In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, many evacuees were forced to leave their pets behind because no provisions had been made to evacuate pets with their families. Other pet owners chose to stay in their homes so they did not have to leave their family pet behind. It was estimated that as many as 600,000 cats, dogs, birds, chinchillas, iguanas, and other pets were killed or stranded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Stranded pets, especially large animals, hindered relief efforts, while those people who chose not to evacuate faced the risk of injury or death by staying in their homes.
In response to the alarming animal welfare issues that occurred during and after Katrina, Congress passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act in May 2006 requiring states to address pets and service animals in their evacuation plans if the state intends to seek Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) emergency assistance for disasters. While the PETS Act was a step forward for recognizing the role of animals in preparedness planning, more efforts are needed to ensure that all families with pets are planning for them in case of emergency.
Since approximately 56 percent of U.S. households own pets, local health departments can expect that animals will be a consideration for the majority of local families during a response. Several organizations offer resources that local health departments can share with families to help them plan for their pets’ needs in an emergency:
- FEMA has guidelines for pet and large animal needs in a disaster, including a brochure for pet owners to prepare for emergencies;
- The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shares six ways to prepare pets for an emergency, including special considerations for birds, reptiles, and small animals; and
- The American Red Cross has tips for knowing safe places to take pets and how to assemble an emergency pet preparedness kit.
More recently, animal response teams have emerged to prepare their states and localities for the needs of animals in disasters. The first animal response team formed in North Carolina after Hurricane Floyd in 1999 to address the three million pets, livestock, and poultry that perished in Floyd’s wake. Today, nearly 20 states have formed or are forming a variation of North Carolina’s Animal Response Team.
In Kansas, the Kansas State Animal Response Team (KSSART) is a veterinary Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) unit that educates people about pet preparedness and was awarded a 2013-2014 NACCHO MRC Challenge Award to implement the first statewide education program called “My PET Project: Pets Evacuate Too!” The goal of this project is to foster a better understanding of what animal response teams, first responders, and the community can do together to manage pet needs as part of the state’s preparedness and response plans. To accomplish this goal, KSSART has engaged in pet preparedness education with a broad animal community that includes pet owners, the pet service industry, pet shelters, and businesses.
KSSART also works with a number of partners, including the American Red Cross, the Veterinary Health Center at Kansas State University, the Kansas Animal Health Department, county emergency management agencies, the Kansas Animal Control Association, and the Kansas Livestock Association to integrate animal preparedness at multiple levels. KSSART also partners with Fred the Preparedness Dog, the mascot of the Kansas Department of Health & Environment’s Preparedness Program. Fred travels around the state to educate children about family and pet preparedness for all types of emergencies to ensure that they are learning important preparedness practices at a young age.
Thanks to the NACCHO MRC Challenge Award, KSSART’s PET Project is currently underway. KSSART has been able to add new resources to their website, including a downloadable pet information document that families can include in their go-kits. Further, KSSART is coordinating efforts to develop a regional plan for animal response teams in 15 Kansas counties.
To foster greater integration of pet preparedness practices in their communities, local health departments can look to animal response teams like KSSART for ways to work with these and other animal-focused organizations.
For more information about the PETS Act and animals in disasters, as well as pet and animal preparedness resources, visit www.fema.gov.
Your local health department’s MRC unit could be a Challenge Award winner like KSSART too! The 2014-2015 NACCHO MRC Awards process opens on September 30. Visit http://mrcnaccho.org for resources to get prepared for the awards and to apply.
 Jonassen, W. (2012, August 24). 7 years after Katrina, New Orleans is overrun by wild dogs. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/08/7-years-after-katrina-new-orleans-is-overrun-by-wild-dogs/261530/