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Dee Ellis recognized with USA Career Excellence Award

Dr. Dee Ellis, Texas State Veterinarian and Executive Director of the Texas Animal Health Commission, is the recipient of the recent 2014 International Association of Emergency Managers USA Career Excellence Award.

Dr. Dee Ellis, Texas State Veterinarian and Executive Director of the Texas Animal Health Commission, has been recognized by an international organization  for career excellence for his significant contributions to promote and improve the emergency management profession in the United States and worldwide.

Ellis is the recipient of the recent 2014 International Association of Emergency Managers USA Career Excellence Award (IAEM-USA), the first time a veterinarian has been designated for the honor.

"I was caught a little off-guard and unprepared for the award notification but very humble and appreciative to be designated by my peers for such an award. This was an unexpected award and I am grateful and honored to be named by the international group," Dr. Ellis told Southwest Farm Press in a telephone interview last week.

The IAEM-USA Career Excellence Award recognizes a national leader who has made significant contributions throughout his career to promote and improve the emergency management profession in the USA.

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Officials with IAEM say Ellis was honored for his many significant career contributions to emergency management and response in both the United States and abroad. Among many of his contributions on the world stage, Ellis was instrumental in assisting animal health officials in Great Britain during the 2001 outbreak of deadly hoof-and-mouth disease.

Unlike the United States where USDA and state animal health agencies are responsible for animal-related diseases, the British military coordinates response efforts to address animal-related disease outbreaks in England.

"Helping United Kingdom officials to mobilize and coordinate efforts was the first initial task in those early efforts to fight the outbreak. A number of government officials and volunteers from other parts of the world responded to the disease but needed a way to coordinate and track efforts across the British Isles," Ellis said.

Devastating outbreak

The outbreak caused a serious and devastating crisis in British agriculture and tourism. Some 2,000-plus cases of the epizootic disease were diagnosed in farms across most of the British countryside. Over 10 million sheep and cattle were reportedly killed in the outbreak, requiring a concerted and eventually successful attempt to halt the spread of the disease. Ellis' efforts were credited in helping to organize containment and response in association with colleagues from around the world.

The effort to prevent the spread of the disease, which caused a complete ban of the sale of British pigs, sheep and cattle until the disease was confirmed eradicated, concentrated on culling practices and then by burning all animals located near an infected farm.

The complete halt on movement of livestock, culling unaffected animals, and extensive measures to prevent humans carrying the disease on boots and clothing from one site to another brought the disease under control during the summer of 2001. From May to September of that year, about five new cases of the disease per day were being reported.

Eventually the resources required for culling were not immediately available. With about 80,000 to 90,000 animals per week being slaughtered, officials were assisted by units from the British Army.

Four years later Ellis was again in the spotlight when Hurricane Katrina ravaged large areas of Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005. Ellis and mounted volunteers from Texas, many of them part of the TAHC emergency response team, responded to the national emergency to help round up stray cattle and other animals that were displaced by the storm.

In more recent years, Ellis and mounted volunteers from TAHC and USDA repeated roundup operations of stray livestock in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane that hit the Texas coast from Galveston-High Island to inland areas of the state.

Those efforts led to the organization of the Texas Animal Response Team network that includes other state agencies, local jurisdictions, the Texas A&M University Veterinary Emergency Team, as well as many private sector stakeholder and industry groups. Texas was one of the first states to include local jurisdiction planning templates for animal disaster issues that also included producer and veterinary practitioner participation.

Under Dr. Ellis' guidance the latest addition to Texas' animal response capability is the formal creation of the Texas Horseback Emergency Response Team. The team is comprised of TAHC and USDA volunteers whose roles are to round up and transport stray livestock in the aftermath of a disaster. 

The response team also assists in capturing animals that have strayed into Texas from Mexico and which pose disease risks. The team also assists with public safety, and is prepared to assist other states upon request. The TAHC mounted response team is the only one of its kind in the United States.

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