Training & Services

Preparing For Disasters: What You Need To Know

by Heather Kitchen

Disasters can happen anytime, anywhere, and it is in your best interest to be prepared in advance. There are three primary focus areas that can assist you in preparing. These areas are Build a Kit, Make a Plan, and Stay Informed. These can be used to prepare not only the other people in your household but also the animals in your care.

The process for Building a Kit is to start small. Think about the items you use daily, like food, water, toiletries, medication, etc. After you identify and gather those items, think about adding items that would be nice to have in an emergency like books, card games, toys, etc. You may already have many of the items for a kit in your home and just need to pull them all together. Once you gather the items pick a designated location to store them, make sure it is somewhere quickly and easily accessible. What you choose to include in your kit will affect the size of the container you need to store the items. People use anything from a large backpack, a five-gallon bucket, up to large totes on wheels, just remember that you may have to move and lift your kit into a vehicle or trailer. Follow these same steps to build kits for your animals. You can store these items in or around their carrier or trailer for easy access. It is essential to have their veterinary records handy and have multiple ways for them to be identified. Identification can include microchips, collar tags, tattoos, branding, ear tags and pictures of you with your animal in case you are separated from them. The most reliable option for identification is microchipping, but you must also remember to keep your contact information up to date with the company so they can easily get a hold of you if you become separated from your animals for any reason.

The second focus area for preparedness is to Make a Plan. There are two important plans to have; one for if you are home when the incident happens and the other is the Pet Care Buddy plan to use if you are not home and/or cannot get home. If you are at home, think about where you as a person will go if you need to evacuate and where you can take your animals, especially those larger animals since they do not easily fit in a hotel room. The best option would be to cooperate with nearby friends or family who have space for you and your animals. Other options can include boarding or training facilities, veterinary offices, or public shelters set up for the incident at fairgrounds or rodeo grounds, etc. 

The Pet Care Buddy Plan involves coordinating with a friend or family member that may be able to come to your home and evacuate your animals for you. It is important that your animals are familiar and comfortable with the person and that the person is familiar and comfortable with your animals and their behavior. Make sure this person knows where to take your animals and how to get in contact with you, has access to the disaster kits, and knows how to properly load and manage your animals.

The final component to planning is to PRACTICE your plans. This involves getting your animals comfortable loading and unloading from their carrier or trailer on blue sky days so that when an incident occurs, and you are in a rush, it will make the task less stressful for all. Allow your Buddy to practice also.

The third focus area is Stay Informed; and there are several ways to stay informed before, during and after an incident. You can watch the local news media, check social media, reach out to your local Emergency Management office, or register for local targeted alerts. It is essential to be aware of the hazards that may impact your area ahead of time, and to be aware of multiple routes to and from home in case your main route is impacted by the incident. If evacuation notices are being issued in or near your area, regardless of the evacuation level, if you are worried about having enough time to evacuate or just do not feel safe, you should evacuate sooner rather than later.

In Spokane County we are actively recruiting volunteers for our Spokane County Livestock Emergency Evacuation Team (SLEET). This Team is tasked with the safe evacuation of animals being temporarily displaced by an incident such as a wildfire. The Team can also assist at the emergency shelter once evacuations are concluded. If you are interested in joining our group, please reach out to Heather Kitchen, with Spokane County Emergency Management at hkitchen@spokanecounty.org, or 509-477-3058. If you do not live in Spokane County but would like to get involved, please reach out to your local Emergency Management Office and see what volunteer opportunities they may have available.

Heather Kitchen started her Emergency Management career in 2007 with the City of Auburn, WA Emergency Management office. In 2016, she moved to Spokane County, WA to work for Spokane County Emergency Management. In 2011 she received her Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) credential from the International Association of Emergency Management. This credential requires many hours of training and contributions to the profession and requires re-certification every 5 years. Heather’s been passionate about teaching Disaster Preparedness for Animals throughout her career. Throughout her life she has had many four-legged family members; everything from cats, dogs, and pocket pets to reptiles.

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