response Teams3,4 are capable of disease identification, agent control, and decontamination functions, among many others, in the face of disastrous circumstances. They can deploy quickly with applicable equipment and supplies and remain self-sustaining for several days. Detailed information on planning and response resources are available,5 but because of the potential for being involved in an emergency incident, all veterinarians should have at least some awareness-level knowledge of the components of emergency response, including control zones, PPE, and decontamination.
Personal protective equipment
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