Guest Post: a veterinary perspective of disaster preparedness

Do you know how your local authorities would help your pets in times of a disaster? Dr Riggs talks about the PETS Act and how you can take some minimal steps to be prepared should something happen in your area.


It seems we now live in a world of the ever present disasters. (I always wonder, though. if the world has really gotten worse or is it that now we have a million cable news channels, reporting everything, as it happens…..But I digress.) Today, there are currently 5,000 fire fighters fighting some 10 huge wildfires in California. The California fires have burned twice as much acres over last year and the Santa Anna winds, which annually, fan these fires and spreads them, have not hit this year.

I was in San Diego five years ago during such a fire. It started as a small brush fire and due to the Santa Ana winds, the fire jumped highways and caused a massive fire, large enough to actually turn the downtown sky a red color. Suddenly many people and their pets were misplaced from their homes.

Hurricane Katrina was a disaster not only in the natural sense of the word, with its devastation, but also in the way, it showed how ill prepared we were. The events of 9/11 have changed our world forever and we are all anxious about the next Boston marathon attack.

We know there will be more fires, more hurricanes, more flooding, earthquakes and unfortunately more acts of terror. We need to be prepared, not only for our well-being, but also our pets.

Before Katrina, many did not think about the safe evacuation and housing of victim’s pets. Katrina brought to light the strength of the human animal bond. Many people would refuse to evacuate without their pets, and chose to stay in their house and in danger’s way. Have you ever thought how devastating it would be to leave you pets in danger as you are rescued? I could not do it.

As a direct result of Katrina, the PETS act was established. The Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS)” was a bi-partisan initiative in the United States House of Representatives to require states seeking Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance to accommodate pets and service animals in their plans for evacuating residents facing disasters”. This act requires state and local authorities to include how they accommodate pets, along with service animals, in the event of a disaster. (Download PLAW-109publ308 for a copy of the act.)

Katrina left some 8,000 pets stranded, many of whom were subsequently rescued and taken to temporary shelters. Most were never claimed by their owners, and were transported to all corners of the country to be adopted to other families. These horrible circumstances shows the importance of the identification chips for all your pets. Even for those who are inside pets, in a natural disaster, they often become outside pets. These inexpensive microchips are implanted under the skin and may be your only chance to be reunited with your pet. So as the Boy Scouts always say…..”Be Prepared”.

In addition, make sure your animals are always up to date on vaccines because of the increase chance of disease transmission in disasters such as flooding and also in kennel situations with animals of unknown vaccination history. Get your animals micro chipped, it is often your only chance to be reunited with your pets.

Finally, contact the authorities in your area to learn what procedures are in place for you and you pets. Do it now while things are calm and no disasters are on the way.

Related Posts

August is Disaster Preparedness Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
Podcast: Dr Patrick Mahaney on Pet Disaster Preparedness
Guest Post: a veterinary perspective of disaster preparedness

Other posts by Dr Riggs

Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie and Ossa, and cat Franklin. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and cyclist, and enjoys travel and photography.