Pets in Disasters: Interview with Paul Weinberg

Guest Post by Claudia Espinosa
In a constant search for knowledge and intending to explore and share emergency management approaches to animals in disaster, Humanity Road met Paul Weinberg for an interview.

Paul W.Paul has served as the Emergency Services Coordinator with the City of Santa Monica and is currently part of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM). Mr. Weinberg holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley and a Master’s Degree in Public Policy, with a focus on Emergency Management from the University of California, Los Angeles, and the School of Public Policy.

Mr. Weinberg has been involved in emergency management since 1990. During his career, he has been involved in the preparedness for response , recovery  and mitigation of disasters in California including earthquakes, wildfires and other incidents.

Humanity Road had a talk with Paul about pet safety and management during disasters. Here´s what he told us.

Paul, you have been working for a long time in all kinds of disasters, how prepared do you think Americans are for a disaster regarding to their animals.

I can obviously only talk only about Santa Monica and Southern California, but I think American’s across the board have taken significant steps in pet preparedness mainly since Hurricane Katrina. It was a major lesson to learn after this hurricane in 2006, that people are  not going to leave their animals behind.  It means they may disobey evacuation orders or any other official direction if their pets are not allow to go with them. So, in regards to the macro and governmental level, this has probably been the biggest change. The cities are more aware than they have ever been of the issue with pets, mainly because they have realized time and time again that people are tight with their pets and they are willing to risk themselves to keep their pets at home. Aware of this, governments have incorporated disaster preparedness for pets.  As far as individuals go, they have also learned a lot, they have understood that pets may not be welcome in the shelters and that the government is not going to take care of their pets, so they need to take a lot of steps to be prepared and that the responsibility is on them.

Is the bond between people and animals so strong as to put their lives in danger?

People are extremely attached to their animals. We joke in our training that people love their pets more than their spouses, but I don’t think this is un-true at times.
As pets are more dependent than people, humans are willing to put themselves in harm ways to be with them. We need to incorporate this into our city planning.

Can you tell us about the benefits of animal preparedness versus relief?

Sure. It’s always easier to prepare for something than to recover. The resources that we have today, when it’s a beautiful sunny day, are extremely different: I can go to the store and buy pet food, kitty litter, water, etc. During a disaster I won’t be able to do that and more important, after the disaster, we won’t have enough resources to recover. With pet preparedness specifically, instead of being a people problem for the government, if you haven’t prepared for your pet, you are now a people and an animal problem. This is why we incentive everybody to have enough resources for their households, including their pets, for 3 to 5 days.

Now that we know how important animal preparedness is for all of us, including the government, lets talk about how we should prepare for a disaster.

At the individual level, the best way to prepare is food and water. That’s number one. You want to have as much water as possible. The other thing we recommend is to have in your emergency kit all the information about their vaccinations, in case you end up going to a shelter. Some organizations require some shots. Another thing that is advised is to take a photo of your pet in case something happens, like your pet gets out during an earthquake. Micro-chipping as well, and some type of identification. We also recommend a carrier to take them to the shelter, or even if you have to sleep in your car for a day or two, the animal would be safe. Again, during non-disaster times the city has a lot of resources.  Use them.  It´s not the same during an emergency. Don´t add to the problem.

Paul, do you have any recommendation of what to do with your animals while the disaster is happening?

Well there’s a lot of science that animals can sense disasters much better than us. You know, they have stronger senses than we do. For example, if there’s a fire they smell it before we do. In earthquakes there have been studies about cats or birds feeling it well before we do so you don’t want to grab your dog and duck and cover, they have better instincts, they will duck and cover instinctively.  Just let them do their own thing.

Do you think pets also suffer from psychological effects after a disaster?

Absolutely. Clearly after Hurricane Katrina we had a lot of issues with pets being depressed, especially if their social network is disrupted or if their routine is disturbed.
Pets get depressed, and if there’s not much food, they get grumpy. They absolutely have psychological consequences that we should keep an eye on.

Let´s talk about what’s going to happen with our pets if they ever need to go to a shelter.

Because of federal Law, with the exception of service animals,  the Red Cross will not allow pets in their shelters. What some organizations and cities do is to develop a plan to offer co-located animal shelters so you will have a human shelter right next to an animal one.  The pets will sleep in kennels or cages and they will probably also have open spaces.

It’s important to say that the animals are going to rely on their owners and volunteers to take care of them. The government is not going to have the staff to do that.  We´ll bring as much support as we can, but owners will be their pet’s caretakers. One way people can help these animals is by volunteering in different rescue groups, the Red Cross, your local CERT, etc.  so when the disaster happens they can help by taking care of the animals.

So here you go. Our Animals in Disaster team agrees with Paul Weinberg that it´s time to prepare your human family members, service animals and your pets. Don´t wait until it is too late or you may suffer irreparable consequences and become a burden for the government and society.

If you want to help animals during disasters, contact your local CERT, Red Cross chapter or rescue groups and start your training today.  To volunteer for Humanity Road visit our online volunteer center.

For more information about Paul Weinberg and the Santa Monica Emergency Office
For more information about how to pet prepare, follow @DisasterAnimals and @jAIDog in twitter.

Claudia (2)Claudia Espinosa graduated from Universidad de Chile´s Law School.  She recently moved to the United States to expand her international experience in disaster relief and humanitarian aid.  She is interested in human rights, humanitarian law and emergency management. Claudia is part of the Humanity Road 2015 Spring intern crew and is serving as a Public Information Officer for Social Media Emergency Management

Disaster - An Australian Perspective

Disaster: An Australian Perspective

Guest Post by Dian Fowles, PhD candidate

Extremes of weather are regular events in Australia, where (along with drought) both fire and flooding can wreak havoc on the landscape and the lives of people and animals. Some of these events, however, have been particularly devastating.


The ability to have animals remain with their families can lead to a greater chance of individual and community disaster resilience and aid in reduction of trauma and post-disaster mental health service demands” says Dian Fowles

In February 2009, for example, the state of Victoria suffered through the most fatal bush fire on record[1].  The fires followed an extended, intense heat wave which had affected all of south-eastern Australia. Hundreds of separate outbreaks occurred in Victoria and a change in wind direction caused some to increase in intensity and rapidly spread over towns that had previously been safe. Around 450 000 hectares (over 1 million acres) burnt including agricultural land, national parks and reserves (70), and a number of townships. One hundred and seventy three people from 78 communities died (120 from one small town alone), more than seven and a half thousand were displaced, and over 2 000 homes were burnt. It has been estimated that over a million wildlife and thousands of stock animals were affected – many of those not actually burnt in the fires still died from breathing the intensely hot air (peaking within the fires at over 1100°C). Many animals that were burnt were severely injured beyond the abilities of rescuers to save them and the most humane course of action was to have them euthanized in situ.

A large scale flooding event impacted a significant portion of the eastern part of the country during December 2010/January 2011, including rural agricultural properties, urban and semi-urban areas. Three quarters of the council areas in the state of Queensland were declared a disaster zone[2]. Over 200 000 people were affected, with around 12 000 needing to be accommodated in evacuation shelters. There were 24 recorded deaths in the state, 23 of these from the small communities in the Lockyer Valley, which was subjected to flash flooding. In this particular area, many animals had to be left behind during the evacuations of their humans – many were washed away, and either died or became lost. As in the Victorian fires, thousands of stock animals were affected along with unknown numbers of wildlife (including marine wildlife, impacted by the run-off waters loaded with silts and chemicals).

The zone of most of Australia’s major disaster events, to the greatest extent, coincides with the zone of the highest human and animal population densities. While there are large stock-holdings inland, on sheep and cattle stations, the coastal zone is home to the highest concentration of towns and cities, dairy farms and other animal husbandry. Given that around 68% of households in Australia own at least one pet, this zone is also home to the greatest numbers of companion animals.

When companion animals are refused from evacuation measures or denied access to evacuation shelters the trauma of the experience is heightened, for both the animal’s human family and for the animals themselves. The ability to have animals remain with their families can lead to a greater chance of individual and community disaster resilience and aid in reduction of trauma and post-disaster mental health service demands. For some people, their companion animal may be their only family or, indeed, all that remains of their pre-disaster life. The depth of the human/animal bond has, until quite recently, been significantly underestimated and the trauma and grief at the loss of, or separation from, an animal with which bonds have been formed have, likewise, been minimised.

Additionally, many people (surveys in several countries, including Australia, indicate around half of pet owners) would choose to remain behind with their animals rather than evacuate, or return to collect them before it has been officially sanctioned. This risks the lives of the owners themselves, rescue personnel, and the animals. Ideally, the devising of measures to accommodate animals – at least in evacuation shelters – would have benefits that would ultimately go beyond the personal to the community level.


“If a member of the public hadn’t been out checking their own animals and spotted his legs sticking from his mother’s pouch, he would’ve died,” said Blue Gum’s caregiver, Stella Reid. The 4 month old joey named Blue Gum was rescued by a passerby.” (source) Image credit Blue Gum Jason Edwards/Newspix/REX USA

Sadly, immediate access to disaster sites by owners or animal rescue personnel is not always possible and animals that have been injured may have to wait several days before they can be assessed and treated or euthanized if called for. For many animals, this must be a horrendous time of forced abandonment at the worst of possible times. Herein lies a paradox of disasters: subjecting animals to such suffering would, in non-disaster times, amount to animal cruelty – punishable under animal welfare law. In times of these crises, when animals are most vulnerable to their physical environment, they are also most vulnerable to the dictates of the human culture/society within which they are confined.

Another paradox exists regarding the roles that certain key players must adopt at these times: the personnel who devote themselves to rescuing and caring for other animals in usual circumstances can be, in times of disaster, placed in the position of then deciding which animals are able to be saved and which are to be euthanized. This act/decision is born out of the desire to end the animals’ suffering and is, essentially, an act of kindness. However, for those having to make this choice, it can also be a heavy emotional burden to carry.

Given current predictions for more extreme events to occur due to global climate change, it is not unreasonable to expect that the demands for evacuation assistance and evacuation shelters by people with companion animals will increase. Demands for (and burdens on) those personnel who assist in animal rescues, care, and/or euthanasia are also likely to increase. It should be considered an imperative that focus be placed on policies and services that will ease the burden and trauma experienced by all groups of people directly involved with animals in disasters, for their benefit and, ultimately, the benefit of the animals as well.



Australian Government, 2014, ‘About Australia’, Australian Stories: Natural Disasters in Australia,

[1] On February 6th 1851 (Black Thursday), Victoria experienced a much larger event with 5 million hectares (over 12 million acres) of the state burnt but fewer human deaths (12) were recorded.

[2] For scale, various media compared the area to the size of France and Germany combined.


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Flinders PhD candidate Dian Fowles is investigating the impact of natural disasters on human-animal relations. – read more at  Take part in a study, being conducted at Flinders University in South Australia.  This study is an investigation into the impacts of natural disasters on human-animal relationships.
Have you been impacted by disaster? Take part in a survey at this link