Disaster Preparedness

We’ve all seen images of the devastation left behind by hurricanes, tornadoes and even man-made events. Their scale and magnitude make it clear to us that these are disasters.  However, as pet owners, we face countless risks every day that could quickly turn into disaster.  Something as simple as a prolonged power outage may seem like no big deal for many, but if you’re the owner of fish that rely on oxygenating pumps, or reptiles that need a supplemental heat source, you and your animals could quickly be facing a disaster. 

In the 10 years since Hurricane Katrina, animals have moved to the forefront of disaster planning and recovery in the United States.  In 2006 the federal PETS (Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards) Act was passed.  It directed FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) to ensure that state and local emergency plans take into account the needs of individuals with pets and service animals during a major disaster or emergency.   Pets are now included in evacuation orders and while plans differ from state to state, most address things like the care of companion animals, the implementation of state animal response teams, the sheltering of animals and identification of recovered animals.

Unfortunately, this is not the case in Canada.  We have no PETS Act, no FEMA and no coordinated animal response.  There are some jurisdictions that have included animals in their emergency plans, but the level of inclusion varies greatly.  More often, animals and their needs have not yet been included.  What this means is that the onus of preparedness falls on the owners.  It’s quite likely that if you wait for help, it’s not going to come.  If you are ever ordered to evacuate your home TAKE YOUR ANIMALS WITH YOU. 

The good news is that getting yourself and your animals prepared is easier than it’s ever been.  There are countless resources to help you and many of them are just a mouse click away.  All good preparedness plans start with a similar framework.  The key things to consider are:

Know your risks

If you live 50km from the nearest waterway, your odds of being displaced by a flood are minimal.  While we are all vulnerable to some disasters, risks for others depend on your location.  Find out what sorts of events have actually happened in your community and start your plan from there.  At this time you can also find out if animals have been included in your community’s Emergency Plan and to what degree.  This will help you make informed decisions when you put your plan together.

Awareness, Mitigation and Preparedness  

Knowing your risks is not enough.  By staying informed and aware you will know when those risks increase and that will let you better prepare for events….before it’s too late.  One part of that preparedness is mitigation.  By taking steps beforehand, you can reduce the disaster’s impact on your home and family.  This includes making sure all of your pets have some form of identification in case you get separated.  As well, having recent photos of all of your animals can make identification much easier.  The final step of preparedness is making a plan.

Make a Plan  

When disaster comes calling you will be faced with two options; shelter at home or evacuate.  Sometimes you will have to choose between the two, more often, circumstance make that choice for you.  Therefore, your plan should include considerations for both eventualities, as well as a ‘buddy system’ that ensures someone will get to your animals if you can’t.  Most of these considerations can be assembled together into kits that can easily be pulled out when needed.

The kit(s)  

Having an emergency preparedness kit for your family is important.  Having one (or several) for your pet(s) is just as important.  At a very minimum, your kit should be able to sustain your animal(s) for 72 hours.  Make sure you include everything your pet would need in either circumstance; sheltering at home or evacuating.  Planning for evacuations will require some extra research.  If your community has no emergency animal shelter in their emergency plan, you will need to figure out where to take your animals.  Make a list of pet friendly motels, talk with area boarding kennels or arrange to stay with friends or family outside of your immediate area.  It’s always best to have a Plan ‘B’ or even ‘C’ in case a large area is effected and Plan ‘A’ will no longer work.

Practice, Review and Revise  

The only way to know how successful you plan is going to be is to try it out.  Drills help us to identify problems or shortcomings, as well as giving us a ‘real time’ idea of how long it will take to implement different parts of our plans.  If you find out that getting your 4 cats into carriers takes the better part of an hour, you’ll know to start the process early if evacuating your home becomes a possibility.

Planning for disaster now can help keep you and your pets safe in times of trouble.  Trying to figure out what you need and where to find it at a time when moments count and emotions are running high is not going to work.  Spend the time planning, preparing and practicing now and if the time ever comes, you’ll be able to keep your ENTIRE family safe without missing a beat.

For a comprehensive list of resources to help you get started visit http://www.erikalongman.com/resources.html