Pet Preparedness: Grant Project Recap

The $15,361.90 FEMA grant that was awarded to our local MRC unit allowed us to expand the region's capabilities to care for the WHOLE family -- including pets -- in a disaster. Grant activities included four public education events, followed by MRC training sessions on pet sheltering. We also provided:

- A full-scale exercise to test our region's sheltering capabilities.

- Purchase and distribution of shelter 'starter kits' for each of the seven UMV communities.

Our media campaign included a two-minute PSA on Pet Safety in Emergencies -- which is available for display by all cable TV stations across Massachusetts.

The rest of this web page provides more detail on the last two educational events, as well as the drill to practice the set-up and staffing of a pet-friendly shelter.

I. Public Education and MRC Training

Attendance at the last two training sessions remained enthusiastic. The Chelmsford event included coverage by local cable television.

Dr. Ilene Segal, DVM, explains how to ensure a pet's safety in case of disaster, and the value of go-kits.
The town's Animal Control Officer answers questions during the break.
The audience replies to questions while the camera rolls. The presentation aired widely on Chelmsford's cable TV station.
The Senior Center Director with Prince, trained as a therapy dog.
An MRC volunteer with a 'comfort animal' that can calm the victims of disaster.

The final training session took place in Westford, which was the site of several previous emergency shelters.

A member from the board of directors of SMART (State of MA Animal Response Team) who had been on numerous deployments explained pet sheltering.
The speaker pauses with two Animal Control Officers who provided dog and cat go-kits.
The winner of a raffle to encourage participation received a dog go-kit.
Our unit is grateful to Petco, the corporate sponsor that allowed us to host a display table at their facility over Grand Opening weekends. Staff members provided give-aways for pet preparedness attendees.

II. Full-Scale Exercise

After the training sessions, our focus transitioned to preparations for a full-scale exercise. The Blanchard School had been used several times in the past as a shelter for humans.This time the facility was being tested for its feasability as a pet-friendly venue.

When emergency managers determine the need to open shelters in a disaster within our region, they work with local public health to assign trained volunteers from the UMV MRC. Our members take direction as established by the Incident Command System, interacting with the area's response partners.

Volunteers completed paperwork and received Just-In-Time training, as if the town had opened an actual
pet-friendly emergency shelter during a disaster.
SMART volunteers lined the pet areas with protective runners and plastic sheeting, and set up animal crates.
The drill tested registration of pets with their families. A veterinarian from SMART provided triage for pets, and affixed ID bands that matched animals with owners.

According to the after-action reports from many live deployments, Security can be a big issue at pet-friendly shelters. Therefore, this exercise required Registration staff to take photos of owners with their animals. This hardcopy ID was displayed at the top of each pet's crate, while ID bands assigned animals with families.

Many lessons were learned while practicing crucial procedures. Volunteers used a Polaroid camera to frame and print pictures. They found it challenging to keep pets still long enough for a photo, while ensuring that both animals and their owners were shown clearly in each ID picture.

The first few hours in which families with pets are admitted to shelters can be among the most challenging. Areas of the shelter are newly designated for various types of care, while procedures are being set into place.

Volunteers practiced 'intake' skills during registration. Many shelters initially open using hand-written signage that indicates
key areas. UMV MRC members are shown looking in on a cat to ensure that its care schedule is being followed.

Several response agencies interacted when simulating care of the whole family at the shelter drill. Animal care professionals were particularly essential in setting up and overseeing the sheltering of pets, which were screened upon arrival.

SMART volunteers trained in animal rescue
review procedures with MRC volunteers.
Animal Control Officers from across the region lent their special skills and provided general oversight.

Separate rooms were set aside, in case some animals had to be isolated from the general pet population.

Sheets were used to prevent pets in neighboring crates from seeing each other, which can make some of them agitated. Bedding within each crate provides comfort.

Participants benefited from being able to draw on the many resources available, and can apply the lessons learned in case of an actual disaster response.




Upper Merrimack Valley Medical Reserve Corps, 55 Main Street, Westford, MA 01886