Friday, June 27, 2008

What Is Your Escape Plan?

I’ve been reading about the wildfires in Northern California, and it reminds me of all the times that I’ve faced potential danger from fires, hurricanes and tornadoes. It’s the season for natural disaster again. So, as horse owners, we need to ask ourselves, “Do we have a realistic plan of what we will do when our horses are in danger?”

One thing I know for sure is that if you need to evacuate your horses, it’s better to do it sooner rather than later. Last year, in the San Diego wildfires, I had friends who couldn’t get all their horses out in time. They were left with no choice but to turn them loose and run for their own lives as the fires swept through. Many wrote their cell phone numbers on their horses’ hooves with a Sharpie or painted the phone number on the side of the horse with white paint. We moved to Virginia just one week after a big hurricane went through, and horse owners had many horror stories to tell me. Most of them just left their horses out in the pastures and prayed. Several had their barns collapse, and the horses inside died or were badly injured.

We had a tornado blow through not far from our house last summer. I rushed all my smaller animals and my mom and daughter into our basement. I decided to leave the stall doors open so the horses could run into the corral if the barn was hit. Fortunately, once again, we were spared from harm. Each time that happens, I feel more grateful. I’ll never forget standing in Silk’s stall last fall, crying for my friends and family in San Diego and feeling so thankful that we were here and not there.

After one big storm that flooded all the roads, took out the power and made it impossible to get out of our driveway, I learned that I needed to have between 10 and 20 gallons of water stored for the horses. I was half prepared. From our old California earthquake kit, I had four of these 5 gallon soft plastic containers that squish down flat when they’re not being used. The problem was that the well tank was electrically powered, so I couldn’t fill them. When the road was open, I drove to a friend in the next town to fill the containers. The horses didn’t like the water because it tasted different, but I mixed it with the water already in their buckets. So, note to self: Use the hose and put water in the containers if a storm is coming. A portable generator is at the top of my wish list.

I also have started buying feed when the can is still half full. If you have to evacuate, you need to have enough food to take with you for several days. Your horses should be comfortable with trailer loading, and if they aren’t, start working on it now before there’s an emergency.

As soon as there’s a hint of a disaster approaching, it’s important to make arrangements for a safe place to bring your horses that is hopefully out of the danger zone. In San Diego, during the last fires, even the barns where the horses had been evacuated ended up in the path of the flames. The parking lots of the Home Depot and the grocery stores were full of horses. As I saw the video of horses tied up by their lead ropes to the metal racks where the grocery carts are usually stored, I wondered how Silk and Siete would feel about spending a few days in that difficult situation. I am still amazed by how well-behaved most of the animals were under those tense, uncomfortable circumstances.

What other good suggestions based on past experiences do any of you have to share about getting you and your horses safely through a disaster? Let's try to help each other be better prepared.


the7msn said...

For me, the key is getting everybody out of here if a fire starts moving this direction - horses, burros, indoor pets, outdoor pets. The catching/ crating/ loading order is critical so that nobody gets left behind, so it's written down along with other "what to dos" and "what to take" and taped to the garage wall.

I have a large covered container that stays in the horse trailer marked "evacuation kit" - it has ziploc bags filled with dog, cat and pig food, extra leashes, extra collars, and a set of pictures of all my animals, for later identification proof if we were ever separated.

I think living in the middle of nowhere helps you prepare for the unexpected - I replenish feed and supplies when I'm down to one bag, and I have a whole-house backup generator that also powers the well. You can never be too prepared, and I firmly believe that having a plan in place improves the likelihood that you'll never need to use it.

Grey Horse Matters said...

While I hope this never happens to anyone, you are right as usual, that it's imperative to have a plan.
We are just now looking into generators, our water comes from wells so that's an important item to have. I think that Linda from the 7MSN has a complete plan in place and I don't think I could add anything to it, she is very organized and we should all take a page from her book.The only thing I would add for us is a medical kit in case of injuries.

billie said...

We have crates for the small animals (some would have to double up, but would be fine for travel - ideally we'd have one crate for each).

I like Linda's evac. kit, along with photos, and like you and Arlene, a generator is on our wish list.

As is a truck and horse trailer big enough to load and haul every animal here, plus their hay and feed and supplies, in one trip. Which at this point means a 6-horse trailer!

For smaller situations that don't require evacuation, we generally have a month's supply of hay here, and I stay one bag of feed ahead just in case.

We have big water troughs in each field/paddock, and big buckets beside each of those, and I keep them relatively full and clean just in case we lose power.

We also have a water tank in our little horse trailer, and it would probably be smart to keep that full as well.

With hurricane/tornado risks, it's always good to have a gas-powered chainsaw handy in case one has to clear fallen trees on the property and/or in the road if one needs to leave.

Full gas tanks on vehicles. Some cash on hand. Plenty of copies of Coggins' tests for the equines.

Nor'dzin said...

I so admire you and your blogging colleagues who cope with such extreme weather conditions. It makes me realise how fortunate I am in the UK with our temperate climate. I will think twice the next time I feel like complaining about the rain! I pray that you are all safe.

Sue said...

What great the evac kit with pictures of all animals!!

I just blogged about our evacuation plan after waking up to a fire down the canyon from us.

I ordered livestock crayons from jeffers equine to be able to put my name/cell number on my horses should I not have enough time to actually trailer them out (or even if I do, maybe it's worth doing!).

I also have 2 complete kits of the Ezee Corral (full kit to create 30x30 temporary paddock using stakes and solar electric charged tape). These would allow us to head to a trailhead and set up camp with our four horses separated into pairs should we need to evacuate.

I also have battery powered fans for my dogs, which I can use for the horses, too, since it'll likely be very hot in the trailer if there's fire nearby.

I just picked up some 20 gallon muck buckets to use as water troughs in those temporary paddocks. I'll keep them in our trailer, along with an emergency water supply. And I have a large barn medical kit that will come with us.

I guess I should pick out some potential trailhead options within a 5-10 mile radius, too.

This is really helpful to have everyone's ideas-thanks, Victoria.


Rising Rainbow said...

Here in the winter time when our power can go out or our water pipes freeze, I bring the water troughs in from the fields up to the barn and fill them with fresh water as a back up. It has saved me carting water from the house or getting a farmer to truck in in a number of times.

As for other emergency plans, I'm working on a committee of horsemen to put together a universal plan that can be employed in times of need. It's a complicated issue.

Victoria Cummings said...

Thanks, Everyone, for all your good ideas. I feel better knowing that so many of my friends are so well prepared. I hope this information is helpful to some of you. I went to the store yesterday to buy feed and they were out of the kind I usually buy. I had a moment of panic, until I remembered that I had quite a bit left in my feed bin. They expect another order later next week. But the bad news is that it went up another $2 in price in the last month!

Callie said...

Nice post, I think it's great to have a plan. We get our fair share of storms/tornadoes here. I keep mine out of the pasture, but free in their oversized paddock area with available shelter if they so choose. They're pretty good about finding their safe spot during storms.