Bill calls for animal-evacuation plans
If a massive wildfire, flood or earthquake hits El Dorado County, emergency officials will have more to worry about than evacuating or caring for people and property.
A bill pending in the California Legislature would require the Office of Emergency Services to include animals in their offices’ operational plans – which for this county has been finalized within the last year. The Board of Supervisors approved the OES all-hazard coordinating document a few weeks ago. The internal list provides contact information for emergency personnel.
The state’s proposed legislation, AB450 – sponsored by Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, passed the Assembly 76-1. It was approved by the Senate Government Organizations Committee Wednesday and heads to the full Senate.
The bill came about in reaction to Hurricane Katrina, in which many displaced Gulf Coast animals were stranded as residents either scrambled for their own safety or felt helpless in the storm flooding. The El Niño floods of 1997 would represent a disaster of similar magnitude.
El Dorado emergency officials have agreed to work with Noah’s Wish, an El Dorado Hills-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the care and rescue of displaced animals in disaster settings.
Spokeswoman Amy Maher said her group works with animal control officers to assist in setting up facilities and helping to evacuate animals.
In El Dorado County, animals could range from goats to cats, and that could make evacuations a challenge.
“It’s a huge responsibility. Horses may panic when they see a huge bird come up to them,” Maher said of a possible interaction involving an emu.
“We have cattle, emus and horses and remote areas where pets are a part of the family,” District 5 Supervisor Norma Santiago said.
The variety is something the Chief of Animal Control Henry Brzezinksi knows about. His crew was forced to evacuate a pot-belly pig from Silver Fork when the Fred Fire raged a few years ago.
“It took four of us to get him on the lift. It took some coercing” he said. The pigs are known to be smart. This one ended up in a heavy dog box.
Kelly Ross of Camp Richardson Corral is also familiar with the crisis situation. The guide thought she’d have to evacuate the stables when a fire burned the meadow next to Kiva Beach nine years ago. Staff was prepared to tie the 20 horses head-to-tail and ride them to safe haven west of Highway 89. Now the corral has 54.
“It was scary. The plane with retardant flew so low you could see what he was wearing,” she said. “It’s reassuring they have a complete evacuation plan.”
Despite critics contention that taxpayers should not have to shoulder the burden of evacuating animals, Yee contends: “It is important that we consider animals in our disaster planning as they play a critical role in our lives and our economy,” he said in a statement.
Citizens take control
With the finishing touches on its evacuation plan, the county’s emergency services personnel now recommends residents to find a few different evacuation routes to guard themselves from potential disasters such as fires and floods. That point alone leaves much of the responsibility of human and animal safety to individuals. From there, county OES would open all schools as potential shelter sites. Large breed animals could be transported to the El Dorado County Fairgrounds.
“Nothing in these documents say we will specifically open this (shelter) or that one,” said Todd Crawford, sheriff’s deputy with OES.