2013 News

Animals central to fire, flood evacuation plans

Date: 17th May

Work Group: LPA & PCA

Activity Type: Emergency care


When bushfires broke out in January at Aberfeldy, Vic, Luke Brayshaw’s first response was to evacuate his 12 horses and shift his 450 cattle to safe ground.

The fire front was still some 48 hours away, but as a ranger with the Wellington Shire he had seen first-hand how keenly the loss of a loved animal was felt by their owners and he wanted to avoid the worst possible fate for his stock.

Luke knew that a good bushfire plan hinged on making a decision early on whether to stay and fight or pack up and evacuate – he did not want to be faced with last-minute life or death choices about what to do with his horses and cattle so he made sure his animals were part of his fire plan.

“Because of heavy work commitments and my inability to be based at home, I made the decision to immediately move all my horses when advised that my property may be directly impacted by fire,” he said.

“Some of the horses were shifted to irrigated country, the rest were stabled at an emergency relief centre set up by my colleagues and I in our role as rangers. All cattle I manage were mustered into well watered paddocks equipped with adequate dams if required.”

Incorporating animals into emergency management plans is an approach encouraged by the Victorian Government following the hard lessons of the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, after it emerged that lives were lost because people wouldn’t leave their premises as animals were not being catered for at evacuation points. The Queensland Government is also actively planning for animals in natural disasters after similar experiences emerging during the 2010-12 flood and cyclone emergencies.

The approach is now being promoted at a national level, with the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (AAWS) and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) working to improve national planning for animals in emergencies which aligns with the Council of Australian Government (COAG) natural disaster policy. 

The AAWS is a collaborative program which aims to deliver sustainable improvements in welfare for all Australian animals and across the entire community. The program is being delivered in partnership with state and territory government agencies, industry groups, animal welfare organisations, research bodies and professional associations, with the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) providing coordination and program management.

In seeking a national approach to animal welfare in emergencies, the AAWS has looked to the Victorian Department of Primary Industry and the RSPCA in Queensland for advice based on their recent experiences.

Principal Project and Legislation Officer (Animal Welfare) at VicDPI’s Bureau of Animal Welfare, Cathy Pawsey, said communication and collaboration were key principles in successfully preparing and responding to an emergency.

As part of its response the DPI’s Animal Welfare Unit has linked with organisations at the coalface of dealing with animal welfare, including the RSPCA and the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), as well as local animal groups and shelters. This includes working with local government to ensure they can provide suitable facilities for animals that arrive at evacuation centres with their owners.

Dr Pawsey said it was also important to deliver clear advice to animal owners ahead of and during the emergency event, with the unit using a number of channels, including social media, to get the message out.

“Animal owners need to include their animals on their checklist for preparing for disasters,” she said. “If they want to take their animals with them, they need to prepare early and leave early, especially if their planning on taking things like horse floats on evacuation routes. 

“And if the animals must be left behind, then owners need to have a safe haven prepared for them in advance of the critical moment. Your animals are your responsibility so plan for them, but we also realise that in an emergency completing all of your responsibilities is not always possible, which is why we have systems in place to help.”

In Queensland RSCPA state coordinator for emergency management, Greg Eustace, has been rolling out Managing Pets in Disasters Workshops during 2013 to assist Local Government with animal welfare planning based on lessons learnt from previous events.

Even though it is well known that 60-70% of households have a pet and strong human-animal bonds exist in the community, he observed during the 2010-12 flood and cyclone emergencies ad hoc approaches to animal care, particularly in areas where mandatory evacuations occurred.

Some areas allowed small animals to be airlifted with their owners, in other areas animals were evacuated separately, and in some areas it was up to the RSCPA to respond to animal welfare needs within the community. RSPCA Inspectors worked during the 2013 flood in the North Bundaberg area for seven days attending approximately 300 properties locating, feeding, watering and reuniting animals with their owners.  

“The RSPCA Queensland Call Centre is a focal point in disasters and takes calls for injured animals throughout Queensland. During disaster events the Call Centre experiences approximately 1000 calls a day from the public for animals that require assistance,” he said.

In 2011 the RSPCA provided a submission to the Queensland Flood Commission of Inquiry, which went on to recommend that councils had a responsibility as part of their community education program for disaster preparation, to encourage pet owners to consider what they will do with their pets if they need to evacuate.

It also recommended that councils should work with the RSPCA to develop plans about transporting and sheltering pets should they need to be evacuated with their owners; and that animal shelters, zoos, stables, and similar facilities should develop plans for evacuating or arranging for the care of animals.

Mr Eustace said the RSPCA was now in the process of identifying all potential emergency situations and documenting appropriate preparation and response procedures.

“Preparation at ground level and good communication during an emergency are crucial components of addressing animal welfare as part of modern emergency management,” he said.

These factors, both at an individual and community level, were indeed important to the results witnessed by Luke Brayshaw during January’s Maffra fires in Victoria.

The bushfires went on to burn out some 85,000 hectares, and while Luke’s property wasn’t hit, he could rest assured he had done everything he could to protect his animals as well as many more cattle and horses from his area.

“I think that what I did catering for my own animals on a personal level was appropriate given my fairly specific set of circumstances, in that it’s really my job to assist with everyone else’s livestock impacted upon by the fire, so I was never going to be able to sufficiently look after my own,” he said.

“I supplied all my own feed, as did everyone else that brought horses to the relief centre, even though arrangements were made to provide feed if required to horse owners. In my role as ranger, I organised use of our local saleyards complex to be available if required by displaced landowners. This had the ability to cater for around 2000 head of cattle and exotic animals, but thankfully it wasn’t needed during this incident.

“I have never lost any stock to fire or flood in the past myself, but I have had to deal with stock in both instances and have seen first-hand the devastating impact the loss has on livestock owners.

“My approach for the future is the same as it is now: make my decision whether I stay or go early, and stick to it -no point changing my mind at the last minute because it will be too late then."


Contact:Michael Thomson
07 4927 0805; 0408 819 666