Lessons from the front lines

When disaster hits home
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Jun 01, 2012
By dvm360.com staff

Dr. Ben Leavens, owner of Main Street Pet Care in Joplin, Mo., experienced disaster first-hand May 22, 2011, when a tornado cut a four-mile swath through Joplin, causing 160 human deaths. Dr. Leavens' practice and home both sustained significant damage, but he, his staff, and his family were uninjured. Immediately after the tornado, he jumped into action, setting up a human first aid and triage station. Over the next several days, he treated injured animals, helped the humane society with co-sheltering pets, and cared for dozens of search-and-rescue and cadaver dogs.

He offers veterinarians and practice owners these five tips for disaster preparedness:
1 Maintain off-site backup, on-site backup, and mirrored hard drives for your practice data, and set up a laptop that will run your practice software. Dr. Leavens' practice lost no data, but many local medical, veterinary, and dental practices lost all their data.

2 Keep headlamps in your practice, your car, and every bedroom in your home. "I'm always called a nerd for carrying around headlamps," he says, "but in the dark and pouring rain after the storm, my cheap headlamp was invaluable and the only light available. It helped me rapidly triage injured people."

3 Get good insurance from reputable companies and agents. Dr. Leavens' practice sustained $200,000 worth of damage and was closed for six weeks. "Opt for more coverage than you think you need," he says, "and always take out comprehensive business plans, not just building and contents coverage. We could have been closed for a year, and insurance would have covered our net income and payroll."

4 Hire the best employees, pay them well, and treat them with respect. "Our team did a fantastic job," he says. "They made me shine, and I hope I did the same for them. During the worst time in the days after the destruction, they put the animals first and did an amazing job."

5 Remember that good karma comes back to you. "Be generous in all you do in your daily life, and focus on helping animals and people every day," he says. "I never say no to public service needs. In a major disaster, you meet all the people you ever worked with, but they are helping you this time."