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From Kodiak to Katrina: Meet the New HSUS Director of Disaster Services

On the path to building a large, multifaceted Disaster Services department, The HSUS recently hired a new director, Randy Covey. Covey was formerly the lead investigator and head of the Technical Animal Rescue team at the Oregon Humane Society, where he worked for eight years. Previously, Covey had spent five and a half years working at the Lane County Animal Regulation Authority in Oregon. In this excerpted interview, Covey discusses his background, his experiences as part of the Hurricane Katrina response, and his thoughts on the future of The HSUS’s disaster work.

Randy Covey holds a rescued dog in need of some comfort at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales. OREGON HUMANE SOCIETY TECHNICAL ANIMAL RESCUE
What sort of work did you do during Katrina, and how long were you in New Orleans?

We were one of the first teams called by HSUS as part of the National Disaster Animal Response Team program. We drove from Oregon with two trucks and four people as the first team, and met two other people from the Oregon Humane Society who flew in. We spent about nine days in the field, doing field rescue. Then after we drove home, two days later I flew back with a second team of different people, with the priority being helping in the shelter at Lamar-Dixon. I spent again about nine days there on-site, managing Barn 5 and then getting involved in some other issues around the shelter.

What was your first involvement with disaster issues?

Prior to being at Lane County, I was a private contractor providing animal control services in Kodiak, Alaska. And I did that for about five years—that’s how I got started in the animal welfare field. My first experiences with rescuing animals were single incidents, things like a dog that got out where somebody had been ice fishing and apparently got his tail wet, and froze to the lake—I had to kind of shave his tail off the lake. Another was a dog that had fallen through the ice and was hypothermic. When I moved to Eugene, Oregon, and ran the animal control department there, we had a few incidents that came up, and it started to become clear to me that in order to have a good professional response, you have to get some training and the proper equipment. When I was hired by the Oregon Humane Society, my primary focus there was to run the investigations department, but it was an opportunity to build an animal rescue team, and with help from other very capable people in my department, we created what we call OHSTAR, Oregon Humane Society Technical Animal Rescue. We quickly developed a relationship with HSUS because there’s no better training than the real thing, and in Oregon our opportunities to get real-life experience were going to be limited—and we hoped they would be. By being involved with a national organization, we would have opportunities to train and help at the same time.

Do you have any general ideas yet about what kinds of things you’re going to focus on in directing the disaster department?

That’s a good question but also a tough one. Because we have this opportunity, this recognition of animals in disaster as a serious, important issue, the primary goal of this department is going to be to be prepared and use the resources that we have been given now through the generosity of people all across the country, to make sure this department is prepared to respond to whatever disaster there is. As part of that preparation, there will be significant emphasis on training and there will be significant effort put into developing a protocol that will be consistent, that will recognize the importance of working with local resources, local shelters, local animal control, working within the emergency management system and what they’re calling now the National Incident Management System, or NIMS—and making sure that our protocol follows their protocol so that when we respond, we are responding appropriately and professionally.

How was Katrina different from other disasters you’ve been involved in? Was it mostly scale, or was it something much more than that?

The shortest answer is scale, definitely, because everything else is related to that. Because of the scale of the disaster, the length of response was longer, the volume of responders was bigger, the variety of responders was more diverse, and all of those played into creating a very dynamic and sometimes difficult-to-manage situation, but also all of it contributed to a situation where there was a wealth of resources. And overall, I think the animal community responded in a way that speaks very highly of the commitment of this nation to deal with animal issues in a disaster. I look back at Katrina—granted, my involvement in the big picture was relatively small, but I got to see a lot of pieces even that I wasn’t involved with—and what I saw was really, really encouraging.

 

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