Whole Dog Journal's Blog October 10, 2017

Please Have an Emergency Evacuation Plan for Your Family (Pets and Humans)

Posted at 10:35AM - Comments: (5)

This past week, we’ve had some terribly windy days. In the wee hours of Monday morning, I woke up to a strong smell of smoke in the air. I stepped outside; the odor was strong but I couldn’t hear sirens nor see the glow of a fire anywhere. I turned on my computer, and was immediately able to find news about the source of the smoke: a wildfire had broken out about 10 miles north of my town. Another was burning about 20 miles to the east. My town was safe – but oh my word, there were also enormous fires burning 100 miles away, in the heavily populated areas of Napa and Sonoma Counties. And the wind was still gusting at 50 and 60 miles per hour, spreading burning embers far, wide, and fast.

A fire burning at the edge of town

As I type, tens of thousands of people have had to evacuate their homes and businesses, and hundreds of homes and businesses have burned to the ground. Thank goodness, I’m seeing reports from dozens of friends and acquaintances from that area, reporting on Facebook that they were able to get themselves and their human and small animal family members out of the burning areas safely. But I am aware that there are lots of family farms and horse boarding facilities in the area that’s burning – even a tourist attraction called Safari West, which has zebras, giraffes, rhinos, cheetahs, and other African animals on the property. I shudder to think about all the large animals in that area who can’t be evacuated quickly or easily.

This, as well as the hurricane-related disasters that have struck the Gulf states in recent months, has underlined for me the importance of having an emergency plan in place to protect and evacuate my family. What would I do if I had only minutes to leave my house? What would I grab?

What would I do if I had a little more time – if my area was on an emergency evacuation warning, as it was back in February of this year, when part of the infrastructure of the enormous dam I live downstream from started showing signs of failure?

In the former case, I’d need only some leashes, a cat carrier, the dogs and cats, my husband, and maybe that little emergency radio we got when we pledged a donation to our local public radio station that time. It can run on batteries, solar power, or be wound up by hand; it can even help charge a mobile phone (of course, I’d grab my cell phone, too). I had better dig it out of the kitchen cabinet and put it on that shelf by the front door.

On the news...

I’ve already had practice with the latter case –with hours and even days to get ready. When the broken spillway at the Oroville (California) Dam caused erosion that threatened to undermine the massive structure itself, local officials had advised residents to be ready to evacuate if needed. My husband and I spent the better part of a day packing up family photos, legal documents, passports, computer backup drives, veterinary records, and other possessions into big plastic storage boxes, and stored them in a friend’s barn, upstream and uphill from any potential flood. I had dog leashes and food in my car . . . but then I made the mistake of leaving town (to care for some evacuated animals!) and was 20 miles away when the actual evacuation order came. It took over an hour of panicked calls and texts to reach my husband and make sure he grabbed the animals and got out of town safely (I wrote about that event here). My new rule: Don’t get separated when a potential disaster is at hand!

Anyway, with this new disaster so close and so fresh in my mind, would you indulge me? Won’t you take a couple of minutes and think about what you would do if you had to evacuate your home with only a couple of minutes’ notice? And then, make another plan for an evacuation if you had a couple of hours’ notice?

Here are some good resources online for disaster planning:




Comments (5)

I have some suggestions for CityWitch, or anyone with a second story who needs to get their dog out in an emergency. I don't know if there are any harnesses made for the public to buy for that purpose, but you could make your own harness. Make sure the harness also wraps around the back legs so the dog won't slip out of the harness while it's being lowered. Do you know someone who's handy making things who could develop a simple device that you could use to slowly lower your dog? I'm thinking some metal pipes that would brace inside the window with the rope holding the harness; maybe a simple winch? If you have neighbors in the same situation, you could work together to make these things as well as teach your dogs to get used to wearing the harness, and then being lowered out a window (or being raised and lowered from a sturdy tree branch first). You should also buy a 2- or 3-story fire escape ladder for yourself and leave it by whatever window you think you might be using. And practice using it. A lot of fire departments around the country hold free emergency prepardeness (E.P.) classes called C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team). It's a 17 hour class usually held over several weeks. It not only covers preparing for different emergencies, it also includes some basic first aid.

Posted by: obieo | November 10, 2017 2:20 PM    Report this comment

I have an evacuation plan, but there is one vital element missing. I have a 75 lb hound mix. We sleep on the second floor. If there was a fire or something, I don't know how I'd get him out the window to safety. Any suggestions?

Posted by: CityWitch | October 13, 2017 12:25 PM    Report this comment

I too live in Wildland fire area in CA. I have crates and food for creatures (2dogs , 5 cats and 4 small cages birds.) A radio is a great idea , I have one of those like yours too. But don't forget to keep a 'go bag' with clothes and meds. A walkabout in your house making a list of what you'd grab, if time ,written down. And boxes and newspaper to pack them. Remember Important paper and pictures too . I have been evacuated or ready to several times and learened these lessons.
Also check with your county for the reverse 911 and list you number. God bless our firefighters and may the winds die soon . My son lost his house Mon at the start and he was in Puerto Rico aiding hurricane victims !

Posted by: Oeggie | October 12, 2017 11:10 AM    Report this comment

I was able to practice this exercise just a month ago when Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida. At first it was headed towards the east coast of Florida (I'm in Fort Lauderdale) so I was packing and preparing for the worst case scenario. It made me realize that I needed a bigger vehicle in order to be able to evacuate my two 65-pound dogs and my three cats, plus whatever provisions we needed! I have a small SUV and one of my dogs needs to be in a crate while travelling plus the cats have their hard sided crates. Put all that in the car plus myself and the other dog, there's barely any room for anything else. Also drove home the point that we always hear but rarely practice....be prepared at the beginning of the hurricane season. I already had all the supplies I needed but not all in one place. Now I'm prepared....new larger vehicle and all!!!

Posted by: JulieBug | October 12, 2017 10:19 AM    Report this comment

Great reminder...it's so easy to become complacent when we grow up and live for years (or our entire lives) in safety. A friend of mine who grew up in rural Alaska said everybody kept their family photos and other treasured items in the closet by the door - it's just what you did...just in case. I put together a grab and go bag in an extra rolling backpack, and another for evacuation in an old, unused suitcase. It was kind of fun, hunting down extra items; we already had most things on hand, although we did purchase packs of emergency blankets and fire starter. There's tons of great YouTube vids for ideas as well.

Posted by: MeToo | October 12, 2017 9:53 AM    Report this comment

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