Posts tagged with "FEMA"

Biden doubles FEMA funding for extreme weather preparations

May 25, 2021

The Biden Administration announced on May 24 that it will direct $1 billion toward the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s fund for extreme weather preparations—representing a 100 percent increase over existing funding levels, The Hill reports.

The budget increase will go to the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program, which provides support for local, state, and tribal government preparation efforts.

The increase, and the program in general, are part of an effort to “categorically shift the federal focus” from responding to individual disasters on a case-by-case basis to “research-supported, proactive investment in community resilience,” the White House said.

“As climate change threatens to bring more extreme events like increased floods, sea level rise, and intensifying droughts and wildfires, it is our responsibility to better prepare and support communities, families, and businesses before disaster—not just after,” the administration said in a statement. “This includes investing in climate research to improve our understanding of these extreme weather events; [as well as] our decision-making on climate resilience, adaptation, and mitigation. It also means ensuring that communities have the resources they need to build resilience prior to these crises.”

The additional funding comes after a sharp increase in major hurricanes in 2020, with a record high of 30 named storms and a dozen hurricanes or tropical storms that made landfall in the United States.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is projecting a heavier-than-average hurricane season in 2021. Between 13 and 20 named storms are likely—with six to 10 becoming full hurricanes and three to five becoming major hurricanes, according to the NOAA. These numbers would constitute the sixth above-average storm season in a row.

“Now is the time for communities along the coastline as well as inland to get prepared for the dangers that hurricanes can bring,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement last week.

Research contact: @thehill

Over 1 million calls inundated FEMA’s new COVID-19 funeral assistance hotline on first day

April 19, 2021

More than ne million callers dialed into the Federal Emergency Management Agency‘s new funeral assistance program hotline on its first day, April 12,  the agency told CNN—signalling an increased need for funeral aid as the nation’s coronavirus death toll continues to climb.

FEMA launched its funeral program for families who lost loved ones to COVID-19 after January 20, 2020. They are now able to apply for up to $9,000 in assistance per burial.

But the hotline’s rollout was marked by busy signals and “technical issues,” caused by the massive volume of calls.

A FEMA spokesperson told CNN Thursday that nearly one million calls came into the agency within the first 90 minutes after the phone lines opened.

On Capitol Hill Wednesday, FEMA acting Administrator Robert Fenton described the influx of calls to the agency’s hotline, pointing to “60,000 calls, 58,000 registrations. 1,700 have already come back with documentation. Hopefully we’ll start funding that next week.”

“That represents about 10% of the deaths so far,” Fenton said during a Senate subcommittee hearing on FEMA’s COVID response.

Fenton also acknowledged the hotline’s bumpy rollout, saying there “was definitely congestion on the line, and we had a couple of technical issues with the service.” But, he added, the agency “cleaned that up by the second day.”

While FEMA has aided families with disaster-related burial costs in the past, the COVID-19 effort is the largest of its type. Some $2 billion was allocated as part of the $900 billion relief deal Congress approved in December; while the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion package last month bolstered it by providing the agency with an additional $50 billion to use for coronavirus-related costs.

The program’s requirements include that the death certificate must indicate that the death was attributed to or likely caused by COVID-19 or coronavirus-like symptoms, and that the death occurred in the US or its territories. There is no deadline to apply for the funeral assistance, the agency has said.

Due to the sensitive nature of the program, FEMA decided to register applicants by phone rather than online. More than 5,000 agents have been contracted to take calls “with a commitment to spend as much time as is needed with each applicant,” the agency spokesperson said.

Fenton also emphasized the focus on empathy during these conversations, telling lawmakers: “We want to make sure that we empathetically and compassionately help everyone that had a loss.”

Asked about his most difficult challenge throughout his 25-year career, Fenton reflected on how the pandemic has had “the biggest impact I’ve ever seen” and the most deaths.

“What it’s done to our country. Shut down our economy. The impact it’s had. Far beyond physical damage that we traditionally see in other disasters. It’s just been far greater than any other disaster I’ve been to … I would put that up there with 9/11 and Katrina,” he said.

To apply for COVID-19 Funeral Assistance, go to this page on the FEMA website.

Research contact: @CNN

Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine pause likely to last only a few days

April 14, 2021

On Tuesday morning, federal officials said they expected the recommended pause in administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to last only a few day—and said it should not impact the United States’ vaccination goals, Roll Call reports.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced early on March 13 that the they were recommending a pause in Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccinations after six female patients out of the 6.8 million Americans who had received the vaccine to date reported the development of a rare type of blood clot six to 13 days after vaccination. The women were between the ages of 18 and 48.

The Director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Peter Marks, told reporters on a call that the pause is necessary to educate providers about the type of blood clot caused by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, called a cerebral venous sinus thrombosis.

Standard blood clot treatment does not work for this type of clot, which, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, occurs in the brain’s venous sinuses. Such a clot prevents blood from draining out of the brain. As a result, blood cells may break and leak blood into the brain tissues, forming a hemorrhage—and leading tio a life-threatening stroke.

The experts warn that, if the standard course of treatment is followed for a cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, it could cause further harm or even be fatal, Roll Call reports.

Marks said there is no known link to birth control or contraceptives. The only hypothesis health officials mentioned is that the adenovirus vaccine creates an extreme immune reaction in some people that causes platelet clots.

The CDC’s Vaccine Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is set to meet on Wednesday, March 14, to review these cases and discuss the potential significance.

CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat told reporters that anyone who was vaccinated with this one-shot vaccine a month ago or more should not worry. But anyone who received the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine in the past few weeks should watch for symptoms including severe headaches, leg pain, or abdominal pain that differs from typical post-vaccination symptoms.

Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said these reactions are extremely rare and should not deter Americans from getting vaccinated for COVID-19. The pause is due to regular safety monitoring, she said.

“The message to patients who haven’t been vaccinated is to continue to get vaccines that may still be available to them,” Woodcock said.

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters the delay would not have a significant impact on the U.S. vaccination plan. The one-shot vaccines from Johnson & Johnson make up less than 5% of recorded shots in arms to date.

The U.S. has secured enough doses of the COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer to continue vaccinating 3 million people per day, Zients said. States and the federal government plan to work quickly to get anyone scheduled for a Johnson & Johnson vaccine rescheduled for a two-dose shot by Moderna or Pfizer.

The pause will immediately impact the places that receive vaccines directly from the federal government: retail pharmacies, community vaccination clinics, mobile vaccinations units and FEMA-run sites.

The move could shutter some mass vaccination sites. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it is working with states to find other vaccines.

“FEMA is committed to helping the President’s goal to ensure everyone who wants to be vaccinated can be. In alignment with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration’s recommendation to pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, effective immediately FEMA will stop administering this vaccine at our pilot Community Vaccination Clinics, as well as via our Mobile Vaccine Units,” said Acting Administrator Bob Fenton in an emailed statement. “We are working with our state partners to determine the path forward and find alternative vaccine options for these sites.”

Georgia, North Carolina, and Colorado have reportedly shut vaccination sites because of adverse events experienced by people receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Several states—including Maryland, New York, and Ohio—confirmed Tuesday morning that they would pause administering the vaccine.

Research contact: @rollcall

Trump Administration cuts off funding to 13 drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites in five states

June 25, 2020

The Trump Administration is doing its level best to close—or at the very least, slow down—coronavirus testing nationwide by cutting off support to 13 drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites on June 30; and leaving operation and funding of those sites to the states—even as cases spike in several parts of the country, Politico reports.

This is not the first time that the Administration has tried to offload control of the drive-thru sites to the states—but the last effort was suspended in April when governors in the states affected objected strongly.

The 13 sites—in Illinois, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Texas—are the last federally run sites out of 41 originally established across the country. Seven sites are in hard-hit Texas, where cases are climbing.

Taking the offensive on Thursday, June 24, Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir told Roll Call that the sites were always meant to be a temporary solution as the country worked to ramp up testing capacity in traditional health care settings.

What he didn’t mention was that, with a looming election challenge, Trump has seen the pandemic as a drag on the economy that he simply wants to go away.

Indeed, in early March, the president transferred responsibility for flattening the line on the coronavirus pandemic to the states—and, specifically, to the governors. He will neither wear a mask nor recommend one; and he has been unwilling to release nearly $14B in Congressional funding for testing and tracing efforts to combat COVID-19. However, he continues to brag that his pandemic effort is the best ever executed.

Already protesters are piling on: Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, tells Politico that it’s not the right time to shift responsibility for the sites to the states—especially those near emerging hot spots in Texas

“The federally supported testing sites remain critically needed, and in some place like Houston and Harris County, TX and in other hotspots, are needed now more than ever,” Becker said in an email. “This is not the time for the federal government to walk back prior commitments on testing.”

Even Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) is critical of the plan, noting,. “It’s pretty clear to me, and I think it’s clear to all of us, that with the uptick of cases, now is not the time to retreat from our vigilance in testing,” he said. “I believe that they need to extend that federal support in Texas, at least until we get this most recent uptick in cases addressed.”

So what will be the outcome? HHS says there is no going back: Gigroir recommends that the state governors can use CARES Act funding to maintain operations at the current federally supported testing sites.

Research contact: @politico

A glimmer of hope: New vaccine against COVID-19, called PittCoVacc, shows promise

April 6, 2020

It won’t help today’s patients (unless they are rats or mice); but, on April 2, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine scientists announced in a press release that they had produced a potential vaccine against SARS-CoV-2— the new coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through an expedited testing process, the vaccine, called the PittCoVacc, could be available for use in a little over a year.

When tested in mice, the vaccine—which is delivered through a fingertip-sized patch, not an injection—produces antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2 at quantities thought to be sufficient for neutralizing the virus. Indeed, PittCoVacc generated a surge of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 within two weeks of the microneedle prick.

The researchers were able to act quickly to develop the vaccine because they already had laid the groundwork during earlier coronavirus epidemics: “We had previous experience on SARS-CoV in 2003 and MERS-CoV in 2014. These two viruses, which are closely related to SARS-CoV-2, teach us that a particular protein, called a spike protein, is important for inducing immunity against the virus. We knew exactly where to fight this new virus,” said co-senior author Andrea Gambotto, M.D., associate professor of Surgery at the Pitt School of Medicine. “That’s why it’s important to fund vaccine research. You never know where the next pandemic will come from.”

“Our ability to rapidly develop this vaccine was a result of scientists with expertise in diverse areas of research working together with a common goal,” said co-senior author Louis Falo, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of Dermatology at Pitt’s School of Medicine and UPMC.

Compared to the experimental mRNA vaccine candidate that just entered clinical trials, the vaccine described in this paper (PittCoVacc, short for Pittsburgh Coronavirus Vaccine) follows a more established approach, using lab-made pieces of viral protein to build immunity. It’s the same way the current flu shots work.

The researchers also used a novel approach to deliver the drug, called a microneedle array, to increase potency. This array is a fingertip-sized patch of 400 tiny needles that delivers the spike protein pieces into the skin, where the immune reaction is strongest. The patch goes on like a Band-Aid and then the needles—which are made entirely of sugar and the protein pieces—simply dissolve into the skin.

“We developed this to build on the original scratch method used to deliver the smallpox vaccine to the skin, but as a high-tech version that is more efficient and reproducible patient to patient,” Falo said. “And it’s actually pretty painless—it feels kind of like Velcro.”

The system also is highly scalable. The protein pieces are manufactured by a “cell factory”—layers upon layers of cultured cells engineered to express the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein—that can be stacked further to multiply yield.

Purifying the protein also can be done at industrial scale. Mass-producing the microneedle array involves spinning down the protein-sugar mixture into a mold using a centrifuge. Once manufactured, the vaccine can sit at room temperature until it’s needed, eliminating the need for refrigeration during transport or storage.

“For most vaccines, you don’t need to address scalability to begin with,” Gambotto said. “But when you try to develop a vaccine quickly against a pandemic that’s the first requirement.”

Importantly, the SARS-CoV-2 microneedle vaccine maintains its potency even after being thoroughly sterilized with gamma radiation — a key step toward making a product that’s suitable for use in humans.

The authors are now in the process of applying for an investigational new drug approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in anticipation of starting a phase I human clinical trial within the next few months.

“Testing in patients would typically require at least a year and probably longer,” Falo said. “This particular situation is different from anything we’ve ever seen, so we don’t know how long the clinical development process will take. Recently announced revisions to the normal processes suggest we may be able to advance this faster.”

Among the additional authors on the study are Eun Kim, Geza Erdos, Ph.D., Shaohua Huang, Thomas Kenniston, Stephen Balmert, Ph.D., Cara Donahue Carey, Michael Epperly, Ph.D., William Klimstra, Ph.D., and Emrullah Korkmaz, Ph.D., all of Pitt; and Bart Haagmans, of Erasmus Medical Center.

Research contact: @UPMCNews

Trump: Governors are begging for equipment that ‘I don’t think they will need’

March 30, 2020

As healthcare professionals—and state and local leaders—sounded the alarm over major shortages of equipment needed to provide life-saving care to COVID-19 patients, President Donald Trump on Mach 26 shrugged off their warnings because, as he put it, “a lot of equipment is being asked for that I don’t think they will need,” The Daily Beast reported.

With cases surging nationwide—turning the United States into the epicenter of the worldwide pandemic—officials dealing with the crisis on the ground estimated a shortfall in the millions of essentials; including test kits, gloves, respirators, gowns, ventilators, and hospital beds.

Calling into Fox News host (and unofficial presidential adviserSean Hannity on Thursday, Trump boasted about his administration’s response to the virus—although on his watch, he has failed to mitigate or moderate the spread.

Asked by Hannity about his general refusal to enforce the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of needed supplies, the president insisted it hadn’t been necessary because there’s been “tremendous spirit” from corporations that he says have stepped up. This prompted him to then take some pointed shots at Democratic governors who’ve criticized the federal response.

“Remember, we are a second line of attack,” he exclaimed. “The first line of attack is supposed to be the hospitals. and the local government and the states.”

The president first took aim at Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, calling him a “failed presidential candidate” who is “always complaining” and “should be doing more” for his state. He then proceeded to attack Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who he said was “not stepping up” and “has not been pleasant.”

Claiming he gets along well with most of the other governors, the president then suggested they are asking for unnecessary supplies from the federal government while also insisting that the states should take on the majority of the burden.

Hannity, who began his program by blasting New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for desperately declaring his state’s need for 30,000 ventilators, went on to say the governor’s request annoyed him. Moments later, Trump suggested the state didn’t need nearly that much equipment.

“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they are going to be,” he asserted. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You know, you go to major hospitals, sometimes they have two ventilators. ”

The Daily Beast reported that the death toll from COVID-19 in New York City. alone has topped 365 on Friday. The city’s entire healthcare system, meanwhile, is on the brink as more and more patients flood the hospitals. At its current pace, FEMA estimated that the city’s intensive care units would be filled by March 27.

Research contact: @thedailybeast

Trump slams Puerto Rico, even before hurricane hits

August 29, 2019

As Dorian picks up power in the Caribbean, hurtling ever-closer to Puerto Rico, President Donald Trump is picking up the same diatribe he used against the island’s leadership and population during Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that hit the American territory in September 2017.

“We are tracking closely tropical storm Dorian as it heads, as usual, to Puerto Rico. FEMA and all others are ready, and will do a great job. When they do, let them know it, and give them a big Thank You – Not like last time. That includes from the incompetent Mayor of San Juan!” Trump tweeted from the White House Wednesday morning.

Indeed, Trump and local officials—specifically, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz—have continued to trade zingers in the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria over funding, the President’s disparaging remarks about the island, and more.

“Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth,” Trump tweeted later on August 28, according to a report by CNN. “Their political system is broken and their politicians are either Incompetent or Corrupt. Congress approved Billions of Dollars last time, more than anyplace else has ever gotten, and it is sent to Crooked Pols. No good!” he wrote, adding, “And by the way, I’m the best thing that’s ever happened to Puerto Rico!”

Trump’s lack of empathy for Puerto Ricans has been at odds with his treatment of storm victims in the continental United States during his tenure in office, prompting criticism of racism, including from some local officials defending their home, CNN said..

Tropical storm Dorian is expected to be near a Category 1 hurricane as it approaches Puerto Rico Wednesday and could strengthen to a Category 2 hurricane before making landfall in Florida over Labor Day Weekend.

Trump declared a national emergency and ordered federal assistance to Puerto Rico on Tuesday. Yulín Cruz criticized Trump on that day, as her city prepared for another storm, telling the President to “get out of the way.”

“It seems like some people have learned the lessons of the past or are willing to say that they didn’t do right by us the first time and they are trying to do their best. That is not the case with the President of the United States. We are not going to be concerned by, frankly, his behavior, his lack of understanding, and it is ludicrous,” she told CNN.

Research contact: @CNN

Dad creates entertaining board game bed sheets for hospitalized children

May 7, 2019

After visiting a friend’s sick child in the hospital, Kevin Gatlin, a father himself, had an innovative idea—to create a way for hospitalized kids to learn and have fun while they are confined to bed all day. Now, his company, Playtime Edventures of Monroe, North Carolina, is entertaining kids nationwide, regardless of their circumstances, with interactive bedding and slumber bags.

The idea to make game-themed bed sheets came from a visit to the hospital, but was sparked by a family tradition. “Because of space, my wife would use our son’s bed as a desk,” Gatlin, who is from Charlotte, North Carolina, told CBS News. “They would do homework, play games or just watch movies. But, it wasn’t until I visited [a child] hospitalized for a long period of time did I realize that there was very little stimulation for kids confined to their hospital beds and rooms.”

Gatlin’s mother is a retired teacher, and she suggested making the games on the bed sheets educational. Gatlin enlisted the help of three teachers, a child physiologist and a family doctor to create Playtime Therapy Bed Sheets, which “provide kids a place where they could play, learn, sleep and heal.” According to Gatlin, it took more than two years to design the sheets, which have over 50 interactive games printed on them.

Each part of the bedding supports different types of learning. The pillows feature images and sentences that encourage kids to create stories. The flat sheet features giant board games, positive affirmations and colorful shapes. The fitted sheet is covered in mazes, word finding puzzles, games like checkers and tic-tac-toe, four different languages, math, grammar and geography.

“I wanted the sheets to have so many things for kids to do that they would never get bored playing with them,” Gatlin said. For game pieces, kids can use ordinary objects like coins or paper, or printable cut-outs from the Playtime Edventures website.

Donating has always been an important part of the company — Gatlin’s first order of bedding was donated to the Charlotte (North Carolina) Salvation Army for Women and Children.

Now, people all over the country buy the bedding to donate to children’s hospitals and hospices, shelters, juvenile centers, orphanages, group homes and summer camps. Bed sheets even can be purchased at a reduced cost ($24.99) and directly donated to hospitals and shelters.

Gatlin said the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from both parents and hospital staff. “I’m truly happy my rbed sheets have provided a valuable service to those who deserve it,” he said. “The blessings in life come from giving not receiving.”

Gatlin still has a few more ideas on how his bed sheets can reach even more people. “I would love the opportunity to speak with the Red Cross and FEMA about providing our bed sheets during natural disasters,” he said. “Seeing families confined to shelters with nothing to do — I believe our bed sheets could provide some distraction during those hard times.”

Research contact: @CBSNews

Weather or not? Americans fear natural disasters more than terrorists or diseases (or Donald Trump)

June 12, 2018

Forget the tariff dispute with the G7 or the nuclear talks with North Korea. U.S. adults are more worried about the weather, based on findings of a survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of Healthcare Ready, and released on June 11.

It’s true. In fact, the responses of 1,127 Americans indicate, for the third year running, that a natural disaster—such as a hurricane, tornado, flood or wildfire—is their worst nightmare. Specifically, respondents said that they were more concerned that violent storms or fires would wipe out their homes (33%) than about potential terrorist attacks (15%), cyberattacks (8%), environmental spills (5%), or disease outbreaks (13%).

But, just because they are concerned, that doesn’t mean they are ready: More than half of Americans (53%) say they do not have any severe weather emergency plans in place, yet 42% fear a calamity. For example, only 35% of respondents said they could provide the details of their prescriptions, if they had to evacuate from their homes without their medications or medical supplies—down from 38% in 2017. Yet, a full one-quarter of respondents (25%) said they could go only two to three days without suffering from drug deprivation, if they left their supplies behind.

“These findings underscore the need to prioritize individual and community preparedness across the country in the face of threats from natural disasters, including the current hurricane season. Because we know that it’s not if, but when, a disaster will strike,” said Healthcare Ready Executive Director Nicolette Louissaint. “This annual poll provides insight that allows us to help the public and private health sectors better prepare and respond swiftly to a natural disaster, disease outbreak, or other emergency situations.”

What’s worse, just 32% of Americans believe that the federal government has enough funding to prepare communities for disasters and or to provide adequate aid during disaster recovery—which is down from previous years. Even fewer (30%) think that their own states are sufficiently funded.

“All levels of government must be involved for a swift and effective response and have to be sufficiently resourced in order to do so. Local and federal officials must also work with communities before disaster strikes to help them prepare and ultimately recover from a disaster,” Louissaint commented.

She advises Americans to take some steps to get ready now—among them:

  • Keep a written list of prescriptions, including dosage information, in a safe space;
  • Prepare an emergency kit with food, water, flashlights, batteries, blankets, clothing, and medical supplies for either sheltering-in-place or evacuation;
  • Map out the location of local hospitals, urgent care clinics and pharmacies; and
  • Discuss evacuation plans,  shelters and meeting points, and support for family members and neighbors who may need extra help.

“Now in its third year, Healthcare Ready’s survey continues to provide useful insights about what Americans fear most and how prepared they feel for a natural disaster or emergency.

Research contact: @NLouissaint_PhD

Why pet owners will risk their own lives to save Rover’s

March 2, 2018

It’s a scenario that played out recently on the NBC-TV series, This Is Us: Having heroically saved his family from a fire that was quickly engulfing their home, Jack Pearson ran back into the blaze to save his daughter’s dog. He later died at the hospital from a cardiac arrest brought on by smoke inhalation.

In real life, this episode plays out fairly often, Yahoo Lifestyle reports: This past November, a 61-year-old Florida man was hit by an Amtrak train, after running onto the tracks to save his beloved dog, Astrid.

One month earlier, a California woman succumbed to a wildfire while trying to rescue her border collie from a car. And in September, after Hurricane Harvey, a 25-year-old Texan was electrocuted after trying to save his sister’s cat from her flooded home.

Why do people take these chances for their pets? A Harris poll has found that 95% of pet owners consider their animals to be family members.

In a New York Times opinion piece, Dogs Are People, Too, written in October 2013, Professor of Neuroeconomics at Emory University Gregory Burns explained that this may be truer than most of us think.

“For the past two years, my colleagues and I have been training dogs to go in an MRI scanner—completely awake and unrestrained. Our goal has been to determine how dogs’ brains work and, even more important, what they think of us humans,” Burns said. “Now, after training and scanning a dozen dogs, my one inescapable conclusion is this: Dogs are people too.”

Of course, Yahoo points out, Burns wasn’t suggesting that dogs are actual humans, but rather that the activity in one specific area of the brain where enjoyment is felt suggests that they are more emotionally intelligent than we give them credit for.

“The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child,” Burns concludes.

This theory, as well as research into our co-evolution with dogs, might help explain why 40% of men who responded to a study by Georgia Regents University and Cape Fear Community College would save the life of their own dog over that of a foreign tourist. That number is higher for women, at about 45%, a story in the Huffington Post reported.

Dogs may not just feel like family; in an evolutionary sense, they truly are family. Yahoo reports that our close genetic ties to dogs also might explain why scientists find an increase in oxytocin (the love hormone) when owners gaze into their dogs’ eyes—the same hormone that increases when a mother looks at her baby.

Indeed, in a 2006 study conducted by the Fritz Institute, 44% of those who had chosen not to evacuate from a recent hurricane said it was because they didn’t want to leave their pets behind.

According to Yahoo, this finding served as a wake-up call for the federal government, which passed a law authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to include pets as a part of its rescue plan.

The law may save many households during upcoming natural disasters: According to the American Pet Products Association’s latest survey, 68% of U.S. households own a pet—a number that hovers around 85 million American homes nationwide.

Research contact: @abbyhaglage