May 8, National Animal Disaster Preparedness Day

SophieZoe If you had 3 minutes to evacuate your house, would you be able to take care of your pets?   National Animal Disaster Preparedness Day helps us focus on the things we need to do to take care of our pets in an emergency.  According to the American Veterinary Medical Association at least 63% of all households have pets.  Since any area of the country could face some sort of disaster, it is important to think about what to do with our pets when emergencies occur.

Do not leave pets behind.  Take your pets with you when you leave.  You have seen what happens in hurricanes, floods and wildfires when pets are left to fend for themselves.   Chances of survival for house pets in disaster areas are very slim. Finding pets after an event is also very difficult and makes recovery that much harder.

In many cases preparing for disasters for pets is very similar to what you plan for yourself. You need at least 7 days food and water for all the pets in the household. That is in addition to the food and water you maintain for your family.  Many pets are on insulin or other medications.  Do you have a supply of medications available? Have you made advance arrangements for locations, perhaps a friend or relative, where your animals could be boarded until the danger is past.  Most shelters now allow animals during emergencies, but check in advance on policies in your area.Teaser

It is recommended that you have a “go kit” for your pets.  This go kit should have everything necessary to keep your animal in good health during a crisis.  Among the items to include would be collars,leashes and identification tags, photos of your pets, food water, medications and medical records, sanitation supplies, blankets or towels and familiar toys or favorite items. For more ideas check out FEMA’s list.Smarty - DSC00111

And don’t forget to get all those vaccinations up to date.  Animals may be in close quarters in shelters adding to the spread of common diseases.

Help yourself and your pets by making your pet survival plans today.  Assembling go kits for your family and pets today will save precious time and perhaps heartache later.

It’s that time again!


Box Clock

Daylight savings time is upon us.  Yes, it’s time to perform our semi-annual adjustment to watches and clocks.  Are you ready to scramble your body clock again?   It is no wonder that accident rates rise after our fall and spring time-change rituals.

But it is also time to maintain one of  the most important safety device in our homes, the smoke alarm.  Someone had the great idea a few years ago to link the time change with replacement of smoke alarm batteries.  It was a stroke of genius to link the fall time change in October with smoke detectors and Fire Prevention Month.smoke_detector_sm  But checking in the spring is important too.

So now we have an easy to remember time to check our smoke alarms. So what are we checking?  First check the location.  The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), recommends one smoke alarm on every floor, in every sleeping area, and in every bedroom.  That is a minimum number of locations for a single family dwelling.  An alarm should also be placed in the hallway outside bedrooms especially if the doors are closed while people are sleeping.  It should alarm before the sensor behind the closed door.  Early warning is critical.   Some locations are not recommended such as bathrooms and kitchens because the humidity or cooking fumes can cause false alarms.   Check the location instructions that come with your smoke alarm.  Another good source of information is the US Fire Administration web site, .

The simple test is to push and hold the test button.  The alarm should sound after one or two seconds. This should be done monthly.   If it works, then you know the battery, circuits and horn are functioning.  If it does not work, change the battery*.  If a new battery doesn’t solve the problem, it is time for a new unit. Replace detectors that are over 10 years old.  Can’t afford a new alarm? Many fire departments will provide them free of charge.  Check with your local fire station.  Some will even install it for you.

*Your smoke alarm may be wired into your home electrical system and not use batteries.  These hard wired alarms usually have a power indicator light that glows at all times.  An electrician or alarm technician will be required to troubleshoot issues with these alarms.  Battery powered units may or may not have an indicator light.  If present, it will blink every few seconds to show the battery is functioning.

Most smoke detector batteries will last 12 months.  Some of the new smoke detectors have batteries good for 10 years.  Changing them at 6 month intervals might be overkill.  Check the warning tags and information labels on your smoke detectors for the proper battery change interval and other maintenance.   It is critical to check your detectors at least twice a year.   Replacing batteries on a regular schedule will also prevent the dreaded middle of the night ‘chirp’ telling you that a smoke detector needs a new battery.

The only other maintenance required is gently vacuuming around the detector to remove dust and debris.  Dusty detectors trigger annoying false alarms.  Do not grab a can of compressed air to blow out the detector.  That can damage the sensors.

Today we have three types of smoke detectors from which to choose.  The long time standard,  Ionization type, remains the most inexpensive and most common. The newer Photoelectric is becoming more popular and less expensive.  Now you can buy combination detectors that provide both technologies.   Ionization alarms work best on fires that have open flame.   The Photoelectric type provides early warning of smoldering fires.  Smoldering fires can be very dangerous as they quietly fill a home with toxic smoke.  Smoldering fires claim many lives.  In most cases of residential fire deaths, it is smoke, not fire, that kills.  The combo alarms are more expensive, but do have the advantage of combining both technologies for early warning.  My recommendation is to have both types in the house.  However if budget is limiting, get the Photoelectric type.  Testing shows a distinct advantage with this type of alarm, alarming as much as 30 minutes before the ionization type alarm starts sounding.  Just make sure you have some kind of working alarm in your house.

If winter is still raging where you live, don’t forget to check those carbon monoxide detectors too!

Just a few minutes set aside this weekend can save a life.  That life might be yours or a loved one.  And don’t forget our senior citizens who may not have the ability to perform these simple checks without assistance.

Helpful links:

New Approaches to Vivarium Disaster Planning Help Preserve Valuable Research

Natural disasters

There is a tendency to focus only on natural disasters.

Why does contingency and continuity planning seem to be a back burner issue?  You may not live in an earthquake or storm threatened area, but disasters take many forms.  Your plans should take into account all potential hazards  natural and human caused. Natural disasters capture the headlines, but a break in colony health is a catastrophe too.  And what about that critical data?  Only by assessing risk, developing and then testing your plans can you have the ability to protect assets and then get back to work as soon as possible.   To paraphrase General Eisenhower, it’s not the plan but the planning that is the key.

I contributed to a recent article on disaster planning in Tradeline Reports



Winter is still around..

A rare white Christmas in 2004.

A rare white Christmas in Houston, 2004

Many areas of the country have already had a pretty good dose of winter.  Blizzard conditions certainly spell winter to me down here on the third coast.  For those of us in warmer climes the worst of winter is still to come.

I know for my friends and relatives in the north, our excitement at any temperature approaching freezing must seem a bit silly.   Extreme cold in the southern US creates all sorts of problems. Our houses are not built to withstand long periods of below freezing weather.   Our plumbing is exposed in the attic, usually without insulation unless we have gone back after the house was built to add wrap to the pipes.  The last really deep freeze in Houston was Christmas week of 1989.  The temperature got down to 9°F.  There were several days where the temperature never got above freezing.  That is cold anywhere, but in Houston that is a disaster.  Pipes broke in attics all over town swamping plumbing companies with emergency calls.  Many people who left town for the holidays returned to water flowing out their front doors as  broken pipes thawed.

We happened to be visiting family in Oklahoma City that week.   It was colder there, but they are more equipped to deal with winter weather.  We were invited to drive down to Dallas to see the Cowboys play Green Bay at Texas Stadium on Christmas Eve.   It was a mess.  Almost all of the plumbing for the restrooms at the stadium had frozen.  A lot of pipes had burst so the carpets were wet everywhere.  The only restrooms working were in the club area at one end of the stadium.   Luckily a lot of people stayed home.   It was cold and miserable even though we were in a club box.  I don’t remember anything about the game itself except that Dallas lost.   That was loss number 15.  The Cowpokes only notched one win  for Jerry Jones’s first year of ownership of the Cowboys.

With the potential for some really cold weather on the horizon for us, we can take steps to mitigate potential damage and keep everything functioning.  Think hurricane preparation.   Actually a lot of our normal hurricane preparation can be brought into play with cold weather emergencies.

Pipe insulation with single degree temperatures in Houston homes will probably not give adequate protection.  The best step to take is to cut off the water to the house and drain the pipes by opening faucets on the lower levels.  That does require some preplanning for drinking and cooking water and for flushing toilets.  Some recommend leaving a faucet running at a trickle.  That could work, but if everyone in town does that, water pressure might be too low for emergencies like firefighting.

Plan for power outages, especially if frozen precipitation accompanies the cold weather.  What will you do for lights?  What will you do if you have no heat? Using candles for lights and stove tops for heat have had fatal results too many times.  Space heaters while helpful in an emergency can be very hazardous.   Use with care.   If you plan to use a generator, have you tested it recently?  Generators should be exercised regularly under load.  Can you run the generator safely?  Remember issues of electrical shock and carbon monoxide poisoning.      In some ways, freezing weather may be more dangerous than dealing with the heat after a hurricane.  Power outages will also shut down fuel services and grocery stores.  Keep your pantry and gas tanks full.

Does your house receive power from a line dropped from a power pole as opposed to underground?  If above ground are there any branches that could ice up then fall and knock the connection loose?  Take care of those now.

In Houston, our cars are our lifelines.   In addition to keeping fuel tanks topped off be sure to check other maintenance items.   The battery condition, tire inflation, belts and windshield washer fluid (with anti-freeze) are great places to start.  The worst possible time to break down is when the weather is freezing.  With so many of the newer cars filled with long interval cooling fluids, the radiator coolant level is often overlooked. Go ahead and make sure your coolant is at the correct level and that your anti-freeze is actually working properly.  If you still use a key to lock and unlock your car doors make sure the locks are well lubricated.  Those locks get wet and freeze up.  Better take care of it today instead of waiting out in the cold for the lock to thaw.   Another cold weather trick is to cover your windshield with a thick cloth, cardboard or other material to keep the ice off when you are not driving.  Make sure your windshield wiper arms are not frozen to the window before you try to use them.  Windshield wiper motors are expensive to replace.

After you have taken care of yourself, do you have an elderly neighbor or know a family with low resources?  This might be a good time to see what their plans look like in the event of a cold weather situation.

I have not mentioned cold weather precautions for pets, but they must be part of your preparedness equation.  Pets are always part of the three “P’s” of winter preparedness, pipes, pets and plants.

As is always the case, a few minutes of preparation today and tomorrow could save a lot of inconvenience or danger later.

Recommended reading:

Cold Weather Preparedness,

Cold Weather Preparedness,


Cold Weather and Frozen Pipes,

AAA Offers Cold Weather Car Care Advice,


Extreme Cold, A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety,

Take Time

Crushed Tiller Cab

I watched a training video yesterday created by the Raleigh Fire Department after a disastrous crash involving one of their ladder trucks.  The crew was responding to a fire and entered an intersection too fast.  The truck overturned injuring the four firefighters on board. The point of the video is that sometimes we get into such a rush to help others that we fail to take care of ourselves.   I shared the video with my nephew, a Lieutenant with a local fire department.  He confirmed the pressure to get out of the station as quickly as possible. But he confirmed the extra emphasis on training and safety that is occurring too.  Everyone has to be strapped in with their seat belts before the truck leaves the station. That is tough to do with all the gear they are wearing. By taking a few more seconds they have a better chance of reaching that fire or EMS call safely.

ladder truck overturned.

Crushed tiller cab.

We can learn those lessons too.  Not only with wearing seat belts, but by taking the time necessary to do our jobs correctly.  Sometimes workplace pressures drive unsafe shortcuts.  As supervisors we have to be mindful of all the steps required to do a job correctly.  Then we have to provide the resources to our employees to make sure they can do their jobs the right way. Those resources include not only the people required, but the training, materials, time and the knowledge that their work is appreciated.

Photo credit –

Good morning!

Moon set with clouds and pine tree

Moon set with clouds and pine tree

As I watched the moon fading into the light of a new day, I am reminded of how awesome our life is on planet Earth.  Storms may disrupt and destroy, but healing is always close behind.  Devastating events of today become a footnote in history.   Let’s remember that we can work with nature but never control nature.