Article originally published in the Vet Practice Magazine February 2024 Edition

By Kerry Faulkner

The Deployable Animal Welfare System (DAWS) is the result of a design originally intended for deployed military working dogs. But now DAWS has been adapted as a triage centre for injured wildlife and family pets during bushfires or floods.

According to the WWF Australia, nearly three billion animals were killed or displaced by Australia’s devastating Black Summer bushfires which raged across more than 19 million hectares of the eastern, south-eastern and south-west parts of Australia in 2019-2020. So great was the loss of animal life, WWF Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman described it as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history.

Recently Nowra (NSW) based company Global Defence Solutions launched DAWS, a deployable animal welfare system which could help revolutionise how injured animals receive medical treatment in emergencies such as the devastating fires of few years ago. The DAWS units are constructed within a single Type 1C Container using lightweight components, and feature wall-mounted taps, sink, water heater, sealed walls and bunded sealed floors and drainage systems, designed specifically to deliver high levels of hygiene. Four large, eight metre square runs are attached to the central container, some with individual sleeping pens and additional quarantine capabilities for animals that need to be confined due to illness. The units are entirely customisable to individual needs.

Established in 1998, GDS mainly provides deployable infrastructure such as operating theatres, to the Australian Defence Force, space industry and government organisations which often need these facilities in remote locations both domestically and overseas, including war zones. GDS general manager Jeromy Bendall explains DAWS grew from the company’s work in providing different types of mobile infrastructure to the military. These include large medical tents for the treatment of injured people with power for lighting and air-conditioning that can be set up in the field by three people in under 10 minutes, and customised units for housing military working dogs on deployment.

“Defence has a requirement that their military working dogs are well cared for when they are working in the field, so we’ve developed a containerised solution,” Bendall explains. “It’s made up of four dog runs effectively coming off the side of a central container and then sleeping quarters within the main container with drains for waste, and air conditioning for comfort. So, they keep the working dogs sheltered at night in their own sleeping quarters that are climate controlled.”

The Department of Energy Environment and Climate Action (DEECA) is the lead agency for managing wildlife welfare during bushfires.

Under its protocols, Wildlife Field Assessment Teams undertake on-ground observation and assessment, euthanasia or capture, and transport wildlife to triage centres close to the fire ground but away from fire operations. These are equipped with veterinary equipment and consumables that DEECA has on hand for these events.

Bendall explains the DAWS units are designed to military requirements which means they are lightweight and can be airlifted or trucked into locations impacted by flood or fire and simply slid of the back of a tilt vehicle. Set-up takes two people just 30 minutes and can be done by hand without any specialised equipment or skills.

“We do operating theatres for human beings, so it’s not that far a stretch to setting it up as a veterinarian surgery,” he explains. “The main core area could be set up as the surgery and then you’d have the wings off to the side as rehabilitation areas. Each can be customised to requirements, and we can put canvas over them, so they are not fully open, and have them air conditioned. An additional sun shield can be fitted over the top for higher comfort levels.” Bendall says the Defence Force is increasingly called upon to assist in major disaster relief efforts and it made sense for the company to adapt its infrastructure products to meet community including veterinary needs. “So, the civilian market can now get the benefit of the technology and extensive research and development that’s gone into creating military infrastructure and making it work for the community in emergency situations,” he says.

A report released by the WWF in November 2020 details the animals killed or displaced by the 2019-2020 Black Saturday bushfires:
  • nearly 40 million possums and gliders
  • more than 36 million antechinuses, dunnarts and other insectivorous marsupials
  • 5.5 million bettongs, bandicoots, quokkas, and potoroos
  • five million kangaroos and wallabies
  • 1.1 million wombats
  • 114,000 echidnas

In addition, more than 60,000 koalas were killed, injured or affected in some way.

Some of the most graphic images from that horrific summer are from the small Victorian town of Mallacoota where the firestorm cut the town off entirely, forcing people—and animals—to escape to the beach where an Australian Navy ship was making evacuations.

Bendall says DAWS could definitely have been deployed to treat injured animals in such a scenario. “People were trapped within that area; they couldn’t get out so trying to get animals to vets, trying to even get humans out to hospitals was impossible. So, it makes sense to have a facility like DAWS that could be delivered by the navy which was there at the inlet already shipping people out and bringing supplies in. This type of unit can be put onto a ship and taken to a land-based location or even left on the ship and operated from there.”

The units are scalable; two or more of them can be linked together to expand their capacity in large scale emergencies.

Bendall says the company wants to work closely with vets and veterinary organisations to produce a highly suitable end product for their needs. “Everything within the container can be completely customised to their requirements. We see it being very much a partnership to deliver a better more humanitarian solution.”

View DAWS Brochure