March is Severe Weather Safety Month

Spring comes in like a lion, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is well aware of it. In fact, FEMA has designated March as Severe Weather Safety Month.

But the environment, it is a’changin’, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, and AAHA-accredited practice Animal Hospital of Rowlett and Diagnostic Center (AHR) in Rowlett, Texas knows this all too well. Indeed, when multiple tornadoes hit Dallas County in December 2015, where AHR is located, it had to act fast.

“It was a busy time for our kennel business,” Christen Lynch, practice manager for AHR, told NEWStat. “We had over 80 animals boarded, and the kennel staff had left about 10-15 minutes before the tornado hit that night. Luckily, only our roof and air conditioning unit were damaged. But we knew our customers would be anxious.”

Lynch texted the staff and together they made a quick plan about who lived nearby to check on the animals, and what to do about the fire alarm and items in the refrigerator.

AHR then posted on Facebook to tell customers their animals were safe. Lynch also took round-the-clock calls from anxious customers. (The hospital’s phone lines were forwarded to her cell phone.)

“I knew it was important that our customers talk with someone rather than get a recording,” Lynch told NEWStat.

What advice does Lynch have for other practices who face an emergency situation?

“It’s really important to have a plan in place to communicate with clients. We did that with Facebook and by transferring the phones. What we didn’t do was send out an email blast to our clients, which we thought about in hindsight.”

Lynch also advises having a formal emergency plan in place. That plan should include who checks on the animals, what to do about alarms, how staff should handle items that require refrigeration, where to forward phones, and who will be responsible for posting to Facebook and sending out email blasts. (Having access to customer contact information if there is no computer access is critical.)

Practices can also download a free Severe Weather Safety Social Media Toolkit from FEMA. 

Photo credit: © iStock/DanielLoretto