Thursday, June 23, 2011

Disaster Preparation

I'm back!  I spent a good bit of the last three weeks down in Joplin, Missouri helping the ASPCA with tornado disaster relief.  I also just got back from a two day seminar sponsored by SEMA on emergency animal sheltering put on by the Humane Society of Missouri.  I'd like to share a few things I learned about preparing for a disaster in consideration of your dogs, be they strictly pets or working dogs.  Before Joplin, I was a bit lax on preparing for this sort of thing as in central Missouri, we are not in hurricane or wildfire country, not directly on a flood plain or earthquake fault line (unlike many of our other Missouri residents).  We mostly just get the odd tornado watch or warning that was more of an annoyance that interrupts a TV program than something to be taken seriously.  Until I went down and saw the destruction of the worst tornado in recent history.  Just a few days after my first trip back from Joplin, the sirens rang for a tornado warning and I immediately put on long pants, boots, grabbed my cell phone, wallet, and cash, and prepared to get in our walk in closet!  After seeing the destruction, I will never take a tornado warning lightly again!  I took some video and photos from my first trip a few days afterwards seen below:

A disaster plan does not need to be complicated.  But it does need to happen.  One of the most important lessons I learned was that you must communicate!  If you must evacuate your home, have a plan outside your area to take your animals.  FEMA and other disaster agencies learned from Hurricane Katrina that people will not always evacuate without their pets. I was at a Red Cross co-location shelter for four days where they did amazingly allow animals, but many do not.  Let others know of your plans and have a meeting place both near your home and further away.  Cell phone communication the day of and after in Joplin was sketchy at best and interestingly, many used Facebook updates from their phones as a way to communicate they were alright.  You can also use something like the Safe and Well website on the Red Cross:

So in preparing for a disaster with animals, what can you do?  Here are some tips I learned both from my experience in Joplin and from the SEMA course:

-have photos of your pets.  Most people have camera phones and taking a photo of each and storing on your phone will help if you become separated (assuming your phone is still operating!)
-have an emergency kit.  This kit should contain the follow:
  • 3 days worth of food (dry or canned).  I recommend keeping the kibble in waterproof bags, such as in Seal a Meal bags, to keep out both vermin and water.  Many cans have a pop top these days, but don't forget a can opener!  Collapsible bowls are also easy to find in pet supply stores.
  • 3 days worth of drinking water.  For most mammals (dogs, cats, horses, other livestock), most mammals drink approximately 1 gallon per 100 lbs of body weight per day.  This is a VERY rough approximation.  Obviously this will vary by the situation and the weather conditions
  • All medications 
  • A pet first aid kit.  These are available commercially or you can also put one together for less than $30.  In the next entry, I will cover my recommendations for a first aid kit
  • Photos of your pet and the most recent vaccination records.  Vaccine records are important to have if your pets need to boarded on an emergency basis.  Keep these in a gallon sized ziplock bag to avoid getting wet
  •  Dawn (plain) dish soap.  In a chemical spill or flood, Dawn is particularly helpful for decontaminating your pet.  There are many unknown nasty organisms or chemicals in flood waters that will need to be scrubbed off.  Remember, if your home is underwater, it's likely the farm store with the pesticides/herbicides and the auto parts store with the car batteries, oils, and solvents are too!
  • Carriers (small dogs and cats), spare leashes, and collars with extra ID tags.  For ID tags in general, I recommend putting the phone number of an out of state good friend or relative on the ID tags in case you or your phone are somehow incapacitated
-Another important tip for your emergency kit and first aid kit is to check it regularly!  When you change your clock for day light savings time, replace your battery in your smoke detector and take a moment to look at your kit to make sure it is still intact and does not require any updating of the contents.
-Crate train your animals.  Some dogs and many cats are not used to being contained in a crate, which will be enormously stressful if your animals will need to be kept there for any length of time during or after a disaster.  There are many resources on crate training dogs and cats and acclimating them beforehand is critical.  Trying to dig out a scared dog or cat from under the bed while sirens are going off is not the best use of your time.
-Microchip your animals and just as importantly, make sure the contact info is still good with the company it is under
-Do a few test runs to allow you to grab your own personal effects (wallet, cell phone, computer external hard drive or laptop, etc).  Care for yourself before you address your pets, as they won't be able to get your help if you are incapacitated.  Put small dogs and cats in carriers and large dogs on a leash or in crates in your safe area (interior bathroom/closet, basement, cellar) if possible.
-Use the stickers that are often given out at pet trade shows or elsewhere that state that animals are on the premises to alert emergency teams at every major access point, not just by the front door.

Hope that gives you a few things to think about to potentially save the life of you and your animals.  Next entry will be concerned with a first aid kit for pets.

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