RICHMOND -- With hurricane season 2010 underway, it's important to be prepared for emergencies at home or in case you need to evacuate your loved ones.

For many families, loved ones have four feet.

A summit to create Community Animal Response Teams throughout Virginia will be held on Friday in Chester.

'Experience shows us that many pet owners are reluctant to evacuate without their pets,' said Michael Cline, state coordinator for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. 'Strengthening Virginia's pet sheltering plan at the community level will help save lives.'

Local community coordinators will help developteams of volunteers who will be trained and certified to assist with emergency response.

'The Commonwealth is developing the capacity to open shelters for owners and their household pets in case of a major disaster, such as a hurricane in the Hampton Roads. The Va. Emergency Operations Center will direct the opening of these shelters when needed and will announce their locations,' Samuel Tate with Va. State Animal Response Team told

Tate stresses the importance ofdeveloping a family emergency plan that includes your pets, whether its sheltering at home or making arrangements ahead of time to take pets to family or pet-friendly hotels/motels.

VA SART is helping communities to establish shelters that can accommodate pets. Owners should contact their locality's emergency management for information concerning the status of their shelters.

Tate notes that Community Animal Response Teamshave operated co-located pet shelters in the past 2 years -- duringTropical Storm Hanna in Sept. 2008 inHampton and Mathews and during the November 2009 Nor'easter inHampton, Mathews and Wythe.

If you're interested inhelping with pet shelters where you live,contact yourlocality's Emergency Manager and VA SART.

VA SART has pet and livestock information on its website.

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