Disaster Preparedness for Your Family and Pets

Written By Jenny Pavlovic
(Please note: This article includes information from the Not Without My Dog Resourcethe Not Without My Dog Resource and Record Book by Jenny Pavlovic & Record Book. Although it was originally written for dogs, it also applies to cats and other animals in your care.)
Disasters disrupt hundreds of thousands of lives every year. Each disaster has lasting effects on people, animals and property. In recent months, floods created havoc in the Midwest and tornados left wide paths of destruction across southern states. June 1st marks the official start of the hurricane season. Most people don’t expect disaster to strike their own homes and families, but I encourage you to make a disaster plan for your family and pets.
If a disaster occurs in your community, local government and disaster-relief organizations will try to help you, but you need to be prepared. Local responders may not be able to reach you immediately, or they may need to focus their efforts elsewhere. You should know how to respond to severe weather or any disaster that could occur in your area—hurricanes, earthquakes, extreme cold or blizzards, tornadoes, flooding, or terrorism. Prepare to be self-sufficient for at least three days. This may mean providing your own shelter, first aid, food, water, medications, and sanitation.
Being prepared may reduce the fear, anxiety, and losses that can accompany disasters. People should be ready to evacuate their homes, take refuge in public shelters if needed, and know how to care for their basic medical needs. People may also reduce the impact of disasters, and sometimes avoid danger completely, by taking preventive measures such as flood-proofing their homes and securing items that could shake loose in an earthquake.
You have a responsibility to protect yourself and your family by knowing what to do before, during, and after a catastrophic event. Here are some examples:
Before:
• Purchase insurance to protect against financial loss. Consider including flood insurance, which is not part of your homeowner’s policy
• Know the risks and danger signs of an impending disaster in your area
• Develop a specific disaster response plan
• Prepare a kit with disaster supplies
During:
• Put your plan into action. Be ready to evacuate before the disaster occurs
• Keep all family members safe, including the animals in your care
• Follow the advice and guidance of officials in charge of the event
 
After:
• Repair damaged property
• Take steps to prevent or reduce future loss
• Re-evaluate your disaster plan with your family and make recommended changes
• Re-stock your disaster supply kit
• Enjoy quality time with your family, and pat yourself on the back for being prepared
Your Disaster Plan
The following information is intended to simplify disaster preparedness. Please read it and plan ahead now.
Obtain Information from Local Officials
Contact your area Community Emergency Response Team (CERT, www.citizencorps.gov/cert) to find out about hazards that may threaten your community. Learn your community’s emergency plans, including how you will be warned and which evacuation routes are to be used when a disaster occurs. Your local CERT can also provide basic disaster response training specific to your community. If no CERT is available in your area, contact your local emergency response officials for information, and consider organizing a local CERT. Your family can learn basic safety and first aid skills from the local CERT or Red Cross.
 
Create a Family Disaster Plan
A disaster is an extremely stressful situation that can create confusion. Knowledge and preparation may save lives. The best emergency plans are simple so people can remember the important details.
 
Discuss Possible Disasters and Know What to Do
Discussing disasters ahead of time can reduce fear and anxiety by preparing people to respond properly. Meet with your family and discuss why you need to prepare for disasters. Explain the dangers of fire, severe weather, and other possible disasters, and discuss what to do in each case. Plan to share responsibilities and work together as a team. Discuss what to do if family members are not together when a disaster occurs.
 
Plan for Your Pets
Plan where to take your pets in a disaster. If you must go to a public shelter, you may need to make a different plan for your pets. Pets (with the exception of service dogs) usually are not allowed in public shelters where food is served to people. Some Red Cross shelters partner with animal emergency response groups to provide emergency animal shelters nearby, but please plan ahead.
What to Include in Your Disaster Response Plan
 
Escape Routes from Your Home
Make sure that all family members know how they will escape from your home, in the case of a fire or other damage to the home. Draw a floor plan, using a blank sheet of paper for each floor. Mark two escape routes from each room. Make sure children understand the drawings and know what to do without assistance (if possible). Post a copy of the drawings at eye level in each child’s room. Figure out how to assist family members who need physical help. Decide how you will evacuate companion animals. Practice or simulate exiting your home via the escape routes to make sure everyone understands and is capable of following the plan. The practice of going through the motions may make an actual emergency evacuation go more smoothly.
Places to Re-Group
Agree on two places to meet, one near your home in case of a sudden emergency, like a fire, and one outside your neighborhood in case you can’t return home or are asked to leave the immediate area. An example near your home is the telephone pole next door. An example farther away is a grocery store parking lot. Make sure everyone knows the address and phone number of the meeting location, but remember that cell phones and/or landlines may not be working.
 
Family Communication Plan
Separation during a disaster is a real possibility during the day, when adults are at work and children are at school. Plan how you will contact one another if your family is separated when disaster strikes. Ask a relative or friend who lives outside your area to be your family contact. Complete a contact information card for each family member to keep handy in a vehicle, wallet, purse, and/or backpack. You may want to have one on file at school for each child. Make sure family members know the contact’s name, address, and phone number, and check in with the contact in an emergency. Program important numbers into cell phones, but don’t count on always having cell phones available when needed.
 
Evacuation Plan
Depending on the type of disaster, it may be necessary to evacuate both your home and neighborhood. Discuss what to do if authorities ask you to evacuate. Designate a family member to shut off household utilities if this can be done safely before leaving. Make sure this person knows what to do.
Follow the advice of local officials during evacuation situations. They will know which roads may be blocked or could put you in further danger and will direct you to the safest route. Be familiar with community escape routes, and plan several escape routes in case some roads are blocked or closed.
Learn about shelter locations or make arrangements for a place to stay with a friend or relative who lives out of town. If you need a place to stay with your pet, find a pet-friendly hotel listed on one of the following websites: petfriendlyhotel.org, petswelcome.com, and pet-friendly-hotels.net.
 
Special Needs
If you or someone close to you has a disability or special needs, you may need to take additional protective steps to prepare for an emergency. Special arrangements may be needed for people who don’t speak English, the hearing impaired and mobility impaired, those without vehicles, and those with special dietary needs. Elderly people living alone, single parents, and people with multiple pets and/or livestock may need assistance with emergency evacuation.
The Not Without My Dog Resource & Record Book includes a template for making a disaster preparedness plan for your family.
LEAVE NO ANIMAL BEHIND
 
Animals are especially dependent on people for their survival when disasters strike. That is why you, as a caregiver, need to take the time—now—to prepare to evacuate and care for your pets on short notice. Disaster planning for pets need not be an overwhelming task! By completing the following two life-saving steps, you are well on your way to protecting your pet:
1. Plan a safe way to transport your pets
2. Know where you’re going to take your pets
Choose someone you trust to take care of your pets if you’re not at home when a disaster strikes. Plan with neighbors, friends, or relatives to make sure someone is available to care for or evacuate your pets if you are unable to get home. Share your evacuation plans with your pets’ caregiver, show them where you keep your emergency supply kit, and provide telephone numbers of emergency contacts outside of the immediate area. Leave your dog’s Not Without My Dog Book in a sealed plastic bag, to go along with your dog.
Make sure your kennel, pet sitter, and doggy day care provider all have actionable disaster plans, in case your dog is in someone else’s care when a disaster strikes. Prepare yourself and your dog for a disaster situation by writing a Dog Disaster Plan and putting together a Dog Disaster Supply Kit (templates are included in the Not Without My Dog Resource & Record Book).
Your Dog Disaster Plan should include the following information:
How I will transport my dog(s):
Designated emergency dog guardian(s) and contact info:
Location of Dog Disaster Supply Kit:
My emergency contact information (phone #s):
Places to take my dog(s) in an emergency (addresses and phone #s):
Hotels that welcome dogs (addresses and phone #s):
Plan ahead by preparing a disaster supply kit for your pets. Plan to be self-sufficient for atleast the first three days when evacuating, and store enough supplies for three weeks athome. Pack your kit in a secure, easy-to-carry, water-resistant container stored in aconvenient place known to all family members. Plan to travel with your pets ridingsafely in secured crates.
 
The above information should help your family and pets get ready for a disaster. Once you’re prepared, you can enjoy the summer without worrying about what steps to take if and when disaster strikes.
 
This article includes information from The Not Without My Dog Resource & Record Book and provided by Noah’s Wish (www.NoahsWish.info), an organization dedicated to assisting animals in disasters. Learn more at www.8StateKate.net.

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