Through my active involvement with local, regional, and national disaster animal response and veterinary medical assistance teams, I have become acutely aware of a fact often overlooked: horse and livestock owners/caretakers need to consider what they would do in the face of a disaster well before one occurs.
Consider the most likely types of disasters in your area and the challenges they might create for your facility: flooding, ice storms, a hurricane, fire, etc. How would you respond to each situation?
Create a list of emergency telephone numbers including employees, boarders, neighbors, veterinarians, state veterinarian, animal control officers, county extension office, brand inspector, local haulers, state agricultural and veterinary schools, and local disaster area response teams.
Properly identify and mark utility shutoffs (gas, water, and electric) and fire extinguishers. Designate at least two escape routes and a reunion location on the property where family members and barn personnel can meet should a disaster response or evacuation become necessary. Two routes are needed in case one becomes inaccessible due to unforeseen conditions.
Permanently identify each animal by tattoo, microchip, brand, or tag, and take photographs of each animal from all sides. Include age, sex, breed, and color in your record of identification. Keep this information with your other important papers (financial documents, insurance papers, and immunization and health records). If not identified at the time of the disaster, paint or etch hooves or use temporary neck bands or plastic tags on halters or braided into the mane or tail. As a last resort, use non-toxic livestock paint to write on the animals’ sides.
Assemble an animal evacuation kit:
- plastic trash barrel with lid
- water and feed buckets
- leg wraps
- fire resistant (not nylon) leads and halters
- first aid supplies
- portable radio and extra batteries
- sharp all purpose knife
- vaccination and health records
- wire cutters
- portable livestock panels
- lime, bleach
- duct tape
- heavy work gloves
- Have enough fresh water and hay on hand for at least 48-72 hour
Update information and replace supplies regularly. Also have a small amount of cash, duplicate keys, and personal supplies ready for quick evacuation.
Be sure to plan for the possibility of needing to move the animals off the property when sheltering in place is not possible. Locations that could be used are private stables, race tracks, fairgrounds, equestrian centers, private farms and humane societies. Make arrangements in advance with the owner/operators to accept your horses or livestock and be sure to contact them before taking them there.
Trailers should be well-maintained (not surrounded by tall weeds with a flat tire!) with tow capable vehicles full of gas ready to move them at all times. If you don’t have a trailer, arrange to borrow one well in advance. Be sure to acclimate your horse to trailering. Depending on the size of your facility, consider acquiring a back-up generator in case of an extended power outage.
You may want to designate a neighbor to care for your animals in the event that a disaster occurs when you are away. This person should have a key to your home, be familiar with your animals, and know your evacuation procedures. Provide them with a pre-signed veterinary treatment authorization letter and waiver of liability in case an animal is injured under their care.
Get involved with your local disaster response teams. You will become more familiar with the resources available in your area and gain access to invaluable training and networking opportunities. Invite emergency services personnel in your area to tour your facilities to familiarize themselves with the layout and specific needs of your property. Encourage them to learn and practice proper animal restraint and handling.
Practice your plan before disaster strikes. The only thing worse than a disaster is lack of preparation when one occurs. The more we can do to prepare for a disaster, the better we can minimize the negative effects.
Dr. Yoanna Maître is the owner of Berkshire Ambulatory Veterinary Services, a mobile clinic that provides on-farm medical and surgical care to horses and farm animals in Berkshire County and neighboring areas of New York State. She is also a member of the State of Massachusetts and Berkshire Disaster Animal Response Teams (SMART and Berkshire DART) as well serving as an intermittent federal employee with the National Veterinary Response Team (NVRT). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.