Stretching across 20 miles of Monmouth County, NJ, Naval Weapons Station (NWS) Earle covers a diverse topographical landscape that includes both urban structures and 12,000 wooded acres between the station and its port. Additionally, the base has a three-mile pier that stretches out into 1,800 acres of the Sandy Hook Channel, a primary boating thoroughfare to New York City and one of the busiest shipping channels in the world. Thus, the base prepares for all types of disasters, including earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, thunderstorms, and wildfires.
On October 29, 2012, when Superstorm Sandy struck New Jersey as a Category 2 storm, torrential rains and hurricane force winds struck the base. Soon after, a deep freeze and nearly 10 inches of snow followed on Sandy’s heels. “Our weather mitigation can be pretty drastic from one day to the next and Sandy was a good example of that,” said Joe Eppolito, Emergency Management Officer with NWS Earle.
"It's important for people to create
emergency action plans that include
all family members, including pets, in
the event of a disaster."
--Joe Eppolito, Emergency Management
Officer, NWS Earle
Though Sandy did not cause any structural damage to the base or the pier, the storm caused extensive damage to the pier’s peripheral equipment and brought discussions about emergency preparedness into the forefront. As a result, NWS Earle worked to ensure the resiliency and safety not just of structures and human beings, but of pets and service animals, by declaring available base warehouse space a safe haven for up to 200 pets in the event of an emergency.
Establishing a Safe Haven for Pets
Due to the unique logistics involved in sheltering animals, NWS Earle facilitated a pet sheltering drill to test that portion of the base’s emergency management plan. “Through this exercise, we were able to revitalize and recharge the emergency management program for the base,” said Eppolito. He collaborated with the base’s Director of the Fleet and Family Service Center and the Chief of Logistics, as well as the Judge Advocate General (JAG) to develop a plan to shelter pets in emergency situations. The pet sheltering exercise was part of an Emergency Family Assistance Center drill conducted on the base.
During the exercise, the three leaders did a walk-through of the animal intake procedures to look for any gaps. First, pet owners requesting animal shelter complete an intake form, which includes a needs assessment; this document tracks the number of pets in need of safe haven and their basic information, such as breed, medical needs, and any other special accommodations. Once the Director of the Fleet and Family Service Center obtains this information, the base determines whether or not the request is feasible. For example, some breed restrictions apply based on temperament and size; alligators, cobras, and horses are typically not accepted for shelter. Since the animals are sheltered in a caged-in enclave inside of a base warehouse, officials must take the climate and season into consideration, too, so that all accepted animals are safe. In colder months, for instance, cold-blooded animals like reptiles and exotic pets may not be accepted because the warehouse may become too chilly. All animals are closely monitored by the Chief of Logistics, who notifies the owner if there is a disruption in a pet’s daily schedule. Another safety measure in place to protect animals is that owners feed and administer medication to their own pets on base. Having owners interact with their own animals minimizes the risk of an animal acting out due to stress from the unfamiliar surroundings.
Sheltering Drill Helps Close Gaps to Increase Resiliency
Though the base’s safety measures are robust, during the drill, the JAG recognized the need for an agreement to release the base from liability if something were to happen to an animal in their care, known as a Hold Harmless agreement. Now, even before intake, owners must sign this agreement. “We learned to make it as easy as possible for the owners at the beginning of intake so that people understand what will be available to them and their pets, what won’t be, and why that is the case,” said Eppolito.
Because the pet sheltering drill informed the community about services and improved procedures, Eppolito considered the exercise a success. “Drills empower and encourage people to be a part of the base’s emergency mitigation,” he said. “This makes a huge difference for recovery efforts after a storm has passed.”