Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc when it battered South Florida in September 2017.
But for FAU researchers and the animals who play an integral role in their work, the storm provided an opportunity to test the university’s comprehensive disaster plan.
Upon her arrival at the university in 2012, Sylvia Gografe, D.V.M., Ph.D., director of comparative medicine, overhauled the disaster plan for the Animal Care and Use Program.
"I make sure we have a specific plan for each specific facility, because each species has different needs when it comes to temperature, humidity, air-conditioning etc.," she said.
Gografe, the attending veterinarian, last updated the program’s emergency operations and contingency plan just weeks before Irma struck. In addition to hurricanes, the exhaustive emergency plan provides contingencies for an on-site trespasser, fire, and facility damage.
"The plan is only as good as the people who are following it."
— Sylvia Gografe, D.V.M., Ph.D.
"The plan is only as good as the people who are following it," Gografe said. "I am lucky to have a terrific team of people — they are the true heroes." One colleague, she said, spent three nights caring for the vivarium’s more than 1,000 cages of mice during Hurricane Irma.
Gografe and her staff began preparations five days before Irma’s arrival in South Florida.
They washed animal cages and filled them with new shavings and two to four weeks’ worth of food and fresh water. They also made sure emergency power, generators and trained staff were available, since stable environment and healthy animals are imperative to the integrity of research projects.
For the birds in the Davie, Fla., lab of Rindy Anderson, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences, Irma tested the facility’s electrical system and emergency generator.
"We learned we need a good test of the entire system before a disaster comes," Anderson said.