Steps for Evacuatioing Shelters Safely in an Emergency

June 19, 2015

After hurricane Katrina, a group of congressmen in a bi-partisan initiative pushed through the PETS Act. Under the PETS Act, state and local governments seeking aide from FEMA are charged with planning for the evacuation of animals in response to disasters. State Animal Response Teams (SARTS) formed to coordinate public and private agencies in creating plans for the safe and rapid evacuation of pets and service animals. Members consist of emergency management personnel, veterinary organizations, animal shelter administrators, state government officials, kennel clubs and concerned citizens. The object is to gather groups of volunteers trained at the local level to respond to disasters; FEMA  offers free online training and certification.

During mock evacuations, it was found certain practices are effective in the handling and tracking of animals in shelters, and they could be held as a standard. Simple steps such as paper identification collars, slip leashes for dogs and carriers for cats expedited and enhanced management of transporting and temporarily sheltering animals. Medications should travel with each animal and if possible their own water bowl. Participating animal shelters noted problems from cage doors being left open to moving two animals through narrow halls at the same time can be eliminated with proper training of volunteers in the care and handling of sheltered animals, and experts suggest that only authorized trained personnel take part in evacuations. Other best practices are authorized volunteers wearing easy to identify articles of clothing, and a speaker designated to report to the media and public.

Nine county animal shelters in Virginia received a $500,00 grant from Homeland Security through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. The grant allowed the counties to each purchase a trailer with supplies in a coordinated effort to facilitate the care and transportation of animals in an emergency situation. Their volunteer response teams participate in training and drills across county limits, and if one shelter is in a state of emergency, other trained county responders will step in and lend a hand. At one school, plastic was laid on the floors; crates and registration tables were set up and each animal and its crate received an identification card.

There are model solutions available, and grants and other funding methods are forthcoming. Animal shelters should have its plan for disaster ready by training volunteers and following proven steps. With proper planning, animal shelters can be emptied in under two hours.

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