Disaster bill filed in state legislature — ask your legislators to co-sponsor

Last Friday, State Senator Karen Spilka filed a bill called An Act ensuring the safety of people with pets in disasters, currently Senate Docket 1101.

State senators and state representatives have until next Friday to co-sponsor this bill. Please contact your legislators to ask them to co-sponsor SD 1101. If you do not know who your state legislators are, you can find out at www.wheredoivotema.com and look for “Rep and Senator in General Court”.

What would this bill do?
• improve public safety; we keep people safe by keeping their animals safe
• require emergency plans to address household pets and service animals before, during and after an emergency or disaster (including evacuation and sheltering)
• address the needs of displaced citizens with household pets during disasters, which helps to mitigate the public health issue of evacuation failure related to animal ownership

The bill simply amends Section 1 and 13 of Special Law Chapter S31 to include in the definition of “civil defense” the evacuation of household pets and service animals and to require each political subdivision of the commonwealth who establishes a local organization for civil defense in accordance with the state civil defense plan and program to ensure that any emergency plan of operations shall include strategies to support the needs of people with household pets and the needs of household pets under their care, including service animals. Such local organization for civil defense shall take appropriate steps to educate the public regarding the resources available in the event of an emergency and the importance of emergency preparedness planning.

As you know, at the Federal level, the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act requires states accepting federal funding for homeland security preparedness under the Stafford Act to provide for animals in their state-level disaster plans and planning. The Federal law, however, does not address the other levels of government where local decisions are made. If the local civil defense agencies do not include provisions for animals, there will be nothing for the Federal government to reimburse and this important public safety issue – failure to evacuate and shelter – will remain a barrier to a more orderly, safe and effective evacuation to the benefit of all our citizens. Many other states, including Connecticut, Colorado, Maine, New Jersey and North Carolina have already passed state legislation to accomplish this goal.

HURRY UP AND WAIT!!

At least, that’s what it feels like!!

No matter how significant the event or how much of a need we anticipate, SMART can actually only deploy when it is asked to do so, either by the state, local emergency management officials or by other organizations.

In a situation like Sandy, we started preparing days ahead of the storm so that we would be ready in the event that we were needed. Some of you responded immediately to that request, only to wait several days before we were able to let you know definitively if your services were needed.

While we do get back to everyone immediately with a “standby” notice, we may not actually know for quite some time if you will be deployed.

We know that it can be frustrating and, at times, can also be difficult to plan your life around the possibility of deployment. And we do appreciate your patience.

But this is also very much the name of the game in disaster response. We all line up available resources so that we’re ready to go if needed and then we just have to wait for the official word on how many people are actually needed, with what skills/experience and where.

So, for those of you who are new to SMART, be aware that this is part of the process and we will do everything we can to minimize the waiting time, but sometimes it’s just unavoidable.

ADDITIONAL HELP NEEDED

One of the “lessons learned” from Sandy and from every other response that we’ve had over these last few years is that there is no such thing as having too many volunteers.

With any particular event, only a fraction of our overall volunteer base will actually be available to assist. People have to work, they have their own families/homes/pets to care for or they have other life events which may require their attention during the time of a potential response.

The need for more volunteers becomes even more of an issue as there is greater awareness of the need for animal sheltering in disaster situations. In NY, the mayor actually declared that ALL shelters that opened within the city, would take in animals.

The more shelters, the greater the need for volunteers.

So, while the images from Sandy are still fresh in our minds, this is a great opportunity to add to our volunteer base.

If you know of anyone who might be interested in becoming a SMART volunteer, please refer them to our website: www.smartma.org for information on how to do so.

SUPERSTORM SANDY

While our friends, families and neighbors in the NY/NJ area really took a beating in this storm, we managed to squeak by with some downed trees, beach erosion and power outages. And although these did result in damages and inconvenience, they just don’t compare to the total devastation that those areas experienced (and will be dealing with for some time to come).

On the plus side, however, we were ready. We sent out our request for potential volunteers and, despite the fact that people had their own families, animals and homes to worry about, about 30 people made themselves available for deployment.

As it turned out, while many shelters were set up around the state, SMART was only asked to provide assistance for one on the North Shore.

As part of a co-shelter in Lynn, we set up an animal facility that opened for business on Monday morning (before the storm really hit) and stayed open until the following morning when all was clear. Special thanks to Diane Treadwell, Rachel Klopfer, MaryBeth Wilcox, Casandra Roane, Peter Coakley, Bob Emmert and Liz Williamson for their efforts.

While we didn’t have an influx of animals (or people either, for that matter), this experience DID give us an opportunity to work closely with the emergency management folks on the North Shore and gave everyone additional hands-on experience in setting up and demobilizing a shelter. Every experience offers lessons to be learned.

In addition to our own preparations, we were also asked for assistance from some of the national organizations looking for help with their own deployments. We know of several SMART volunteers who provided that support to our partner organizations and, more importantly, to the people and animals of the affected areas.

A very special THANK YOU to all of you who either helped or offered to help with this devastating event!!

SMART Volunteer Spotlight: Sharon O’Keefe

When and why did you first join SMART?
I went to the first SMART Summit in 2005 in Marlborough. I was very interested in what they had to say so I joined right then and there. I was always interested in helping animals in any way I can and thought this was a perfect way. I have been volunteering ever since — with just about all the teams in SMART.

What is your regular job?
I am a Certified Veterinary Technician and also the Veterinary Services Coordinator (in simple terms hospital manager) in the vet hospital at Zoo New England, based at the Franklin Park Zoo.

What is your most heartwarming memory about deploying with SMART?
I have many great memories of my deployments with SMART but I would probably say the most heartwarming was Munson, MA after the tornado in 2011. We were brought a baby rabbit (I would say just a week or so old) and it was very cold and lethargic. We really didn’t think it would survive but I still got up every couple of hours to change the hot water bottles and see how it was doing. Finally in the middle of the night it started to come around and became more aware. I offered it a small amount of formula and it finally ate. The next morning it was taken to a rabbit rehab place and she nursed it back until it could be released. It is the “little” things that make this job great. If you go to the SMART website the first picture that pops up is me holding the bunny the morning after we received it just before it went to the rabbit rehab.

Is there anything unusual that you keep in your Go Kit???
I don’t think there is anything unusual, but some important things that I have found out about by being deployed are definitely kept in there. One item is a set of kneepads for kneeling on the cement floors while cleaning cages. Another is a pair of shoe inserts that give extra comfort for my feet when I am standing 12 hours or more on a cement floor. The third most helpful thing that I have is my Leatherman (pocket tool kit) — it has come in handy many times. And above all — I do not go anywhere with out my Aleve and several snacks!!

What’s the first thing you do after a deployment to take care of yourself?
I guess the first thing I do is go home and take a long hot shower. :) Then I play with my cats that are usually unhappy that I have not been home. I usually have to go back to work the next day but sometimes just telling friends and family about my experiences help me to forget about some of the bad times and just relive the happy times and the good that I have helped with.

What would you tell other people about joining SMART?

I would encourage anyone to join. I would tell anyone that the board and the operational team leaders are great people and work very hard to keep this organization working in an organized fashion. The volunteers are a huge help and without them we could not help in as many places as we have been able to. If you love and care for animals and want to help them, then joining SMART is definitely a good start! The trainings are very helpful and even though I have been working in the animal world for 25 plus years I always learn something new in the trainings and deployments. I have met many people by joining SMART that have become great friends and I know when I work and train with them I can count on them to help me learn and stay safe.

SMART would like to thank Sharon for all of her efforts on behalf of animals, both as a volunteer and in her work as a Veterinary Technician.

New MEMA trainings: Incident Command System 400, NIMS-700/ICS-100

Incident Command System 400 at Ashburnham Public Safety Building on December 4, 2012
NIMS-700 / ICS-100 at Spencer Rescue Squad (Behind the fire station) on November 13, 2012
Visit our web site at http://mematraining.chs.state.ma.us/TRS/ for more details.

Hurricane Sandy Pet Sheltering in Massachusetts

When a disaster or emergency occurs and you have to leave your home, always take your pets with you. People think they will be able to return shortly to care for their animals, but too often the situation worsens and people cannot make it back to rescue their pets.

Do not put your pets’ lives, your life or other rescuers’ lives at risk. Think ahead. Have a plan in place. Where can you and your pet go for safety? A friend or family members’ home? A pet-friendly hotel?

If you go to a public emergency shelter, your pets may not be allowed inside. Most emergency shelters for people still don’t allow animals, but in Massachusetts and other states, disaster preparedness plans now contain provisions for temporary animal shelters, either at the same location as the human shelters or nearby.

Here’s a starter list of pet-friendly evacuation shelters for Hurricane Sandy (look for “yes” in the last column).

The Humane Society of the United States Twitter feed is also reporting that while there’s a human shelter open at Newbury Elementary School that does not have an on-site pet shelter, there is a regional pet shelter open at the Newburyport animal shelter.

Stay safe, everyone!

MEMA information about Hurricane Sandy and Pets

Please visit the MEMA page:  ENSURE THE SAFETY OF YOUR PETS DURING A HURRICANE for information about what to do to prepare for Hurricane Sandy.

SMART holds successful ICS 100 and NIMS 700 Training

The State of Massachusetts Animal Response team held their first combined ICS100 and NIMS700 Training class at the MEMA bunker in Framingham on Tuesday 26-June-2012.  Over 20 new and current volunteers, along with those interested in joining SMART were in attendance.  We are happy to report that all of those in attendance passed and received their certifications from FEMA during this 3 hour course.  All volunteers for SMART are required to have their certification in ICS100 and NIMS700 in order to be deployed.   While these courses are available online through the FEMA website, some find the classroom environment and the opportunity to engage with an instructor more helpful. SMART would like to thank our instructor,  as well as Barbara Legatowicz and MEMA for hosting the event in their state of the art training room at the Bunker.

ICS & NIMS Training

 

More Deployment News

SMART volunteers have been very busy these last few months. Although things have been somewhat slow in Massachusetts (thank goodness) that has not been the case in other parts of the country.

In January, a team of SMART volunteers responded to a request from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to assist with another puppy mill rescue … this time in Kentucky. For one week, they assisted the ASPCA in caring for more than 120 dogs that were seized as part of an effort to shut down a puppy mill. The teams’ responsibilities included the basic care and feeding of the animals, as well as socializing the dogs and getting them out into the fresh air and sunshine.

It took almost six months for the legal case to proceed to the point where the owner relinquished the dogs to the ASPCA (then totaling more than 130 animals due to the number of puppies born during that time period). The good news was announced on March 2, while a second IFAW/SMART team was onsite.

The dogs have now been moved to various adoptive shelters and are well on their way to finding their forever homes.

Special thanks to Sue Thibideau, Jim Helems, Chris D’Arpino, Pam Schaub, Lisa Soldato and Cheryl Noroian for their work in supporting IFAW and in making the transition a little bit easier for all of the dogs involved.