Animal rescuers without disaster kits and exit plans for their own homes won’t be any use in the field if a crisis happens in their local area. They’ll be too busy saving themselves, and their own pets and family members. That’s just one of the many lessons communicated at this week’s training for the Disaster Animal Response Team (DART) in Washington State.

The national DART, which is operated through Humane Society of United States (HSUS), has 600 active members and responds to natural disasters such as wildfires, floods and hurricanes.

Rescuers from around the Pacific Northwest travelled from as far as Vancouver Island to Portland, gathering in Everett to learn about disaster rescue for animals. The animated crowd of about 75 people included shelter workers, animal control officers, paramedics, firefighters, veterinarians, veterinary technicians, staff from animal welfare organizations, and animal-rescuing citizens. Some were already members of other disaster rescue teams, such as the Washington State Animal Response Team (WASART), which sent a large contingent led by president Gretchen McCallum.

Always be courteous and professional with emergency responding agencies, rescuers learned. Forging links with groups that can help before disaster strikes is imperative, said Diane Webber, director of disaster preparedness and shelter management for HSUS.

“Make a list of local resources – who can be called upon for help,” said Webber. “Bring all the major players on board. Don’t wait for the event. Start educating people now.”

Anne Culver, a disaster training consultant for HSUS’ emergency services, recommended harnessing the power of the people beyond the animal rescue community. For example, thrift shop managers make perfect donation managers when food, cages, leashes and bowls start flooding in from a well-meaning general public during a disaster.

“Find someone who is doing in their daily job what we need them to do,” Culver said.