State and federal officials are urging Iowans to think about their pets when making emergency plans for floods, tornadoes and other severe weather. Phil Kirk, a preparedness coordinator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, says FEMA has learned through painful experience the importance of including pets in any preparations.

“There have been countless examples where citizens refused to evacuate their homes in the face of danger because they didn’t have a way to take their pets along or a place to bring them to safety,” Kirk says. “Sadly, those decisions cost some people their own lives as well as the lives of their pets. Additionally, our first responders were faced with even greater risks of trying to save those lives.” Kirk suggests pet owners try to acclimate their pets to Midwestern storms, whenever they might roll through.

“During storms in this part of the country, take them out when there’s lightning and thunder and get them exposed to it so when it really happens and there’s a need to leave, it’s not the first time that they’ve dealt with it,” he says. Kirk says FEMA has found it must include pets in any emergency preparations a family makes. “They go hand-in-hand,” Kirk says, “because there are people who will not leave without their pets and I understand that. So, we need to try to do what we can to make sure that everybody can leave and be safe.”

Kirk suggests putting together an emergency kit for the pets — as well as the family — so everyone in the home is ready to respond. He says a family needs to have non-perishable food, bottled water, medications and other material together to last for the first 72 hours of an emergency.