Dogs & Pets: Turning a Problem into an Asset Reply

Dogs n Cats - TSA imageWhether you love or just tolerate your pet, now is the time to consider what you will do with them when you are facing an emergency situation. It is irresponsible to leave a pet behind except in the direst of circumstances. (And, by the way, your convenience is never a dire circumstance.) So, you need to formulate a plan. You need to decide now, how you will handle it.

Unfortunately, most pets, except some dogs and a few other animals, increase your problems during an emergency situation. But if you leave them behind to fend for themselves, a domesticated animal, like a pet dog, will probably either starve, become injured and die a horrible death, or join a pack and become dangerous to people, especially children.

On the other hand, if you take them with you, then you will need to feed and care for them. This can make evacuation more difficult, but it is a responsibility of ownership to care for your pet during both times of ease and periods of hardship.  A medium-to-large size dog can be trained to carry a saddlebag backpack so that they can carry enough food and water for two days.

As mentioned earlier in this book, when facing a disaster or emergency situation, don’t plan on leaving your animal at your favorite pet boarding kennel, veterinarian, animal care services center, or with a family member or friend, either. You are just handing off your problem to them, and that isn’t fair.  You can’t shirk your responsibility.

Furthermore, in the U.S., if you take your pet with you to a federal or State sponsored shelter, they will separate you from your pet, and though they may not tell you, the official protocol calls for euthanasia.  They will kill your pet.  Do you think I must be wrong?  Read the confidential (but not Classified) U.S. Government document, FM-39.40  Internment and Resettlement Operations.”  Of course, you may encounter a shelter operator who loves animals and ignores this directive, but are you willing to gamble with your pet’s life?

So, what are your options?  In my view, you have three choices.

  1. Either keep your pet with you and stockpile/carry the food and water they will need, and hope for the best; or,
  2. When that time comes, humanely euthanize your pet(s); or
  3. If your pet is a dog, turn them into an asset. These benefits are enjoyed today, and you will be ready to face tomorrow with your loyal companion as a valuable partner.

Unfortunately, the third choice is not available to owners of cats and most other pets, but it is a great option if your pet is a healthy dog.  If you’re up for 20-minutes of training 3-days a week for four months, Option #3 is the best choice. I heartily recommend it.

In any case, we can’t avoid facing the truth.  Dogs tend to be either a security problem or a security asset, and they require extra work and supplies that may be difficult to provide.

Today, if you unleash your dog and it runs off, or it barks without sufficient provocation, the animal represents a security risk. This problem is most glaring with yappy little dogs. During an emergency, a barking dog attracts attention and miscreants do not perceive small dogs to be a threat, so the animal generates dangerous, unnecessary risks to you, the owner. Importantly, the unwelcomed attention may make you a victim of a crime. No one likes yappy dogs, including violent criminals.

When we asked a FEMA dog trainer, “Why are little dogs so often barkers?” Her answer, “Because their owners allow it.”

Yes, a barking dog may be an unrivaled asset, but only if you are the one controlling that response. A well-trained dog that barks in accord with your training can provide valuable early warning, but a dog that indiscriminately barks may create added risks for you and your companions.

A dog’s fine-tuned hearing and sense of smell can provide far better early warning than can the most sophisticated electronic alarm system.  But, these amazing attributes are only helpful if the animal is properly trained.

Unfortunately, most people do not know how to turn their pet into a service dog; an asset which can be valuable during ordinary times as well as during a crisis. Thankfully, this lack of knowledge can be overcome.

The first step in transforming your dog from liability to asset is obedience training. Yes, it is easier to train a young dog than an old one, but both can be taught if you are patient and know what you are doing. You need to teach your dog to not bark without provocation and to obey immediately.  Basic training must include both voice and signal commands for: heel, come, stay, down, growl, bark, and silence.

Once these problem-erasing basics have been handled, you are ready to start transforming your dog into a working-dog asset, a partner.  This will require the professional help of an experienced dog trainer who has done this for the government or a private security agency. Or, use the online training offered by a company such as Remnant K9 (

An ordinary dog trainer cannot take the place of one who has extensive experience in the behavior you are trying to model.  My recommendation is to not waste time with YouTube videos produced by self-promoting people without serious credentials, nor kindly dog-trainers who are well-meaning but lack the specific skills necessary for this task. If you don’t have access to such a trainer or can’t afford to hire one, use an online training program such as Remnant K9 360.

Use an expert.  In the long run, you will not only save time and money, but you will also be far more successful.

Whether evacuating due to an emergency, or living at your safe-haven retreat location, or leaving a place of safety to help a friend or family member who is in need, don’t discount the benefits that a well-trained dog can provide. If you live in a place where you cannot carry a gun, a well-trained medium or large-size dog that is properly trained can be both a reliable low-tech security system and a source of unparalleled defense.  Even if you do have a gun and know how to use it, a dog can still be an indispensable partner.



Personal and Family Contingency Plans Reply

Do you have a plan? Individuals and families need a contingency plan for disasters and emergency situations. Every family member, including young children, must know the plan.

The Importance of Planning

Those in the vicinity of an attack have the best chance of escaping and reconnecting with loved ones if they have a personal contingency plan.  Sudden disasters, such as tornadoes, earthquakes, school shootings or the derailment of train cars carrying chlorine, can strike anywhere.

Emergency plans are vital not only for corporations and schools, but also for families and individuals. Such plans should be in place for each regular location — home, work and school — that an individual frequents, and should cover what that person will do and where he or she will go should an evacuation be necessary. This means establishing meeting points for family members who might be split up — and backup points in case the first or second point also is affected by the disaster.

The lack of ability to communicate with loved ones because of circuit overload or other phone service problems can greatly enhance the sense of panic during a crisis. Perhaps the most value derived from having personal and family contingency plans is a reduction in the amount of stress that results from not being able to immediately contact a loved one. Knowing that everyone is following the plan frees each person to concentrate on the more pressing issue of evacuation. Additionally, someone who waits until he or she has contacted all loved ones before evacuating might not make it out.

It also is important to have a communication plan, which should include the contact information for the pre-chosen rallying site, as well as an alternate communications hub outside of the area. It might be difficult to communicate from Point A to Point B, but both A and B might be able to get through to a person at Point C. Alternative means of communication also should be included in the communications plan. If the phone lines and cell phones are clogged, many times text messages can still get through and Internet connections will work to send e-mail. The communications plan also will be helpful in case one member of the family is unable to evacuate immediately or finds it unwise to evacuate at all. In that case, he or she will know where the rest of the family is going and how to contact them once communications are restored.

Planning is additionally important because, when confronted with a dire emergency situation, many people simply do not know what to do. Not having determined their options in advance — and in shock over the events of the day — they are unable to think clearly enough to establish a logical plan, and instead wander aimlessly around. Having an established plan in place gives even a person who is in shock or denial and unable to think clearly a framework to lean on and a path to follow.

If You Must Evacuate

One of the keys to surviving a catastrophe is situational awareness (see post on this topic).  This means recognizing the threat at an early stage — and taking measures to avoid it. Another element of situational awareness is to know where to go when an unforeseen disaster strikes. For example, if an improvised explosive device (IED) were to detonate in a subway car ahead of the car you are in, would you know how to get out of your car and in which direction to travel to get to safety? If your office building is hit by an IED or catches fire, do you know where the fire exits are located and where they lead? Could one fire exit take you out of the frying pan and into the fire? Situational awareness also involves knowing how to react. If a subway tunnel is filling with smoke, you must have the situational awareness to keep low in order to avoid being overcome.

In some cases, evacuation might not be the best idea. If there is no immediate threat to you at your current location, you could run a larger risk of being injured by joining the crowd of panicked people on the street. In some cases, it might be safest to just stay in place and wait for order to return — especially if you are in a location where you have emergency stocks of food and water.

If you work in a high-rise building, frequently travel or take a subway, there are a couple of pieces of equipment that can assist you in case the need to evacuate arises. One of these is a smoke hood, a protective device that fits over the head and provides protection from smoke inhalation. Smoke hoods are relatively inexpensive devices that can be carried in a briefcase or purse and quickly donned in case of emergency. They will usually provide around 20-30 minutes of breathing time — which could quite literally mean the difference between life and death in a smoke-filled hallway, stairway or subway tunnel. The second piece of equipment is a flashlight small enough to fit in a pocket, purse or briefcase. Such a light could prove to be invaluable in a crisis situation at night or when the power goes out in a large building or subway. Some of the small aluminum flashlights also can serve as a handy self-defense weapon.

Even if you don’t live in an area which is prone to extreme weather or is a likely terrorist target, it is still prudent to prepare a “GO Bag” kit (knapsack) containing clothes, water, a first-aid kit, nutritional bars, medications and toiletry items for you and your family.  (See post on Go Bags and Emergency Kits).  It also is a good idea to include a battery-powered radio and other useful items, such as multi-tool knives and duct tape. The kit should be kept in convenient place like the trunk of your car, or some other convenient location that makes it easy to grab it on the way out. Even if it is impractical to keep all Emergency Supplies in one place, develop a list to help you collect other items quickly.  You need to be ready to get out the door and “fly away” in seconds.

Your GO Bag knapsack should also contain copies of important documents such as each family member’s drivers license, insurance papers, medicine and eyeglasses prescriptions, passport, birth certificate, vehicle titles, deeds, credit card information, and photos of yourself, and individual photos of each family member and loved one.  Though a paper copy protected by a zip-lock plastic bag is best, some of this (and additional information) can be stored electronically on a thumb drive, CD, or other small media-storage device.

The Need for Flexibility

It is important to listen to authorities in the case of an emergency, though you cannot rely on the government to take care of you in every situation because the resources simply are not there to do so. You must have plans ready to take care of yourself and your family.

If you have pets, you will want to take them into consideration when you make your plans. Will Fluffy be taken to the evacuation site in the case of a dirty bomb attack, or not?

The emergency plan also must be fluid and flexible. It is important to recognize that even a good contingency plan can be worthless if protective measures taken by authorities during an emergency impede execution of the plan, or if the catastrophe itself closes down a section of your route. For example, bridges and tunnels might be closed and streets blocked off or jammed with traffic, meaning you might not be able to travel to safety or pick up family members or coworkers. Those whose plan calls for a flight out of the city might be unable to get to the airport or helipad and, once there, find that air traffic has been grounded, as happened after the 9/11 attacks. For these reasons, it is best to have several alternate contingency plans that account for multiple scenarios and include various evacuation routes. Once the emergency is announced, it likely is too late to start devising a plan.

Plans must be reviewed periodically. A plan made following 9/11 might no longer be valid. Bridges and roads you included might now be closed for construction. If Uncle Al’s place in Texas is your planned bug-out retreat and communications hub, then that needs to change when he moves to West Virginia.

Your equipment should also be checked at least semi-annually to ensure it is functional. Have you checked the batteries in your flashlight and radio? (Batteries should usually be stored separately from your battery-powered device as prolonged storage make cause leakage and render the item unusable).  Has your smoke hood become battered from being carried around for too many years? Have the power bars in your Go Bag knapsack become fossilized?

Finally, while having a contingency plan on paper is better than having nothing, those that are tested in the real world are far superior. Running through an evacuation plan (especially during a high-traffic time such as rush hour) will help to identify weaknesses that will not appear on paper. It also will help to ensure that all those involved know what they are supposed to do and where they are supposed to go. A plan is of limited use if half of the people it is designed for do not understand their respective roles and responsibilities.

No plan is perfect, and chances are you will have to “shift on the fly” and change your plan in the event of an actual emergency. However, having a plan — and being prepared — will allow you to be more focused and less panicked and confused than those who have left their fate to chance. In life and death situations, an ounce of prevention is a good thing.

Contributed by STRATFOR Global Intelligence
Fred Burton and Scott Stewart