Working on the North Valley Animal Disaster Group, (NVADG), Evacuation Team at the Wall Fire really brought home the importance of preparedness for rural home, horse and livestock owners.
As we searched for roads, driveways, and animals, we could not help but think of our own neighborhoods. Who would be there for Sonoma? And, how would they find the animals?
Thanks to Sonoma County Animal Services and the Sonoma County Fairgrounds’ management, a good emergency animal shelter is now available, if needed, in Santa Rosa. But more locations need to be identified that are accessible to other parts of the county. Marin has evacuation, shelter, and solid volunteer resources in place. For the time being, Sonoma emergency management agencies can call for backup aid from resources in other counties for Evac and shelter assistance. As with many counties across the state, our neighbors in Lake, Napa and Yolo have some Animal Disaster resources and Mutual Aid agreements, or MOUs, in place. Mendocino has an aware County Supervisor who is also a large animal vet and is working to enhance readiness there. Remember that many Mutual Aid agreements are activated in only a declared disaster, which could be days after evacuations are ordered.
For farm and ranch owners, self-reliance and PREPARATION are essential for enabling Ag business survival in a disaster. We are vulnerable to a variety of threats, but as we are fire season, here are a few checkpoints that will make a big difference in your ability to save your animals and other property in a wildfire:
- Create defensible space for animals You hear it time and again, but it’s true. Sheltering livestock in place is often the ONLY option. Making safe space for them is crucial.
- Mark your driveway Spray paint the address on the road, on the barn, wherever it can be seen easily. Leave durable directional signage whenever possible.
- Provide good, clear directions
- When calling for Evac or Shelter-in-Place (SIP) assistance remember: addresses, signs, gates, driveways, and even road signs may be obliterated. Use landmarks, exact mileage, and other data.
- Evac teams will likely have only their radios to rely upon, no cell reception or Internet and paperwork from dispatch. They may not be able to reach you for clarification. Explain where animals are located on the property.
- When Evac is possible and resources are available, remember these important points:
- If someone has picked up your animals after you call for assistance, be sure to call authorities back to let them know. A lot of valuable time and resources are spent searching for animals that are no longer on site.
- When someone picks up your animals — make sure they remove any signs requesting help, and leave a note with contacts.
- Be specific about priorities. We received multiple requests to “just get the kids’ 4-H/FFA steer/pigs/lambs/chickens/rabbits out!” Animals in pens must be in a safe defensible space.
- Leave as much water as possible. Soak a grass-free area for animals to shelter in.
- Do NOT let horses or livestock out where they can create a road hazard for firefighters.
- Leave buckets or small troughs. Evac teams travel with water for animals, but carrying buckets, in addition to other gear we are walking in, adds time and depletes energy.
- Be honest about capture and loading: If your animals are difficult or impossible to catch and/or load, they put Evac teams and others in danger, and waste precious time. Evac teams will check on animals sheltering in place, leave water, and do what they can (safely) to improve the odds.
- If you are bringing your animals (pets or livestock) to an emergency shelter:
- Have ID, contacts, feeding, medication and other info clearly written or printed and bring it with you. Intake forms are required, but it helps harried volunteers to have clear, written info to refer to.
- Help your help! There are several Spanish-language resources available for Ag workers. Make sure your employees know what to do.
If a Neighborhood Emergency Committee or Council exists in your area – join it! If there isn’t one – start one! Local resources such as FireSafe Councils and Marin Humane can help with strategies for improving resilience. Many of our local fire departments are very engaged with their neighborhoods and are in need of greater support and cooperation.
Community members working together will make the greatest difference, in any situation.
Don’t wait: Communicate!
Resources: FireSafe Council, Sonoma County Animal Services, Marin Humane, Lake County LEAP, Sebastopol Community Disaster Team (CDRT), NVADG.