ASPCA Experts Give an Inside Look into Our Disaster Response Efforts

September 30, 2022

ASPCA Experts Give an Inside Look into Our Disaster Response Efforts

When disasters like hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes or other emergency situations happen, animal shelters and family pets can be left in a vulnerable position. Often during these crises, local animal shelters become overwhelmed with displaced animals, and impacted communities may need assistance with animal evacuations, emergency sheltering and search-and-rescue efforts. This is where the ASPCA comes in.

ASPCA teams like our National Field Response team (NFR), Animal Relocation & Placement team and the Cruelty Recovery Center (CRC) provide their expertise and assistance to impacted communities during natural disasters and emergency situations.

To give an inside look at just how much goes into a disaster response, we’ve asked experts from each team a few questions about their roles. See more below about this lifesaving work.

National Field Response (NFR)

Susan Anderson, Director of Disaster Response
These efforts usually begin with the ASPCA National Field Response (NFR) team and Susan Anderson, Director of Disaster Response.

Q: How does the NFR team initially get involved in a disaster response?

A: When a major disaster strikes, the NFR team may be requested by local or state agencies to assist animals in impacted communities. The request may come in the form of a phone call or email, or a partner organization may submit an online Disaster Assistance Request form. Our disaster response planning team discusses each request for assistance and determines what resources we can deploy. Our list of services includes:

  • Water-based/boat operations and land-based search and rescue.
  • Pet food/supply distribution.
  • Emergency animal sheltering including veterinary and behavioral support, daily care and reunification efforts.
  • Animal relocation to partner shelters.
  • Disaster relief grant funds for local shelters and rescues.
  • Subject matter expertise in operational planning and field response.

Q: Once we are activated to deploy for a disaster, how do we decide how many people will go?

A: The number of ASPCA responders depends on the services we provide and the length of time we are needed. Every disaster response is unique, but we try to get one or more Disaster Liaisons on the ground as soon as possible, typically within 24-48 hours of receiving the request for assistance. Our disaster response experts work with the requesting organization and other local agencies to identify the unmet needs and best solutions. Disaster responders may include ASPCA staff, response partners, volunteers and paid responders. Our Planning and Resources unit arranges lodging and transportation for our responders and our Logistics unit ships necessary equipment and supplies to our base of operations.

Q: Once on the ground, what is the typical protocol?

A: We follow the Incident Command System (ICS) structure and established chain of command. Each daily shift begins with a briefing that emphasizes the day’s objectives and responder safety. Responders are assigned work as part of a team under the guidance of a team lead. Based on the scope of the operation, teams may all spend the day working at one animal shelter or be spread out across multiple counties and assignments. Regardless of the task at hand, ASPCA responders always treat the people and animals we encounter with the utmost care and respect.

Q: Once the animals are rescued, safe and cared for, what happens next?

A: Companion animals brought to the designated emergency animal shelter by search and rescue teams, animal control or the public in the aftermath of a disaster are cared for until their owners can retrieve them. We also work to assist local agencies with reunification efforts so that pets can be reunited with their owners. Animals who are surrendered or unable to be reunited with their owners are made available for adoption locally or relocated to partner shelters to find loving homes.

Q: Why is the work the NFR team does so important?

A: NFR stands ready to support animals in communities across the United States that face natural disasters and emergencies. Our work spans all phases of the emergency management cycle and provides much needed resources to organizations at the local and state levels. From disaster planning to boots on the ground response, we are honored to collaborate with internal and external partners to help save animal lives when disaster strikes.


Karen Walsh, Senior Director of Animal Relocation
When the ASPCA is called to respond to disasters, Karen Walsh, Senior Director of Animal Relocation, and the rest of the Relocation team (often referred to as, “Relo”) is tapped as a resource for NFR.

Q: Once called into a disaster response, what is the typical protocol for Relo?

A: Relocation and Placement serve as a resource unit for the command structure of the incident. We are part of regular planning calls, trouble shooting and the actual preparation and movement of animals impacted by the disaster. This work includes supporting the shelter partners in manifest creation (lists of animals with their medical and behavioral history), upholding to state requirements at the final destination, preparing medical needs such as health certificates and providing appropriate supplies for animals leaving by air or ground. Then the team manages the actual movement of the animals in ASPCA or partner vehicles and also by chartering cargo planes and flying the animals to waiting shelter partners who make these evacuations possible. If appropriate, the Animal Relocation team also works with our partners to move animals on their adoption floor out of the shelter ahead of time. This creates a safe space for local animals in need after the storm has passed.

Q: How does the team decide which animals will be sent to which partner shelters?

A: Relocation and Placement have longstanding relationships with the partner shelters we work with. We understand the parameters of each partner, such as the types of animals they can place and how many they can manage within their communities, and we utilize their individual capabilities to select the best situation for each animal. The location of the disaster often drives the partner selection. Some partners have more resources than others to assist animals and their individuals needs.

Q: Why is the work that the Relocation team does so important and how does it save animal lives?

A: During disasters, animal relocation can be critical in getting animals out of harm’s way or getting them the care they may need at one of our facilities, like the Cruelty Recovery Center. It also helps local shelters by allowing more space so that they can respond to community needs during disaster. The involvement of the Relocation and Placement team on an organizational and national level has elevated transport standards and streamlined the process to increase the number of lives saved for ASPCA programs and partners.

Cruelty Recovery Center (CRC)

Mary Sarah Fairweather, Vice President of the CRC
All animals rescued during a disaster response need medical and behavioral assessment and support. Some may need treatment for physical or psychological problems, too. So, they are transferred to the ASPCA Cruelty Recovery Center (CRC) or a temporary shelter, where Mary Sarah Fairweather, Vice President of the CRC, and her team provide the love and care these animals need.

Q: What is the CRC?

A: The CRC is a facility dedicated to high quality, integrated care of animals rescued from cruelty or natural disasters. This includes both medical and behavioral support, as well as daily care and enrichment.

In addition, when the ASPCA assists with large-scale disasters or cruelty cases, our CRC staff often operate temporary emergency shelters to provide ongoing care and enrichment for the animals, as well as any needed medical and behavioral treatment.

Q: What type of work does the CRC do with these animals once they’re in our care?

A: Animals rescued from natural disasters are transported to us so that we can provide them with any needed medical and behavioral treatment, as well as a safe place to recover. A dedicated team of shelter operations, veterinary and animal behavior staff work together to ensure well-coordinated, comprehensive care.

Q: Why is the work we do at the CRC so important?

A: Our work focuses on improving and maintaining the psychological and physical health of animals, increasing positive outcomes for challenging cases and elevating the animal welfare field through learning and sharing. As our staff discovers how to best accomplish the goal of optimal care for victims of cruelty and neglect, we share research findings and best practices with the animal welfare community through our Learning Lab shelter partner program, publications in medical and animal behavior journals, ASPCA Pro and other professional channels. Combining our hands-on work with animals and the dissemination of our innovations, we aim to maximize our lifesaving impact.

As we respond to natural disasters and other emergencies throughout the year, we urge you to be prepared in case a disaster hits. Check out our list of what you need to keep your pets safe when disaster strikes.