Oregon gets livestock rescue trailers for disasters

ODA provides animal disaster response trailers to counties
By Oregon Dept. of Agriclture

A $52,000 Homeland Security grant has given the State of Oregon an opportunity to be better prepared for taking care of pets and livestock in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency. Four enclosed cargo trailers owned by the Oregon Department of Agriculture will be provided at the end of the month to counties throughout the state as part of a plan to rescue animals facing disaster conditions. Inside those trailers is a good set of tools to help emergency responders.

“When natural disasters affect pets and livestock, it puts an additional burden on emergency response teams to find a way to take care of those animals,” says Dr. Don Hansen, ODA state veterinarian. “We’ve been working hard with emergency managers in the counties to develop plans that include what to do about companion animals and livestock should disasters strike Oregon.”

A key part of those plans are the four trailers, which are designed to carry cages, watering and feeding apparatuses- all the equipment needed to care for dogs, cats, and other house pets. During a disaster, those trailers can be mobilized to the site and used to set up a temporary animal holding facility for small pets. Each of the four trailers has the capability to handle about 40 companion animals. Other trailers are available to provide a portable corral and other equipment to hold livestock.

“We have pretty much everything you would need to set up a short term animal shelter,” says Hansen. “It could be set up very quickly, using a school or a tent or some other fixed facility to actually house companion animals.”

The trailers’ origins probably date back to 2005 when Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast. Thousands of pets were displaced or abandoned. While Oregon does not face the constant threat of hurricanes or tornadoes like other parts of the US, the state is not immune to events that might separate people from their animals. Oregon is susceptible to flood events and forest fires.

“Through our experiences, we know that people are often reluctant to leave their pets or their livestock and evacuate themselves, so that becomes a human safety issue,” says Hansen. “Also, of course, animals left behind are in grave danger of injury, disease, or death.”

The pet trailers will be stored at four different locations throughout the state in counties that have an animal response team and a plan to shelter animals during a disaster. These are places that can quickly access areas where disasters historically occur. Multnomah, Linn, Douglas, and Jackson counties will be responsible for taking care of the trailers, even though ODA retains ownership. Each of the four counties will sign a memorandum of understanding that spells out the responsibilities, including an agreement to provide a vehicle and driver to transport the trailer to disaster sites outside of the county when needed.

“Having the ability to handle animals during disasters has been a major challenge,” says Hansen. “These trailers will save uncounted hours in getting needed shelter to a given location during an emergency situation. In the past, it might have taken days to adequately respond. Now it can be done in a matter of hours. Not only will the trailers save time, they will save the lives of animals.”

Multnomah County will provide a base location for one of the trailers, but will serve the highly populated Portland Metropolitan area- highly populated in pets as well as people.

“We’re excited about the new capabilities,” says Mike Oswald, Multnomah County Animal Services Director. “There has been growing interest on a national, state, and local level about incorporating emergency response for animals in a disaster. Ever since Hurricane Katrina, animals have become a critical issue in evacuating people. One of the key elements is our capacity to respond, which comes down to having the personnel and the right equipment to care for the animals. Up until now, we really haven’t had that capacity.”

Other trailers deployed to more rural areas of the state are likely to deal with more livestock animals. But in the five-county metro area, its all about pets. Oswald estimates a half million dogs and cats reside in the area. That means a disaster could simultaneously require the evacuation of thousands of people and thousands of pets.

“Our plan would be to co-locate the animal facilities next to a Red Cross evacuation center,” says Oswald. “As you evacuate people, many won’t go without their pets and Red Cross won’t take the animals. The goal is to take in the pets, identify them, and reunite them with their owners. In order to do that, we need to have the capacity to set up an animal shelter in the field. This trailer and its equipment is key to our ability to do that.”

Once Multnomah County signs the MOU with ODA, it can proceed with plans to test the trailer and its equipment. A full scale disaster exercise is likely to take place this fall.

Securing the federal grant- a joint effort by ODA and Oregon Emergency Management- is one of the latest pieces of an overall comprehensive plan that considers the safety and well being of animals during disasters. Each county has developed its own specific emergency response plan as part of an overall statewide planning document.

“We aimed for uniformity around the state, but it would be naive to think that one plan could be developed to fit every scenario in every county,” says ODA’s Hansen. “Each county has developed its own plan for evacuation to address its own capabilities and limitations.”

Now, each county will have access to an animal disaster response trailer, no matter where it is housed.

“During the flooding in Vernonia a couple of years ago, we were ready to send in cages and animal holding facilities when needed,” says Hansen. “Now with the trailers, emergency managers will have immediate access to the equipment.”

That will be a comforting thought to pet and livestock owners alike if and when the next disaster strikes.

For more information, contact Don Hansen at (503) 986-4680.

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