US Major Emergency Services Resilience Challenge 2017 – Urban Shield

The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and UC Davis Fire Dept. recently orchestrated a large animal rescue component for this year’s major emergency services resilience challenge Urban Shield, in Alameda County CA.

Representing one of 4 technical challenges for Urban Search and Rescue Teams (USAR) across the region, this was the first-time animal rescue was featured at the event.

Jim Green, Director of BARTA has spent the last several months working at the School of Veterinary Medicine to develop integration of first responders and veterinarians in dealing effectively with emergencies and disasters involving animals. In the UK, 90% of Fire Departments have animal rescue components and veterinarians receive augmented training through the British Animal Rescue and Trauma Care Association (BARTA). Urban Shield planners reached out to Jim to organize and facilitate a scenario that would mimic a real life challenge a USAR team might encounter.

The scenario on this occasion revolved around a trail riding accident where a horse had fallen and suffered a repairable fractured leg. Owner and riding companions remained at risk from the injured animal (represented by a life-sized mannequin) and the presence of live animals and riders from the Alameda Sheriff’s Posse enhanced the reality of the exercise. Once assessed and given sedation by Centre for Equine Health DVM, Dr Claudia Sonder, the horse was anesthetised and packaged on a glide sheet for recovery from the difficult canyon using rope systems into an awaiting horse trailer.


Dr. Sonder worked closely with the USAR teams to develop an extrication plan, taking into consideration the welfare of the horse and the time constraints associated with field anaesthesia.

Preparedness for incidents involving animals is a growing skill set being adopted by a range of agencies who will encounter animals in the course of their operational activities. Recent natural disasters have highlighted the importance of considering animal safety and welfare, as both are inextricably linked to the welfare and safety of humans, and have economic and environmental implications following a wide scale emergency or disaster. In addition, rescuers require a totally different philosophy in their approach to injured animals, as, unlike humans who are reassured by rescue teams, animals often perceive them as a risk and act accordingly.

The UC Davis team were joined by John and Deb Fox, both firefighters and seasoned animal rescue specialists with the Large Animal Rescue Foundation, and trainers and authors of the California State Fire Marshall accredited technical large animal rescue training.

Speaking about the training Jim said,

“This was an amazing opportunity to demonstrate the complexities of incidents involving animals and the need for greater understanding and training on all levels. This weekend was a huge team effort by UC Davis, the Large Animal Rescue Foundation and an amazing group of budding amateur dramatists from the Alameda Sheriff’s Posse! I am confident that awareness is being raised about this challenging subject and the very real needs of the community will be addressed as emergency services and veterinarians understand each other’s roles in mitigating risk and meeting societal needs. UC Davis and the British Animal Rescue and Trauma Care Association are hosting a conference at Davis in October which will address many related topic areas to support further knowledge and development.

Details can be found at


Urban Shield has grown into a comprehensive, full-scale regional preparedness exercise assessing the overall Bay Area UASI Region’s response capabilities related to multi-discipline planning, policies, procedures, organisation, equipment and training.

Urban Shield continues to test regional integrated systems for prevention, protection, response and recovery in our high-threat, high-density urban area. The exercise evaluates our existing level of preparedness and capabilities, identifying not only what we do well, but areas in need of improvement. The previous years’ After Action Reports are referenced and used to assist in prioritizing upcoming expenditures possible for the region so we may become more prepared for any type of critical event or incident in our area.
The overarching goals of Urban Shield include striving for the capability to present a multi-layered training exercise to enhance the skills and abilities of regional first responders, as well as those responsible for coordinating and managing large scale events. Urban Shield is implemented to identify and stretch regional resources to their limits, while expanding regional collaboration and building positive relationships. In addition, this exercise provides increased local business and critical infrastructure collaboration. Urban Shield challenges the skills, knowledge and abilities of all who participate. It not only improves regional disaster response capabilities, but provides a platform for national and international first responders, as well as the private sector, to work efficiently and effectively together when critical incidents occur.