Companion Animals During Disasters: Increasing Resilience
The impact of natural disasters on animals can include, on a large scale, death, stranded animals, and permanent separation of companion animals from their owners. Efforts to quantify the impact of major events in the last 20 years report that millions of pets and livestock died during and directly after the disasters and up to 80-85% of rescued companion animals were never reunited with their human families. Past disasters have highlighted the need for animal evacuation capability as well as pet-friendly sheltering, because some residents in disaster-affected areas risk their own lives and endanger the lives of responders in order to remain with their pets.
This project, the National Capabilities for Animal Response in Emergencies project, called the NCARE Study, was designed to assess the level of preparedness among US states and counties for managing animals in an emergency. Conducted by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the study is considered a needs assessment to understand the gaps in existing infrastructure and capabilities.
All U.S. states, counties, and cities with a population of over 1 million were selected for survey contact. In addition, in each of 45 states, the team selected a random sample of 25% of the counties (or county equivalent) with populations under 1 million. The survey covered presence or absence of a State or County Animal Response Team (SART/CART) or equivalent organization, organization and membership of the SART/CART, activities conducted by the SART/CART in the previous 12 months, the jurisdiction’s active animal teams, equipment, supply caches, plans for sheltering, and perceived remaining needs.
The researchers found that most areas of the US have taken some important initial steps towards establishing the capabilities necessary for managing animals in a disaster. But the team also identified many areas for improvement. In particular, the findings point to particularly large deficiencies in county-level organizations. In some regions, fewer than 25% of counties had a CART or similar organization.
Organization and pre-planning at the county (or city) level is critical for emergency response to occur quickly enough to prevent animal emergencies. Most animal deaths occur within the first 24–48 hours of a disaster’s onset, that is, before state or national responders who can assist with animals typically arrive. The researchers found that only about half of counties with a CART included private non-profit animal organizations as members, meaning they may not have identified and planned together with community organizations that could be charged with managing companion animals in an emergency.
Animal activists interested in improving their state and local preparedness can review the results by FEMA region and pursue assisting their local CART or SART in planning and resourcing.