How would your barn operations and horse care be affected if you lost power at your barn facility for just one day. Local disasters of this type are unfortunately quite common. They force responsible horse owners to think through aspects of planning disaster recovery that are important to their horse farm or horse-related business.
Self-reliance is a crucial part of disaster recovery planning. It is your job and your responsibility to come up with a plan to take care of yourself, your family, and your horse. If you board someone else's animals, they will look to you to be the responsible person who takes care of their animals as your own.
Emergency management officials will attempt to provide assistance to people and animals affected by the disaster, but that should be reserved for the old, infirm and very young. You cannot expect anyone else to evacuate and take care of your animals.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Whether your facility houses two horses or boards hundreds, you should have an evacuation plan for every conceivable emergency, from barn fires and wildfires, earthquake and mudslides, blizzards or chemical spills to high wind events such as tornadoes, hailstorms and hurricanes. Everyone needs two levels of disaster preparedness-personal preparedness, which will take care of ourselves and our loved ones, and business preparedness, which includes resumption/contingency planning. Even if your farm is a hobby, it is important to plan for getting the doors open again.
Write these plans down and then practice them. In general, one plan can be applied to many scenarios, helping to focus your reactions to the danger. Being proactive will minimize the amount of time and expense to bring your operation back "online" and preserve more of your animals and your sanity. If you make these procedures part of your daily routine, you will notice a reduction in injuries to people and horses, as well as efficiency born of a routine.
Think back to your school days and those monthly fire drills. The school probably emphasized asking everyone to remain quiet and calm while following each other to a pre-arranged place where they could verify that everyone was safely out of the building.
Where are your clients (if you board) and the animals going to meet? Is there a safe route out of the building in case of fire, out of the neighborhood in case of a chemical spill, or out of your town in the path of a hurricane? If not, what will you do in your area? Have you driven through every road in your neighborhood to identify escape routes (remembering that officials may close off many roads to enforce the evacuation)? Do you have maps in every vehicle for reference in an emergency?
Gain a solid understanding of emergency and disaster planning. (See Resources .) Educate others. Post an evacuation plan where everyone can read it and see it easily. The planning process is as important, if not more important, than the plan itself. It involves all affected people as a team (your family, employees, friends, and boarders), and it ensures commitment by everyone to the effort. This kind of training and preparation spreads to make your employees and family members more self-reliant and confident that they know what to do if a disaster should occur.
Readiness is All
• Make that plan now, before you need it, and practice it with regular, surprise drills.
• Pre-travel all potential exit roads in your area, and keep maps in all your vehicles.
• Study your property. Make sure no barn doors, alleyways or aisles are blocked and eliminate any potential hazards or obstacles.
• Prioritize your animals by their worth, both in sentimental and actual value.
• Take several days worth of feed, water and medications, and make sure you have enough halters, lead ropes and buckets.
• Pack a first aid kit and take your horses' health papers.
• Make sure you have a way to properly identify your horses.
• Include a plan to get your business back up and running after the disaster.
Prevention, Not Reaction
Sebastian Heath in Animal Management in Disasters says that the three methods for developing a disaster plan are in the absence of an immediate threat (the preferred method), immediately following a disaster (the common method), and during the disaster (necessary but biased method).
Unfortunately, many people wait to use the last two methods, and some have paid for their folly with their lives or their animals' lives. Our horses live in our world and are totally dependent on us to care for them daily, and most assuredly in emergencies.
When humans took horses out of the wild, placing them in confinement for our convenience, we took away their ability to use the six million years of evolutionary skills and instinct that kept them out of danger on the open plains (and out of holes, mud, caves, fires, etc.). We know those instincts are still there right under the surface. Sometimes their urge to flee in panic will take over, making them very dangerous.
In the wild, they would pick the safest place to get out of the storm, run from the wildfire, or patiently endure the blizzard. In our world, they do not have the freedom to get out of fences and stalls when the water rises or flames threaten.
Look around your facility for hazards. Make sure human and animal escape routes are not blocked by shipments of hay, farm equipment, non-working doors, bedding piles, etc. Do you have more than one way out by the roads to safety? Are there enough halters and lead ropes for every animal?
While you're assessing your facility, consider what you can do to minimize damage. Perhaps shutters on your pane glass windows make sense if you live where a high-wind event might occur. You might want to add a sprinkler system, passive heat detectors, or even the use of non-flammable materials to build the barn in the first place.
Disaster management essentials include having a first aid kit (one for animals, one for humans) available at all times, microchips in every horse for proof of identification, preventive vaccination, de-worming, and proof of Coggins test on a normal schedule recommended by the veterinarian. That way you can take the animals to a local public evacuation shelter or legally cross state lines in a major evacuation. Disasters are only one of the times that horse owners can lose track of their animals (others include escape and theft), so identification is crucial.
Hold an unannounced drill every six months for an evacuation of some type-fire, flood, wildfire, volcano eruption, hurricane, etc. Vary the time of day and the requirements of the drill. Do you really have to load up every horse in a trailer and haul it somewhere? Can you practice catching all the horses and putting them in the barn for a simulated hailstorm?
Here are some examples of other things you can do to prevent problems:
• Have an "absolutely no smoking and no alcoholic beverages" policy within 250 feet of the barn.
• Have several days' supply of feed, water, medications, etc. as needed for each horse being evacuated.
• Teach your horses to load-no matter what. At night, alone, when it is raining, windy, dark, and generally miserable.
• Find available sheltering facilities across the state or, even better, an overnight or short-term boarding facility. Have their contact information saved with all your papers.
• Expect to pay for the facilities you use. About $20 per day per animal is average.
Animal Management in Disasters, Sebastian Heath, Mosby, 1999
Disaster Preparedness for Horses, Disaster Preparedness for Livestock, and Disaster Preparedness for Animal Facilities, free brochures at www.hsus.org from the Humane Society of the United States
Take Stock of Your Situation
Think about what kind of disasters can realistically occur in your area. If you consider your own particular situation, you will be better able to form an evacuation plan that will suit you and your horses.
Many times it is not the impact of the event that causes the most damage. It can be the chaos and confusion that occur afterward. Snow falling is beautiful to most people, but if you get six feet of it and cannot get home to your animals and children, that is going to be a disaster to you.
Consider right now-how many trailer spaces do you have available? If you pack that four-horse gooseneck trailer with your four horses, where will you put your dogs, cats and human family members? Would you have to make two trips to get the other four horses you own? Where will you go? How far a drive is it? Have you made prior coordination so that when you get there the alternate facility is not closed?
Prioritize the value (actual market value or sentimental) of your animals. Make a list of who to save first. This may sound harsh, but it is practical. The 25-year-old lesson horse everyone loves may be more valuable than the 4-year-old show horse.
Which ones give you arguments about getting on the trailer or seem to colic every time they drink different water? Do you have enough hay, feed and water to get them to where they are going and be happy for about three days? Do you have a radio and CB with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) radio capability to keep up with the progress of the storm or hazard?
You should also document a list of tasks specific to your farm that must be done (turn off the power when you leave, unplug all appliances, etc.) so that you have something to refer to when a crisis occurs. This way you won't forget anything important.
Your preparation should also include videotaping all your assets and putting that tape in your safe deposit box, as well as getting insurance (don't forget flood insurance) on the property. Back up computer records and get copies of ID, Coggins papers and photographs for each horse, and for your boarder's horses. Put those in the safe deposit box, too.
What about bad weather that doesn't require you and your horses to leave the premises? The biggest question here is whether to leave them in or leave them out.
In general, leave horses out in the largest, best built fenced pasture you have. Horses will find cover in a copse of trees if they need it, but normally will stand with their butts to the wind so that the muscles of their hindquarters will absorb any serious injury from flying debris, etc. These injuries heal very well. Horses trapped in barns are subject to the flying debris all around them and the high possibility of a building fire or collapse.
Be careful, however, in assessing bad weather versus a real disaster. If you have more than two horses on your property, they should be evacuated very early in the case of wildfires, flooding, and hurricanes because it takes a lot of manpower and space to move these animals. Consult your emergency management agencies and watch the weather channels to determine the extent of the disaster.
Do the math: If you have to move your horses 100 miles to safety and it is going to take three trips, that is 500 miles of driving to evacuate all your animals. You do not want to be stranded with your animals in the middle of a flood or blizzard and be unreachable to the outside world.