Disaster Planning and Rescue

By Mary Ellen LePage, former Fire Chief for CalFire

Aviculturists around the globe may experience hurricanes, tornados, straight-line windstorms, floods, earthquakes or fires, and depending on where they live, they may have to endure snow and ice storms in winter or sandstorms in desert locations. Each type of disaster has its own timeline and fury and it presents its own unique set of plans to help assist bird owners that may be affected. Bird people should plan for, and learn how to, rescue their birds and the birds of others from any such disasters which could occur in their area.

Plan! Plan! Plan!

The first step is to think about supplies that might be needed during any given emergency situation. Transporting birds requires cages or “carriers” and it may be wise to store pre-assembled or collapsible carriers where they can be accessed quickly. Make sure to equip the carriers with perches and water dishes. A tub that contains towels, nets, or gloves may be wise too for catching up birds that are not so tame. These things should be assembled and stored now as there may not be time when disaster strikes. If storage is a problem, hang them from the ceiling in your garage. Some people store emergency cages and carriers in the same area as the bird’s permanent cage or flight. If cages/flights are locked, key all locks the same if possible. Otherwise, much time will be lost fumbling for the proper keys.

Make sure birds are easily identifiable through leg bands and/or microchips. You might want to have duplicate bird records stored elsewhere so they will be retrievable and you can easily prove ownership of your birds.

Plan ahead and Identify several locations to which birds may be relocated. Locate someone with a barn, garage or maybe even a vacant store that is likely to be out of the danger zone and where you will have permission to keep the birds.

Will there be tools needed to get into cages or catch up the birds? It might be wise to set up a tool box for emergency uses compete with wire cutters and other hardware. Depending on the disaster, a chain saw may be necessary as well.

Develop an evacuation plan. Obviously, the more birds that will be involved, and the larger they are, would mean you will need a larger transit vehicle. If rental vehicles must be used, make sure they have ventilation to the cargo section. Remember, in many emergencies roads are blocked or police are not allowing passage, so rescue vehicles may not be able to get to you. If an emergency is eminent, you need to get out before the roads are closed. Do not wait. Anticipate that the longer you wait, the roads will be gridlocked with others trying to evacuate and there may not be any gas, food or water available.

In cases where you do not evacuate, but stay on the property and shelters, you need to plan for your own generator, food, and water. If stocking ahead of time, replace the supplies of food and water regularly to avoid spoilage. During emergencies there may be long periods without electricity, communication, and available supplies. Know your GPS coordinates so rescuers can find you if street signs should be destroyed.

Draw up and post your written evacuation or shelter plan in an obvious place so rescue workers can find it if needed. The plan should contain contact information for you and your veterinarian, give instructions for how to catch the birds, which birds can go in the same carrier, how to retain the identity of the pairs, diet instructions and any health issues. Specify and map the location of birds, food and water, carriers, capture equipment, chainsaw, and tools. Have a checklist of what you need to take with you.

The decision whether to evacuate or not is often made last minute. Often this decision includes whether or not to evacuate the birds. In some storms, the birds may be able to weather it out and this would be preferable over the stress of capture and relocation. With fire approaching, the smoke danger also needs to be evaluated. When in doubt, get out! Some disasters do not give sufficient warning to make decisions easily. Remember, your safety comes first. If you need help, contact the American Federation of Aviculture Inc. through the main business office phone number 512-585-9800 or email them at afaoffice@afabirds.org.

Instructions for Bird Rescuers

Rescue only those birds whose life is threatened. Solicit experienced bird handlers to help with the rescue. The American Federation of Aviculture is ready to try to locate help for you. Call the American Federation of Aviculture’s office at 512-585-9800 or afaoffice@afabirds.org.

Many times, the hardest part of rescue is getting to the area where the birds need to be rescued. Roads may be blocked by police to keep you from entering the disaster area. It will help if you have proof that you are a legitimate rescue to obtain access to the area. Your truck or vehicle can be marked with an AFA sign and logo. These magnetic signs can be obtained from the AFA office, as well as t-shirts, or name cards designating you to be an AFA disaster relief volunteer.

 Large disaster areas in the United States are supervised by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Incident Command System (ICS). Each disaster has an Incident Commander who controls the whole rescue operation. All government disaster workers (police, firefighters, etc.) ultimately report to him. If stopped by the police, ask to contact the Incident Commander or his representative to obtain permission to enter the area.

If you cannot obtain permission to enter the area, there may be some local people that can direct you to alternate routes to go to your destination. However, do not risk your own life or welfare to enter a dangerous area.

If time allows, know where you are going to take the birds to safety. Any building that is safe and secure can be used. If you have already rescued the birds and need a place to take them, the American Federation of Aviculture will help you locate places to house the birds.

Have as many carriers as your vehicle will hold, or look for carriers on the premises. You may need a chain saw, wire cutters and other tools. Look for a disaster plan on the premises. If carriers are not available, crates, plastic storage boxes with ventilation holes and cardboard boxes can be used. Even paper bags may be used for the small birds.

Have bird nets and towels which may be needed for catching the birds. In your disaster planning meetings prior to the emergency, learn how to catch a wild (not tame) bird. You may be able to get this training from members of local AFA bird clubs.

Try to identify pairs so they can be repaired after they are relocated. Use markers to annotate crates or carriers with locations etc. Do not remove any leg bands.

If you are unable to locate food and supplies for the birds, contact the American Federation of Aviculture, Inc. for assistance.

After evacuation, try to locate the birds’ owners and tell them where each of the birds has been relocated.

The American Federation of Aviculture, on behalf of the bird owners, appreciates any help you can give to successfully rescue these birds and return them to their owners.