It’s strange to live through an event that made national news. Hawaii was recently in the headlines for the frightening ballistic missile alert sent to cell phones throughout the state. While there was never any such threat, it sure felt like a close call after 38 excruciating minutes of thinking this was the real deal. When our missile alert system was pulled out of mothballs in November, I had researched nuclear threats and knew what to do. I closed all the windows and doors, rounded up the kids, and crowded everyone into the only windowless room in our house, a tiny bathroom. I spent the next half hour answering questions and trying to ease their anxiety.
Through conversations with friends, news articles, and social media posts, I concluded that many others were not similarly prepared. Panicked residents and visitors raced around in cars to collect kids, ran screaming through the streets, or made final phone calls to say goodbye to loved ones (90% of people are expected to survive the initial attack if we ever were struck).
While not an experience I care to repeat, it blessed us with perspective and highlighted some gaps in our emergency plan. If there is any silver lining, it’s that we’re all thinking a little more carefully about disaster preparedness, and if the unthinkable ever does happen, we’ll be better able to face it.
Any professional who deals with life and death situations will tell you that training is key to keeping a cool head in emergencies. That means having a plan, and you’ll likely want to include your pets. Here are some key points and resources to get you started.
Know what emergencies can occur where you live. Many government agencies have published information specific to your area on the web. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency has detailed information on natural disasters as well as nuclear threats.
- Find out if you live and/or work in a tsunami evacuation zone.
- Do you live in an area prone to flooding or landslides?
- Which major weather events, such as hurricanes, tornadoes and blizzards, are likely where you live?
- Do you live near a fault line or other earthquake-prone area?
- How would a nuclear attack affect where you live? Possible targets include major metropolitan areas, military bases, or other major infrastructures such as power plants and wastewater treatment facilities. If you don’t live near any of these, keep in mind that does not mean you are not at risk – targeting systems may be imprecise, and fallout can affect areas far downwind.
Learn more about nuclear threats at these informative sites:
Atomic Archive – information about effects of nuclear weapons
Interactive map – given the location, size and altitude of a detonation, maps out the projected impact in the surrounding area
What are the general guidelines for each type of emergency? You should know when you would likely need to shelter in place, when you may need to evacuate, and what your plan would be for each scenario.
Planning for pets
Consider your daily routines as you care for your pet. What do you need in terms of space, supplies, and resources to accomplish each task? Which are essential in an emergency?
Canned pet food with pop-top lids is easiest to store. In a pinch, most pets can get by eating something other than pet food in the short term, but you should be aware of what “people” foods are harmful to pets. Don’t forget bowls and utensils for serving – consider buying disposable to save water.
Plan for at least two fluid ounces (1/4 cup) per pound per day for each pet, or more if they have a medical condition causing excessive urination, vomiting, diarrhea, or dehydration. Remember to include a bowl.
What will you do if your pet cannot get outside or to a litter box to do their business? Consider stocking the following in your emergency kit:
- Dogs: puppy pads and plastic bags to pick up solid waste
- Cats: a small litter box or flat pan such as a disposable pie plate, a supply of clumping litter, and a scoop or plastic bags to remove solid waste.
- Both: cleaning products and a large trash bag for waste, unscented baby wipes or pet wipes, and waterless shampoo
Safety and Restraint
Even calm and obedient pets may panic during an emergency and attempt to escape. Make sure they are either secured indoors or physically restrained by a leash or crate at all times. You should also have the following on hand:
- Make sure your pet has a collar with ID.
- A microchip helps establish ownership and serves as a backup if they lose their collar, but shouldn’t be relied upon as a primary form of ID.
- Put some recent photos of your pet and their vaccination records in a sealed plastic bag.
Where will your pets go if you need to evacuate? Here are some possible places:
- Homes of friends/family
- Emergency shelters (only some accept pets)
- Pet-friendly hotels (very limited option in Hawaii)
- Boarding facility or vet clinic (however, they will fill quickly and/or may be evacuating themselves)
- Sheltering unsupervised pets in a car is UNSAFE year-round in Hawaii
How will you safely restrain and move each pet? Will the crates, supplies, etc. fit in your vehicle? How will you cope with the debris in your home or along your planned exit route following the disaster?
- Dogs: Use a leash, harness, or other restraint when on the move, even if you normally would carry them.
- Cats: A harness and leash may be useful to maintain control of your cat if you need to move them to and from a crate. An emergency, however, is not the time to be learning how to use it – get yourself and your cat acclimated in advance.
- Both: Have a secure crate large enough for each pet (even large dogs – see pet-friendly shelters below) to stand up and turn around in. Line the bottom with disposable puppy pads and padding (old towels or blankets). A hard-sided crate suitable for airline travel would be ideal, but if storage is limited you can also find collapsible wire crates in any size. Most cats and many dogs will feel more secure if a towel or blanket is draped over the crate.
You can find a list of emergency shelters that accept pets at the Hawaiian Humane Society. This list is subject to change, and not all shelters open during every emergency. You should also know:
- Pets will not be accepted into shelters without a suitable carrier or crate.
- You will need to bring food, water, litter, a collar and ID tags.
- You will be responsible for feeding, watering, exercising, and cleaning up after your pets.
Pets with Special Needs
Consider which of the following special items would be absolutely essential to care for a seriously ill pet in an emergency:
- Equipment: Do you use assistive devices to move, feed, or care for your pet? How will you continue to use equipment that runs on electricity, such as an oxygen concentrator? Does your pet have medications or special foods that require refrigeration?
- Grooming supplies: Does your pet regularly need assistance with hygiene? To relieve themselves?
- Medical supplies
- Medications – make sure you always have several days’ worth on hand
- If your pet has medication or food that needs refrigeration, you can store several squeeze-activated cold packs inside a small foam cooler for use in emergencies.
Chronically ill, elderly, and disabled pets may be more stressed by changes to their home environment or new surroundings. How does your pet respond to changes? Loud noises? New people and situations? Are they sensitive to your anxiety level?
Questions to ask your vet
If your pet is on a special or prescription diet, what would happen if they had to eat different food for a few days or weeks?
What would happen if your pet missed one or more doses of their medication?
What would you do if you were separated from your pet in a disaster situation? Is there someone else with access to your home who could take care of your pets?
In the ideal world, all of these efforts will never be needed. Even so, every step you take to be prepared for the worst will bring you additional peace of mind.