In the aftermath of Harvey, Irma and other hurricanes, news footage showed families being rescued from floodwaters by helicopters, boats and jet skis. Some of the most striking images were of people wading through chest-deep water, carrying pets on their shoulders in an effort to save them from peril. There were also reports about animal lovers who risked their lives to rescue horses from flood-engulfed pens and dogs from washed-out neighborhoods.

Tragedies like these naturally stir feelings of sadness and grief, but they can also serve as lessons for the future. Sadly, natural disasters seem to occur more often than we would hope, and they come in different shapes and sizes. Aside from hurricanes and floods, many of us have been affected by blizzards, earthquakes, wildfires, landslides and tornados. With that in mind, there are things we can do to keep our pets safe during dangerous and difficult times.

Start today

Unfortunately, many pet owners only think about making such arrangements after disaster has already begun to unfold. But the key to being and keeping those you care about safe is prevention, which typically involves two steps. Both are equally important and go hand-in-hand when it comes to preparing for hazardous situations.

The first thing to do is create a plan to follow if and when disaster strikes. The specifics will vary, of course, depending on where you are located. If, for example, you live near the Gulf of Mexico or the US East Coast, a hurricane disaster plan is probably a given. If you reside in the Midwest, a tornado disaster plan would seem to be a top priority.

The second step to take in preparing for such a development is to create a “kit” that will help ensure your pet will survive if the worst does indeed happen. Typically, getting what you need after conditions have gone bad–and, often, in the days before–is difficult and costly at best, and impossible at worst, mainly because everyone else is trying to do the same.

Creating your disaster plan

Many or us are probably clueless about what we need to do or where to begin. However, there are helpful resources available. The checklist prepared by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is one place to start. According to FEMA, getting your pets ready for an emergency involves a number of elements, including developing an evacuation plan, having a buddy system in place, and gathering emergency contact information.

Specifically, they advise pet parents to do the following:

  • Decide on a shelter in advance. Because public facilities don’t generally allow pets and other animals to remain on the premises, you will likely want to coordinate with friends and family who live outside your region, or with boarding facilities elsewhere, before the worst occurs. Veterinary hospitals also provide shelter for displaced pets, so it is worth touching base with them as well.

  • Connect with a “pet buddy.” During a disaster, you may not be able to rescue your pets. When roads are flooded or otherwise impassable, owners can find it hard to get home to look after their loved ones. By making arrangements beforehand with neighbors or others nearby, you may have someone on hand who can lend support as needed. Make sure, of course, that you commit to doing the same for them.

  • Microchip or tag your pet. Often, pets who are separated from their owners during a disaster manage to survive but are never reunited with them because there is no contact information available. Collars with identification tags are a must, but even these can get lost during a calamity. Many families have chosen to microchip their pets for this and other reasons.

Preparing your kit

While creating a plan and taking precautionary steps such as tagging your pet are undoubtedly important, having enough supplies on hand–for you and your human and non-human loved ones–is a necessity if and when trouble comes knocking. What you include in your pet-related emergency preparation kit will largely depend on what animals you have and their specific dietary needs, but there are certain items that should be part of the mix in any case, including:

  • Photocopies of important medical documents and ownership paperwork

  • Contact and microchip information

  • At least a one-week (or two-week, if possible) supply of food and water for each pet

  • Medications and first aid resources

  • Pet carrier, blanket, and clean-up supplies

For a more comprehensive overview of what things to consider, you might want to check out the Pet Disaster Kit Checklist put together by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

While such preparation might seem like too much to bother with when circumstances are normal, it’s worth keeping in mind one group of victims. Every year, tens of thousands of pets succumb to natural disaster-related deaths. Although the losses aren’t always preventable, being prepared can help reduce the risk that your pet will suffer a similar fate should such trouble occur in your neck of the woods.