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Tennessee trains volunteers for emergencies
Tennessee Correspondent

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — One legacy of Hurricane Katrina are the collective images of domesticated animals vulnerable to the elements: herds of drowned or parched cattle, trapped dogs and cats and various exotic animals that could not be rescued.

There are more memories of stranded people who wouldn’t leave because of pets and farmers who didn’t want to abandon livestock. In addition, strangers waded in from other states to help – including the unqualified.

“Katrina was horrible,” said Dr. Robert Linnabary, emergency response coordinator with the Tennessee State Veterinarian’s office.

Despite good intentions, he explained, people who aren’t trained usually end up adding more chaos to an emergency scene. “People were just coming out of the woodwork, and didn’t know what to do,” Linnabary said.

With the hope of cutting down on both animal and human losses – and confusion – further north, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (DOA) and University of Tennessee extension will offer five statewide workshops in March to educate and qualify volunteers as animal care workers in case of an emergency.

Linnabary said DOA has offered training since 2002, which includes the basics of disease recognition and reporting, rescue and biosecurity and an overview of the Tennessee branch of FEMA. “(Katrina) just gave us the impetus to go ahead and do more credentialing,” he explained, adding the workshops are funded by Homeland Security dollars.

Any Tennessee resident or animal professional willing to give time may qualify for the free training. The problem with the way DOA has had workshops so far, Linnabary said, is they’ve been concentrated in larger cities. Beginning this year, the state and UT want to expand to rural areas.

“We want to encompass as many people as we can,” he said.

“The more volunteers, the better off everyone is,” agreed Betsy Hultin. She and her husband raise goats in Crosby, a wide spot in the road about 50 miles northeast of Knoxville.

Despite her location, Hultin, a former animal control officer and animal lab tech, was among the first credentialed by this program, which she learned of through the Knox County Cattlemen Assoc. “I’ve been in animals – well, I grew up showing horses,” she said of how long she’s worked with the four-legged.

Though she couldn’t go to Louisiana or Mississippi, Hultin still worked in the wake of Katrina. She helped coordinate the response of various animal groups, which passed along donations of supplies and food to be shipped south.

Hurricanes aren’t a Tennessee problem. Selective flooding, however, is; so are tornadoes and other windy storms. Forest fires are always a possibility with so much timber. And there’s the ubiquitous problem of auto wrecks, which could include livestock shipments. If Hultin were nearby when a wreck, fire or flooding occurred, she has a badge to get her on the scene with emergency personnel as another pair of qualified hands.

“That’s like having an ID that says, ‘Yes, I really know what I’m talking about,’” she explained.

Linnabary said he would like trained volunteers such as Hultin able to travel if a neighbor state is in trouble, and vice versa.

“We’d like to see it developed on a uniform scale, so if a person goes to another state, we’ll recognize that badge and know what these people are trained for,” he said.

Hultin believes having more training at the local level allows small towns better access to advanced emergency services.

“Some people call it Big Brother,” she said. “I suppose to some people, it could be, but I see it as the redevelopment of the small community.”

UT will sponsor six-hour workshops in the following sites:

•March 8 in Cookeville at Tennessee Tech University
•March 21 at UT-Martin
•March 22 in Dickson at the Renaissance Center
•March 28 in Gray at the Appalachian Fairgrounds
•March 29 in Cleveland at the Tri-State Expo Center

To attend, volunteers need to finish three free courses through the UT College of Veterinary Medicine: Incident Command System Courses 100 and 200 and National Incident Management Course IS-700. Those with Internet access and a printer may take the courses at by clicking on Veterinary Tools; call 865-974-5701 for CD or in-person alternatives.

This farm news was published in the February 8, 2006 issue of Farm World.