USDA to Require Disaster Preparedness Plans for AWA Facilities

USDA AWA Article

Due to climate change, we live in a world destined to see an increase in the number and severity of natural disasters that will have a detrimental effect on the lives of humans and animals alike. That is why NAVS is celebrating an announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to require emergency and disaster preparedness plans for animals living in facilities covered by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

This rule change, which takes effect on January 3, 2022, was a long time coming—NAVS and advocates like you have fought for its implementation for years.

Back in 2006, shortly after Hurricane Katrina, Congress passed the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS Act) to better protect pets, and their families during natural disasters. The PETS Act requires states, cities and counties to “account for the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals before, during, and following a major disaster or emergency.” While an important victory, the PETS Act did nothing to protect animals who fell outside the narrow definition of “household pets.”

Clearly, there was still work to be done and we are pleased the USDA has finally announced appropriate action.

Imagine the scenarios that can unfold during a catastrophic hurricane: Downed trees and flooded streets cut off access to laboratory animals Staff are unable to provide food, water, and basic care. Veterinarians can’t administer critical support to animals in need. Power may go out, leaving thousands of animals in darkness and extreme temperatures for days at a time. The amount of potential suffering is immeasurable. These scenarios are more than likely—they are inevitable— and they will finally be preemptively addressed to help ensure the well-being of animals kept in cages for a perceived human benefit.    

The new rule dictates that facilities regulated under the AWA—including commercial breeders, roadside zoos and research facilities that house regulated animals—must identify the types of emergencies that are common in their area and outline specific actions to take (such as evacuation, or shelter-in-place instructions) if these situations occur. Facilities will also need to train employees on strategies and procedures for animal care in such instances.   NAVS applauds the USDA’s implementation of a disaster preparedness rule; however, we will continue to fight for passage of the PREPARED Act, federal legislation to codify such measures into law. Contingency planning is a reasonable demand that should not be left to the whim of the USDA’s director. You can help by contacting your federal representative and asking them to support H.R. 1442, the PREPARED Act.