What Hurricane Rita taught us

What Hurricane Rita taught us

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts 2006 will be another active hurricane season. Is your practice prepared for a disaster?

Drive down the dead-end road to Donna Rivers' house and you might get the feeling Hurricane Rita happened yesterday, not nearly a year ago. Along the one-mile stretch you'll see the remains of downed trees and other debris that FEMA hasn't yet collected. Many home repairs stay undone and fences still lay scattered; contractors have been too busy to tackle many of these residential repairs.

When Donna Rivers returned home after Hurricane Rita struck, she found trees blocking her driveway. "You had to have four-wheel drive to get through," Rivers says. "We had to park our car a mile out from the house and walk."
Despite the Category 5 storm with winds that reached up to 180 miles an hour and caused about $10 billion in damages, one veterinary practice in Beaumont, Texas—the one where Rivers works—managed to stay open throughout the hurricane that devastated parts of the Gulf Coast. But surviving the storm that brought down trees, signs, and fences and destroyed homes and businesses was only the first step toward recovery for Dowlen Road Veterinary Center. Is your practice prepared for a disaster? Consider this practice team's experience and use these tips to prepare for the worst.

Before the storm

Lessons for your team
The days before the hurricane were busy ones for the team at Dowlen Road Veterinary Center. On the Sunday night nearly a week before the storm, Rivers, Dowlen Road's practice manager, received a phone call that her mother had suffered a stroke and was in a Springfield, Mo., hospital. On Monday afternoon, she drove to Missouri. At the practice's weekly staff meeting, practice owner Kelley Kays, DVM, compiled a list of team members who planned to stay through the storm. Later, as the threats grew worse, many of these team members would follow the mandatory evacuation order and leave after all. But a core group of people promised to stay and care for boarded pets and handle any emergencies at Dowlen Road Veterinary Center and at Dr. Kays' second practice, Winnie Veterinary Clinic. Both hospitals would have one veterinarian on call as well as a veterinary assistant and a helper in the facility.

The mandatory evacuation order came on Thursday. That's when things started getting a little crazy, Dr. Kays says. Employees started to evacuate, and the clinic ran out of tranquilizers and cardboard pet carriers. Clients were dropping their pets off and the kennels quickly filled.

Lessons for your team
Dr. Kays made the decision not to turn any clients away; they would continue to take pets as long as they had floor space for the portable kennels clients brought their pets in. For safety, Dr. Kays required each boarded pet to be vaccinated. By the time the storm hit, Dowlen Road had 107 boarded animals, and Dr. Kays' second practice, Winnie Veterinary Clinic, had 35 pets.

Dr. Kays had lived through a hurricane before as a young veterinarian, so when she built Dowlen Road Veterinary Center she knew she wanted to safeguard her business. She chose high ground and used cinder blocks in her construction to ward off floods and high wind. "It's like Fort Knox," says Gayle Duhon, a veterinary assistant.

Dr. Kays also invested in a natural gas generator to keep the lights and air conditioning going if the power went out. "I had lived through a hurricane with no power, cleaning kennels in 100 degree heat, and at that point I decided that a generator would be a good thing," Dr. Kays says.