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Zoo selected to lead emergency response effort

Zoo Atlanta has been selected to develop, advance, and expand a vital program for emergency response in the state of Georgia. The Zoo has been awarded with a grant of $5,000 to begin work as a partner in the Zoo and Aquarium All Hazards Preparedness, Response and Recovery (ZAHP) Fusion Center, a cooperative agreement between the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) that connects the emergency management public sector with the managed wildlife community.

Zoo Atlanta representatives in the initiative are Hayley Murphy, DVM, Deputy Director; Cary Burgess, Senior Vice President of Operations, Guest Services and Community Affairs; and Debbie Forde, Director of Animal Resources.

“Zoo Atlanta is honored to be chosen to partner with the ZAHP Fusion Center and to lead these efforts for our state and region, as well as to have earned the confidence of AZA that we are an organization committed to emergency preparedness,” Murphy said. “With the pandemic, 2020 has surely shown us that emergencies do not choose to strike at pre-planned intervals. Planning and communication, with all the right entities at the table, can make the difference between a difficult situation and a devastating one.”

Natural disasters and other urgent public threats place a strain on emergency management sectors, but the care of living populations presents organizations such as zoos and aquariums with a unique and additional set of challenges that can only be met with particular expertise. Zoos and aquariums of Georgia and the Southeastern U.S. regularly rely on one another during natural disasters, particularly as it relates to identifying safe housing options and critical life support systems for wild animals in zoological care in impacted zones. Zoo Atlanta is frequently called upon to assist other facilities in Georgia during such events.

“Zoo Atlanta has shown incredible leadership in working to advance preparedness in the zoological community,” said Yvonne Nadler, DVM, MPH, Senior Veterinary Advisor for ZAHP. “Their history of assisting fellow facilities in crisis and continued commitment to supporting broad community efforts make them an ideal partner for this initiative, and we are incredibly excited to work with such a talented team.”

The Zoo will use the awarded funds to develop a state and regional network to comprehensively identify facilities where exotic animals are housed; share data with neighboring facilities and emergency response agencies; and create a roadmap for improved regional contingency planning that can reduce the impact on managed wildlife communities, which can experience setbacks of months and even years in the event of a major disaster. In January 2020, Forde was accepted and received a stipend to participate in Georgia’s Natural Heritage Responder (NHR) Training. NHR currently has 34 regional response networks set up across the United States for cultural heritage institutions. Zoo Atlanta and NHR look to share data and efforts.

For more on the ZAHP Fusion Center, visit aza.org/zahp. Visit zooatlanta.org for information on the Zoo’s animals, mission, and programs.

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