No part of the country is immune from the effects of Mother Nature.
Hurricane Katrina laid bare the fact that many major cities across the United States are woefully unprepared for widespread natural disasters.
Scenes of trapped people and pets led Ines de Pablo to pursue various emergency certifications, including Awareness and Preparedness, and Community Planning for animals in disaster through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
She also formed Wag'N Enterprises to provide training and emergency gear such as pet oxygen masks, first-aid kits and "pet passports" to hospitality companies.
"A lot of [organizations] already help people," she says. "I figured I'd help our furry friends."
Her pooches — Mayday and the accident-prone Gypsy — are in good hands. My dog Lulu, on the other hand, may need a little help.
Currently, our only emergency measure involves keeping an extra 48-pound bag of dog food tucked away in the garage at all times. (A hungry Lulu is a bad Lulu.) De Pablo suggests that Lulu and I get busy — fast.
"You don't have to become a survivalist," she says. "But what would you need if there is an evacuation and I give you three minutes? How much can you carry? What if I give you 10 minutes or two days?"
De Pablo stresses the value of preparation, which includes having a plan A, B, C, D and E. The devastating tornado that wiped out communities in and around Joplin, Missouri, offers another shocking reality check. When disaster strikes, you must be your own first responder. The right tools and the right plan can make a big difference.
Here are 10 tips to help kick-start your emergency plans.
1. Create an emergency contact list. Start with friends or family members who live nearby and can reach you or your pets quickly. Make sure they have keys, necessary codes or other information to access your home, grab the pets and evacuate. "For every Plan A, I have a Plan E," de Pablo says. "Most Plan A's don't happen, so Plan C has to be just as good."
2. Make an emergency kit. Fill a backpack with at least two weeks' worth of food for your pets and plan for at least a gallon of water per day, per pet. If your animal eats wet food, then it will consume less water. Since de Pablo's pets are on a raw diet, she keeps freeze-dried food handy.
3. Try camping, or at least learn a few skills. "Hotels frequently change their policies during emergencies, so I have a camping kit to set up wherever I want," she says. If you lack that wilderness gene, stop by an outdoor shop for primers on purifying water or other survival skills. While you are there, stock up on a few tools, plates and a utility knife.
4. Practice makes perfect. Take a weekend and rehearse your emergency evacuation plan. It should include finding alternate exit routes for your neighborhood, just in case a downed tree or other issue creates an obstacle.
5. Take a certification course. For the best experience in planning for a disaster, de Pablo suggests learning from the experts. Sign up for a FEMA certification course or join your county emergency response team. It's one way to guarantee that you have first-hand info.
6. Invest in sturdy pet carriers. Whether your pet goes to a relative or an emergency shelter, it needs a safe place to stay, says Toni McNulty, team lead for animals in disaster with HumanityRoad.org (@Redcrossdog on Twitter), a nonprofit organization that uses social media to fill the communications gap between those affected by disaster and those responding to disaster. Try a collapsible crate that is large enough to hold food and water bowls, and allows your pet to stand and turn around. "Get it ahead of time and let your pet get used to it. Mark with contact information. If your pet winds up in an emergency shelter, that contact information is necessary." It also helps to include a few favorite toys or bedding.
7. Stock the basics in an emergency bag. Be sure to include a leash (for dogs and cats), a collar with identification information, a harness and a muzzle, even if your pet is the sweetest in the land. "If an animal rescue person tries to pick up your pet, you don't want your pet biting," McNulty says. "Pets pick up stress, just like people in an emergency, and they can behave in a way that they normally don't."
8. Carry copies of documentation. Grab a waterproof container and use it to hold copies of your pet's vital information, McNulty says. The container should hold pictures of your pet, as well as a list of medications, allergies, vaccination records, a rabies certificate, and disaster contacts — inside and outside of the disaster area. When Johnnie Richey was killed in the May 22 tornado in Missouri, his 9-year-old cocker spaniel was eventually reunited with the owner's sister, Kerri Simms. "Even though her brother is gone, she could retrieve his pet and have a little bit of her brother through that pet," McNulty says. "That's why it's so important that you have pictures and out-of-area contacts."
9. Carry photos that show you with your pet. To alleviate any confusion when it's time to recover your pet from an emergency facility, be sure to carry photos that show you and your pet together. McNulty says to attach those photos as proof of ownership on your pet's crate.
10. Don't wait for the second or third warning. If you live in an area that's known for weather emergencies, act as soon as you hear a warning, McNulty says. "When pets sense urgency, they hide and you lose valuable time trying to find them," she says. Keep leashes, collars and crates ready at a moment's notice, particularly if you live in a mobile home or vulnerable structure.
It also helps to bookmark a few key websites and Twitter addresses. Here are a few worth noting:
FEMA: For information regarding pets, check out the FEMA.org site before and during an emergency. (@FEMA on Twitter)
Pet-friendly lodging: In addition to checking HumanityRoad.org for frequent updates, McNulty often recommends Petswelcome.com and BringFido.com because these sites list hotels that accept multiple pets, exotic animals, birds and gerbils. But keep in mind that rules may change during emergencies.
The Red Cross: Although the Red Cross does not accept pets during emergencies, it's important to bookmark the site for evacuation information regarding your area.