Animals Stuck in Labs Deserve Disaster Preparedness

Nathan Herschler, October 10, 2018


When natural disasters hit, animals suffering in medical experiments often pay the price. Consider these examples:

· In 2001, approximately 35,000 animals (including 78 monkeys, 35 dogs, and 300 rabbits) caged in facilities operated by died as a result of flooding caused by Tropical Storm Allison. These animals were housed at the Texas Medical Center and Baylor College of Medicine. [1]
· In 2012, a lack of adequate disaster planning led to flooding from Hurricane Sandy drowning thousands of animals at New York University’s Smilow Research Building in Manhattan [2]. Even if these animals had been rescued in time, they would no longer have been useful for the research they were part of and been euthanized rather than rehomed.

The typical solution: euthanize them, and start over

What’s worse, in situations where animal caretakers are able to reach animals stuck in labs before they die from drowning or starvation, usually these animals are just quickly killed. Once a research protocol is interrupted, the research needs to begin again. That means the animals used in the previous research are deemed “useless”, are then euthanized, and then more animals are acquired to suffer in those same experiments. This effectively doubles the number of animals dying in these experiments.

Why the federal requirements for disaster plans aren’t enough

Facilities that receive federal funding for animal experiments (95%) are required to obtain a Public Health Service (PHS) assurance. Included in these requirements is one stating that facilities have to have a plan to evacuate the animals to safety in the event of a natural disaster. There are two reasons this isn’t good enough:

  1. 56 U.S. facilities have no disaster plan requirement at all: This PHS requirement only applies to facilities that receive federal funding. While most facilities that do animal experiments (95%) get federal funding, there are 56 facilities that don’t get federal funding, and are exempt from any requirement to have a disaster plan.
  2. The current “have a disaster plan” is itself inadequate: The current requirement to have a disaster plan is woefully inadequate. Don’t take our word for it, though: in 2017 the National Academy of Sciences issued recommendations for improving the PHS disaster plan requirement, which as of this writing have not been implemented. The NAS recommendations include:
    • Designate a qualified, senior individual with oversight of disaster resilience efforts for the research enterprise
    • Implement comprehensive and integrative disaster resilience planning efforts for the research enterprise
    • Implement mandatory disaster resilience education and training programs
    • Improve the disaster resilience of animal research programs
    • Develop performance-based standards for research facilities
    • Develop an institutional financial investment strategy for disaster resilience efforts for the research enterprise Research Sponsors and Stakeholders”

NEAVS concurs with these NAS findings, and will work to ensure these reforms are implemented.

This problem will continue to grow

As hurricane seasons grow stronger each year, more and more animals will suffer unimaginable deaths if facilities do not take steps to protect them. In addition, there are many research facilities located in areas that are prone to natural disasters. For example, the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill North Carolina area–which was hit by Hurricane Florence—is well known as the Research Triangle and is home to hundreds of thousands of animals stuck in labs for use in research. With so many animals concentrated in this area, natural disasters lead to inevitable drowning, injury, and starvation of animals who can’t be reached for long periods of time.

What NEAVS is doing about it

NEAVS is partnering with the Animal Law Clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School to explore best practices in disaster preparedness for research facilities.  Our campaign will identify best practices and work to ensure that all labs maintain best practices so animals stuck in labs don’t suffer preventable, cruel deaths.

Join us in our effort to ensure that no lab animals are forgotten in natural disasters

Your donation will help us expose suffering, investigate existing practices, design effective policies, and work with Congress and regulators to make sure policies protecting animals stuck in labs are enacted.

We have yet to learn the death toll from this year’s hurricane season, but we expect to find devastating losses of animal life. If you haven’t signed up for email yet. Stay connected by adding your first name and email address to the green form below. Thank you.