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David Annis: What's your disaster plan?

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David Annis

Hurricane Harvey caused much destruction and suffering — for both people and animals. Unfortunately, this suffering may go on for months to come. People lost houses, businesses, companion animals and livestock. They will be in my prayers.

It made me think about their disaster plan. Were they fortunate enough to have a plan to deal with the winds, floods and destruction? I know, the first casualty of any operation is the plan; however, having a disaster plan — even flawed — is better than no plan at all.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension is set up to provide agriculture and natural resource strike teams into areas affected by tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes or animal disease outbreaks. These agents have the same training as first responders by the Department of Homeland Security in operating in these disaster situations. Usually these agents have a minimum of five to 10 years of experience and can operate in stressful situations. This is how I arrived in Beaumont last week as part of one of these strike teams.

As I was packing for the trip, I had to identify everything I might need for the next four days. Food, clothing, shelter, first-aid kits, medicines, water and tools were just the short list of necessary items — items that came from of all things, my disaster kit. The team of four that I was assigned was luckier than most. We were based out of Ford Park and had security, a roof, electricity, dining hall, showers and water.

During the day, we were located at animal supply points. We received donations from as far away as Iowa and provided hay, feed, dog and cat food to those people that needed it for their animals. In the evenings, we took turns watching over the animals in the shelter. We had about 25 horses that were unclaimed by their owners that needed to be watered and fed. By this time, the dogs and cats had been transferred out of our facility. There was also a goat or two left over, but they were being treated by the TAMU Veterianarian Science Department that had also mobilized.

I noticed a few items while I was in South Texas working with animal and livestock owners. Our team was sent to an animal supply point in Nome, Texas, and the cattle producer there was lucky enough to have high ground for their cows. However, the large number of owners who didn't have identification for their animals surprised me. No pictures, no list of tag numbers, not even descriptions of the animals were written down. We had in our area about 25 horses with nothing more than a number and a picture out on Facebook for the owners to try to identify them. Keep a list of your animals with you for when you evacuate and also in a safe, dry place.

Next, I discovered that there was a large amount of hay stored below the flood level. Granted, we had record flooding; however, it's important to have as much of the hay as possible above flooding. Did you know that when hay gets wet, it can undergo spontaneous combustion as it dries out? Once the temperature get over 150 degrees, the hay is on a one-way street, going the wrong direction. At 160 degrees, I recommend that you don't even move it unless the fire department is on scene.

The third thing I realized is how many people didn't know how much food/feed and/or hay it took to feed their animals for a day. I recommend that you have some notes about how much food your animals will need during a disaster. While you're at it, figure out how much clean water is needed as well.

Instead of asking, "What's in your wallet?" How about, "What is in your disaster plan?" Do you have important papers in safe places? Do you have enough food, water and medicine put back for you and your animals for a week? Do you have proof of identification for your animals? No disaster plan will ever be perfect. Should you find yourself in a crisis, it may help you take care of those that matter to you the most.

If you wish to make a donation, contact the Animal Supply Point Phone Bank at 979-845-7800. Currently they are needing general livestock-related items such as:

· Feed for cattle, horses, sheep, goats, swine, poultry and other livestock.

· Buckets, troughs and other equipment for livestock feeding and watering.

· Hay for livestock consumption.

· Livestock panels and gates for temporary holding facilities.

· Shavings and bedding materials for animals.

Pet food may also be needed at some of the locations.

Not all locations will need the same items, so when people call the phone bank, they will try and connect them with the location needing those items they want to donate. We are only equipped to accept these donations at one of our active Animal Supply Points.

If you prefer to make a cash donation toward agricultural recovery, you can go to the Texas Department of Agriculture State of Texas Agricultural Response (STAR) fund, where agricultural producers may apply for a matching grant for expenditures incurred for agricultural response, materials or other losses. Information and instructions on how to donate to the fund can be found at http://ow.ly/EQ6x30ePrU3.

We're asking that items that are not livestock-related be donated to the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army or another charity of choice. But we will gratefully accept those items needed to provide food, shelter and protection to any livestock that have been displaced. It's going to be many months before things in South Texas are back to normal.

DAVID ANNIS is the agriculture extension agent with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. He can be reached at 940-349-2894 or via email at david.annis@ag.tamu.edu.

FEATURED PHOTO: A strike team from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension District 4 unloads donated hay from Iowa at an Animal Supply Point location in Nome, Texas, as part of relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey.
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