Earthquake-Prone San Francisco Takes Steps to Protect the City's Pets

Dog sits with Golden Gate Bridge in the background in San Francisco

Now that canine residents outnumber kids in the City by the Bay, it only seems natural that San Francisco would take steps to amp up its emergency preparedness plans for animal residents in the event of a disaster — like that inevitable earthquake. Emergency planning for pets “is really at the forefront of disaster plans,” says Sára Varsa, director of operations for the Humane Society of the United States’ animal rescue team. “Really, preparedness starts individually, then moves locally and then moves higher. Post-Hurricane Katrina, there was a huge learning curve — if you’re not taking care of people’s pets, you’re not taking care of them.”

Vetstreet caught up with Dr. Bing Dilts, DVM, San Francisco’s veterinary disaster coordinator, to hear about how this city of pet lovers is working to change how it handles a major emergency.

Q. If a disaster happened tomorrow, what would be the plan for pets?

A. Dr. Bing Dilts: “We have the trailers and supplies to set up two auxiliary animal shelters next to temporary human shelters, and we have 113 trained Disaster Animal Response Team (DART) volunteers who can staff these shelters in the event that, say, San Francisco Animal Care and Control reached capacity.”

Q. How long have you been working on these plans?

A. “This has been in the works since July 2009, when I started writing grant proposals while creating the DART program and manual. I also work half time as a shelter vet.The event that spurred this idea was Hurricane Katrina, which inspired the federal government to change the Stafford Act. This action caused the city and county of San Francisco to call on Animal Care and Control to provide plans for animals, which led to the hiring of a veterinary disaster planner — me.

"The veterinary disaster planner position is funded by a grant from the State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP). The grant is for two years, and we have received one renewal so far.”

Q. Do you face challenges when working with other emergency preparedness agencies?

A. “So far, it has been very good. But there are a lot of agencies vying for the same dwindling federal dollars, so our projects have competition for funding.”

Q. You're hoping to get a mobile emergency command center. What is this?

A. “The unit is made by La Boit, a company that makes mobile vet clinics, emergency vans and command centers. To purchase the unit, as well as outfit it for our use, it would cost around $300,000.We have been applying to the federal government for a grant for this for five years without success.

"It would be very beneficial in an emergency because it's basically a mobile veterinary hospital, complete with a surgery area and enough cage space to house several animals. With roll-up doors on one side, it can also be used as an adoption center, a mobile spay/neuter clinic and an outreach center during non-disaster times.”

Does your town have an emergency plan for pets? Be sure to find out before you need it. Also read more Vetstreet articles on keeping your pet safe during natural disasters.


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