GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When a natural disaster strikes in the United States, animals are displaced and area shelters are inundated with lost pets that need help.

In response, the Bissell Pet Foundation and the Animal Search and Rescue Training and Response team is creating a new initiative called AIM — Animal Incident Management. The goal is to get people and their pets out of the way before a disaster strikes and reunite them after the danger is over.

Eric Thompson, the executive director of disaster and field response, said it started during Hurricane Ian.

“What we found during Hurricane Ian in Florida was that the Bissell Foundation had the ability to work with communities and pets, people and their pets and shelters who evacuate animals and people out of the situation before the hurricane. … Then during the storm and during recovery, the (Animal Search and Rescue) team would be boots on the ground and they were working with local emergency management and first responders who evacuate people and pets together,” Thompson said. “Then after the event, Bissell Pet Foundation was able to come back in to support shelters, reunification of pets with owners and give training programs in the shelter programs that would actually add to the resiliency of a community that may have pet issues in the future.”

It’s a much more organized way of handling people and their pets during disasters.

“We know that people will not evacuate unless there’s a safe place to go for their pets or they can take their pets with them,” Thompson said. “Which is why we try at the governmental level and nongovernmental level to bridge that and really make it a mission-ready package where people can evacuate with their pet and go to a sustainable environment to ride out this disaster.”

He said the program will happen for all levels of disaster, from a widespread catastrophe like a hurricane to more isolated cases.

“We are working with local agencies and smaller communities to help deal with issues like large apartment fires or times when people may be displaced with their pets,” Thompson said. “And we’ll try to bring together volunteer organizations and government structures to help those people and their pets.”