Hurricane Laura has made landfall along the Gulf Coast, bringing with it 150mph winds and 20 foot storm surges. If you’re in the storm’s path, take some time to review emergency preparations and evacuation protocols.
This article will provide information to those pet care providers who may be affected, as well as measures for preparation that any pet care company should take to make certain you, your staff, and your client’s animals are safe.
Emergency action plan
An emergency action plan is an essential set of documents, policies, procedures, and delegations that need to be laid out [ideally] before you open your doors or book your first client. This goes for boarding facilities, grooming salons, pet sitters, or any person with animals in their charge.
We can’t emphasize this enough: everyone needs an emergency plan. Tornados, hurricanes, flash floods, fires, fallen trees, and even acts of terrorism are real issues with a serious set of consequences. Below are some guidelines to help you be prepared for whatever natural or unnatural disasters come along.
- Check your insurance coverage; many policies do not cover floods or “acts of God”. Go through this thoroughly so that if a disaster does strike, you only have to deal with the preparation and not the rebuild.
- Does it cover lost wages? You and your staff won’t be able to work if the roads are impassable or your clients have canceled.
- Does your insurance cover losses not only to the building or property, but also the cost to transport and find alternative housing for any pets in your care?
- Are you still liable for rent, whether or not the building is habitable?
- Have your insurance agent review your lease, preferably before you sign it, so that you can decide on additional coverage to take care of things your landlord won’t. Your insurance agent should also be able to direct you to the type of coverage or riders you will need for your geographic area and common natural disasters – fires, floods, earthquakes, etc.
Start with staff obligations. Assign your staff to very specific roles and timelines to be followed during a natural disaster.
- Who will be in charge of contacting clients about the current plan, whether it’s shelter in place or evacuate?
- Who will be watching the news for updates from local authorities dictating evacuation orders?
- Who is responsible for making sure the structures in your care (your building or client homes) are safe? Appoint someone to check that trees have not fallen on the building, electrical wires are not hanging, flooding is not occurring in the basement, etc. Be very clear in your service agreements about the extent of your responsibility for real estate or home goods. No one should be risking their lives to save family heirlooms or laptops.
- Assign someone to create and maintain a disaster supply list. Either you or a member of your staff should be assigned the task of checking on quantities, expiration dates, and battery levels. This is a great quarterly assignment. Creating this list will also assist those of you not in the path of a natural disaster to know exactly what you can help provide to those who are.
- Have client medical records and contacts stored securely on a cloud server, and provide access to a trusted person outside of your business area. In the event that the internet and power goes out, you will want a point person who knows what to do and who to contact.
- Assign someone whose sole responsibility is the physical evacuation of staff and animals. They should know where to go if a flood, fire, or evacuation is ordered, and should plan for the greatest number of animals your company would ever have in your care.
Transportation is key. If you have five pets that you are pet sitting or a hundred dogs in your daycare, what plans do you have to transport them to safety?
- Speak with car rental companies about cargo vans. Crates can be ratcheted down to the frame of the van for safer transportation. Beware of box trucks, as they do not have adequate airflow or temperature control – these will be great concerns.
- Whatever vehicles you have access to, make certain they always have gas and are in working condition. If you know that a hurricane is heading in your direction, don’t wait until the last minute to rent a vehicle; even if you have to pay for an extra week to let a van sit in your parking lot, it’s a small price to pay if you have to get out in a hurry. This also gives you luxury of adequate preparation time, so that if you do need to evacuate all you’ll need to do is put the pets into the van and head out.
- Once the animals are securely ready for transport, who’s driving and where are they going? Is there another boarding facility nearby that has a large training space you can use during an emergency? Is there a warehouse that someone you know owns that would allow you to shelter animals? If so, consider getting contracts signed and adding these locations to your insurance policy.
Shelter in place
The storm may not be a category 5 and your facility or client home may in fact be on high ground. Make a shelter in place plan that will have you prepped for power outages and multiple days and nights stuck on the premises; make certain food, water, cleaning supplies, etc. are all stocked and accounted for.
- During winter storms, pipes can freeze, the power can go out, and the heating can stop. Always have plenty of blankets and insulating materials to keep you and the pets warm.
- If the power goes out during a summer storm, that means the air conditioning goes out with it. Make a plan to keep the animals cool and covered from the elements.
- Be prepared to offer refuge to others who may be affected by the storm.
Here is a recommended (but certainly not exhaustive) list of items to alwayshave on hand. Store them in waterproof plastic bins, clearly labeled and easily accessible.
For items that need batteries (radios, fans, flashlights etc.), store the batteries in plastic bags taped to the device so they don’t corrode and render the item useless.
Generators and associated fuel should be stored outside of any areas where humans and animals will be. When generators are running, make certain the exhaust is pointed away from breathing beings. Carbon dioxide poisoning can be deadly.
Cleaning agents like bleach should be stored in watertight plastic bins, especially if flooding is a concern. You do not want chemicals leaching into the water that you and the animals may have to walk through or even drink.
- Duct tape
- Folding table
- Portable 20” box fans
- Collar bands to place on animals for identification
- Storage containers
- Laptop computer and charger
- Trash can
- Trash bags
- Slip leads
- Muzzles in assorted sizes
- Cable ties
- Bed sheets
- Binders with paper and pens for notes/documenting
- Hand disinfectant
- Flea spray
- Paper towels
- First aid kit (human)
- First aid kit (animal)
- Latex gloves
- Shop lights
- Dog/puppy food
- Cat/kitten food
- Dish soap
- Electrical cords
- Gas cans
- Bug spray
- Food for staff
Put your plan in writing
Redundancy is a always a good thing when it comes to disaster plans.
- Email it to your staff.
- Have it in your handbook.
- Put it on your website.
- Store it on a cloud server.
- Laminate it and hang it on the walls of your facilities.
- Pass it out to your clients (after deleting any sensitive information) and suggest that they put on their fridges. Let people both inside and outside of your organization know what you will do and where you will go if disaster strikes.
If you already have a plan, we hope this serves as a good checklist to help you be as prepared as possible. Never forget that people are always there to help, so make certain part of your plan includes organizations, other companies, friends. or family you can rely on for help during an emergency.
Not affected by the disaster?
Pet care professionals who are not in the path of the storm or directly affected by the disaster often have the resources to help you in your time of need. Even though we are all busy and don’t always budget for disasters, it’s a good policy to set aside some of your time and money to help others when they need it.
Always stay connected to, and network with, pet care businesses in your area and beyond. Competition doesn’t matter when lives are at stake.
- Do you have a vehicle that can transport goods and bring pets back? Do you have supplies on the list above that you could send/ship or deliver to those in need?
- Do you have a facility with space to foster pets that need to come out of the affected zone, or even space in your home for one animal?
An emergency action plan doesn’t just have to cover you and yours when you are directly affected. Consider stepping into action when your fellow pet care professionals need assistance; we’re in this industry together and together, we can help thousands of people and pets get their lives back together.
Shelters across the United States are already gearing up to help; if you’re able to foster an adoptable animal for a few weeks to make room for pets who need safe harbor during the storm, please contact your local rescue to see how you can help.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it became common for everyone from pet professionals to pet lovers to emergency response crews to help stranded pets in need. At FetchFind. we want to share our resources with anyone who will be helping animals to be as successful as possible in their efforts. The stranded animals depend on us for their very survival, but they can be fearful, shy, or aggressive (even when they know we’re trying to help). Please read and share this Disaster Relief graphic to help the humans and animals get connected and to safety as soon as possible.
Article updated 08/26/20.
Jamie Damato Migdal, CPDT-KA and CEO/Founder of FetchFind, has been innovating within the pet industry for over 25 years. A sought-after consultant and public speaker, Jamie has built four national pet service companies and has wide-ranging industry expertise in education, technology, business development, sales, marketing and management. Her fourth and current company, FetchFind, provides staff training and engagement, as well as digital marketing and other business solutions, to pet care service and pet-friendly companies around the globe.