Emergency Preparedness

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Disaster: Human Made
Disaster: Natural
Emergency Response
Natural Disaster
Emergency preparedness is vital for all family members, including pets. An emergency situation may include floods, fires, chemical spills, industrial accidents, gas leaks, hurricanes, and tornadoes. A family can prepare for an emergency at home, at school, and when travelling.

Written by Cassandra Howard with some content from an earlier edition by 



Emergency Preparedness may be defined as having a firm evacuation plan in case of an emergency for all members of the household, including pets. For animal welfare organizations, preparedness means having emergency evacuation plans for their sheltered residents.  An emergency necessitating evacuation of both people and pets may include floods, fires, chemical spills, industrial accidents, gas leaks, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. All members of a household should know what to do in the case of an emergency. Many families write down a plan of action as well as decide to prepare a bag with emergency essentials, such as a flashlight, batteries, first-aid kit, map, matches, food, and water.  


Historic Roots

The concept of emergency preparedness is not a new one. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which responds to disasters and provides assistance all over the country, can trace its beginnings to the nation’s first piece of disaster legislation—the Congressional Act of 1803.  This act provided assistance to a New Hampshire town following an extensive fire.  Over the next 100 years, legislation was passed more than 100 times in response to hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters (FEMA).

By the 1930's, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation made disaster loans to repair and reconstruct public facilities following earthquakes. The Flood Control Act of 1934 gave the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the ability to help with flood control. Disaster assistance was still relatively slow at this time and legislation was passed to allow federal agencies and the President to better communicate to solve these problems (FEMA).

In the 1960's and 1970's there were several natural disasters and the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration was established within the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Hurricane Carla struck in 1962, Hurricane Betsy in 1965, Hurricane Camille in 1969, and Hurricane Agnes in 1972. The Alaskan Earthquake hit in 1964 and the San Fernando Earthquake rocked Southern California in 1971. All of these disasters led to more legislation to assist affected areas. In 1968, the National Flood Insurance Act offered new flood protection to homeowners, and in 1974, the Disaster Relief Act placed the President in charge of declaring a disaster (FEMA).

There were many agencies involved in disaster relief, but during the Carter administration, federal emergency relief became more centralized, reducing the number of agencies involved (FEMA). President Carter issued Executive Order 12127 in 1979, which merged other relief agencies into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and in 2003 FEMA became a part of the Department of Homeland Security (FEMA).

Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the 109th Congress passed the Post-Katrina Act to improve the federal government’s emergency management policy to include better national preparedness ("Federal Changes").  The Post-Katrina Act has enhanced the federal government’s response to hurricanes, especially evident after the devastation left by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate in 2017, which is the first time four hurricanes hit the U.S. in the same year since 2005 (The Weather Channel). In light of the destruction caused by hurricanes in 2017, the federal government may pass further legislation to enhance its emergency preparedness procedures.

In the nonprofit sector, a widely known disaster preparedness and relief organization is the American Red Cross, started by Clara Barton in 1881, which now works closely with FEMA and local governments to assist with emergency preparedness and relief efforts ("A Brief History"). There are hundreds of organizations in the private and nonprofit sectors that offer tips to prepare for different emergency situations, like the American Association of Poison Control Centers, the International Association for Preparedness and Response, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.



There are many ways one can prepare for an emergency now, beyond creating a family plan and gathering essentials in one place. The National Safety Council suggests storing at least three days’ worth of food and water at home, as well as storing an emergency kit in the car. At school or work, procedures are in place for emergencies like fire, tornados, and even in the case of an active shooter. All employees and students should familiarize themselves of each plan. Nonprofit organizations, like the American Red Cross, need volunteers and donations to prepare for larger emergencies before they happen.  Preparation also includes education. The more an individual or family prepares for an emergency, the better their response will be. Visit www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies to get advice on what to include in an emergency kit.

In 2005, during Hurricane Katrina, many people would not evacuate without their animals, and because they had their pets, were not welcome in evacuation shelters (SARTUSA).  Rescue efforts were further thwarted when the Coast Guard, National Guard, and other rescue organizations would not evacuate pets along with their owners.

Based on the lessons learned from hurricane Katrina, Federal legislation authorizes FEMA to provide monies to create pet-friendly shelters and provide special assistance to pet owners (Zawistowski 2008). With the passage of the Pet Evacuation Bill, it is mandated by federal law to include pets and service animals in emergency planning and preparation.


Ties to Philanthropic Sector

While FEMA does a lot in terms of emergency management for the U.S., there are hundreds of nonprofit organizations which work alongside the federal government to educate the public on emergency management and response. Nonprofit organizations rely on donations from individuals and grants to achieve their missions. While every family should put together a plan and kit in the case of an emergency, there are several ways for families to help other families even before a disaster strikes by giving blood, donating money to local charities, and volunteering at local relief organizations. 


Key Related Ideas

  • Emergency Management can be summed up as the practice of dealing with and avoiding risk.  It involves preparing for disaster before it happens, disaster response such as emergency evacuation, quarantines, mass decontamination, as well as supporting and rebuilding communities after a disaster has occurred.
  • Family Emergency Preparedness - preparing for emergencies should be part of every family’s routine.  Creating a written family plan and including the pets is an essential part of successful smooth evacuation if needed.
  • Human-Animal Bond is the mutually beneficial bond between animals and people and society as a whole.  Rarely has the human-animal bond been on display as much as during Hurricane Katrina—some people simply refused to evacuate their homes without their pets, and paid dearly.  Human lives were lost in the floods because of the strength of that bond (SARTUSA).


Important People Related to This Topic

  • President Jimmy Carter issued the 1979 executive order that merged many of the separate disaster-related responsibilities into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
  • John Macy was named as FEMA's first director. Macy emphasized the similarities between natural hazards preparedness and the civil defense activities.
  • Clara Barton started the American Red Cross in 1881 and led its efforts for 23 years.
  • William B. Long was made the current FEMA Administrator in June of 2017.
  • Tim Rickey is the Vice President of the ASPCA, and is in charge of their Field Investigations and Response (FIR) teams, which deals with helping displaced pets and animals during an emergency.


Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • The American Red Cross is a national nonprofit organization which works to “alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors” (www.redcross.org).
  • The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) works to save animals in need, including their FIR teams which help displaced pets and animals during an emergency (www.aspca.org).
  • American Association of Poison Control Centers support their fifty-five centers around the country to help people prevent poison exposures and to offer expert advice to treat them (www.aapcc.org). 
  • The International Association of Preparedness and Response (DERA) works globally to assist in emergency preparedness, response, and recovery (www.disasters.org).
  • The International Association of Fire Chiefs works to educate and offer support to emergency service organizations, specifically for fire-related emergencies (www.iafc.org).


Reflection Questions - Does your family have an emergency plan and kit? If so, what is your family’s plan in the event of a tornado, hurricane, fire, or flood?



  • A Brief History of the American Red Cross. http://embed.widencdn.net/pdf/plus/americanredcross/uua0vkekh3/history-full-history.pdf?u=0aormr   
  • Federal Emergency Management Policy Changes After Hurricane Katrina:A Summary of Statutory Provisions. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/RL33729.pdf
  • FEMA. About the Agency. https://www.fema.gov/about-agency
  • FEMA. Leadership. https://www.fema.gov/leadership
  • Meet the FIR Team. https://www.aspcapro.org/meet-fir-team
  • SARTUSA. Companion Animal and Equine. http://sartusa.org/about-us/companion-animal-equine/ 
  • The Weather Channel. For First Time Since 2005, Four Hurricanes Make U.S. Landfalls in One Season (2017, Oct. 31). https://weather.com/storms/hurricane/news/2017-10-07-four-us-hurricane-landfalls-nate-maria-irma-harvey
  • Zawistowski, S.  Companion Animals in Society.  New York: Thomson Delmar Learning, 2008.


This paper was developed by students taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University in 2017. It is offered by Learning to Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.