On July 17, Briana Kracke of the Anne Arundel County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) shared overall principles of animal care and handling for owners and emergency managers in the event of a widespread disaster. Ms. Kracke is a Preparedness Planner for the OEM and holds several degrees related to emergency management, agriculture, and biosecurity.

Harsh Realities

The need for training in the area of animal and agriculture awareness is underscored by statistical realities: According to Ms. Kracke, 68% of U.S. households own pets, but 91% of those pet owners admit they are unprepared to care for their animals in the next natural disaster. Moreover, of all of the country’s economic sectors, agriculture remains the least protected from harm and malintent.

As with all emergency management, the care and protection of animals in a disaster should follow four phases. During preparedness, officials conduct planning, training (such as this one), and exercises. (A shelter exercise including fake pets will occur on July 31 at Anne Arundel Community College), as well as community outreach. The second phase is mitigation, during which education of the public occurs. Emergency managers assess potential hazards, and while the sun is shining, they make necessary improvements to infrastructure. The third phase is responding to the disaster itself. The number one priority during response efforts is incident stabilization and life safety, followed by (sometimes concurrent with) evacuation and mass care. Following the passage of the incident, the recovery phase begins. During the recovery phase, officials address economic recovery, management of debris, housing of the displaced, and longer-term health and/or social services for victims. 

Kracke discussed several aspects of agricultural biosecurity. Potential risks to agriculture in Maryland include disease, a radiological incident, agroterrorism, and natural disaster. Disease is an ever-present threat, requiring close coordination between farmers, emergency managers, and the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Animal Health Program, which works to prevent and control contagious and infectious disease in the state’s livestock population. Moreover, the proximity of the Calvert Cliffs, Md. and Peach Bottom, Pa. nuclear plants means a radiological contamination of crops and animals remains a distant possibility. Agroterrorism, though unlikely, is also possible via a bioagent or insider attack.

Hurricane Losses

The most likely scenario to affect animal and crop well-being, however, is natural disaster. A strong storm, hurricane, or other event could result in contamination of water sources, the loss of harvest or livestock, an increased susceptibility to disease, and the destruction of key infrastructure, such as irrigation systems. Kracke discussed the costliest hurricanes in U.S. history, which are (in this order): Katrina (2005), Harvey (2017), Maria (2017), Sandy (2012), and Irma (2017). During Katrina, more than 100,000 pets were left behind during evacuation, and approximately 70,000 died throughout the Gulf Coast. Harvey demonstrated the toll a severe storm can take on the livestock industry, affecting 1.2 million cattle in Texas and destroying almost $14 million in infrastructure.

Preparation is Key

The final portion of the evening’s training program focused on strategies for preparation. Small animal owners should, firstly, make a plan. Consider what could happen, and scheme your options for pet care if it did, knowing disasters can occur without notice. The following are some good starting points:

  • Keep a collar with current tags and other contact information for you on your pet.
  • Microchip your pet – one of the best means to ensure reunion with your pet if you are separated.
  • Purchase a pet carrier for each of your pets, and label each one with relevant contact information. *
  • Keep a leash and carrier for each pet near your exit.
  • Ensure you have proper equipment for all of your pets to ride in the car.

*A pet carrier for a cat must be large enough to contain a small litter box if it will be in a shelter area.

Pack for yourself and your pet. Consider the following for the latter:

  • Pet food
  • Fresh water
  • Prescription medications
  • Medical records
  • Registration documentation**
  • A recent photo of you with your pet
  • List of pet-friendly hotels
  • Proper identification tag for the pet (consider including both your name and that of a friend outside the area, in case you can’t be reached)
  • Information about the microchip
  • Documentation where to go, how to get there (the internet may not be accessible)

**If your dog, cat, horse, or other pet is a pure-bred or particularly high cash-value animal holding the registration papers may be key to reclamation.

For horses, also consider packing the following for each horse:

  • Coggins papers – used to test for a disease called Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA)
  • Vaccination records
  • Medical records summary
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Two-week supply of medication
  • Three-to-five-day food and water supply
  • A list of available hay/feed distributors
  • A list of alternative stabling options
  • Halter
  • Lead rope

Be sure to keep all paperwork in waterproof bags.

If you must shelter in place with your pet, be aware of the following considerations: The room must be pet-friendly, in that it is safe – preferably an interior space with no (or few) windows. Additionally, it should contain no toxic chemicals or plants. Endeavor to close off small areas where frightened cats could become stuck (such as in vents or under heavy furniture). 

After the Rain

Natural disasters present many challenges on many fronts for both humans and animals. It is important to remember practical, common sense safety skills when interacting with stray, lost, or unfamiliar sheltered animals during or after an event passes. Practice good hand hygiene, and ensure you have all of your vaccinations. Don’t let the animals lick your face or interact with other dogs or wildlife. Keep your pet or found pets on a leash, and be sure to report any bites you or they sustain to the proper authorities for examination and treatment. And, as always, don’t allow your pet or a found pet to drink or play in contaminated standing water.

For animal owners, pets are family members, and no one wants to leave a family member behind. In the wake of much human and animal loss during Hurricane Katrina’s devastating hit in 2005, emergency managers have become experts at helping pet owners to keep themselves and their pets safe. Proactively using the above and other available information, it is possible to weather the storm with your animals safely.

AAACERT trains volunteers in disaster response skills and emergency preparedness. AAACERT volunteers assist others in our community following a disaster when professional responders are not immediately available to help. When activated under the Anne Arundel County Office of Emergency Management, or the City of Annapolis Office of Emergency Management, AAACERT supports emergency response agencies.