Downeast Dog News
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Emergency Preparedness

By Susan Spisak | Jan 04, 2021

Severe ice and snowstorms, strong Nor'easters, hurricanes, tropical storms, floods, forest fires, and natural or man-made disasters can necessitate a home confinement or even an evacuation. Emergency awareness and planning is essential for individuals, families, and companion animal owners. Arming yourself with knowledge and being prepared can alleviate stress, anxiety, and lend calmness to the situation.

I talked to Ron Jones, Project Coordinator for the Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency. This highly skilled agency, like other similar agencies in Maine, has a key role during disasters. “In a nutshell, all counties have an Emergency Agency in the state of Maine. Think of it as FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) at the county level.” Their job is to guide people in planning for emergencies, and their mantra is personal preparedness.

Jones said they have trained volunteer teams who support first responders, fire, police, and emergency medical services during disasters. These “Community Emergency Response Teams” have expertise in areas such as Amateur Radio Emergency Service, Incident Management, Search and Rescue, Medical Reserve Corps, and Animal Response. (Jones is an active member of the Cumberland County Animal Response Team or CCART and is their liaison).

Be Smart & Plan Ahead

“You as a person are responsible to family and pets, to be responsible,” he said. To that end, have a strategy for a variety of situations and discuss with household members. Keep emergency numbers in a handy spot. Make sure your home’s stocked so you’re self-sufficient for three-plus days with pantry-like food, necessities, and bottled water for your family and pets. (For more tips, ready.gov/plan.)

Important paperwork should be in a deposit box, with copies of these documents uploaded to a ready-to-go thumb drive. Include personal ID’s, marriage certificate, social security card, living will, home deed, medical, flood, and home insurance info.

Have an alternate heat source or a backup generator to ensure you’re warm during outages – this is Maine after all. (For tips, maine.gov/mema/maine-prepares/home-preparedness/heat-source-safety). If you do not have backup sources, do you have a relative who does, and can that person take your family and companion animals in? Or locate dog-friendly motels that can accommodate you.

Know where the nearest emergency human and companion animal shelter is located. Pets will be housed in a clean and sanitary “co-located” animal shelter in conjunction with a Red Cross or other community human shelter, and they’ll be within walking distance. For example, people may shelter in a high school gymnasium while dogs are crated in the school’s autobody shop area. “We will keep pets safe, but it’s up to you to feed, exercise, and water your pet,” indicated Jones.

Put together a “Go Bag” for yourself and family members. “It doesn’t need to be a giant steamer trunk on wheels,” he said. With COVID-19, pack several face masks, plastic gloves, and hand sanitizer. Add meds, extra eyeglasses, cash (ATM’s aren’t operational in outages), travel-sized toiletries, bottled water, non-perishable food and snacks, flashlight and batteries, an extra set of house and car keys, a first aid kit, and change of clothing.

“We’ll get pet food, but it won’t be right away,” said Jones. So, create a canine (or feline) “Go Bag,” adding a few days of pet food, bottled water, vet immunization records, a spare leash, and bowl. For kitty, add litter and disposable pan. Take treasured items such as toys and blankets that bring comfort and remind them of home. Since your pets will be crated for extended periods of time, make sure they’re used to them and bring them along.

Jones reiterated if you’re told to evacuate, do so. In past years, especially after Hurricane Katrina, people who stayed behind with their pets created dangerous rescues for public safety workers. “People are so dedicated to their pets, bless their hearts, that they wouldn’t leave without their pets.” Thus, the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006 (PETS Act) came about so state and local emergency shelter plans would include people/families with household pets and service animals in an emergency or disaster.

(If you have livestock, please see disaster preparedness at usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/usda-livestock-preparedness-fact-sheet.pdf.)

CCART’s COVID-19 DRILL

“With COVID rearing its ugly head, that was one of the things we practiced,” he said of a recent drill where new guidelines were in place. They utilized a high school gym, and to meet Red Cross pandemic requirements, they had gowns, masks, and gloves and will continue as required.

There was a public check-in spot for simulated temperature screening and answering COVID exposure questionnaires. The human shelter area was set up with cots for individuals and families, distanced according to protocols.

The pet shelter scenario given for this drill was challenging, but they met the task. Jones said they had to prepare for 30 “very large” dogs. “We had to set up fence paneling, runs, and outside kennels for outdoor dogs. We also had inside kenneling, and cages. We had to convert the facility into an ARL [Animal Refuge League, a Greater Portland brick and mortar nonprofit shelter]. Not to mention laundry facilities and establishing food necessity logistics…It was a two-day event. One day to set up, one whole day to take it all back down.” Jones laughed good-naturedly.

If there is a mandated evacuation and you don’t know where to head, call Maine’s emergency information hotline at 2-1-1. You’ll be advised where to find the closest human and pet-friendly co-located shelter.

Note: Jones indicated if you’re fearful of COVID-19, whether you need to head to a shelter or not, arm yourself with knowledge. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov) and Maine CDC (maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/) are the most reliable sources. He urged to skip social media sites for info.