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, points out that the U.S. is very prone to disasters, ranking No. 1 or 2 every year for most affected nations.
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.
Prepare Well in Advance
If you are a sheltering agency, develop a written disaster plan to identify operating protocol for disasters, and review and update it every year. Share your plan with staff and volunteers to ensure their safety as well as the safety of animals in your care, and provide staff, volunteers and adopters with information to assist them with developing a personal preparedness plan for their family members and pets.
A preparedness guide for taking care of animals – co-authored by ASPCA, HSUS, and FEMA – is available at Ready.gov. And check with your local EMS for training opportunities. And consider enrolling in The ASPCA's Disaster Response Program, a free course.
If your shelter is not rated to withstand high winds and/or is located in a storm surge area or a flood plane, you'll need an evacuation plan for people and animals. Work with groups and shelters outside your community to develop mutual agreements, recognizing how you can assist each other in the event of emergency. If a storm is likely to make landfall in your community, arrange to transport your adoptable dogs and cats to shelters outside the area. Doing so will provide you with additional space for housing pets lost during and after a storm.
Identify Highest Risks
Connect with local social service agencies to identify the most at-risk pet owners needing assistance. Build your volunteer foster network to include safe places for the pets of owners who may need your help, such as the elderly and disabled. Medical shelters do not permit pets, and pet-friendly shelters may not have enough capacity.
If your shelter is hurricane safe and has capacity, offer to shelter these pets or build your foster network to include temporary foster homes.