This plan is intended to prepare St. Mary’s University (StMU) faculty and staff for an emergency or crisis involving StMU animal care and use programs. The plan sets forth a plan for response should a crisis occur.
This policy and procedure will be reviewed as needed by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) and veterinarian with recommendations for revision presented to the Institutional Official.
Responsible and sound animal care and use programs reduce the risk, but do not eliminate, the potential for a crisis involving animal care and use. The use of animals is beneficial for teaching and research at our institution. At the same time, the use of animals carries an obligation for appropriate care and use. Therefore, each staff member, student, faculty member, and research investigator is directly responsible to promote and protect animal welfare within the instructional and research programs of the university. This responsibility should be conveyed by example and extends to the education of future employees of the academic community.
All faculty members using animals should be aware of university policies and procedures regarding their use. These policies and procedures for animal use are contained in the U.S. Government Principles for the Utilization and Care of Vertebrate Animals Used in Teaching, Research, and Training. Department heads should be certain all faculty members using animals in biomedical teaching, testing, or researchers are informed of the policies and procedures described including the present document. Likewise, if students or staff are involved with the care and use of animals, their faculty supervisor should make certain they are informed of the animal care and use principles.
It is especially important to be responsive to concerns raised about animal care and use within the university. All such concerns expressed by faculty, staff, students, or the public should be responded to and reported to the chair of the IACUC.
Response – The response phase includes the actions that are taken immediately following an emergency or crisis event. Disasters that could precipitate the following responses may include a severe fire, earthquake, flood, explosion, or act of terrorism. The objective of first responders, such as the fire department and police, is to resolve the immediate problem which resulted in the disaster/emergency. First responders may include campus police or outside emergency response personnel (fire, police, rescue squad), and campus safety officers. Human health and safety must always take precedence.
Immediate response by the animal program staff to notify the appropriate first responders can help mitigate the impact of the crisis on the animals in the animal program. All animal program personnel (including the attending veterinarian, chair of the IACUC, institutional official, and all faculty members with a current IACUC protocol) will be notified in the event of a disaster by first responders. Contact information (emails and phone numbers) for each of these people will be clearly posted inside the animal room and updated annually. Animal program personnel may be denied entry or allowed only limited entry to an area that is deemed to be unsafe or compromised. Animal program personnel should be trained to always follow instructions given by first responders, the officer in charge, or other emergency response personnel. First responders may request the following information from animal program personnel other senior facility staff member upon arrival: status of personnel in the facility (numbers present and their location); species of animals in the facility (aquatics, rodents, large animals); and special hazards in the building (name of hazards and their locations).
No animal in the animal program will be allowed to leave the university campus in the event of a crisis. The decision not to transport animals off site minimizes health risks to first responders, animal care personnel, and the public. If it is determined that animals cannot be safely maintained within the animal care facility during a crisis, the animals will be euthanized.
Euthanasia guidance: Disaster euthanasia methods should be selected which safely implement humane euthanasia and minimize human and animal health/safety concerns. If the animal facility is deemed to be unsuitable or unsafe for maintaining animals, but the animals are accessible, the remaining animals will be euthanized according to preapproved IACUC protocols for the animals, which are readily available in the animal facility. Ideally euthanasia should be carried out by a veterinarian or principal investigator, but in the event no animal facility personnel can be contacted euthanasia may be conducted by a first responder or their delegate. If euthanasia must be conducted in the absence of individuals approved to work with live animals, the animals should be placed inside a metal or plastic container with a tight fitting lid (i.e., a bucket or refuse container). A towel or large rag saturated with Isoflurane should be placed inside the container and the lid replaced. Isoflurane is liquid anesthetic that will be kept in an amber glass bottle next to the notebooks containing the IACUC protocols.
The decision to euthanize animals and the selection of appropriate euthanasia methods requires careful consideration in all scenarios, but the urgency of these decisions is heightened in disaster-related events. Direction in this situation is frankly stated in the following excerpt from the 8th Edition of the Guide for Laboratory Animal Care and Use: “Animals that cannot be relocated or protected from the consequences of the disaster must be humanely euthanized.” The decision to utilize modified versions of acceptable euthanasia methods listed in the AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia should be based on professional judgment, as indicated by overriding, disaster-related circumstances. Euthanizing injured or distressed research animals in these situations may be the only way to relieve animal pain and suffering.
Recovery – The recovery phase begins after the initial response to an emergency or disaster event has concluded. Assessment of the impact to the animal program is one of the first steps. The three critical areas to assess are: facility structure, utilities, and equipment, personnel, and research animals. Once program and facility operations have returned to normal, a critical evaluation of the event cause, program response and recovery process should be performed. It is important to identify program elements that may have contributed to the event or impeded the response, and implement procedures to prevent or mitigate the effects of a similar event in the future.
A copy of this disaster/crisis policy will be available with the IACUC protocols in a clearly labeled binder and kept inside the animal care facility at all times.