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Are You Ready?
Creating A Disaster Plan For Your Facility

Susan Summerall, director of the Beaufort County Animal Shelter and Control in South Carolina, relates what happened in 1989 when Hurricane Hugo demolished miles of coastline only thirty miles from her shelter.

"Oh no, we were absolutely not prepared. Residents had to evacuate and were told to leave their pets at our shelter. We can only hold about fifty dogs and fifty cats; we took in an additional 200 dogs and cats. We were lucky because we had bought an office building that had not been renovated yet, so we had space with a concrete floor, but no drainage or electricity. I don’t know what we would have done if that space hadn’t been available.

"It never enters your head that you need to collect drinking water for the animals and the staff before the storm."

Disasters can be as diverse as a barn collapse, train derailment, drought, blizzard, explosion, or any situation that leaves animals helpless and without care.

As the animal care facility in your community, people will look to you to care for the animals in and out of your shelter.

You need a plan.

Without a plan for your staff to follow, you stand the chance of losing the support of the community and your donors should a disaster strike and animals die or suffer simply because you were not prepared.

Although devising a plan and training your staff takes time, it is not difficult and could save the lives of the animals and anyone else in your shelter.

To create your plan

  1. Ask your county’s emergency program manager to help you identify any type of disaster that is likely to occur in your area.
  2. Gather any relief plans developed by the local Red Cross chapter, other animal care and control agencies, armed forces, Coast Guard, and police, fire, health, wildlife and agriculture departments, so you know who to turn to for specific resources and do not duplicate their efforts.
  3. Discern what will be affected and for how long in each disaster. Include facilities like laboratories, boarding kennels, stables, visiting fairs, farms, stockyards, and animal collectors.
  4. Use detailed topographical maps from your state’s Office for Emergency Services to help you choose locations for command posts, animal housing points, transportation routes, and equipment storage and distribution.
  5. Find several spaces in the areas not likely to be affected by each disaster where you can house stranded animals or those left in your care by owners. Allow for confinement, feeding, and watering of each animal, as well as cleaning and disinfecting of the cages, litter boxes, and bowls.
  6. Choose some reliable, capable people from your staff to make up a Disaster Action Team. Make them the leaders in an organizational chart for staff to follow only during a disaster. These key people are responsible for:
    • Assessing the damage.
    • Acquiring housing for the animals.
    • Scheduling and supervising staff and volunteers.
    • Keeping records and retrieving those that may have been lost in the disaster.
    • Arranging for the donation, shipment, and storage of supplies and equipment.
    • Transporting people and animals.
    • Handling public and media relations.
    • Setting up and monitoring communications.
    • Documenting events, through photography and writing, to help evaluate the plan after the disaster and ask for assistance from foundations and organizations.
  7. Develop a list of trained staff and volunteers, with several backup teams, to collect and handle all types of animals, such as livestock, pets, and wildlife. Rescues may be necessary, as well as pick up and disposal of dead animals. Should a major disaster strike your community, remember that your staff and volunteers may be injured, killed, or have lost all they own and have to arrange care for their families and animals, so create many backup squads of trained, capable people you can rely on.
  8. Have the vehicles, drivers, handlers, and cages ready to transport animals to the evacuation site.
  9. Develop methods of identifying and recording stray and owned animals that come in after the disaster if your shelter is inaccessible. Even paper and pens may be scarce.
  10. Establish several sources, like manufacturers, distributors, and donors, for food and water, along with weatherproof and verminproof storage.
  11. Organize medical care and supplies, from vaccinations to surgeries, for all the types of animals you might encounter.
  12. Confirm sources for boats, helicopters, and snow and off-road vehicles to distribute resources or search for and rescue stranded or isolated animals when regular routes are blocked or flooded.
  13. Train everyone (through FEMA or the Red Cross) involved in implementing your disaster plan in first aid for humans and animals and to cope with and recover from disasters.
  14. Obtain cellular phones, radios, walkie-talkies and any other communications equipment you might need if regular phone lines are down.
  15. Devise a way to let the public know where to get supplies and medical services for their animals if television, radio, newspapers, and/or phones are out.
  16. Arrange to bypass regulations that might hinder your access to money, because although you can get many items and services donated, there will be some things that you will have to pay for right away.

Where you can get help

Ed Cubrda, executive director of the Los Angeles SPCA, explains what happened the night the riots erupted around one of their shelters in 1992.

"The morning after the riots started, there were buildings burned down only a few blocks from our shelter, and smoke and soot were in the air, and things were still out of control.

"We created a plan right then, since we didn’t already have one. People from our other shelter drove over in caravan formation for safety and pulled into our parking lot that is secured with iron gates. We loaded up the animals and left together.

"When you try to help spontaneously after a disaster, especially when several agencies are working together for the first time, it’s a real nightmare. Getting the supplies to help the victims is no problem, but distributing it is a big problem—where to store it, who will issue it, who to issue it to.

"You think of fires, floods, etcetera as normal disasters, but riots?"

Before a disaster strikes, contact AHA for forms, training materials, and consultations to help you create a plan.

If disaster does strike, let us know what you need before, during, and after the disaster. We can help provide manpower and find supplies based on their availability and necessity.

AHA has been officially involved in disaster relief since 1916 when the U.S. government asked us to form the Red Star Emergency Animal Relief program to help care for the 400,000 horses used in World War I. When the war ended, AHA’s relief efforts focused on domestic disasters and continues today through our Emergency Animal Relief program.

In 1976, we signed a Letter of Understanding with the American Red Cross establishing us as the primary contact in the U.S. for animal-related disaster relief. Whenever the need arises, AHA serves as the coordinating agency to local shelters for animal supplies and resources.

With our vast disaster experience and nationwide connections with groups like the National Voluntary Organizations Active In Disaster, U.S. Armed Services, the Pet Food Institute, and the American Veterinary Medical Association, AHA can help you save many animal lives in your community should disaster strike.

Number of Animals Affected
To calculate the number of animals who will be affected by a disaster, use these statistics.

% Households Owning a Pet Pets per Household
Dog 31.6 1.69
Cat 27.3 2.19
Bird 4.6 2.74
Horse 1.5 2.67

Source: U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook from the AVMA, 1996.

What is a disaster?

  • fire
  • loss of electricity
  • flood
  • hurricane
  • vandalism
  • tornado
  • riots or looting
  • loss of water
  • broken gas main
  • explosion
  • earthquake
  • blizzard
  • animal transport wreck
  • (train, truck, boat, plane)
  • building collapse
  • tidal wave
  • avalanche
  • burglary
  • mud slide
  • lightning strike
  • chemical spill
  • farm or pet shop abandonment
  • volcano eruption

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