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FVSU SAFE Center to play key role in statewide hurricane preparedness drill

Date Published: 05/05/14 9:07AM

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Fort Valley State University’s State Animal Facility for Emergencies (SAFE) Center will serve as an animal shelter during hurricane drills May 6.

Hurricane season is fast approaching. According to the National Weather Service, hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean starts June 1 and ends Nov. 15.

To help ensure a smooth evacuation process, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) will conduct a statewide hurricane exercise simulation called HURREX on May 6 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Fort Valley State University’s State Animal Facilities for Emergencies (SAFE) Center and other parts of campus will serve as the location for the simulation.

FVSU’s SAFE Center is a 7,800 square-foot facility that provides pet owners a shelter for their animals during natural and man-made disasters. The center which opened in 2012, can house 105 dogs, 80 cats and 30 horses.

Dr. George McCommon, director of the SAFE Center and interim department head of veterinary science and public health, said 60 percent of pet owners will not leave home if they can’t take their animals. McCommon said if a person knows their pet will have a place to stay, they are more likely to evacuate accordingly. If not, then they might try to ride the storm out or stay until the last minute, which is a burden to any person trying to rescue them.

During the simulation, animals will be transported to the SAFE Center and housed in the facility as if an actual hurricane was headed for the Georgia coastline. McCommon said this test is to see if the facilities are functioning properly and the people staffing it can perform their tasks competently.

The Fort Valley professor added that with the FVSU SAFE Center’s focus on animals, coordinators and evaluators from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be on hand to observe events as the animals arrive. McCommon said that at least 16 people will staff the SAFE Center in an emergency situation will be. This will include six individuals from the Georgia Department of Agriculture and 10 individuals from FVSU’s veterinary technology staff. McCommon said that with potential help from animal shelter volunteers and FVSU students, it should be more than enough people to handle the workload.

McCommon said the staff is excited about taking part in the HURREX exercise and interacting with members of various state and private agencies that handle emergencies. “It’s a great opportunity. We’re happy to partner with them.”

For more information about the simulation or the SAFE Center, contact McCommon at 478-825-6424 or mccommong@fvsu.edu.