The window glass is falling to the floor. Your ears are ringing. It is as bright as day outside, but when you glance at the clock it is off. What in the world is going on? You turn on the light but the power must be out. The room starts to get cold. As your ears recover you hear a roaring. You carefully get out of bed as fast as you can and try not to cut yourself on the glass scattered all over the floor. When you get to a window you see flames shooting into the sky from a few blocks away.
The first week of February I attended the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association Convention. My first day was spent with the MVMRC (Minnesota Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps). This is a volunteer veterinary group that deploys to areas of disaster to help care for the medical needs of affected animals. This type of organization has helped with the Iowa floods, Fargo floods, and hurricanes Sandy and Katrina.
Much has been learned from these disasters about how to respond appropriately and how to work together. One of the several lectures that day was on assessments and another on preparedness. Most people do not even have a plan of what to do if there is a major problem in their area.
You stand there, looking out the window for a few minutes. Finally, you decide you need your coat. It is February after all. As you put on your coat you hear something from the front of your house. Reaching the front door you see a police car driving up your street. Over the loud speaker system he is demanding that everyone evacuate immediately to a minimum safe distance of 2 miles. What is going on?!
How are you going to evacuate? Where are you going to go? Do you have a car? What about your elderly neighbor? What about your dog and cat? Where are they!? You haven't seen them since the windows shattered.
The first step in preparation is to do an assessment of the threats in and around your home. The second is to figure out what you would need to do if one those threats occurs. The next step is to plan for the threat and accumulate the things you would need. As you are a pet owner, you must also plan for your pets (and farm animals if you have them). The American Veterinary Medical Association has a very good pamphlet on planning that you can find here. Information from FEMA can be found here. You will find that there is a lot of overlap between emergency scenarios.
So what are the threats in and around your home or affecting your home that you should prepare for? Think about accidental problems, intentional problems, acts of God, energy related problems and anything else that comes to mind. Given our geographic location in Roberts, WI, there are a limited number of disasters that will affect more than a very small area, say greater than about a 5 mile radius.
Let's list a few:
Interstate 94: Liquid propane tanker accident, breach of a radiation or toxic waste container, terrorist destruction of the St. Croix River bridge.
Utilities: Prairie Island nuclear power plant accident, gas main explosion, long term electricity outage, water main break, pollution of the water supply.
Weather: Flood, tornado, straight-line winds, blizzard, lightning
Home: Fire, explosion, hit by car, carbon monoxide, toxic mold, your death, you in the hospital
Bobtown Pet Clinic: Gas station fire, fireworks store fire, roof collapse, hit by car
Others? Think outside the box.
You call your pets. The lab slowly comes out from the bedroom and is shaking like a leaf. The cat is not to be found. You look frantically. Finally you find him, but he is terrified and fights you. You unceremoniously stuff him into the pet taxi. Just then, another explosion knocks you to the floor. Any bit of remaining glass and your antique china shatters. Plaster dust falls from the ceiling.
Now a flashlight is moving at the front of the house. You can only hear ringing. A firefighter runs through the door. He pulls you to your feet and helps you out the door. You scream for your cat. Your dog's leash is already on your wrist and she is at your heel. The firefighter runs back for the carrier.
The list of threats goes on and on. If you consider them, many have a lot in common. Many make the home unlivable or very difficult to live in. Some will require you to evacuate for a short time. Others may cause you injury. Still others will require action without knowing the cause immediately.
The time to prepare for an emergency is before the emergency happens. This can be as simple as a home fire drill with your kids or having a go-bag with 3 days of supplies always ready. Evaluating the risks in your area will help you plan and prepare appropriately. Remember your animals in your plans.
A big need identified in disasters such as hurricane Katrina and the Weyawega train derailment was the care of animals. Because of these and other disasters, the PETS Act was passed. This federal law requires emergency responders to provide for the evacuation of pets in disasters. This is out of the need to protect people from going into dangerous areas. It also frees up responders for other duties.
Do yourself, your family and your furry friends a favor and at least try to come up with a plan for some of the emergencies you may encounter. Then pray that you never need to implement those plans.
The fireman comes back out and helps you into the car. He screams to go to the emergency room in the next town because you are bleeding from your hands and bare feet. As you quickly drive off you wonder again, “What is happening?!” In your rear view mirror you see another fireball heading to the heavens.
The ER is crowded. Through the grapevine you learn that a train derailed in the middle of town. Liquid propane cars exploded. Part of the town has been flattened and is on fire. Not much is yet known. You got out with your dog, cat, car and clothes on your back. No shoes, no wallet, no ID, no money.
What do you do now?