Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Preparing for the unexpected

Ok, "if it is unexpected, how can you prepare for it?" you ask.

First of all, background to this for newer readers.

I am an EARS volunteer (Emergency Animal Response Support). http://www.uan.org/ for more on that. Readers' Digest version, we help animals in any emergency, such as natural disasters (hurricanes, forest fires) or criminal seizures where the local shelter is overwhelmed with the numbers of seized animals requiring care.

In our basic training, we are encouraged to have personal disaster plans of our own, for our families and pets. The goal is to be part of the solution rather than the problem. Besides, it looks bad on the resume if someone has to rescue the rescuer.

To this end, I do have some basic plans. I don't have the full disaster kit that I should (pet photo ID, dog food, diapers for the special needs kids, copies of vaccine records, leashes, etc all in a "grab and go" container- the UAN website has a complete list). I do have several battery and rechargeable flashlights, a battery radio and a battery/crank radio & light combo, as well as half of Ikea's candle supply complete with 2 large boxes of wooden matches. I try to always have a sealed bag of each type of dog food on hand as well.

Last week Southern Ontario was hit with unprecedented waves of tornadoes and storm cells. One black funnel cloud was seen making its way down Yonge Street (the longest street in North America) in downtown Toronto. NOT an event that anyone would have imagined could happen.

I had the weather channel on the TV and they were saying "if you live in X,Y,Z cities, go to your basement NOW". I live in one of those cities. With that, out went our power. It was getting dark outside, but nothing that should have triggered a power failure. This is not good.

My one emergency light came on automatically, I grabbed the big flashlight, battery radio and battery lantern and took them to the basement, calling Valentin and Pogo to come with me. Pogo froze on the stairs and had to be carried down (trip #2 on the stairs). With them safely in the basement exercise pen (already erected), I then made 3 more trips for Heidi, Daisy Mae and Stanley; snatching up my cell phone as I went to alert my sister to make for her basement as well.

Because I had to carry a flashlight with me to see the stairs, each of the paralized dogs had to be ferried down the steps individually. This took WAY too long. As I was making each sucessive trip, the sky outside was turning a more erie orange/pink/green. It looked like something from a bad 1950's science fiction movie, just before the aliens land. Knowing that I had to make several trips to get everyone safely downstairs, I started the process as soon as the first alerts had gone out. What scares me is the time it took, if it had been more urgent........ I had thought I could get everyone and everything to the basement in 3 trips. V and P, with hardware (lights/radio) in one trip, the girls on the second trip and Stanley on the third. It took me 5 trips and at least 3+ minutes, NOT good in an urgent situation.

We spent about an hour in the basement, listening to the radio reports. This was an exceptional enough event that our usual FM station suspended regular broadcasts and joined with their AM all-new sister station for 2 hours. At the end of it, there was one death, numerous cars tossed about like dinky toys, 45 houses declared unsafe, an untold number of houses completely destroyed and about 150 homes evacuated across Southern Ontario, plus the usual downed trees and about 10,000 homes without power.

I am revising our emergency plans now. Hooks for the side door stairwell, where I can hang extra leashes, one battery radio to live downstairs, either a flashlight to live in the stairwell, or one of those lights you can strap on your head, so that I can see the stairs and carry 2 dogs at a time and a carry bag for Heidi (as she is the smallest and lightest of the handicapped kids to carry - I might be able to carry all 3 in a pinch with her in the bag). I need to dramatically cut down the time it takes me to get 2 able pawed and 3 disabled furkids to the basement singlehandedly. I had always thought Valentin and Pogo could get downstairs on their own. Pogo freezing in terror and needing to be carried, had not crossed my mind. DUMB!! I need to factor in storm sounds, scared dogs, to the plans. I know better, too, that is why I am kicking myself.

Those are the plans, if we have to head to the basement again, but 140 homes had to be evacuated; either because of damage to the homes or gas leaks. 38 more homes have been declared unsafe to live in. I need to get plans together for alternate shelter (factoring in closed roads, downed trees, flooding, etc). My sister could be our first line of evacuation, but she lives close by and could easily be impacted by the same reasons we would need to flee our home.

I have a pile of "stuff" in my van right now. I get home from work and think "I am too tired tonight, I will deal with it tomorrow". If we had had to leave home, stuffing all 5 in the van would have been problematic, to say the least, and definately time consuming. A further concern, is that the Canadian government has said they will VOLUNTARILY follow the new US law requiring pets to be evacuated with their families (a post-Katrina law); however, this did not happen in the recent BC fires. People were not allowed to take pets with them. I will not leave without the furkids and the faster and easier that I can get them out with me, the more likely emergency worker are likely to let me bring them without a fight.

Tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires are not "likely" events in my area; not like California, the southern US, or the Eastern Seaboard. There are other types of disasters too, such as the gas leaks, train derailments, a fire today at a furniture manufacturer where the fumes were toxic. Many years ago, a train did derail and the tanker cars ruptured, sending toxic fumes throughout neighbourhoods. Several months ago a propane company blew up in the night; many of the resdients are still not back in their homes.

I cannot stress enough that everyone needs to have a plan to keep their families and pets safe; especially your pets, as you can pretty well bet your municipality does not have plans for them.

1 comment:

Three Dogs Long said...

We are so glad that you are all safe & sound! And having an emergency plan in place is a must these days, with our unpredictable weather!

We had many warnings regarding Hurricane Bill, thankfully he lost a lot of his gusto before he reached us. But there were numerous warnings advising us to pepare in a moments notice!

((hugs)) your friends
Oskar, Schatzi & Xena

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