By Chad Mendell
www.equestrianprofessional.com … When disasters strike, having a plan and being prepared could mean the difference between life and death for both horses and humans. In a recent EquestrianProfessional.com webinar on disaster preparedness, Dr. Roberta Dwyer, a professor at the University of Kentucky’s Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center and editor of Equine Disease Quarterly, offered advice on what you can do to protect yourself and business in the event of a disaster.
Here are some of her top tips for horse professionals:
- Start with you first. The first duty you have is to make sure that you and your family are safe. By doing this, hopefully you’ll be unharmed after the disaster and be able to help others and your animals to safety. While we never want to see harm befall any of our animals, human health and safety always come first.
- Farm and business disaster plan. “How would you best deal, right now, if you had loss of electrical power, and you didn’t anticipate getting it up for three days?” Dwyer asked. “What if you had a loss of drinkable water?”
Sometimes we forget to think about the basics because they are always there when we need them. We flip the switch and the lights come on; we turn the faucet and water comes out. However, after a major disaster, that might not be the case. Unlike some businesses, you can’t simply closes the doors on your horse business until everything comes back online. So you have to take steps to make sure you can provide basic care for yourself and your animals in these situations.
If possible have a generator or multiple generators to provide emergency lighting and heat and have enough fuel to keep them running for several days. Additionally, make sure that everyone understands how to use them before they are needed. Have enough water and feed on hand to last several days in case water lines are compromised or roads are impassible. If you have a water truck or tank that you use for your arena, keep them full.
- Have an evacuation plan. There are many different reasons you might need to evacuate your horses (fires, flooding, etc.). If you have 10 horses, but only a two-horse trailer, what is your plan of action? You might have to leave animals behind, but which ones? Making those tough decisions before disaster strikes can save valuable time and anxiety.
- Reach out to other barns in the area. If there are other barns close to yours, talk to them about their disaster plans and work together if possible. The barn next to you might have more trailer spaces then horses and could help you evacuate, or vice versa. Contact other barns in the surrounding counties and ask if you can board your horses there in case you need to evacuate during a disaster. If possible, offer the same to them as well.
- Make the decisions ahead of time. When the tornado sirens start whaling, that’s not the time to debate whether to leave the horses in the barn or turn them out. Waiting to make those critical types of decisions in the midst of the impending disaster can cost valuable time. For that specific question, there is no one right answer other than “it depends.” It depends on the type of structure and your area. Be sure to ask your local extension office for what’s going to be most appropriate in a high-wind event. Think about what other scenarios you might face and have a clear plan in place well before you ever have to execute it.
- Make friends with your local fire department. It’s a good idea to talk with your local fire department and even invite them to your facility to talk about emergency planning. Your local fire department will also be able to help you reduce the risk of fire in your facility and can educate you and your employees on how to install smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. In turn, you might teach them basic horse handling techniques in the event that they are the first ones on the scene.
- Communication is key. There are times when general means of communication can be knocked out. Cell phones and even landline phone can be disabled during disasters. If there are ham radio operators in your area, it might be a good idea to make friends with them. While most of us these days store our contacts in our mobile phones, it’s important to have multiple back ups and paper copies of important numbers (emergency responders, clients, etc.) as well.
- Invest in a NOAA Radio. “If you community’s early warning system goes out, this could be the one thing that saves your life,” Dwyer said. You can normally find these at department or hardware stores for around $35. Make sure that you know how to use your radio well in advance of an imminent natural disaster.
- Make sure you have the appropriate insurance. It’s important to know what types of natural disasters your facilities and horses might be exposed to and ensure that you are financially protected in from damages. Not all insurance policies are equal, nor do they cover all types of disasters. Speak with your insurance provider and with your local extension office to see what type of insurance you might need. While this won’t protect you or your horses from a disaster, it will help you get your business back up and running quicker.
Fencing can often be a costly repair after a disaster and one that is not automatically including in a regular policy, but it can easily be included.
Having a relationship with your insurance agent is critical, and having an insurance agent who is knowledgeable about your situation is critical.
Make sure that your important equipment and tack items are listed individually on your insurance policy.
- Having a plan for on-the-road disasters. Since we’re often traveling with our horses to shows and other events, we need to have an emergency plan in place for those times as well. Ask the event organizers what emergency plans they have in place before you get there, have additional supplies (food, water, etc.) in case roads are blocked.
When it comes to getting started with a disaster plan, Dwyer said, “Just do it.”
Tell yourself by the 4th of July, we’re going to have a disaster plan and start practicing it,” she advises. “If you can plan for the everyday, every year, natural disaster, you’re probably going to be 90-95% prepared for every other disaster that comes your way.”