Preparing Your Pet Care Center for an Emergency Evacuation: Are You Ready to Go?
By John Walczuk
In the past year we have seen many natural disasters that have devastated parts of the world. California experienced its largest wildfire in their state history and hurricanes brought devastation to parts of the US and Puerto Rico. Fire, flood or even a power outage could create the need to evacuate your pet care center. Are you ready to go?
Sonya Wilson, author of Hairy Situations: Crisis Planning, Response and Recovery for Your Pet Business brings to light a harsh reality, “A large disaster, particularly one that displaces you from your facility, could close your doors permanently. As with any emergency, being prepared will help keep you, your team, your business and the pets in your care safe during an evacuation.”
The biggest challenge is going to be getting all the pets in your care to a safe location. Ideally, during most evacuations, you will have owners (or emergency contacts) picking up pets in advance. However, even with the best preparation, it is likely you will personally have to evacuate a number of animals.
Evacuating a facility is very expensive, even if you just have a handful of pets. In your customer agreement, you should outline a charge for evacuation in the event a pet cannot be picked up. When determining this charge, remember you will likely need to pay for travel, hotels, staffing, food, etc. An evacuation charge should be a minimum of several hundred dollars.
Some important considerations:
- Have a supply of crates on hand to utilize for evacuations.
- Collars, harnesses and leashes should be well organized, easy to grab and put on pets.
- Having vet records and pictures on hand for all dogs in your care would be a great additional tool and resource to have in the event of an evacuation.
- Step by step procedures for quick and easy printing of records should be documented and kept with your disaster preparedness kit.
Consider how you would transport animals. Do you have access to a van, enclosed trailer or RV? Rentals will be hard to find during an emergency crisis that affects an entire community. Ask friends, family and neighbors if you could borrow an appropriate vehicle in case of emergency.
Do you have a place to go? It is beneficial to make friends with others in the industry. Contact a few pet care centers 1—2 hours from yours and collaborate on a plan for working together when emergency situations arise. Having a relationship with a pet care center in your local area is also a smart idea. Sometimes you may have an emergency affecting just your facility so having a close contact will assist in moving dogs quickly and keep them local.
One of the critical steps of preparation is ensuring you have everything needed for an organized, quick departure. Utilizing checklists will assist in gathering necessary supplies and will undoubtedly prove useful as you pack up during a stressful time.
Create an emergency kit. Make sure that everyone on staff knows where it is, and that it is clearly labeled and easy to carry. Critical Items that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA.org) recommends for pet evacuations include:
- Pet first-aid kit and guide book
- 3-7 day supply of canned (pop-top) or dry food and water
- Pet feeding dishes and water bowls
- Feeding/medication instructions
- Disposable litter trays (aluminum roasting pans are perfect)
- Litter, scoops and poop bags
- Collar or harness with ID tag, rabies tag and leash for each pet
- Plastic trash bags
- Liquid dish soap and disinfectant
- Photocopies and/or USB of medical records
- A traveling bag, crate or sturdy carrier, ideally one for each pet
- Recent photos of the pets (in case you are separated and need to make “Lost” posters).
Finally, don’t forget about the typical necessities for human evacuation. Items to include: Batteries, flashlight, human first aid kit, cell phone and chargers, duct tape, multi–tool, baby wipes, extra clothing and footwear, extra cash, whistle, water, non-perishable food, 3-day supply of water, extra medication and copies of medical and insurance information. Also, an updated staff contact list and other critical phone numbers should always be a part of your “Evac–Pack.”
Your emergency evacuation plan should also include several other factors including, but not limited to: a communication plan with your employees and customers, instructions on how to secure your building prior to departure and safe procedures for return.
Feeling overwhelmed yet? Wilson recommends taking an “all hazards approach” when creating your emergency plan. Begin with general information that will apply to many emergencies such as creating a list of important contacts. In addition, delegate appropriate sections of the plan to employees, which will encourage them to take an interest in the planning process.
In the event of an emergency, having an emergency kit and plan in place could mean the difference between life and death for the pets in your care.
“Anything can happen in today’s world,” Wilson says. “We must live up to the trust that has been placed in us.”