Last week, Floridians purchased a record number of ID MyHorse Emergency Identification Tags. Additionally, residents of the Carolinas in the potential path of Hurricane Dorian ordered tags for their horses. The viral videos of Hurricane Harvey, showing stranded and stressed horses, were fresh on everyone’s mind. Recently, my Memories Facebook feed offered up this rescue video from Hurricane Harvey.
Are you prepared?
Are you prepared in the event of a natural disaster? Fires, tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes all pose a significant threat to our livestock and pets. Some natural disasters provide significant warning time. Many Floridians planned in advance to have identifying information on their horses should Hurricane Dorian strike their community. The California wildfires raged for weeks. I wrote about the fires here and here. Similar to Floridians, many Californians opted to order Identification Tags to help ensure reunification should they be directly affected.
There may not be much time to figure things out during an emergency, so you need an exit strategy—how to get out, safely, with your animals and secure your place before you leave.
Have a current list of your horses
What does a “disaster preparedness plan” look like? Unquestionably, you should have a current list of all your horses. This should include a physical description, their vaccination status, their current Coggins, and any other pertinent information specific to each horse.
Your horse should be current on all vaccines, including tetanus. The risk of disease transmission increases with multiple horses in confinement. Perhaps your horses rarely leave your farm, and you don’t do a Coggins test every year. But what if you needed to house them at a facility that refused to take them if they didn’t have a negative Coggins? This potential destination would be part of your plan in the event of an emergency. However, what If you are forced to turn them loose? If they end up housed with hundreds of other unidentifiable horses, no one will be checking a Coggins test. The identification on the horse should match the information you have in your hand-carried records.
Have a trailer ready to go
Several articles that discuss emergency preparedness stress the importance of having a trailer ready to go. Alternatively, have a plan to acquire one quickly if you don’t own one. Obviously, this needs to be a trailer in good working order; not one that has been sitting idle for years. Your trailer should include all the buckets, hoses, halters, and other equipment you think you might need. All horses need to load readily, at least under normal circumstances. If you plan far enough in advance, you are not loading under horrendously stressful circumstances.
“Don’t wait until the last minute, thinking the fire won’t get to your place, or that a hurricane will miss you or be less powerful than predicted,” says Moore. “With Hurricane Katrina, people had plenty of time to get out but ignored the warnings until it was too late. Part of the issue was unpredictable things that happened, like the levees breaking, causing flooding.”
Have a contact person outside the affected area
One particularly enlightening suggestion was to have contact information for a person not located in your area included in the identifying information you have on your horse. Natural disasters negatively impact cell phone towers. Concurrently, victims of the disaster are using their cell phones if possible and overloading any functional towers. Providing emergency personnel with the phone number of someone not in the immediate disaster area increases your chances of reconnecting with your horse.
Speaking of communication, this article suggested three components of good disaster communication:
- The Buddy System: Neighbors agree in advance what resources can be shared, and which members of the community each person is responsible for checking on
- The Telephone Tree: Each person is responsible for phoning 2-3 other people to share information and determine immediate needs
- “Help” or “OK” signs at the entrance to your property or driveway can be a simple but effective way of communicating your current status
Tom Seay of Best of America by Horseback recently posted an offer on his Facebook page. He opened up his farm, at no charge, to evacuees from the east coast. Tom’s message includes the following statement:
However, we strongly urge folks in that area to make plans now, so they can be prepared, such as having full fuel tanks, propane in their trailers, water and food supplies for at least a week.
Please have a contingency plan prepared! In Part Two of this topic, I’ll discuss what to do if you have to leave your horses. Furthermore, additional information on insurance issues, communication, and identification will be provided.