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Being Prepared

When a natural disaster strikes, will you be ready?
By Wendy Bedwell-Wilson

There’s no getting away from them. Natural disasters—tornados, wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, ice storms and even volcanic eruptions—occur on every continent on Planet Earth. Are pet retailers prepared to deal with them when they occur?

In addtion to general disaster kits, retailers should also create disaster kits for each animal, including leashes and collars, carriers, food, medications, water, vaccination information, microchip information, veterinary contact and any other disaster-specific item.
An ice storm put retailer Caterina Finley to the test in February. Owner of E’town Pet Center in Elizabethtown, Ky., Finley came to the rescue of her community’s pets when the power went down in town. Luckily, her lights and heat stayed on, so she turned her pet store into a makeshift shelter for animals that couldn’t board with their owners.

“We heard on the radio that there were shelters available for people, but they needed to make arrangements for their pets because the shelters don’t allow pets,” Finley recalled. “That just tore me up. So I called the store and talked to my employees, and we decided as a group to open the store for free and shelter the pets.”

Finley and her six employees cared for 204 pet fish, small animals, reptiles and even a family of Yorkshire terriers, in addition to her own livestock. They cleared their shelves to make room, telling the community that, as long as they had space, the pets could keep coming.

“After that ice storm, we definitely decided to get a generator so if it ever happens again, we would be prepared and be able to open our doors like we did this time,” Finley said.

In disaster-prone areas, pet-specialty retailers like Finley sit poised in a unique position to not only care for the animals in their charge, but also to provide temporary care to customers’ pets and educate their clients about preparing for emergencies in their own homes. It all begins with readying the store itself.

Safe Haven for Animals
To prepare for a disaster, no matter its type, retailers first need a plan to protect their livestock and livelihood, said Heather Case, DVM, coordinator for emergency preparedness and response for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in Schaumburg, Ill. Consider the real threats in the community, and build from there.

“You’ll want to look at the most likely natural disaster for your area,” she said. “And that will depend on where a facility is located. It may be that you’re in hurricane alley, it may be that you’re in an area where there are significant winter storms, or it could be a situation like we just experienced with the flooding [in North Dakota].”

The plan should include finding a location where the animals can be safely relocated in case of mandatory or voluntary evacuations, reported Janell Matthies, emergency services manager for United Animal Nations in Sacramento, Calif.

“This might involve making an arrangement in advance with a boarding facility, ranch or kennel outside of your immediate area,” she said. “You may also need to make arrangements with a transportation service that can help you transport large numbers of animals to your established evacuation location.”

Retailers should also create disaster kits for each animal, Case said. These would include leashes and collars, carriers, food, medications, water, vaccination information, microchip information, veterinary contact and any other disaster-specific item.

“They should think ahead and make sure that they have a plan for what happens, prioritizing how quickly they want to get these animals out and how they’ll get them to where they need to go,” she said.

Then they need to put the plan into action, Case said. Retailers should know where fire extinguishers, control valves, escape routes and disaster kits are located and be prepared to act quickly.

“It’s imperative to practice that plan,” she said.

For some retailers, evacuating animals may be out of the question, said Mike Hoffer, owner of Hoffer’s Tropic Life Pets in Milwaukee.

With his 400-plus fish tanks and terrariums, a major move would be impossible. That’s where a generator comes into play.

“We’ve experienced power outages here,” he said. “Without power, we had no air to keep our fish tanks bubbling. The power company lent us a generator that enabled us to run the air compressor to keep the tanks going.”

Like Hoffer, Lee Wohlert, store director at B&B Pet Stop in Mobile, Ala., doesn’t evacuate her animals, but she does move them to more structurally sound areas in the store in case of a tornado or hurricane.

“We learned from pet stores in Florida that when you have your animals in bins, if the roof comes off, they can fill up with water and the animals can drown,” she said. “So we have two areas in our store that have another roof over them. We roll our animals under there, so they’re still protected even if the roof comes off.”

Batten Down the Hatches

It's important to have a backup generator in the event of an emergency, especially for retailers that sell fish.
As for protecting the store itself, insurance is a must, said Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Association (APPA) in Greenwich, Conn.

“I could never overestimate the importance of having a good insurance package in place,” he said. “Not that you have to go over the top, but at least have something  to fall back on to rebuild in case of a disaster.”

Pet-specialty retailers have a whole series of plans and packages from which to choose. Addie Kilgore, president of Kilgore Insurance Agency in Atwater, Calif., said that every retail business should have a “Business Owner Policy.”

“The BOP gives businesses the basic general liability and building coverage but includes loss of business income as well, which will replace income lost because the store is closed due to a covered claim,” she said. “The policy will also include business personal property coverage, which covers inventory. It’s very important that the owner reviews those limits to make sure they’re adequate.”

Wohlert lived through the devastation of hurricanes Ivan and Katrina, and she learned that insurance would only partially cover the loss of livestock.

“So we have an emergency backup generator,” she said. “Insurance will say that they’ll pay for the fish, but they don’t pay what your fish are really worth.”

To protect from smoke or ashfall, retailers should be prepared to seal up their stores to protect pets’ lungs and sensitive computers, said Melissa Robokoff, owner of Paw Prince in Anchorage, Alaska, where Mt. Redoubt recently blew its top.

“We shut down the computers and sealed the vents to keep the fine and abrasive ash out,” she said. “When we got ashfall in Anchorage, we kept the dogs inside as much as possible, wiped their feet when they came in and checked their eyes, noses and ears.”

Retailers should also be sure their structures have appropriate alarm systems in place in case of fire, Finley said.

“The best we can do is be here when we know something’s going to happen so we can take action at that point in time,” she said. “We do have sprinklers, we do have fire alarms. We have door security, and our ADT alarm system detects window breakage or if there’s a high level of smoke. We try to be prepared.”

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Reader Comments
this is great information.
Daniel, Irvine, CA
Posted: 8/19/2009 12:03:27 PM
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