September is the height of hurricane season – and a key month for disaster preparedness, according to ASPCA Disaster Response Director Dick Green.
Green, who served on a national FEMA committee aimed at involving more individuals and groups in disaster preparedness, says experts want to get two messages across:
Green and his team work with emergency management, public health, and animal welfare organizations to prepare for natural and manmade disasters. He says that a typical yearly cycle includes summertime floods, summer into fall hurricanes, October and November floods in the Northwest and Northeast, winter storms, springtime floods, and summer tornadoes.
Windstorms – which make up 22 percent of the total and include hurricanes – are the second deadliest type of disaster after floods. Due to factors like global climate change, population growth, and environmental fragility, there has been a significant increase in disasters in the U.S. in the past several years.
Storms also are making earlier yearly appearances. The summer of 2012 was the first time in recorded history that four named storms developed in the Atlantic before July 1: Tropical Storm Alberto, Tropical Storm Beryl, Hurricane Chris, and Tropical Storm Debby.
The specifics of hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters present unique challenges for animals and the people who love them. What's important is that shelters have a plan in place and that pet owners are urged to have their own personal plans that include care for their animals.
Green says that before Hurricane Katrina in 2005 there was very little communication, collaboration, or cooperation between non-governmental agencies and federal and state officials. "It was very turf oriented," Green recalls. The disaster "really forced NGOs to play well together," which in turn improved the outlook for future responses to disasters. States and the federal government now recognize the importance of including animals in their planning, and of having pet-specific evacuation plans in place, he says.
A preparedness guide for taking care of animals – co-authored by ASPCA, HSUS, and FEMA – is available at Ready.gov.