Challenges of Sheltering Animals During Disasters: The Need For Standardized Reporting
By Chelsea Person, CHHS Extern
After attending the 2013 National Alliance of State Animal and Agricultural Emergency Programs (NASAAEP) Animals in Disaster Summit, I am glad to see there are many resources for animals during disasters. However, I learned that one of the largest draw-backs this area of emergency management still faces today is the lack of awareness about available resources and a simple, coordinated reporting system for states to take advantage of these resources.
When Hurricane Katrina struck the gulf coast in 2005, the need for emergency plans addressing pets came to light. Many people refused to evacuate because emergency shelters were not pet friendly. This lead to the loss of human and animal life as people stayed behind with their pets, or painstakingly abandoned them. It also placed first responders at increased risks when returning to unsafe areas to rescue people and their pets.
In response, Congress passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act in 2006. The PETS Act ensures that State and local emergency preparedness operational plans address the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals.
Emergency Support Functions (ESFs) provide the structure for coordinating Federal interagency support during a disaster. As a result of the PETS Act, Emergency Support Function (ESF) 6 was amended to include “emergency services for household pets and services animals.” ESF 11 also covers emergency services for household pets in connection with ESF 6. ESF 11 is also associated with protecting livestock animals because it deals with maintaining the health of the food supply.
Although inclusion of animals in the PETS Act and National Response Framework has resulted in increasing recognition of the need for pet supplies and resources, and has led to the creation of disaster plans for certain facilities in order to receive federal funding, reporting efforts to request resources and inform staff at the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) is still an issue.
When the NRCC is activated for a disaster, the agencies responsible for the safety and well-being of pets under the ESF guidelines are supposed to help coordinate response and allocate resources where needed. They cannot effectively do that if states fail to report to them, or report to them in haphazard and ambiguous ways. The lack of standardized reporting has led to the distribution of inadequate amounts and incorrect types of resources needed to effectively respond to animal needs during a disaster.
The goal of the NASAAEP Summit was to gather organizations that respond to animals in disasters and organize them into Best Practice Working Groups. These groups would then brainstorm and create whitepapers on the best practices for a variety of topics relating to animals in disasters.
The Reporting Best Practice Working Group evaluated the different types of reporting currently used, and how to better structure forms to get the best information. The group evaluated the need for web, paper, and mobile reporting mechanisms. Many states find reporting burdensome to do during an incident, especially if they are without power. However, reporting is a necessary evil in order to receive necessary supplies. Simple things like check boxes and drop down menus instead of blank fields on a form could lead to significantly more accurate information, and a better incident response.
This group is taking a needed first step towards addressing reporting functions when it comes to allocating resources for household pets leading up to, during, and after a disaster. Tackling the reporting issue will not only lead to better responses for animals, but could also lead to safer situations and a faster recovery for pet owners. Ultimately, better information will lead to better coordination of resources.