Disaster Preparedness for Animal Care Workers

By: Liam Hughes, NEFED Board Member

I have something to confess to you all. I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to disaster preparedness. I mean, I will talk to anyone about it any chance I get. It has been the cause of some eye-rolling in my circle of friends and family for some time now, but my friends and family know when it gets weird out there, I have a plan, gear, and lots of information on how to react. It’s been this way for a while, and then 2020 happened. A pandemic on top of an already out of control disaster season has continued into right into 2021. So I was asked by a colleague to spread the word about trying to get ready for if disaster strikes. Here are some of the basics to consider if you are creating your disaster plans.

1) Do you have a plan for your family and pets? Ready.gov is your best resource to help you develop your plan, build an emergency kit, and consider the kinds of emergencies that require planning? Making sure your family and pets are safe will help you respond in a time of crisis. There is also really good information on ASPCA.org

2) Does your animal shelter have disaster plans? National Alliance of State Animal and Agricultural Emergency Programs (NASAAEP) helped develop the Emergency Animal Sheltering Best Practices. This paper can help your shelter prepare for any emergency. But you need to discuss and incorporate these best practices long before any event happens that will disrupt your shelter operations. You need to train your staff and volunteers on what needs to happen when there is an emergency.

American Humane also has really good suggestions on their website to help you plan for any emergency. The first and best suggestion that they have is to contact your local emergency program manager for your city or county and discuss planning with them. Local emergency managers will work with you to plan out what could happen and the best way to respond now, rather than figuring it out during a crisis.

3) Plan out how you and your organization can help. We have seen some heartbreaking scenes in the news every time there is a disaster, and we want to help because that is the type of profession we have chosen. The best way we can help is by being ready with steps one and two above. During hurricane Katrina in 2005, I wanted to help, but I couldn’t. I was an ACO for four towns and shelter manager for a local animal rescue at the time and had no one to cover for me at the shelter or take care of the towns that I was responsible for, even care for my pets if I were to go. I also was not trained to deploy or was associated with any of the groups that were asked for assistance. I couldn’t abandon my duties here at home to travel into a disaster area without plans, resources, or supplies to add to the problems down there. Instead, my rescue was able to help with a few of the transports of animals from the disaster area because we did have resources, supplies, and a plan on what we could offer for help at the shelter where I was working. We had the capacity to care for the displaced animals and were able to send back requested donations with the transport. Make sure you include your capacity to care in you planning. Can you take in the local animals that need your help and also help animal refugees from other areas safely without overburdening your resources?

4) The last thing you can do to help if you are able or have staff who want to help is to sign up and train with a recognized organization that will deploy into disaster areas to offer assistance. NARSC (National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition) is a collection of many larger national organizations that provide response teams and work together to help people and animals in disasters. ASPCA, Best Friends, Red Rover, IFAW, Pet Smart, Petco, American Humane, Code 3 and many other groups work together to respond to disaster situations when called upon. Maine has had an MOU with NARSC since 2014. We have incorporated them into our planning for emergencies for when local, county, and state resources start to deplete. Maine can call on these groups to help coordinate a response to meet the needs of the situation. If you or one of your staff is interested and capable of deploying to help in a disaster, these are the groups you should be signed up with and trained to deploy. They will take care of all the legal issues and liability paperwork, train you properly on what to expect, what you need to bring with you, and what to do when you are there.

5) Be prepared for the aftermath. Disasters in your community or ones that you help other communities with can be incredibly stressful for everyone involved. NAMI.org is a good resource to work within your area to find counseling or mental health support for your staff and volunteers that experienced trauma or helped respond to a traumatic event. Include mental health as part of your planning, especially after the event. Everyone has different levels of resilience.

I hope that this has given you a place to start with your planning. I also hope you never have to use the plans you create, but “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

One last thing. Don’t forget to take these plans out and update them now and then. You may have awesome disaster plans in a binder on a shelf in your office that was made in 1998. They might need to be updated by now. Training your staff volunteers on this could be a great team-building exercise.


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