Have a Plan in Place when Disaster Strikes

Have a Plan in Place when Disaster Strikes

If evacuation is not possible during a disaster, decide where on the property your horses will be safest.

Photo: Thinkstock

Ice storms, blizzards, floods, and tornadoes. Disasters often strike without warning, as demonstrated recently by the December ice storm that wreaked havoc on hundreds of thousands residents in Ontario, the Maritimes, and the northeastern United States with downed tree limbs and power lines. Many were without power for days, while for others it was weeks, which meant no heat or water.

No one is immune from the possible effects of a disaster, but preparing ahead of time and having an emergency plan in place can help to keep our horses safe and out of harm’s way.

Plan it Out

Being aware of the possible risks in your region is the first step toward preparing for any possible disaster that has the potential to cause a short term or long term disruption to you, your family and your animals. Is your area prone to flooding? What about tornadoes or blizzards?

In addition to Mother Nature’s list of natural disasters, you should also consider other potential dangers such as wildfires or the possibility of man-made emergencies including gas leaks or propane spills. Many times, these result in evacuation with very little notice.

Plan for any possible extended disruption of services. If the roads are closed, how will you get food to your horses? Authorities usually recommend having at least two-weeks supply of feed and hay on hand and stored in a dry area. Top off all water tanks and buckets before an impending storm, and store additional water in plastic trash cans secured with lids in a safe place. Consider having well-maintained generators on hand to provide emergency power, and have enough fuel to keep them running for several days. Always keep an up-to-date emergency care kit that includes Vetrap, bandages, medications, flashlights, batteries, etc. Having an envelope set aside with emergency cash (with the amount of cash depending on your budget and needs) might also come in handy for times such as these.

In the case of an evacuation, while you might be able to take the family pet along with you to a hotel, it’s not the time to start calling around to find a safe location to move your horses. Pre-arrange an evacuation site for your horses and map out primary and secondary routes in advance. Develop a buddy system with friends and neighbouring barns. Don’t hesitate to ask for help when the time comes.

Also, make sure your horses are trained to easily load and unload from a trailer. If evacuation is not possible, decide where on the property your horses will be safest. Microchipping, branding, or tattooing, along with using online identification agencies, provide permanent forms of animal identification. As an alternative, ensure that your horses are equipped with some form of identification such as a halter tag, neck collar, or leg tag that contains your contact information, should you have to leave them behind.

Human Safety Comes First

In the case of a natural or man-made disaster, it’s important that the safety of humans come first, says District Chief Victor MacPherson of the Adjala-Tosorontio Fire Department, in Alliston, Ontario, Canada. “Make sure that you and your family are safe before assisting your animals.

“In the case of a fire, this is where emergency preparedness comes into play," he continued. "If the barn is on fire, what do you do? What do you do with your livestock? My advice is, if it’s safe to do so, try to get them out. However, if you bring them out of the barn and just turn them loose, most likely the horses will try to run back into the barn. … People should have a location in mind ahead of time to safely keep them together, such as a field or another barn far away from the fire.”

Preparedness is Essential

While it’s impossible to prepare for all conditions, don’t let an emergency situation catch you off guard. Having a basic plan in place ahead of time for either the evacuation or sheltering of your horses allows you to handle an emergency with less stress and a clearer head.

“Pre-incident planning is crucial for any farm owner,” says Deborah Chute, owner and operator of Laurenwood Stables, in Loretto, Ontario, and a volunteer firefighter with the Adjala-Tosorontio Fire Department. “Farms by their very nature contain many hazards to humans, animals and the environment, and careful planning before the event of an emergency can save lives and property.

"Local fire departments are usually quite happy to assist in developing pre-incident plans and can give further advice on fire detection and suppression systems that can be retrofitted or installed in new buildings," she continued. "Regular inspection and repair of all human and animal housing and fencing will go a long way to keep you and your animals safe.”

If you're looking for more information on planning for emergencies when caring for horses, Equine Guelph will be hosting an Emergency Preparedness course for horse owners Sept 18. (tentative date) followed by a Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue Awareness and Operations Level course Sept 19-21 (tentative dates). Contact Susan Raymond slraymon@uoguelph.ca for more details.

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