The concept of disaster animal response teams originated in 1992 in south Florida as the result of Hurricane Andrew which devastated Homestead and much of the greater Miami-Dade County area. After the hurricane, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) along with several other animal welfare organizations found that no provisions had been made for the pets displaced by the disaster. The HSUS embarked on a mission to develop “teams” that could work with emergency responders when disaster struck to ensure the rescue and proper sheltering of companion animals. This was the birth of DART – Disaster Animal Response Teams. Florida was the first to start DART development and now it is a nationwide trend.
When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and much of the northern Gulf Coast, we were again reminded of the inefficiencies that existed in most emergency response plans – they don’t include pets. Public outrage and criticism from viewing scenes of people leaving their helpless pets behind in flooded areas and hearing that more than 40% of the people refused rescue because the rescuers would not take their pets with them sparked new Federal legislation. The PETS Act of 2006 passed both houses of Congress overwhelmingly and was promptly signed into law by the President in October, 2006 – just one year after Katrina. This Act provides that, if any emergency response agency requests federal funding, it must have in its plan a provision to rescue and shelter pets in disasters. The State of Illinois promptly followed suit with the federal government and passed similar legislation signed into law by the Governor in January, 2007. The village of Palatine actually started forming the animal response team prior to the enactment of the PETS Act and was one of the first communities in Illinois to include pets in the Emergency Operations Plan.
The Palatine Animal Response Team (PART) is responsible for the rescue, sheltering and reunification of animals affected by a disaster as defined by the PETS Act of 2006. Any volunteer who is an animal lover can help fill our needs which include field rescue personnel, shelter workers and support staff, and community outreach. We especially need people in animal related industries – veterinarians, vet assistants, groomers, and animal shelter workers and so on – people with hands on experience working with animals. If you want to help those helpless four-legged friends of ours when disaster strikes, this is the team for you.
We have three major areas of concentration. Field Support is the team that goes out into the disaster area and rescues animals that may be trapped or left behind. The main goal is to get the animal out of harms way and into a controlled situation – a shelter. This team requires search and rescue skills, animal handling skills, good animal instincts and generally good physical stamina. Sheltering includes the physical sheltering of the animals, veterinary services, feeding, cleaning, walking and grooming. We also need clerical support here to build information about rescued animals and tracking the animals. Reunification is also an important process of sheltering. Community Outreach helps get the word out about how families should prepare their pets for disasters. Educational materials, checklists and facility planning for animal hospitals will go a long way to help mitigate some of the negative effects on our pets. We have coordinated efforts with a number of communities throughout northern Illinois with the goal of establishing a regional Animal Response Team.
The Palatine Emergency Management Agency provides extensive training opportunities for all its volunteers and the Animal Response Team has additional training opportunities that help better define our mission. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the ASPCA, United Animal Nations and the Center for Public Safety and Justice (CPSL) are key partners in the training criteria.
In 2010, the Animal Response module was introduced at the Palatine CERT Challenge and was met with great enthusiasm. CERT volunteers from six organizations were introduced to animal response in emergencies.
FEMA released the new CERT Animal Response modules in July which will be taught to CERT programs starting early 2011. These two modules are designed to introduce CERT volunteers what to expect when confronted with pets and other animals during a response. Personal planning for pets is also discussed in some detail.
A one-day awareness training program has been introduced through Illinois Citizen Corps to help CERT groups and emergency managers learn what is involved in an Animal Response and how to get started. This training is based on the Palatine Animal Response program coupled with Humane Society of the US, United Animal Nations and CERT training.
A test deployment of Therapy Dogs at a multi-jurisdictional exercise was conducted in cooperation with the Palatine Fire Rehabilitation Team in October and received outstanding reviews from the firemen. When this was presented to a FEMA Region 5 Medical Reserve Corps meeting, we were met with a lot of questions about how to accomplish this. We have subsequently been asked to present a proposal about this program for a national convention in Dallas next May.
The Palatine Management Agency Animal Response Team continues to be a leader in the development of programs and training. Our community outreach and integration of therapy animals into other Palatine teams’ efforts has proven to be a benefit to all concerned. Participation in the Department of Homeland Security Regional Catastrophic Preparedness program assures us that if a major disaster strikes the Chicago area, our pets will be taken care of. We also participate on the Tri-State Agro Preparedness Committee which brings Emergency Managers from Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin together to plan and prepare for any type of agricultural disaster.
Moving forward, we will focus on continuing to “get the word out” about the need/requirement for a disaster animal response. We are committed to educating and training as many organizations as we can so that Illinois can say it is prepared to help pets, companion animals and agricultural animals in any disaster.