While natural disasters can strike at any time or place, the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response (FIR) Team is ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. Over the years, the FIR Team has assisted animals in the aftermath of natural disasters nationwide, including hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding and earthquakes. This month, FIR Team members are using the expertise they’ve developed throughout their deployments to help lead disaster preparedness drills in communities throughout the country.
Earlier this month, Dr. Dick Green, ASPCA Senior Director of Disaster Response, participated with the Louisiana National Guard in a category three hurricane simulation in New Orleans. During the simulation, coordinated by the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, the ASPCA responded with the Louisiana State Animal Response Team (LSART) to reports of stranded animals.
The ASPCA also participated in a two-day Defense Support of Civil Authorities Training in San Antonio, Texas, focusing on military response to animals during natural and chemical, biological, or nuclear disasters, and determining how the military could best interface with civilians and their pets in times of disaster. Dr. Green presented on emergency animal sheltering and how the ASPCA can collaborate with military agencies during disasters.
Dr. Green, along with ASPCA FIR Medical Director Dr. Sarah Kirk and Adam Leath, FIR Southeast Regional Director, assisted with a Florida state-wide emergency animal evacuation exercise hosted by the Department of Agriculture and the University of Florida in Ft. Myers. Later this month, Dr. Green will help conduct disaster response trainings in Mendocino, California and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Next week will mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, a violent storm that displaced thousands of people and pets and caused nearly 300 deaths in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. Sandy destroyed homes, shattered lives, and plunged parts of the country—including Lower Manhattan—into darkness for weeks.
Those of us in New York, where the ASPCA is headquartered, were not used to this kind of catastrophic weather event. Despite the warnings, many people avoided making any contingency plans—some even refused to comply with mandatory evacuation orders. Others might have evacuated, but didn’t know what to do with their pets. Watch the video below for the story of one Sandy survivor who wishes she’d done things differently.
Hindsight is 20/20, but we shouldn’t dwell on the mistakes of the past at the expense of protecting ourselves in the future. With hurricane season upon us again, we urge everyone to heed the lessons taught by Hurricane Sandy and to be prepared for disaster to strike.
1. Have a Plan. Your “all-family” plan needs to include how you will transport your animals, possible routes you will take and your destination/sheltering options. 2. Build a Go-Kit. This should include a photo of your pet, medical and vaccination records, and any special food or prescriptions. We feel so strongly about every pet parent having a pet first aid kit that we’ve assembled one for you, and right now it’s $10 off at the ASPCA Online Store. 3. Know Your Neighbors. Find someone you can entrust with a key to your house. If a disaster occurs when you are at work, your neighbor may be able to reach your pets. 4. Vaccinate and Microchip Your Pets. If you are ever required to shelter your pets, you will want them protected against disease. And the single most important piece of advice we can offer is to microchip your pets and keep your contact information current with the chip's maker. It is truly their ticket home.
Jennifer Leary is a Philadelphia firefighter, the coordinator for the Philadelphia County Animal Response Team and founder of the Red Paw Emergency Relief Team.
In 1999, Hurricane Floyd claimed the lives of millions of animals, and thousands more were separated from their families. Many of these animals would have been saved if a pet-friendly coordinated response plan had been in effect. When Hurricanes Irene and Sandy struck, we saw that many counties had incorporated co-located pet shelters into their evacuation plans, but most people don’t know the amount of planning it takes to make this happen.
When a co-located pet shelter is developed, there are things an emergency planning committee needs to take into account:
The area where the animals are contained needs to be away from general population, but close enough so that the families can come by and care for their pets
There needs to be safe, outdoor access for dogs
A good source of ventilation is vital
The area needs to be pet-proofed and safe for all pets
As a volunteer for the Red Cross, I was assigned to a co-located pet shelter during Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. When a member of the community came to the shelter with their pet, the individual was greeted by a Red Cross volunteer who directed them to the temporary pet shelter. At pet check-in, a photo was taken of the family with their pet; along with proper paperwork, this helped maintain proof of ownership of the animal. The photo was also used to create special ID bracelets that were used as a visitor’s pass.
Emergencies come in many forms, and they may require anything from a brief absence from your home to permanent evacuation. Knowing their beloved pet has access to a safe haven helps families deal with the emotional tragedy of being forced out of their home.
If you were faced with a rapidly approaching hurricane or tornado, or were caught unawares by a devastating earthquake, what would happen to your pets? Do you have a plan for how you’d keep them safe?
If you’re among those who don’t have a plan, the time to create one is now. September is National Preparedness Month, and that means making sure you’re ready to keep both yourself and your pets safe in an emergency. Where to start? Read our tips for disaster preparedness. We’ll tell you everything you need to know to keep your precious companion animals safe in an emergency.
“It’s often too late to create a plan for your pets when you’re in the middle of a crisis,” says Tim Rickey, ASPCA Vice President of Field Investigations and Response. “The best thing to do is to be prepared in advance.”
Guest blog by Deborah Dubow Press, Regulatory Affairs Senior Manager, ASPCA Government Relations
It has been nearly eight years since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, forever changing the way America responds to natural disasters. The human and animal suffering wrought by Katrina and Superstorm Sandy should remain fresh in our minds as we enter another hurricane season, and preparedness should top the agendas of animal caretakers and policy makers.
That’s why yesterday we were shocked to learn that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) may be reconsidering the disaster plan rule requiring all facilities licensed under the federal Animal Welfare Act—this includes breeders, zoos, research facilities, dealers, and other exhibitors and intermediate handlers—to prepare emergency plans for protecting and caring for animals during disasters. Asking those who use animals commercially to demonstrate a level of readiness to protect animals in their custody is fair and reasonable. We are dismayed by the possibility that the USDA would waver on a rule that could save lives at such a small cost.
For the ASPCA responders who experienced Katrina, Sandy, and countless other disaster deployments firsthand, the horrors of these events have not faded from memory: dogs chained in yards and left to drown; cats starving to death in homes after evacuations dragged on and on; animals covered in oil and toxic sludge; dogs stranded on rooftops; animals wandering the streets malnourished, dehydrated, and frightened, many never to be reunited with their owners.
The more that pet owners and animal facilities prepare for emergencies, the better responders can focus their relief efforts when disaster strikes. We hope that ultimately the USDA will remember the heartbreaks of Katrina, Sandy, Joplin, and countless other disasters and renew its resolve to protect imperiled animals under its jurisdiction.