With a winter storm, hurricane, or rain induced flood we may have warning from the weather channel to a ramp up our defenses, batten down the hatches and get ready. More often, there is little or no warning that disaster is about to strike. Forest fires, earthquakes, blackouts, or every horse lover’s nightmare – a barn fire, all come without warning. A pre-disaster well thought out emergency plan for your farm or horses can make all the difference in the outcome for your horses.
Assessing the Risks
First thing you need to do in developing an emergency plan is to look around at your farm and its location. What are the risk factors in your area? Are you in an area prone to flooding? Are you in an area where forest fires or brush fires are a seasonal occurrence? Are you in an Eastern Coastal area or Gulf area where hurricane storms may make landfall? As you develop your emergency plan, you need to consider every type of emergency that could occur in your area, to your farm, to your horse, and plan for each contingency. Your local or county Office of Emergency Management or your local fire department may be a good resource to you in helping to assess the risk factors to your community.
Emergencies come in all sizes – there is the regional disaster that does not limit itself to state lines, there is the local disaster that affects communities, there is the very local disaster that may only affect a few homes and facilities, and there is the individual disaster that affects only one barn or farm. If your barn is affected, no matter what the scale is of the disaster, it is still impacting your farm and your horses and preparedness is your best defense.
Reaching out to your local fire department is also a good idea in developing a plan for your barn in the case of a barn fire. Ask your fire department if they could visit your barn and help you determine how to make your barn safer against the possibility of fire. This will help you in preventing a disaster and will also give the fire department the opportunity to see where you are and how to get to your farm/barn in case you ever need them. Once you have a fire response plan in place for your barn – rehearse it by having a barn fire drill. Make sure everyone who works at the barn is familiar with the fire response plan. Post this information in your barn where it is visible to all. Another good idea is to have emergency numbers posted on the wall next to all barn telephones. If there are people in your barn who don’t speak English as a first language, make sure they can at least call for help if they are the only ones present when an emergency unfolds. They should know to call 911 and if possible, be able to give the address of the farm in English to an emergency dispatcher. They also need to be able to say “fire” or “ambulance”.
In general, when emergencies impact a barn, you have two choices – evacuate or shelter in place. Evacuation may not always be practical – too many horses to move, nowhere nearby to go to, or too stressful for the horses. In many cases, it will be safer and more practical to keep the horses on the farm and have emergency plans for how to care for them – this is referred to as “sheltering in place”. Of course, if fire is encroaching upon the farm or the water is rising and it is not safe to stay put, evacuation may be the only choice. Again, you need to look at the risk factors to your farm and if need be have plans both for evacuation and for sheltering in place – dependent on the emergency.
If you are planning for an evacuation, first and foremost you need to determine how you are going to move the horses. If you do not have sufficient transportation on your farm for all the animals that you will be evacuating, then you need to have transportation on call that will come to assist you. This may be friends, neighbors, or other horse people within the local equine industry who are willing to assist you if the need arises. You need to have these agreements in place well BEFORE a disaster. Some communities have Animal Emergency Response Teams and volunteers that will assist pet and horse owners in evacuating and sheltering their animals during an emergency. Talk to your local Office of Emergency Management and find out if they have resources to assist horse owners and determine if these resources can cover your needs.
So now that you have lined up a ride for your horse, you need to have plans as to where you will be evacuating. Some communities will open fairgrounds, horse parks, or race tracks to house large animals during a disaster. Even if that is the case in your area, you need a back-up plan. If your farm is the only one impacted by an emergency, it is possible that you will not be able to rely on your community to provide housing for your horses. You should investigate options of bringing horses to a neighboring farm, or a farm located out of harm’s way. Finally, have an evacuation kit. For all horses, this should consist of buckets, extra leads and halters as well as feed, hay and bedding to be self sufficient for at least 3 days and possibly as long as 7-10 days. In addition, each horse should have some form of identification. Microchipping is ideal but you should also have your name and telephone number taped to each horse’s halter in case you become separated. You can also paint this information on their hooves. Photos of each horse should be taken ahead of time and kept with you. Each horse must have a current negative coggins as well as a documentation of all current vaccinations and any medical needs. If your horse needs special medication or supplementation, don’t forget to pack enough for at least one week. Also, pack a first aid kit including basic items for disinfecting wounds and bandages. You may also want to have water jugs sufficient to initially supply your horse with clean fresh water. Clean plastic trash cans with lids work great for this. Don’t neglect your trailer – keep it well maintained and ready to roll. Somewhere on your trailer, you should always keep an emergency knife and wire cutters as well as extra rope and duct tape. Finally, don’t wait until you can see the flames to evacuate. If your area is being evacuated, you need to move the horses early in the evacuation. As an evacuation progresses, roads may be closed or impose trailer bans.
Sheltering in Place
If you are planning for sheltering in place, you need to plan on being self sufficient for at least one week. Often during regional disasters, there is a loss of power and it may take a week or more to have it returned to full function. If your farm is dependent on electricity to pump well water, the loss of power could leave you without water for the horses for days or longer. You absolutely should consider having a generator to at least pump well water. Lights are important but horses cannot survive long without fresh water. You also need to look at the safety of the structures in which you plan on sheltering the horses. If you are facing high winds, for example, is the structure sturdy enough to not come down on top of the animals being sheltered inside? Move horses to safe ground or shelters before the disaster impacts your farm. After the all clear is given to go back outside, do not immediately bring horses back outside. Check your property and fields for fallen trees, down fences and dangerous debris. Feed and water stored outside may have become contaminated and need to be removed. There may also be wild or unknown animals wandering on your land. Do not approach wild animals and approach unknown horses, other livestock, dogs or cats with caution. They may be frightened and kick or bite. If you find displaced animals, notify your local veterinarian, rescue groups, animal response teams and police. Keep any unknown animals isolated from your own as you do not know their vaccination or health history. If your horse or other animals have escaped during an emergency, notify local veterinarians, rescue groups, surrounding farms and other facilities housing animals. Keep identification photos for such an occurrence.
The bottom line is that your best defense against a disaster or emergency is to have a good offensive plan. Be self sufficient and don’t expect the cavalry to ride in and save the day. Emergency responders may be tied up assisting others or unable to access your area. At best, it may be at least 24-48 hours before help arrives. At worst, you may have to be self-sufficient for a week or more. Above all else – have a plan not just for your horse and your farm but also for yourself and your family. Plan ahead!
Here are some useful websites to find out more information about planning for emergencies:
- Emergency Planning: www.ready.gov
- FEMA site on planning for animals: www.fema.gov/plan/prepare/animals.shtm
- AAEP emergency planning: http://www.aaep.org/emergency_prep.htm
If you have questions about this topic or questions concerning your horse, please contact Dr Silverman via the Comments box below or go to www.SimplySoundHorse.com to send a private message via the “Contact Us” form at the bottom of the page.
You can also reach Dr Silverman at 908-963-6904 to schedule an appointment, evaluation, or consultation.