A tsunami threat in Oregon. Flooding in Washington. A wildfire in Arizona. A tornado in Missouri — or Mississippi. A volcano in Alaska. An earthquake in California. A hurricane in Florida — or Louisiana. A power failure in New Jersey — or North Dakota. A chemical fire in North Carolina. Disasters strike everywhere. One could happen anytime, anywhere. And, it does not always announce its plans in advance. If it happened in your area, would you be prepared? Would you survive? What about your family and your pets? Are you ready?
In a disaster preparedness workshop presented June 3, 2011, at the Phoenix Ferret Symposium, Lisa Oestereich asked ferret shelter operators those questions. The workshop, sponsored by the Ferret Emergency Response, Rescue and Evacuation Team (F.E.R.R.E.T.), focused attention on the need for ferret shelter operators and pet owners to be prepared for an unexpected disaster. First and foremost, Oestereich emphasized, you must have a plan in place for your family. If you don’t, you will find yourself trying to care not only for your animals but for those closest to you. Guess who will be the ones most likely to be left behind. There are numerous places to find information about preparing your family emergency plan.
To Go Or To Stay When Disaster Strikes
Sometimes the decision to leave your home or stay is made for you by a mandatory evacuation order. Diane Campbell, shelter operator of the Ferret Guardian Rescue Haven (FGRH) recently found herself in that situation. On May 28, 2011, a chemical plant fire erupted a little over a mile away from FGRH, accompanied by an evacuation order for residents.
The ferrets of FGRH were located in a converted two-car garage. ”We left the big garage doors in place for … loading and moving the big cages if it was needed.” Campbell said. “Inside, in front of the garage doors along the entire wall, we have three of the largest Martin’s cages, 36 by 30 by 60, with four full levels and three Ferret Nation cages set up as well as spare cages setting outside the shelter ready to put ferrets in and go should it be needed. I also use them for holding cages for ferrets coming out of 30 to 45 day quarantine to make the transition into the shelter. I never thought I would have to use this evacuation setup, but I thank God I had this set and ready.”
According to Campbell, “It took me 15 [minutes] to load food, [medicine] case, bedding, frozen 2-liter bottles/gravy from freezer, house ferrets (oldtimers/sick babies) into my Jeep and 15 minutes to load all the ferrets in the shelter into cages, open garage doors, ready to ‘load n go,’ all by myself. It took 45 to 50 [minutes] from start to pulling out of our driveway … The plan worked beautifully, and I was so impressed with my readiness.”
Campbell had a place to go once she evacuated with the animals. “Fortunately, we still have our home in Statesville set up for ferrets/cats/dogs, which is where we went. It ran like clockwork. We have a utility trailer with ceiling air vent and fan that holds all the cages from the shelter perfectly.”
Bonnie Tormohlen of the Northern Arizona Ferret Alliance & Rescue (NAFAR) returned home from the ferret symposium to find a wildfire threatening her home and ferret shelter. Taking to heart the newly learned lessons, Tormohlen and her husband prepared to evacuate. She then sent an email to F.E.R.R.E.T. to let us know her status. In her message, Tormohlen included critical information for tracking. She stated her situation, who she was, where she was and the name and phone number of her out-of-state contact. She also provided her contact information. Fortunately, Tormohlen did not have to implement her evacuation plan.
Evaluate Your Disaster-Preparedness Plan
After an event, it is important to assess your activities, plans and the actual implementation of your disaster-preparedness plan. What went right? What went wrong? What was unnecessary? What could have been done better? Tormohlen sent the following to F.E.R.R.E.T. after they were safe.
“We are fine. The fires are all 100 percent contained, and monsoon season has started, which is a blessing,” she wrote. “We did prep the fifth wheel trailer for a quick getaway with human, ferret, cat and dog supplies. Still though, we estimate that it would have taken at least 10 to 15 minutes to get the trailer hitched and go. I envision, however, that if we were given a day’s notice like the folks who actually did have to get out, there would have been no problem.
“I don’t know what we would do without our trailer though, where I would put all these animals. So I still feel like there is much work to be done. Wildfires are the biggest disaster we would likely encounter here, and they can flare up and move at amazing speed with the winds pushing them.”
Tormohlen identified their No. 1 disaster threat. She identified her readiness. In retrospect, she said she didn’t think they would have been as prepared or even thinking about disasters if they hadn’t just had the disaster-preparedness workshop at the ferret symposium.
Practice, Practice, Practice Your Plan
A reaction is nothing but a conditioned response. The more you practice your plan, the more natural it becomes to do what you need to do when it happens for real. In 2009, Denise’s Delightful Dookers, a ferret shelter in Washington, was threatened by a flood. She called F.E.R.R.E.T. and said she wasn’t sure if she should go or stay, wondering out loud. We talked, and I realized she had already decided. She had rented a trailer from a local moving company and arranged for local volunteers to help her load and move the ferrets to a safer location. Thankfully, the area was spared and she did not lose her home or the ferret shelter. But she did get an opportunity to practice her evacuation plan.
Stay Prepared For Disasters
Just because you are hit by a disaster once does not mean you won’t get hit again. Be ready for anything, as Maren Qualls of Raisins From Heaven Ferret Rescue & Sanctuary learned.
“Here in storm-riddled Hernando, Mississippi, we have seen nearly two weeks of continuous high winds, with gusts in excess of 70 mph, severe thunderstorms with straight-line winds, tornados — some touching down and some only forming funnels in the sky — wind-driven rain and flooding,” Qualls said.
She was first hit on Monday afternoon by a system of thunderstorms. That Friday, an oak tree fell on a storage shed in her back yard. On a Tuesday night, thunderstorms and tornadoes hit the area. “I stayed in the hallway near the ferret room and then I could hear the trees making some crackling noises, so I decided to push the cages together in the ferret room and just about that time our neighbor’s huge oak tree snapped and fell on top of the roof and into the ferret room window. Glass, wood and pieces of tree went everywhere and with the winds, it was pretty scary for them and for me.”
A big cage of ferrets that had been in front of the window was undamaged. “I don’t want to even think about what would have happened to them if I had not moved their cage closer to the middle of the room,” she said. “I had always had a plan for what I would do in the event of tornadoes — either moving all of the cages together in the middle of the room or laying them down flat and covering them with sheets. I would not leave them.”
Did you learn something that will help you in the future? Tormohlen did. “One other thing we found that we had to consider was smoke, and lots of it. That meant keeping windows and doors shut and shutting off the air conditioning to the shelter,” she said. “Finding ways to keep the fuzzies cooled off was yet another challenge. Large, shallow plastic totes that you would use to store blankets under the bed make great ferret wading pools, and ceramic floor tiles chilled in the freezer work great on the floor and in the cages for cooling off warm ferrets and kitties. So many things to be prepared for!”
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