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NMSU Extension district director helps counties develop household animal evacuation plans

Emergency response personnel know what actions they will take during a natural disaster or emergency. They have created emergency operation plans at all levels of government - local, county, state. They have had table-top scenarios and live exercises to practice their responses. They have planned for every contingency, from flood to wildfire, and know how they will deal with the mass evacuation of an area.

But one contingency that has been left out of the plans is what to do with domestic animals and pets of families who have to be evacuated from their homes and property.

"We don't think about the number of animals involved when we have to evacuate a neighborhood," said Charlie Siepel, New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service southern district director. "It's not until a child approaches an emergency response person after the disaster happened and asks if they have seen their dog that it hits you, the emotional impact those pets have on people."

Siepel is the agriculture plan and household pets and service animal plan coordinator with the Southwest Border Food Safety and Disaster Center at NMSU.

He is working with Courtney McBride, local preparedness coordinator with New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, who is coordinating a program to help New Mexico counties add a pet emergency evacuation and transportation appendix to existing county emergency operation plans.

"FEMA has made it a requirement that counties have this section in their emergency operation plan if they apply for disaster funds after an incident that includes evacuation involving domestic animals and pets," said Billy Dictson, director of SWBFSDC's office of biosecurity.

McBride and Siepel have created templates to help counties address the many issues involved with pet evacuation and transportation, starting with guidelines for evacuation and rescue of animals.

"There's a lot involved with this sort of scenario," said Siepel. "Such as: Where are the animals going to be taken? Who will care for them while at the emergency shelter? How will they be fed and by whom? What forms are needed to register the animals? Does the county have a pet abandonment policy or the necessary forms to keep track of which animal belongs to which humans? There are just some of the things needed to be planned before the disaster hits."

"When we helped counties prepare the agricultural livestock annex to their emergency operation plan, we had them go through the process of realizing what the plan needed to include," Dictson said. "With this section we want to make it as easy as possible for the counties to fulfill the FEMA requirement."

Representatives from 13 counties will begin work on their plans on May 25 during a meeting in Albuquerque. County emergency managers may contact McBride at 505-476-9608 or Siepel at 575-542-9207 for more information about the work session.