Over the past few years, the U.S. has experienced a record number of natural disasters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) made 99 major disaster declarations in 2011, the most mega catastrophes declared since 1953.
But this has not changed what citizens are doing to get prepared.
A new survey shows more than one-in-four (27 percent) Americans say they would ignore evacuation orders and wait until absolutely necessary before leaving their home or seeking shelter in the event of an imminent natural disaster.
And although 21 percent of Americans have had their homes damaged by natural disasters, this has not been the wake up call preparedness experts had hoped for. Nearly half (46 percent) of survey respondents say they have not thought about or even discussed an evacuation plan or meeting place away from the home for their family.
These statistics were on my mind as I talked with my colleague Elizabeth Revord a disaster responder for the Red Cross who also works with me on the PUP (Prepare Ur Pet) program to educate pet owners about what to do in a disaster. She has just returned from Lake City Florida, where tropical storm Debby touched down on June 25.
In the time that she worked in conjunction with FEMA doing outreach to survivors, she met several people who refused to leave their homes because they did not want to separate from their animals and had made no plans for their evacuation in case of emergency.
The first woman she met was nearly inaccessible because her home was still in a couple feet of water. Elizabeth recalled that she was without air conditioning in 100 degree heat and 100 percent humidity.
ER: All I could hear was [her] dog parking ... we walked through the water that had been sitting for weeks--all the septic tanks had flooded out, so it was very toxic. [The woman] came out to meet us and I talked to her about leaving to stay in a shelter where there was the local animal volunteers i were providing a nearby school bus with air conditioning for animals in their cages.
CS: People don't think they have an alternative to staying with their pets, but these types of co shelters allow them to evacuate and keep their pets nearby. Did she leave then?
ER: No, she didn't want her animals with other animals. So she stayed in her home with no plumbing, electricity or clean water. She drove to a store for supplies and hadn't showered in over a week. It was pretty difficult to talk to her about her own welfare [let alone] her animals. We were able to follow up that she had enough food and water and that was the end of our interaction.
CS: Any other encounters stand out?
ER: There was a woman we met who was living in her neighbor's garage because she had 4 dogs, 5 cats and a donkey so she did not want to go to a shelter . She and her husband slept on a futon surrounded by the animals. A local rescue was able to take her donkey but the rest were with her when I talked to her. In order to save them from the flood waters they had to bring a rowboat into their home and row to the stairs to a loft where they had taken all the animals. She said one of dogs, a Sheltie, was rounding up the cats and hauling them up to the loft but unfortunately not all of the cats made it. Their boat flipped over and one drowned and another one got sick from the flood water and they had to put it down. She told me they were surprised because they didn't think they were even in a flood zone. i was able to share some insight with her that are part of our PUP presentations. Flooding in Florida is not a new concept so what is she going to do now for the next time? She created her own kit with leashes,collars, and food so she doesn't have to use her emergency money for this next time.
CS: What about abandoned pets? Did you come across any and what could you do for them?
ER: When we were out doing a damage assessment of the area we came to a large community that was still very much under water and on the side of the road we found an emaciated pit bull. We were able to pick her up, feed her give, her water and take her to a local shelter. she must have been left behind when the city was evacuated. someone didn't feel the need to keep her with them. She had no collar no microchip and when we found her it was two and a half weeks after the initial flooding. last we know she was with an emergency vet service. as a Good Samaritan we are not allowed to ask or follow up. But she was injured on her back leg and completely emaciated. And shes a pit bull. So ....[her prospects weren't very good.]
CS: So even when help does come, if the owner is not prepared there is not much that can be done for those left behind. Unfortunately people still believe that what they don't provide will come from somewhere else and that means low levels of self sufficiency and so much work for people like you to help them get back on their feet. Has it changed any of the emergency plans you have made for your own pit bull?
ER: I do not have a vehicle so how I would evacuation is something to really consider. Public transportation is not an option, so who are my neighbors?who are friends near by? What are my evacuation routes? Where is the nearest vet to board my dog, or motels that accept dogs. I live on the second story of my building, so how do I get my 80 lb dog down stairs if the fire exits are blocked? So it's really made me think about my own personal plan and how that relates to my dog. The next apartment I look for I only want to be on the floor level. Thinking about getting her out the window with bedsheets is not an option for the future! For my best friends' last birthday I sent her a bag to start her own kit and ideas for her 145 lb Great Dane.
You treat your pet like a member of the family so make sure they are as prepared as everyone else!
Lots more info by liking the PUP Facebook page.