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When Hurricane Sandy hit a few weeks ago, it left a tremendous amount of devastation in its path. The Jersey Shore was hit hard leaving hundreds of people homeless and many others unable to reach their homes for over a week due to unsafe conditions: downed power lines, power outages, fuel shortages, broken gas lines, washed-out roadways and uprooted homes. The current estimate for this storm’s damage surpassed that of Hurricane Katrina. Despite the naysayers that refuse to believe the climate is changing, one look at the devastation our country has experienced in the past few years should quickly change their minds. This part of the country seldom experiences earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and flooding to the magnitude that it has over the last two years. Unfortunately, when these events do happen, the damage sustained is enormous.
Despite warnings to be prepared or to evacuate, people always decide they know better. Soon, these same people are at the mercy of the emergency services and good citizens to aide them in evacuations as well as to the utility companies to restore their electricity. What is amazing is the fact that even though the damages seem to be getting worse from disasters, people still wait until the very last minute to make the appropriate preparations. For those that oversee nursing homes, hospitals or other care facilities, waiting until the last minute to be prepared can cost many lives.
Every business needs to have an emergency response plan, and practice it, so that it will guide them through a variety of emergency situations. In addition, they need a contingency plan ready so they can resume normal activities as soon as possible without much interruption. We are very fortunate to live in a time when technology enables us to “predict” the course of a storm; atmospheric conditions however can change quickly causing the disaster to be worse or better than expected. The responsibility of keeping everyone safe falls not on the local weather forecasters and government but on each and every one of us by being proactive.
Pets and service animals cannot prepare as we do for storms and they trust us to see them through these times. They need to be factored into the equation when preparing for an emergency. This requires having the animal’s identification, medications, vaccination records, licenses, and a list of medical issues readily available if the animal needs to be relocated temporarily. Crates, leashes, a supply of food and fresh water along with bowls should also be ready to go in a hurry. Not a small task but necessary if one owns a pet.
Several animal shelters opened their doors to help pets displaced by the storm. Fearing some of their animals may die, pet stores in Bucks County, who had lost electric, put pleas out to the public to help house the animals that could not tolerate sudden changes in temperature. Some animals that were separated from their owners or “caretakers” in the storm were reunited; sadly, some were not.
One bright spot came out of hard hit New Jersey; home to The Seeing Eye, Inc. which provides guide dogs for the blind and visually impaired. Their dogs, training and services are invaluable to those with visual impairments and without their help; many individuals would struggle with daily activities. When the lights went out in late October, the Morristown campus of Seeing Eye relied on two back-up generators, purchased through a generous donation by an anonymous donor roughly ten years ago. With these generators, critical components will remain running at the facility for five days without depending on assistance from the outside world. The same was not true for their breeding station which was constructed in Chester, NJ in 2002. Though it is also equipped with a back-up generator, the extended power outage and sudden fuel shortage forced them to schedule their own periodic generator shutdowns to conserve fuel.
Expecting mothers, Molly, a black Labrador retriever and Hettie, a yellow Labrador retriever each gave birth at the Chester breeding station during Hurricane Sandy. On November 1, during a scheduled generator outage, staff anxiously welcomed in Molly’s two healthy males (Gilligan and Grand) and three females (Gale, Giada and Gladys) providing light with only a battery operated flashlight. Two days later, Hettie gave birth to Hero and his five sisters, Haley, Heather, Hazel, Honey and Hannah.
Purchasing in bulk is the most cost effective way to do business and the staff knew that they had ample supplies to ride out the storm. Keeping close track of weather reports and knowing they had emergency plans already in place, the Seeing Eye staff needed to consider the possibility that their backup generator would fail and without power so would the well. In a race against the storm’s devastation, they quickly stored extra water for the staff and dogs. Meanwhile at their Morristown campus, 22 visually impaired students from across the United States and Canada were participating in a 3-4 week training program with their new Seeing Eye dog. The students training went on virtually uninterrupted and the main campus’ public water and sewer remained functional throughout the storm.
The preparation taken by the staff at Seeing Eye to have an emergency plan in place, reviewed and updated annually combined with regular meetings prior to anticipated emergencies shows just how important pre-planning is to any business or citizen. During emergencies, Jim Kutsch, President of Seeing Eye stated that “emergency teams meet twice a day. After the emergency, the team undergoes a debriefing to identify where they were most successful, what they learned from the event and identified areas for improvement for future responses.”
Though their plan is very comprehensive to address every conceivable emergency, the fact is emergencies of any nature are unpredictable and requires those in charge to quickly and effortlessly change their course of action to face the uncertainty before them. Staff members were ready to remain on site to care for the dogs and students if needed but if the conditions worsened, they had a contingency plan for that as well relocating the dogs and students. The most important aspect of any emergency plan is identification of key players and communication. At the Seeing Eye, all staff members know the key players involved and how communications will be relayed during an emergency.
The Seeing Eye is pleased to report that all puppies are healthy and adjusting to their surroundings. Soon, they will be handed off to puppy raisers to begin their informal training in obedience commands and socialization before moving back to the Morristown campus where they will be trained as Seeing Eye dogs for the blind and visually impaired. Though dogs can give birth to their litters in the dark, the investment in the lives of these dogs requires a 100% commitment by the staff to ensure all puppies born survive and any medical complications at birth are addressed immediately.
Had it not been for the forethought of the Seeing Eye staff having back-up generators installed years ago and keeping up with the maintenance, keeping the facility stocked with food, medicines, vaccines and all of the necessary needs of the mothers and pups as well as flashlights for the humans to navigate the facility, then Hurricane Sandy could have resulted in the loss of these eleven puppies if not more. Instead, these “Eyes of Hurricane Sandy” will soon be trained as guide dogs for several visually impaired individuals. From their experience, the staff already knows that the dog’s strength and will to survive will serve them through whatever challenge nature and man may put in front of them.