We cannot always predict natural disasters, or their possible effects. But when last week’s Hurricane Florence loomed over the Carolinas, our members were prepared. During an emergency, there is nothing more important than the safety of our staff, our animals, and our guests.
AZA’s rigorous accreditation standards require our member zoos and aquariums to have in place risk management plans, and to perform at minimum four emergency drills per year for potential emergencies, including fire, weather events, and other environmental disasters. Accredited facilities must maintain functional fire protection and security, and critical life support system equipment for their animals. Staff at AZA-accredited facilities are trained to evaluate, respond, and mitigate potential disasters. The USDA-funded Zoo and Aquarium All Hazards Preparedness, Response, and Recovery (ZAHP) Fusion Center, currently entering its fifth year, provides additional training resources for contingency planning and serves as a conduit between the emergency management sector and the greater zoo, aquarium, and managed wildlife community.
With these precautions in place, our facilities were prepared for Florence. Well before the storm, staff at facilities with outdoor exhibits, ushered animals into their indoor habitats stocked with food and enrichment items. Dedicated ride-out teams stayed on-site during the hurricane when safe to do so to assure the care and wellbeing of the animals. Much to our relief, initial assessments after the storm showed minimal damage with all staff and animals safe and sound.
What amazes me most about the AZA community is their willingness to go above and beyond in cases where damage is more severe. Last year following the destruction from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, AZA members began an Employee Relief Fund, which raised more than $170,000 for our affected members in Texas and Florida. We will continue to work together and to support one another – even during the worst of storms.