Katrina. Harvey. Irma. Names that invoke fear, panic, and anxiety. Even though we don’t get hurricanes in Oklahoma, we get more than our fair share of storms – tornadoes in the spring and fall, ice storms in the winter. So, while Harvey and Irma are fresh on our minds, I thought it was a good time to think about how we can be prepared in the event of a catastrophic storm.
First, personal safety is most important. There are really four questions that we need to ask ourselves as we plan for our own safety, including the safety of our family.
How will you get to safety? Will you walk? Will you drive? How close is your safe spot from your house, place of business, or school?
How will you contact each other? What if cell phone towers are down?
How will you get back together? Do you have a rendezvous location pre-arranged? What is the time frame that you will use before you change locations?
What will you do in different situations? Have you come up with different plans for different types of storms?
We should make and maintain an emergency supply kit, and FEMA has a nice list at www.ready.gov. Food and water for 3 days should be included in your supply kit, and a hand-held can opener should be included if you have canned food. Battery or solar powered radios should be included, and you should have extra batteries (make sure they are fresh). A first aid kit is a great idea. A whistle to signal for help, dust masks, duct tape, moist towelettes, garbage bags, local maps, and a wrench or pliers to turn off utilities are musts. Some additional items that you should include are prescription medications, glasses, important family documents in waterproof containers, cash, sleeping bags/blankets for each person, a complete change of clothing (long sleeved shirt, long sleeved pants, sturdy shoes in case there is floating debris or downed trees), matches in a waterproof container, a fire extinguisher, and BLEACH! I LOVE bleach!!! It kills viruses. It kills bacteria, and it smells clean! Because of all of its wonderful properties, it can be used as a disinfectant (mix 1 part bleach to 9 parts water for this bleach use), and it can also be used to treat water (add 16 drops of bleach to a gallon of water). Isn’t bleach wonderful?!
Now that we have taken care of ourselves, lets talk about how we prepare for our animals. Always take your pet(s) with you when you evacuate! If it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your pet, and you shouldn’t go back later to get them.
Develop an evacuation plan for your pet. Know who is responsible for each individual pet. If you have flights of stairs, teach your pet to go up and down to better assist you.
Plan ahead in the event that human shelters will not house your pets. Identify boarding facilities where your pet can be housed, and maintain a list of “pet-friendly” hotels. You may even want to contact family or friends outside of your area to see if they would temporarily house you and your pets.
Find a neighbor who will take care of your animals if you aren’t home. They should know your veterinarian, and they should have authorization to treat your pets in case of emergency.
Make sure your pet can be identified! They should wear a collar with tags. Since tags can easily come off, pets should be microchipped. Many of the microchips now require yearly fees to use the services and return your pet - I think it’s a rip-off, too!!! Keep photographs of your pet, especially if they have distinguishing markings (my dog Kosmo is missing six teeth in his upper jaw, and he has a lop-sided grin). Have a friend keep a copy of the photographs in case yours are lost. Remember: You will need proof of ownership to retrieve your pet from a shelter!
Your pet emergency kit should include carriers and leashes for each pet, stakes and tie outs, a one-week supply of food, travel bowls for food and water, medical records/vaccination history, emergency contact information (including your veterinarian), litter pan with litter, and familiar toy/blanket.
Once the storm is over, keep your pets confined, and monitor them for any injuries. Identify potential dangers to your pets, and always release them indoors first. Allow them to rest and recover from this trauma.
If your pet gets separated from you, check with area shelters daily. Notify local veterinarians, animal control offices, and shelters of your pet’s loss. Create fliers with your pet’s name and description, and include your contact information.
Even though I am a small animal internist, my family has goats, cattle, and chickens. So, here are a few things about livestock. Determine the best place to confine them if evacuation is impossible. If you plan on transporting them, make sure they are used to being loaded on a trailer. Locate and arrange an evacuation site. If you are not at home, place stickers on doors of the house, barn, and pastures to let rescue personnel know how many animals are on your property. You should also designate a neighbor to take care of the animals if you aren’t home, including authorization to treat in case of emergency.
Depending on whether you have horses or livestock, you should maintain an appropriate emergency kit. There are several items that are quite different from a small-animal kit such as a portable generator, bandanas to use as blindfolds, knives, heavy leather gloves, and fly spray.
After the storm, make sure you check pastures and fences before releasing stock in them. Sharp objects, downed power lines, fallen trees, and debris can be dangerous. The most common cause of deaths in livestock following storms include collapsed barns, acute kidney failure due to dehydration, electrocution from downed power lines, and fence failures.
I need to thank my friend and colleague, Dr. Scott Mason, who has been on the Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps for many years. He provided a large portion of the material that I used in writing this blog, and he is an excellent resource for disaster preparedness in our state. In the information that he provided, he gave me some excellent websites: www.avma.org (click on “Disaster Preparedness”), www.ready.gov/america/getakit/pets.html, and www.aspca.org (click on “Emergency Preparedness”).
As we wrap this up, please take a few minutes this week to prepare your family for any disasters, which we pray never happen! Consider donating your time or money to one of the relief groups that are currently in Texas helping our neighbors. Finally, please remember that we plan to fail when we fail to plan.