In an emergency situation, we cannot afford to waste time on building rapport and trust. It pays to know who is in your community and how they can help before a situation arises. Recent research has highlighted how knowing and being connected to your community, as well as having sufficient plans in place, can make all the difference for rural people.
“Farmers need to be prepared for events but they shouldn’t focus on past experiences as an indicator of how impactful it could be,” former national animal welfare emergency management coordinator Hayley Squance says.
“We’re seeing farmers get caught because they’ve moved livestock to higher ground based on previous flood levels and they’ve lost stock because the flood events are a lot bigger than they used to be.
“This is going to be the trend, we’re going to keep breaking records, so farmers need to be prepared for those sorts of impacts.”
She explains how it helps to know who to give information to regarding the impacts of an event on individual farms and rural communities as it can increase the situational awareness for agencies coordinating the response. And potentially help activate resources to support the response and recovery.
“Farmers already have a lot of the connections that are helpful in emergency situations, but sometimes they don’t realise how important they can be or delay reaching out for assistance,” she says.
“The Rural Support Trust is a big one, knowing who your representatives are.
“And farmers have fantastic relationships with their rural professionals who can be good advocates for farmers in responses.”
There are 16 civil defence groups across New Zealand and they are generally based on regional council boundaries. Nearly all of them have a rural advisory group, sometimes known as a primary sector adverse events cluster. They contain rural professionals who work with civil defence to plan for, respond to and recover from events.
“The rural sector needs a lot of support and in many instances, they feel like they’re not well represented,” she says.
“But these groups are there to gather information on the impacts on the rural community, identify needs and the consequences of decision-making, as well as advocate for the rural community and bring local knowledge to the response.
“Things like knowing why a roadblock can’t be placed in a particular spot and being able to explain that it might prevent a farmer from being able to milk their cows can make a real difference during a response,” she says.
Squance has been involved in the research looking at animal welfare emergency management and whether the framework in NZ is fit for its purpose. She is a veterinary technologist and a consultant for animal welfare in disasters.
She developed and led the veterinary emergency response team to fill the clear gap NZ had. She has had multiple deployments as a first responder nationally and internationally for events such as floods, wildfires and earthquakes. Her PhD thesis was about enhancing multi-agency collaboration in animal welfare emergency management.
“There is strong evidence that advanced planning, capacity and capability development has a cost-benefit ratio of one-to-six,” she says.
“And the ratio is only expected to grow as the frequency and impacts of extreme weather events increase, which is fueled by climate change.”
Her research talks about how farmers have a general understanding of human and animal welfare interconnection and farmers are known to put the welfare of their animals before their own in emergencies. But the interdependence of human and animal welfare does not necessarily translate to the response they get from emergency management officials. This hinders their recovery, but the farmers who recover better have emergency response and recovery plans in place.
“There’s a huge disconnect between animal and people responses,” she says.
“The management of animal welfare in emergencies remains largely disconnected from emergency management overall, which is predominantly because of professional silos and people failing to understand the importance of the human-animal-environment interdependencies.”
In her work, she has proposed a One Welfare framework where all stakeholders acknowledge the importance of the interdependencies and work to support it. There are several strategies that could overcome the challenges and optimise the outcomes for animal welfare emergency management.
“We need to change some legislation and policies as there are parts that counter the ability to collaborate effectively,” she says.
“We need to support agencies that are involved in the human-animal interface during an emergency to build interactions through every day work rather than waiting until a crisis when it is conducive to building trust and understanding.”
She has recommended interprofessional education and training to increase the knowledge of roles and responsibilities during emergency management. This would develop the skills and prepare teams to be ready to respond when they need to. Much like the forces who practice so they are ready when they need to be deployed for a response.
“Implementing a One Welfare framework is transformational change, we need to engage committed and skilled change champions who represent all of the stakeholders and levels within organisations across all phases of implementation,” she says.
“And we should harness the human-animal bond as it is a valuable conduit for communication and engagement with communities and significant stakeholders central to the One Welfare concept.”
There are many opportunities across all sectors to build a better support framework to help rural communities during a response. But the key advice for the farm level is to know who is in your community and how they can help when a situation arises. Have a clear plan, covering all levels of scenarios and communicate and practice that plan with your family and team.