Like everyone else, I held my breath as Hurricane Sandy battered the northeastern United States. I saw footage of flooding, blackouts and downed trees, and I hoped the human impact wouldn’t be too severe.
Satellite shot of Hurricane Sandy. Photo by NASA GOES Project.
As a zoo director, I also thought of the zoos and aquariums caught in the path of storm. I was sure caregivers would find ways to deliver meals and ensure animals were safe and secure. My confidence was partially rooted in our shared commitment to wildlife. But beyond that, I knew these zoos had a plan.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) requires every institution to create a written emergency plan as part of its accreditation process. To help zoos with the process, the AZA partnered with Lincoln Park Zoo’s Zoo Animal Health Network (ZAHN) to create a disaster-planning roadmap. Zoos, aquariums, sanctuaries and other animal facilities use ZAHN training materials and risk-assessment guidelines to prepare for the unexpected, like Hurricane Sandy.
As part of our own disaster-response planning, Lincoln Park Zoo runs regular drills to prepare for a range of potential catastrophes. Fires, storms, animal escapes—they’re all planned for and simulated. Just last month we ran a drill with the Chicago Police Department—an excellent partner, but one we hope we never have to call on.
Thanks in part to this kind of preparation, zoos and aquariums in the hurricane’s path have reported plenty of downed trees and power outages—but no harm to people or animals. You can’t always avoid the worst, but as the zoo community realizes, good planning helps your odds.