Animal Welfare in Emergencies Registering and Responding to Unattended Animals

The role animal welfare plays in the psychosocial outcomes for the general public in disasters can not be underestimated.

Beyond humanitarian obligations to the welfare of animals; the emotional need for pet owners, families and farmers to see to the welfare of their pets and livestock, is a massive cause of anxiety for citizens during an emergency.  This can also translate into behaviour such as breaking through cordons, that ends up putting both the citizen and emergency responders at risk. 

What if there was a way we could allow members of the public to notify authorities when they were concerned about an unattended animal, with a simple compassionate interface, with no waiting or frustration?

What if there was a way to capture all the relevant details for emergency responders, both at scale and in real time, that would allow them to have visually presented situational awareness of the Emergency Animal Welfare situation, shared across the relevant agencies?

There is. 

Please meet ‘Ema’, the Emergency Management Assistant for Unattended Animals, by clicking on the orange chat icon on the bottom right of this page.

  • Imagine you’re Dave.

    and this is Dave’s pug ‘Charles’

    Charles is Dave’s pride and joy.  Charles lives at Dave’s house, across the harbour from where Dave works.  Some days, Charles the Pug is left alone until Dave gets home after work.

    Disaster strikes…

    The wind whips up and a fire breaks out in the next valley over from Dave’s home. 

    It escalates quickly and cordons are established, and then a general evacuation order is made.

  • Dave’s anxiety about Charles grips him.

    Is Charles OK? 

    Is he still at home?

    Has he got water? Food?

    What about his diabetic medication?

    At this point Dave feels he has limited choices:

    a) Try and get hold of a neighbour, but they’ve been evacuated;

    b) Try and get home himself, requiring him to break through the cordon, putting himself and emergency responders at risk; or

    c) Try calling the Emergency Services, who are currently prioritising the preservation of human life.

    What Dave needs are two simple things:

    1. To be able to do something: To tell someone about his dog being left alone inside the fire cordon.  The energy behind his emotions will drive him to do something. the challenge is to make it something safe and constructive.
    2. To have someone help his dog: At least providing an opportunity for someone to rescue Charles the Pug.  To do that, Responders need situational awareness about Charles.
  • Dave gets out his phone and goes to the local animal welfare website and is presented with ‘Ema’, the friendly Emergency Management Assistant chatbot, ready to guide him through registering Charles as an unattended animal.  Dave would have found Ema on any number of animal welfare sites, collecting the same information and presenting it back on a ‘single pane of glass’ in the Emergency Operations Centre.

    To see how that works, try it out yourself by clicking on the orange chat button on the bottom right of this page.

    Dave registers Charles the Pug. 

    Advising Emergency Responders in real-time:

    • Name
    • Species
    • Breed
    • Gender
    • Sexual Reproduction Status
    • Size
    • Special handling requirements – including Charles’ diabetic medication needs
    • Microchip and Registration details
    • And importantly, Charles location by dropping a pin on Dave’s home on a map or entering in Dave’s street address
    • As well as providing Dave’s contact details

    Dave then has a registration reference for Charles that he can use when making further enquiries.

  • As Dave registers Charles as an unattended animal, those details appear on a live map on the Animal Management desk in the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC).  

    Emergency Responders are able to review and interrogate the live crowdsourced citizen data as it comes in, allocating resources efficiently and effectively.

    Prior to the advent of Ema for Unattended Animal Registration, the local Animal Management team were flying blind and only able to react  acute needs.

    “There are 100,000 registered dogs in our town” says Alice, the Council Animal Control Officer.

    “But we have no visibility of any other domestic animals in our town, and we don’t know where to start with our list of 100,000 dogs” she added.

    “What we needed was an ability to know about the Unattended Animals and have enough ground truth to be able to mount an effective response with limited resources.”

  • Looking at the SituateMe Dashboard, Alice is able to ascertain a view of how many horses and large animals are affected and where they are.  She can then request and assemble a flotilla of horse floats and pass them a list of animals by location for them to take to safety.

    Alice can also advise her team that the 500 cats and dogs currently identified will rapidly exceed the capacity of the Council animal shelter and direct them to find further space for an ad hoc emergency animal shelter. 

    Meanwhile Petra is an emergency animal welfare volunteer from the local animal shelter charity.  Petra is on the ground in Dave’s suburb and has logged into the SituateMe dashboard on her smartphone.  She see’s at the top of her list of animals to check on that there is a diabetic pug called Charles, who lives in the next street over.

    The acrid smoke from the valley fire is intensifying and she is wearing a dust mask.  Petra goes top the property and checks she has authority to enter. As she walks around the back of the house she is greeted by an excited but dehydrated pug.  She checks the photo that Dave uploaded and the council registration tag on its collar. It’s Charles. She gets him a drink of water and them brings him out to her van and takes Charles to safety.

    Once Charles is at the Animal Shelter, she updates Charles registration record to show he is safe and now at the shelter. 

  • Whilst Dave was glad he could do something initially by registering Charles via Ema; his anxiety about Charles welfare is still quite high.

    Dave is able to check back in with Ema, using the registration reference to see if there are any updates.

    Shortly after 4pm, Dave gets the news he’d been hoping for.  Charles is safe.

    Dave is able to sleep better that night as the fire continues.  Whilst his home is still in danger, philosophically he thinks ‘its only brick and mortar’ whereas Charles is not so easily replaced.

  • The next day, having still not been allowed home; Dave goes to the animal shelter, presents the registration reference and a picture of Charles, and is reunited with his beloved dog.

  • A lack of rain over winter and an extremely dry summer whipped up by the unforgiving Nor’Westers that cut across the plains, has left farmland dangerously dry.

    A loose spark from farm machinery starts a fire which quickly establishes itself across a wide front thanks to the 40kmh dry wind.  Rural Fire and other Emergency Services are quickly on the scene, but the wind picks up later in the afternoon, gusting 70kmh.  The fire is outpacing the response and it escalates quickly.  A general evacuation order is given with police driving to rural properties, giving the occupants 5 minutes to leave with whatever they can gather or face being arrested and forcibly removed – no time for mucking around. 

    Bob and Janet Hall farm a dairy herd of 200 cows on a 75 hectare farm.  In addition to the cows they have two prize bulls, 20 head of sheep, 15 chickens, four farm dogs and a horse.

    Luckily Janet kept all their critical documents in a fireproof container ready to go, but they had no time to attend at any of the animals.   

  • Once out of the cordon, Bob & Janet went to Bob’s brother’s house in town.

    They knew the emergency response was completely committed to fighting the fire, but they wanted to make emergency responders aware of their livestock that needed protecting. 

    Bob pulled out his mobile phone and went to the rural fire website, where he was greeted by ‘Ema’, the Emergency Management Assistant.  Ema is there to register their livestock and pets.

    Bob got to work entering his contact details and then identified his livestock: their breed, stock numbers and location.  Bob was able to pull up a map on his phone and drop a pin into the right paddock, pinpointing exactly where the animals were.

    Then Bob was able to identify where the water troughs, feed lots and loading pens were located on his farm; so that emergency responders could make an informed decision about moving the animals closer to water & food or where the best place to load the animals is.

  • Back in the EOC/Fire Gold Command, Steve, the officer responsible for animal welfare, has his intelligence picture live in front of him and is able to ascertain the size and nature of the task.

    Steve decides to respond in two phases:

    I. Visit all livestock in the area of operations and ensure they have access to water and feed.  Assess evacuation options depending on wind and fire direction and speed.

    II.  As required, herd livestock to strategic transport points, where there are loading pens and arrange a fleet of stock trucks (now being assembled on standby) to respond once the animal evacuation order is given.  All other animals, open gates and remove fences for an escape route.

  • Jeff and Mark are two local farm hands from a neighbouring town, who have volunteered to assist with animal welfare.

    Sitting in their pickup truck, they are tasked by Steven back in Gold Command to pick up Jennie, a Veterinarian, and proceed to the Hall’s farm to check on livestock welfare.

    The longer the team spend in the fire cordon, the greater risk they are exposed to.

    Able to quickly identify the location of the different herds, Mark and Jennie are able to work out a plan for shifting stock to where there is feed, whilst Jeff drives to the farm.

    Finding the animals, water troughs and feedlots, exactly where they expected them, the team was able to focus on checking the state of the animals and consider further courses of action, should the fire front swing, placing the Hall’s farm in the path of the fire.

    Job done.

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