Disaster Preparedness and Response
Tips for Protecting Equine Companions in the Event of a Disaster
The number and severity of weather related disasters is on the rise, but according to a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) survey, only 39 percent of respondents had an emergency plan. The key to remaining calm and keeping animals safe during an emergency is being prepared. The response isn’t the same for every type of emergency; you may need to evacuate your horses or keep them safe in a barn or in a field. Once you understand your options, the next steps are developing a plan, organizing your resources and training and practicing for possible scenarios. If a disaster does strike, you’ll be ready to protect yourself and your horse. Both the ASPCA and The Humane Society of the United States offer a wide range of readiness tips to help you protect your equines from both natural disasters and ordinary accidents.
ASPCA Special Considerations for Horses
- Keep a clean and tidy stable and pasture. Remove hazardous and flammable materials, debris and machinery from around the barn’s walkways, entrances and exits. Regularly maintain and inspect barn floors and septic tanks. Inspect your grounds regularly and remove dangerous debris in the pasture.
- Prevent fires by instituting a no-smoking policy around your barn. Avoid using or leaving on appliances in the barn, even seemingly-harmless appliances like box fans, heaters and power tools can overheat. Exposed wiring can also lead to electrical fires in the barn, as can a simple nudge from an animal who accidentally knocks over a machine.
- Get your horse used to wearing a halter, and get him used to trailering. Periodically, you should practice quickly getting your horse on a trailer for the same reason that schools have fire drills—asking a group of unpracticed children to exit a burning building in a calm fashion is a little unrealistic, as is requesting a new and strange behavior of your horse.
- If you own a trailer, please inspect it regularly. Also, make sure your towing vehicle is appropriate for the size and weight of the trailer and horse. Always make sure the trailer is hitched properly—the hitch locked on the ball, safety chains or cables attached, and emergency brake battery charged and linked to towing vehicle. Proper tire pressure (as shown on the tire wall) is also very important.
- Get your horse well-socialized and used to being handled by all kinds of strangers. If possible, invite emergency responders and/or members of your local fire service to interact with your horse. It will be mutually beneficial for them to become acquainted. Firemen’s turnout gear may smell like smoke and look unusual, which many horses find frightening—so ask them to wear their usual response gear to get your horse used to the look and smell.
- Set up a phone tree/buddy system with other nearby horse owners and local farms. This could prove invaluable should you—or they—need to evacuate animals or share resources like trailers, pastures or extra hands!
- Keep equine veterinary records in a safe place where they can quickly be reached. Be sure to post emergency phone numbers by the phone. Include your 24-hour veterinarian, emergency services and friends. You should also keep a copy for emergency services personnel in the barn that includes phone numbers for you, your emergency contact, your 24-hour veterinarian and several friends.
HSUS Tips for Preparing Your Horses for Disaster
- Permanently identify each horse by tattoo, microchip, brand, and photograph. In your records, include the horse’s age, sex, breed, and color. Keep this information with your important papers.
- Keep halters ready. On each halter attach a luggage tag with the following information: the horse’s name, your name, email address, your telephone number, and another emergency telephone number where someone can be reached. At the time of evacuation, consider additional temporary identification such as a leg band.
- Place your horses’ Coggins tests, veterinary papers, identification photographs, and vital information—such as medical history, allergies, and emergency telephone numbers (veterinarian, family members, etc.)—in a watertight envelope. Store the envelope with your other important papers in a safe place that will be easy for you to access, so you can take them with you when you and your horses evacuate.
- Prepare a basic first aid kit that is portable and easily accessible.
- Be sure to include enough water (12 to 20 gallons per day per horse), hay, feed, and medications for several days for each horse.
- Make arrangements in advance to have your horse trailered in case of an emergency. If you don’t have your own trailer or don’t have enough room in your trailer for all your horses and have to rely on the help of others, be sure to plan extra time to take care of both their equine and yours.
- Train all of your horses to trailer in various weather and light conditions. It is essential to timely evacuation that your horses are comfortable being loaded onto a trailer.
- Know where you can take your horses in an emergency evacuation. When possible, make arrangements with a friend or another horse owner to stable your horses well beyond the region at risk.
- Contact your local animal care and control agency, agricultural extension agent, or local emergency management authorities for information about shelters in your area.
If you cannot evacuate with your horse
- Have a back-up plan in case it’s impossible to take your horse with you when you evacuate. Consider different types of disasters and whether your horses would be better off in a barn or loose in a field. Your local humane organization, agricultural extension agent, or local emergency management agency may be able to provide you with information about your community’s disaster response plans.
- Share your evacuation plans with friends and neighbors. Post detailed instructions in several places—including the barn office or tack room, the horse trailer, and barn entrances—to ensure emergency workers can see them in case you are not able to evacuate your horses yourself.
Things which will add to the complexity of the situation and require additional planning include: having exceptionally young or old or mobility impaired equines, having stallions or especially high strung horses, having a large number of horses, or being located far from a main road. If you are in an area prone to a certain type of natural disaster, the Red Cross has a series of natural disaster mobile apps that provide expert, detailed emergency information on each type of disaster, such as wildfire or flood.
For more information on disaster response, see this presentation from Dr. Nicole Eller from the 2017 Homes for Horses Coalition Conference: Horses in Disasters.