Does your barn need an evacuation plan?
Yes. You may not live in areas of frequent natural disasters, but what if you have an emergency colic that needs to go to an equine clinic? Have a plan for that, too. Generally speaking, if you create a plan for all of the horses at the barn to be evacuated, then you can scale it down for a medical emergency.
Where to begin? There are a lot of factors, so let’s tackle each one individually.
Determine who will be loading, driving, calling, deciding on destination, etc. This is a great time to create a “phone tree” so that one person isn’t calling all the horse owners. Do you have Grooms that live on the grounds or near by? What about clients that live close by? Make sure the loaders and drivers are enough to get your barn empty in a flash.
This also means deciding on what horse goes in what rig. Do some of the horses trailer better in a slant vs. straight? What about ramp vs. step up? Are some of the horses great travel buddies, or do you need to make plans for stallions and mares? It’s critical that you map out what truck goes with what trailer goes with what horses inside. Otherwise you are there with too many cooks in the kitchen deciding this stuff when you could be down the road already.
Plan your escape route. Know a north, south, east, and west way out of town, depending on the reason for evacuation. Have barns or showgrounds in all directions that you know will be able to take you in. (This takes some time to set up - do it now before you get the call to evacuate.) Showgrounds are a great place to camp out, most are empty unless a show is going on. Have maps in all rigs, even though you have so many great GPS tools on your phone- in an evacuation emergency, the cell towers may go down.
Monitor the news and head out before traffic hits. Trust me on this one. As someone who has evacuated from hurricanes and fires more than once, these are usually not surprise events. You know they are coming. Get out early. Otherwise, you could end up in gridlock for days without gas, food, and water. (This also speaks to filling your gas tank if you even suspect that you may need to bolt.) I have also heard of home and barn owners who have waited too long to leave and now must abandon their herd at home.
Set up in advance if you think evacuation is imminent. If you are dealing with a situation where you have some advanced warning, gather all the trucks, hook up, point them to the road (so you don’t need to turn around to get out), pack the rigs and confirm the plan with all of the horse owners. Activate and test the phone tree if you need to.
A note about sudden evacuations with little time to prep - your trailer can have emergency supplies stored in them, like buckets, halters, duct tape, etc. If you must load and go, don’t worry about hay, horses can be fine without hay for a few days. Find a source at your destination. If you are evacuating a fire, please don’t put hay or shavings in the back of your truck. Embers and ash can pelt them and create quite the predicament for you.
Another note for you truck and trailer owners out there. Please have an agreement in place before you load horses that are not yours into your trailer about who pays for damage to the rig by other horses, and if gas money help is warranted. No one wants to be the “bad guy” and ask for money when clearly an evacuation is an emergency and we can all help each other. However, a truck and rig is a huge investment and costs dollars to buy, maintain, repair and use. Let’s all respect each other here and have this sort of stuff worked out in advance.
If all of these details are worked out in advance, you can evacuate smoothly and safely.
ps- don't forget to paint cell phone numbers on the horses, or braid ID and phone into the manes. Also add ID and phone with a zip tie to halters.