Jul 18, 2023

Emergency Preparedness for Animal Shelters

Category: Animal Welfare

When a fire, storm or other catastrophe strikes, humans aren’t the only ones to be impacted. Animals need help during and following disasters, and emergency preparedness for animal shelters, rescues and other animal welfare organizations can ensure that help is available.

How Disasters Impact Animals

Natural disasters can be devastating for wild animals, livestock and pets.

Wild animals may be forced to flee due to fire, smoke, flooding or other dangerous events, and some may be injured or orphaned in the process. For example, according to the Redding Record Searchlight, wildlife experts and other individuals rescued multiple animals during the 2021 Northern California wildfires, including three bear cubs, a bobcat and a pig. Some of these animals needed medical attention for injuries. Thankfully, animal refuges took them in, and volunteers provided care.

Pets and livestock are also put in danger. These animals may become trapped, or they may panic and escape, becoming lost in the process. The News-Press says many pets became displaced when Hurricane Ian made landfall in 2022. Shelters took in many stray pets that went missing during the storm, while pet owners searched for their lost pets. Other people had to surrender their pets to shelters because their homes were severely damaged and they couldn’t keep their pets anymore.

Preparing for a Surge in Displaced Animals

When a natural disaster strikes, animals welfare organizations may be inundated with a sudden surge in animals that need care and shelter. When multiple disasters occur at once – for example, when hurricane and wildfire seasons overlap – overcrowding can become a real problem. According to NewsChannel5, this occurred in 2021 when a series of natural disasters struck across the country, leaving many shelters full.

To prepare for disaster-related overcrowding, shelters should consider the following:

  • Space: Where can the additional animals be sheltered? Is there a way to move animals to make room for more animals? Are there other shelters that could take some of the animals? Could some of them go to foster parents?
  • Supplies: With more animals, shelters will also go through more food and other supplies. Complicating matters further, obtaining additional supplies may be difficult due to the disaster. Consider whether you have enough supplies in stock.
  • Staff and Volunteers: The increase in animals will also mean shelters and rescues need more people. Although some people may be interested in volunteering for the first time to help out with the disaster, these people may not have the training needed to provide care while keeping themselves and the animals safe. Having volunteers who are already trained and ready to help is ideal.

When a Disaster Strikes Your Facility

Animal welfare organizations often deal with the impact of disasters in the surrounding areas, but they can also be impacted more directly. If a fire, storm, flood or other catastrophe threatens the facility directly, the animals could be in immediate danger. In one example, 6ABC Action News says 81 animals had to be evacuated from the a shelter after a burst pipe flooded the facility, likely the result of freezing temperatures.

Animal welfare organizations should take proactive steps to reduce their risks and increase their readiness.

  • Disaster Hardening: Consider upgrades that could help your facility withstand fires, freezes, storms or other disasters that are likely to strike.
  • Emergency Supplies: Consider what supplies will be needed during a disaster, including emergency supplies to protect the facility and the people and animals there, as well as extra food and other regular supplies for the animals. It may be difficult to secure supplies when a disaster is imminent.
  • Disaster Response: Determine what actions need to be taken when a fire, storm or other disaster is imminent.
  • Communication and Organization: Identify the person or people in charge of emergency response and create a plan outlining how communication will occur before, during and after a disaster.
  • Evacuation: You may need to evacuate animals quickly. Create plans that include where you can take the animals and how you will transport them to safety.
  • Resources: Determine what resources are available to help your facility deal with an emergency, including funding, supplies and volunteers. Also consider whether these resources should be sufficient.

FEMA has numerous resources to help organizations tackle their emergency response plan, which should include a risk assessment, training, and the development of emergency procedures. Use FEMA’s resources as you create your facility’s emergency response plan.

A strong insurance package is also an important part of emergency preparedness for animal shelters and other welfare organizations. Tangram’s animal welfare program provides insurance coverage designed for animal shelters, rescues and other organizations, including insurance for animal relocation and commercial property insurance. Learn more.