Why we develop Emergency Relief Networks or ERNs

IFAW's disaster response team assessed animals affected by the Bosnian floods with partner UNDP. In this photo, an IFAW team member holds a puppy that was saved from the floodwaters and is currently being fostered by a local family. c. IFAWSo when my International Fund for Animal Welfare colleague Jennifer Gardner and I aren’t flying off to the latest global disaster to ensure that wildlife and companion animals are safe, healthy, sheltered, and/or fed…

…what is it that we do?

Some of our time is spent evaluating our responses and tweaking the protocols we have worked so hard to create. We do this so IFAW responders— the partners with whom we work—can follow a framework of best practices for future droughts, floods, volcanoes, hurricanes and cruelty cases.

Sounds boring, you say?

Who likes to do paperwork?

But honestly, it is our attention to these protocols that have made us a world leader in disaster response.

Also on IFAW.org: VIDEO: Animal Rescue team update on record flooding in Bosnia

We also build relationships with animal welfare organizations in disaster hotspots around the planet. We have been fortunate to have led the way in establishing these so-called Emergency Relief Networks or ERNs in the United States, India, and Southeast Asia (we are in the fledgling stages of building one in South America).

These four have all grown in response to a particular disaster (in the US, Katrina provided the impetus) or the alarming recurrence of other events (typhoons in Southeast Asia; monsoon-caused floods in India). The US ERN is the largest, with a dozen existing partners and more coming on board as I write this. But others are growing by leaps and bounds as well.

Not only do we build such relationships, we conduct important training workshops with these network members on a regular basis. Earlier this month, we were in the Philippines, conducting trainings with existing partners and meeting with potential others. ERN training topics are chosen based on lessons learned from recent disaster responses and a thorough risk assessment of the region and the active animal welfare organizations there.

Two priorities came about during the post-response assessment of Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda:

  • The need for training on the Incident Command System (ICS) and
  • Technical Rescue was identified as a top priority to address

Therefore, our work in the Philippines this month focused on disaster management including ICS, veterinary triage, field assessment, technical rescue on and in the water, and a round table debrief on the animal response component to Typhoon Haiyan. We engaged government and non-governmental organizations for the workshops.

We also provide ERN capacity building grant funding to purchase proper equipment, from humane handling gear to something as basic as boots (you’d be amazed at how many well-meaning volunteers show up for duty in flip-flops!). With training, equipment, and the perhaps the most essential facet—the IFAW credentialing—these groups can attend to these disasters with their respective governments’ blessings.

So it begs the question: Who are these ERN members? They range in size—from a national organization to a smaller regionally based group—and proficiency. They do not have to have a lot of resources; all we ask is that they share our mission and are willing to work within an established team structure when disaster strikes.

It indeed works both ways, as these partners are of critical value to us as well. Per IFAW’s long-standing policy, we never intervene during a disaster unless we are asked to do so, either by a government entity or an established animal welfare organization.

In Indonesia recently, for example, we responded to volcano eruptions and companion animal abandonment from the forced evacuations that followed. It all came about due to a call from the Center for Orangutan Protection, responders with whom we engaged through technical rescue training a few years ago. The more expansive our relationships, the more likely one of our ERN members can have boots on the ground and call us in at ground zero.

IFAW has raised the level of risk reduction and response standards through our work, and we are confident the countries in which we work appreciate our raising the bar in providing swift, efficient and compassionate care to animals before, during, and after disasters.


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Senior Program Advisor
Senior Program Advisor
Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Veterinarian
Katie Moore, Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Loïs Lelanchon, Animal Rescue Program Officer
Animal Rescue Program Officer
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy