It was early in the morning and I was on an overnight pet care job. Suddenly, the household animals ran into the room to alert me. I had just enough time to brace myself for what turned out to be a 6.7 magnitude earthquake.
As expected, the roads were closed due to rock slides and thousands of homes and businesses were damaged. Electricity was out and fuel was scarce.
However, because I had a disaster plan in place for my pets and business-all turned out well-and it turned out to be the start of my involvement in animal disaster preparedness education.
At the time, people dismissed taking preparations for pets and animals but officials soon realized that many people would not evacuate without their beloved pets.
Threats to communities include both natural and man made disasters. Some of these are earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, storm surges, heavy snow loads, ice storms, oil spills, train wreaks, or chemical leaks.
Chances are that at some time or another everyone will be touched by a disaster. It is almost certain that a disaster will touch your community or the community of someone you care about.
So, it is your job to prepare for a disaster and to include your pets in those plans.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, people were shocked at the devastation and horrified at the pet and animal casualties.
Although we might have learned something in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew ravaged South Florida and parts of Louisiana, leaving thousands of pets homeless, we didn't remember that lesson.
Thirteen years later we saw that the same “forgotten victims" of Hurricane Katrina were not that much better off than those surviving Hurricane Andrew.
Sadly, only 15% of the Hurricane Katrina animal victims were actually returned to their original pet owners. A few preventative steps could have made a big difference.
Today, shortly after the destructive forces of Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Ike, I wish I could say that things have changed significantly-but they have not.
What has changed is that there are groups that go out to specifically help animals after a disaster and that some shelters will allow pets.
Ultimately, it is up to you to take measures to help your animals in times of disaster.
So how can you do that?
Here are eleven animal disaster preparedness tips to get you started:
1. Always take your animals with you. Pets that are released or left behind often become victims of starvation, predators, contaminated food or water, accidents, drowning, or exposure to the elements.
2. Make sure animals have ID tags on them. Microchips are not a bad idea for a backup ID source.
3. Pack up three weeks of supplies. Believe it or not this is not excessive for humans or pets.
4. Make sure you have proof of current vaccinations as they will be required for housing animals in many facilities copy them onto a flash drive on your key chain.
5. Maintain current photos of your property and animals. You can use your cell phone to keep current ones on hand. This helps locate lost pets and prove ownership.
6. Make sure you have a plan that is effective during the times when you are separated from your pets.
7. For hurricanes, bring animals inside if you are staying. See if you can anchor outside objects that cannot be brought inside to avoid injury to animals, humans, or property.
8. Flood conditions or storm surges are threats to animals. Don't leave them chained up or confined where they might drown.
9. Use wire crates to transport and house smaller animals since they provide better ventilation and fold up easily for storage and transport.
10. On evacuation sites make sure to provide shade along with water for animals. If an animal does not eat-don't worry too much-stressed animals often avoid food.
11. Return home only after authorities advise that it is safe to return.
Of course there is more that you can do and you can download the Animal Disaster Guide for more tips and for information about the animal disaster rescue groups.
The good news is that not too long ago the Pet Evacuation & Transportation Standards Act was passed in the United States. Even so, whole communities and the people living in them still fail to prepare for what may turn out to be a devastating experience.
Take some time today to make sure you are not one of the unfortunate disaster victims.
Diana L Guerrero is an animal expert with over 30 years of experience with both wild and domestic animals. Based in California, the Ark Lady runs multiple websites and works as a pet parenting coach, freelance writer, and professional speaker. Guerrero is often featured in the media as a pet expert and is one of the contributing editors to “Resources for Crisis Management in Zoos & Other Animal Care Facilities" and the author of several books.