Griffin Works offers Pawsitive Interactions with Service Dogs During Response Operations©, an audience-customized training that breaks down barriers by offering hands-on handling training and demonstrations with working service dogs for fire departments, EMS agencies, and public safety organizations.

Part of the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium and home to the National Emergency Response and Recovery Training Center, TEEX has been leading homeland security training since 1998. The major TEEX programs include fire and rescue, infrastructure and safety, law enforcement, economic and workforce development, and homeland security. As a member of The Texas A&M University System, TEEX is unique in its ability to access a broad range of emerging research and technical expertise. Beginning with course design and development all the way through hands-on instruction and national certification testing, TEEX delivers comprehensive training through both classroom and hands-on instruction and as online courses.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) was created by Congress in 2000 as part of the Children’s Health Act to raise the standard of care and increase access to services for children and families who experience or witness traumatic events. This unique network of child-serving professionals, caregivers and young adults, researchers, and national partners is committed to changing the course of children’s lives by improving their care and moving scientific gains quickly into practice across the U.S. The NCTSN is administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and coordinated by the UCLA-Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress (NCCTS). 

The Emergency Management Institute (EMI) is part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The EMI provides national leadership in developing and delivering training to ensure that individuals and groups having key emergency management responsibilities possess the requisite skills to effectively perform their jobs.

The High Alert Institute maintains a list of reviewed courses provided by governments, universities and professional organizations. This list is geared towards the non-emergency management person who participates in disaster planning, preparedness, response, recovery or mitigation as part of their job responsibilities.

The High Alert Institute has partnered with Shutterstock to distribute stock images from the nature images donated by our supporters. For eligible stock images, Shutterstock will donate a portion of the royalty to the High Alert Institute. There is no cost to charitable organizations or to Shutterstock customers.

For eligible purchases through AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price to the High Alert Institute. There is no cost to charitable organizations or to AmazonSmile customers. All you need to do is push the SMILE NOW button and select to support THE HIGH ALERT INSTITUTE on AmazonSmile.

Koi need forever homes, too! For pond enthusiasts, freshwater exotic and ornamental fish may not be available through pet stores or rescues in their area. The High Alert Institute Aquatic Pet Shelter Rehoming Program will be happy to assist you in stocking your new pond or adding a new finned friend to your school. Coming soon – when you adopt a Koi from the High Alert Institute Aquatic Pet Shelter Rehoming Program, we can arrange for delivery to your door anywhere in the continental United States.

Have you always wanted a Koi pond but don’t have the space one? Sponsor a Koi in our community shelter pond and we send you photos of your sponsored animal. Coming soon are live Koi Cameras above and below the water to enjoy your sponsored Koi anytime.

Dumping of freshwater non-native species and exotic aquatic pets into wild habitats is a man-made disaster that is truly preventable. The Institute’s Aquatic Pet Welfare Partnership works to raise awareness and reduce the impact on healthy ecosystems through education, as well as rescue and rehoming. Joined by champions of animal welfare and environmental stewardship, this  association of aquatic pet rescue operations and aquatic pet shelters across the United States aims to save our finned friends and preserve our waterways together.

Want to share our cause with family, friends, and colleagues? Looking for a non-traditional way to celebrate a birthday or honor someone special? Support the Institute by starting your own Peer-to-Peer fundraising challenge! Let your contacts know why our mission is important to you and what they can do to support your cause. START YOUR OWN FUNDRAISER for the High Alert Institute.

From the staffing pool to the shelter ponds, from the boardroom to the classroom, and from reading the science to writing the analyses, High Alert Institute programs and services benefit from the experience, expertise, and generosity of our volunteers. Put your talents to use for good and to good use – VOLUNTEER TODAY.

Make your donation twice as nice by rehoming aquatic pets and providing a rehabilitation companion pet to a deserving person, family, or facility. Sponsor part or all of a Joy of Koi Program pond installation – complete with rehomed koi – and give the gifts of love and recovery.

Professional photographers, amateurs, and legal copywrite holders are all welcome to participate in the High Alert Institute Nature Photo Donation Program. Sales of the images benefit the Institute and donors are eligible for tax deductions equivalent to the fair market value of their photos. Landscapes, seascapes, animals, flowers – all may be accepted – whether new or vintage  images. People may be included in the photo but only if unidentifiable (i.e., blurred figures at a distance).

Did you know that unused patents and copyrights can be donated to charity? Intellectual Property (IP) just sitting on a shelf will lose value as it becomes obsolete. The High Alert Institute IP Donation Program seeks to rescue stranded, technology-related IP with the potential for development into marketable products. Once accepted by the program, the owner/inventor is eligible for a tax deduction equivalent to the fair market value of the IP. The Institute receives the patent licensing fees or revenue from the sale of the IP to businesses, helping us to fund our mission. In turn, businesses are able to advance their markets and create jobs for less money than starting a project from scratch.

Disasters are defined as situations in which needs exceed or overwhelm available resources. Some disasters affect an entire community, while other disasters impact individuals and families. Crises of physical or psychological health can be very personal disasters.
The therapeutic value of pets during illness, trauma, and recovery is well established. And Koi fish may be well suited for people who are not able to provide verbal pet commands or physically care for pets like dogs and cats. Koi ponds are also a source of beauty and peace, providing an ideal setting for quiet reflection or meditation.
We are working to partner with pond installers and aquatic pet rescues/shelters to offer free or reduced-cost ponds with rehomed Koi fish to people seeking this type of pet therapy.

Disasters disrupt life and impact our sense of personal, family, and community safety. Survivors and responders alike often are not aware of the emotional, psychological or spiritual challenges that they may face from disaster onset through recovery. With two decades of experience training responders and communities to prepare for the behavioral health aspects of disasters, we will continue to provide education and a curated list of resources to groups or individuals.

Non-medical factors that impact overall health are termed Social Determinants of Health or SDoH. Noise pollution, poor air quality, and poor water quality are three environmental factors known to have a strong link to overall health. And the same environmental factors that impact humans impact their pets and other animals in their care. We continue to assist in advocacy, education, and technology development to mitigate the impact of SDoH on humans and animals alike.

Our efforts in shelter and rescue are the main focus of our environmental stewardship, reducing the environmental impact of non-native aquatic animals being dumped into public waterways. The High Alert Institute also assists innovators with the design, development, and evaluation of green and renewable energy technologies. Reducing the carbon footprint associated with disaster preparedness, response, and recovery furthers our continued mission to mitigate risk and improve resilience.

We partner with public and private organizations, sharing resources and fostering partnerships to improve disaster preparedness, response, and recovery, and mitigation.

The High Alert Institute team has over a century of combined research experience in medical, nursing, behavioral health, and disaster sciences. Our team provides support to researchers and technology developers through comprehensive literature searches and reviews, as well as failure mode database searches and adjudicated reviews.

When disaster strikes, most aquatic pet owners have limited options to secure the safety of their pets. Sheltering in place may not be possible if there is no power to provide aeration and “pet-friendly” shelters do not include ponds or aquariums. Our goal is to provide an option for aquatic pet owners in need of rescue and shelter for their finned friends.

Our goal is to share our two decades of disaster readiness experience with animal welfare organizations, shelters, caretakers, and pet owners, as they implement contingency  plans for natural and manmade disasters.

High Alert Institute



The Unsung Heroes

by | Jun 28, 2007

On this second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we must not only think of those still in the recovery, those still displaced from New Orleans and Gulfport and homes and businesses all across the Gulf Coast of the United States.  Among those who were the first to provide aid and assistance to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina who were the unsung heroes of the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS).  Few in the United States have heard of the men and women of NDMS.  These healthcare professionals shied away from the public eye and publicity of any kind.  They strive to always observe the first lesson of the disaster field office: “Don’t get in front of the camera!”  Yet those who serve in the various divisions of the National Disaster Medical System are perhaps heroes in the truest sense of the world because it is these men and women who place their lives on hold often on as little as two hours notice and travel to communities not their own to help those in need, to help people whom they do not even know and will likely never see again.


The National Disaster Medical System has existed for over two decades, beginning as a single unit of field responders under the United States Public Health System.  Since its simple beginning NDMS has grown to include units dedicated to providing medical assistance to disaster survivors through Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMAT); domestic animals and pets through Veterinary Assistance Medical Teams (VMAT); and the respectful care of those not fortunate enough to survive a disaster through Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams (DMORT).


Why are NDMS teams and the people that serve on them unsung heroes?  It is because not only do they shy away from publicity, but they choose to serve rather than to self-promote.


NDMS members exist in a unique place in our federal government and our federal response to disaster.  Although they serve in uniform and operate within a command structure that closely mimics that found both in the fire service and in our esteemed military, NDMS personnel are not technically reservists.  NDMS began at the volunteer program functioning more like AmeriCorp, the Peace Corp or the American Red Cross than like a government agency.  Over time however, the need to provide these intrepid rescuers with the basic protections of workers’ compensation, liability insurance and malpractice insurance spurred the federal government to make them “intermittent part-time employees.”  At times of nationally declared disaster, NDMS personnel respond to deployment request within as little as two hours.  NDMS personnel maintain equipment that they have paid for in deployment ready condition at all times, often carrying that equipment in their automobiles and even on vacation with them.  Three months out of the year NDMS teams place themselves on call, notifying employers that in the event of a national disaster they may have to leave their workplace almost immediately. Yet unlike all other federal assets, in those times between disasters NDMS personnel receive a biweekly federal pay stub for zero dollars. They receive no benefits, no retirement, no reservist pay, none of the other benefits, discounts, or protections afforded those who serve in the United States Military, the National Guard, the Military Reserves, or as federal employees.  


While deployed NDMS personnel are protected from employer discrimination and retaliation for their service just as those in the National Guard or the Military Reserves are protected.  During times of deployment, they are full-time federal employee but they receive pay that is seldom more than 25 percent of their usual civilian wage.  For most NDMS members, each week of deployment takes 2-3 months of personal financial recovery.   Informal surveys of NDMS teams responding to the hurricanes of 2004 (Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne) and 2005 (Katrina, Rita and Wilma) found that most team members were still financially recovering as of this writing in 2007.  


Because an employer is required to hold the job open but not for maintaining the employee on the work schedule, upon an NDMS team member’s return it is not unusual for that team member to spend one or even two weeks off the job waiting for the next work schedule to begin. This means that after returning from a two week deployment where they earned 25% of their usual wage, they go without pay at all until their employer can integrate them back into the schedule.  In 2004 and 2005 this meant that individuals deployed to all seven major hurricane, spent on average seven months away from work in only a 14 month period of time.  In that same time period, few made more than the equivalent of three weeks of their regular civilian pay. Despite the fact that in that 14 month period of time, every team in the nation was deployed repeatedly and most deployed for all seven events, the loss of team members across the nation was surprisingly low.


The heroes of the NDMS system are not the typical field responder that most citizens would envision.  These are ordinary doctors and nurses, respiratory therapists, supply personnel, paramedics, EMT’s, physicians’ assistants,    nurse practitioners, administrators and accounting personnel from the whole spectrum of the healthcare workforce.  They are most accustomed to working in nicely appointed offices for well-equipped hospitals.  In their civilian lives — like most Americans, they sleep in a comfortable bed in an air-conditioned or heated home with pillows and blankets, an alarm clock and a hot shower.  However, in addition to the financial hardships that they gladly endure, they deploy into a field environment where one trip may they sleep on the floor in an airport or on the baggage conveyor belts and the next, they sleep in a tent in a sleeping bag or in the seats of vans and buses.  Although their treatment areas are air-conditioned for patient benefit, seldom if ever do they enjoy air-conditioning in their own billet or bivouac.  A once a week shower is a luxury and since resourcefulness and creativity are the hallmarks of NDMS personnel, it is not unusual to see them washing uniforms in a bucket, in the rain or even in an unmonitored dishwasher, in the first class lounge of the Louis Armstrong International Airport.


Despite the hardships and the lack of personal benefits beyond that satisfaction of having served their fellow American, an increasing number of healthcare professionals from all areas of healthcare, both clinical and nonclinical are seeking to join not just NDMS but the state equivalent medical response teams in all 50 states and US Protectorates.  Those not willing to leave their homes are joining Medical Reserve Corps Teams in order to afford themselves an opportunity to assist their own communities in the event of disaster.


But it is the members of the National Disaster Medical System, those first out the door, first in the field, first on scene, this first line of the nation’s medical and rescue response who are truly the unsung heroes and truly most deserving of our gratitude and praise on this second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.


Dr. Maurice A. Ramirez is co-founder of Disaster Life Support of North America, Inc., a national provider of Disaster Preparation, Planning, Response and Recovery education. Through his consulting firm High Alert, LLC., he serves on expert panels for pandemic preparedness and healthcare surge planning with Congressional and Cabinet Members. Board certified in multiple medical specialties, Dr. Ramirez serves the nation as a Senior Physician-Federal Medical Officer in the National Disaster Medical System DMAT-FL3. Cited in 24 textbooks and the author of numerous published articles, he is co-creator of C5RITICAL and author of You Can Survive Everything, Everywhere, Every Time. His website is

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