DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: PROTECT ANIMALS WHEN DISASTER STRIKES
Hurricane Katrina revealed just how much further this country's disaster planning still had to come to adequately protect both people and animals in emergencies. Plans for rescuing animals, in particular, were virtually nonexistent both among individuals and at the government level. Subsequent passage of the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act has since helped the nation take a big step forward in that respect, but much of its effectiveness depends on the improved disaster preparedness of individuals and communities.
That's where you come in. When disaster strikes, many of the essential services we typically take for granted are no longer available, even including basics like fresh water. It's important to remember that any situation that isn't safe for us isn't safe for our animals, either. Without a strategy for protecting the animals who depend on us, they can get trapped in life-threatening situations or escape into the elements, get disoriented and be exposed to countless potentially fatal hazards. Their very lives may well depend on your preparation to keep them safe.
Today, there are a number of things you can do to protect animals ahead of time, and to get ready to help rescue them the next time disaster strikes.
- Start at home. The most basic step in disaster preparedness is to develop a disaster plan for the animals in your family. The Humane Society of the United States offers a Disaster Preparedness Quiz for animal owners that can identify areas you might not have already thought about. There are even brochures with tips specific to owners of horses and livestock, as well as domestic pets. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) also offers a pet first-aid kit and guide book as well as a free pet safety pack to alert rescue workers to the presence of animals at your home. United Animal Nations offers a variety of its own useful disaster preparedness tips.
- Look to your community. To learn about your community's disaster preparedness efforts, talk to your local shelter or animal control or welfare department. (To find your local shelter, visit the ASPCA or you can enter your ZIP code at Petfinder or Pets 911.) If you live in an apartment building or townhouse community, encourage your landlord or community association to keep track of all the animals living there for easy access by police and disaster response efforts. Offer to provide backup care for a trusted neighbor's pets in the event of an emergency, and see if they'll do the same for you. If you live in a rural area, join forces with neighbors to develop a plan to ensure the safety of livestock in the case of a disaster. The American Red Cross and the American Humane Association both have tips and suggestions for creating such plans.
- Get certified. The images and stories of the animal victims of Katrina inspired thousands to offer their help, but often those would-be volunteers lacked the experience and training most needed by disaster animal response teams such as the one operated by the Humane Society. To become qualified to help next time it's needed, you can choose from among a variety of training options:
- The Emergency Management Institute offers an Independent Study Program with an array of downloadable and online self-study courses in disaster preparedness, including several specific to animals. Certificates are awarded for the successful completion of every course.
- The American Red Cross also offers numerous classes in disaster preparedness through its local chapters.
- The Humane Society offers its own Disaster Animal Response Training classes in select cities through Humane Society University.
- United Animal Nations offers a variety of workshops across the country for those interested in volunteering in its Emergency Animal Rescue Service.
- The American Humane Association offers two-day training sessions for those interested in volunteering for its Animal Emergency Services Volunteer program. Volunteers are also encouraged to take courses through FEMA and the Red Cross.
There's no telling when the next disaster may come, but we can be certain that it will, sooner or later. Once it does, a little preparedness will go a long way toward easing its effects on the animals who share our lives.
Reprinted with permission from VolunteerGuide