Time to prepare for an impending disaster is a luxury, and not all storm systems can be predicted well ahead of time. Luckily, most hurricanes are forecasted at least 48-72 hours in advance, and though they can abruptly change courses, inhabitants living in the projected affected areas typically have some time to prepare. As veterinarians, a portion of this valuable time should be devoted to planning for your patients. Who can safely be picked up before the storm by their owners? Who will have to remain at the practice? Answering these questions before the storm draws near is essential to keeping your patients safe.
Ahead of the hurricane making landfall, have all stable patients returned to their owners. While this might not be possible for patients who need around-the-clock monitoring or whose owners are out of town on vacation, reduce the number of patients at your practice as much as you are able. For patients who are unable to be relocated, prepare emergency supply kits and keep them readily on hand. Rather than creating individual kits for each potential patient, instead create general kits that are appropriate for each species that you treat. These kits should include food, widely used medications, syringes/needles, leashes/lead ropes/restraint tools, and so on.
Evacuation: Employees First, Patients Second
If evacuation to somewhere more inland is possible, relocate as many of the remaining patients as is possible. If your staff is transporting animals in vehicles, make sure that all patients are properly restrained and safely secured as such to prevent risk of injuring you or themselves during transport. Make sure that the transport vehicle (or vehicles) are stocked with supplies as soon as possible so that loading items doesn't coincide with loading patients. The unfortunate reality, however, is that an easily accessible evacuation location isn't always available, or can't be sourced on short notice. If this is the case, remember that your first duty is to your employees. Human lives should always be prioritized above the lives of patients, and staff shouldn't be asked to place themselves in danger.
When Leaving the Practice Isn’t Possible
In the event that conditions are too treacherous to facilitate an evacuation or no such location exists, your priority should be offering the animals their best chance at survival. If your practice is coastal enough that severe flooding is a risk, do your best to elevate and position all crated or caged animals as safely possible. Do not use ground-level cages or kennels, and pen large animals in the highest possible area. Make sure that all electrical hazards are unplugged, and provide the animals with reasonable access to drinking water and dry food (if their diet supports that).