Be Prepared for a Disaster

Hurricane Katrina made it clear that individuals and animal shelters can’t count on the government for help in a timely manner. We need to become as self-reliant as possible through preparation and planning before a disaster hits. We are suggesting the following basic guidelines to which everyone can add their own ideas. These guidelines apply to the average household with companion animals and the basic animal shelter.

With regard to the average household – It is important to have a plan for two types of disasters: those in which you are stranded in your home for an extended period and those in which you must flee the area.

  • To prepare for being stranded, in addition to the human and animal canned goods, a manual can opener, bottled water, flashlights, batteries, and candles you have stashed away, consider storing dry pet food in large plastic or metal containers, rotating it periodically. This keeps food fresh, dry, and mice free. Store kitty litter the same way. Also, a stack of newspapers can be used for many animal purposes in case of emergency.
  • If you have pets on medications, especially diabetic animals, keep a two-week supply on hand. Seriously consider purchasing a small gas generator, which can cost around $500. If you know a storm is coming, gasoline can be purchased to run it.
  • If you must evacuate, it is important to have a plan beforehand. Because you may be unable to return for longer than you think, take all animals with you. It is best if the family creates a written plan.
  • For starters, it is simplest to keep all animal-related evacuation items in one place. For example, keep all animal carriers and extra leashes together for easy retrieval. Label them with the family name, pet’s name, address, and telephone number, as well as the name of a friend or relative in an unaffected area. Label collars with the same information and store them in the carriers. If you have to leave in a hurry, you will have the collars right there. Pets have been lost during the confusion of an evacuation when a carrier was misplaced or a door was not tightly shut.
  • Keep bottled water, a supply of food in small containers, as well as plastic dishes, small litter pans and litter, plastic bags, and baggies in the same area. Baby-wipes and paper towels are good to have as well in case of spills or accidents. With regard to animal medicines, keep at least a two-week supply, and since many meds must be kept in the refrigerator, tape plastic ziplock bags marked with the pet’s name to the inside of the refrigerator door, so you can drop the meds in easily and take them along.
  • As part of your pre-planning, take photos of all pets. Write family name, pet’s name, address, and phone numbers on the photos and place in a ziplock bag with the rest of the evacuation materials. Make photo-copies of vaccination records and store them in the same bag. You might also consider having your animals micro-chipped or tattooed with identifying information.
  • The written plan should include assigning responsibility for removing each animal. Depending on the number of animals in the home, each person, including mature children could have a role. It is a good idea to have a drill periodically, so everyone knows his or her job.
  • If your vehicle is not large enough to accommodate removing the family and animals, consider renting a larger vehicle early, before the storm hits.

With regard to the basic animal shelter – Dealing with disaster planning for a shelter presents a logistical nightmare though the same basic situations present themselves.

  • To prepare for being stranded, the same principles apply to food and water. In general, shelters have food stocks to last for some time. Water may be a different story. If a shelter uses electricity to operate a well, consider storing gallon jugs of water in case the electric goes out. In the Northeast, ice storms can raise havoc with power lines. If staff and animals are stranded in the shelter, the most important item a shelter can own is an emergency generator. Small generators can be purchased for $500 to $700 and are well worth the investment for peace of mind even if never used. Rescuers can more easily bring gas to run a generator than remove a shelter full of animals. Remember to store the generator above floor level to keep them dry and free of corrosion.
  • We know the importance of generators from personal experience. During the ice storm of 1998, the northern area of our state was devastated. Power lines snapped and some animal shelters were without heat and water. One shelter near the Canadian border was deemed off limits to traffic and could not obtain a generator. Fortunately, NYSHA was able to transport one donated by The Humane Society of the United States from Kingston to the shelter only because NYSHA’s past President was a member of the NYS State Police and engaged the assistance of the Troopers to relay the generator up the Northway and finally to the shelter. It is far better to have a generator beforehand, than to rely on the possible kindness of strangers.
  • If you have volunteers who are ham radio operators, you have a gold mine. Ham radio operators have been a lifeline in countless disasters when phone lines have failed.

With regard to large scale emergency, when shelters must evacuate and possibly have to assist area pets whose owners have been forced to leave, it is critical to plan ahead as to where you will take the animals. Shelters employees and volunteers should consider becoming involved with a program the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets is working on in cooperation with the ASPCA. The program comprises both State Animal Response Teams (SART) and County Animal Response Teams (CART) which work in cooperation with the human emergency rescue teams. If the CART needs help, the State Animal Response Team can assign resources from nearby counties to assist. The SART mission statement is ” Providing prevention, response, and recovery for emergencies affecting animals. “

We need to become as self-reliant as possible through preparation and planning before a disaster hits.

Educational seminars are being presented in various parts of the state to encourage local shelters, veterinary hospitals, and all interested volunteers to become involved in disaster relief training. Though veterinary technicians and veterinarians are key, anyone who has the commitment to help animals can become involved in both the planning effort and the execution of a county plan should disaster strike.

Developing a County Animal Response Team (CART) beforehand that works with the overall county emergency team, provides an organized approach to dealing with animals in disasters. In addition, by using this state-approved approach, the animal response team is considered a partner in addressing an emergency.

For further information on the SART/CART concept and to get started on developing your county team, type ” NYS State Animal Response Team ” on the Google search line, and it will bring you to the ASPCA page on the topic. You can also contact the NYS Agriculture and Markets Department at (518) 457-3502 to find out when the next seminars are being held and to request a sample CART plan that can be used as a model for your county.

Let’s all get a great plan and perhaps that in itself will stave off a disaster.

New York State Humane Association Humane Review, Vol.XIX, No.3, Fall 2005.