“The Backup Plan” is part of the continuing series about the loss of our home in the San Diego Witch Fire 2007. To read earlier posts in the series, click on the links at the bottom of this post.
I read an article recently that said less than 50% of Americans have an emergency plan in place. Before October 21, 2007, I was one of those people. Having experienced the total loss and destruction of our home, I now know it could happen to anyone (it happened to us) and could happen at any time. The following are the things I have learned from the fire:
- Have a meeting location worked out ahead of time for all family members. Emergencies can occur at any time and one or more of you may not be at home. Decide on a location at which to meet should you become separated. Have a “back-up plan” to that location, in case that location is not accessible or unreachable.
Enlist an out-of-state relative or friend to use as your Emergency Contact. Should local phone services not be available, you may be able to reach the out-of-state contact. Tell your contact where you are and where you plan to go in case other family members check in with them instead of checking in with you. This person can act as the “relay person” by either calling or texting all family members on where to meet. This is particularly effective in case your chosen meeting locations are not available or inaccessible or in case you’ve just plain ol’ forgotten your agreed-upon meeting location.
- Don’t wait for authorities to suggest you evacuate or wait for a reverse 911 call. If you feel threatened, leave.
- Create a “basic emergency kit” and keep it near the exit of your home, close to your car. In that kit include a flashlight and back-up batteries, a Swiss Army knife, umbrella and/or roll-up rain gear (I have ponchos I had to purchase at Disneyland one time because of an unexpected rain storm), heavy-duty gloves, facial masks, wash cloths, hand towels, portable wipes, a first-aid kit. Or better yet, if you have the room, keep it in your car.
- Add to your “basic emergency kit” by including some of these short-term supplies in the kit: toilet paper, hand sanitizer, bar of soap, roll of paper towels, paper or plastic bowls or plates, plastic cups, can opener, bottle opener, a few canned goods that don’t require heating, bottled water, box of crackers, other bagged/boxed snacks, plastic bags for storage use. In an emergency, it could be many hours or several days before you find a place to eat. You should have enough food and water (one gallon per person per day) to last for 3 days for each person. Every three months restock the food and water items, bringing them into the house for use and replacing them with newly purchased items.
- If you have a pet, have an area (near an exit of your home by your vehicle) designated for pet supplies. We have a cat, Coco (he’s a boy; see the post, “A Boy Named Coco”). For example, we have a dedicated shelf in our garage by our back door for our cat’s paraphernalia: his carrying case, a back-up (clean) litter box, a jug of litter, poop disposal bags, a bowl for food, a glass for water (yes, Coco drinks out of a plastic cup), a supple of cat food, a spoon and a gallon of water designated for him. I rotate his food, i.e., every time I buy a new bag of food or a box of canned food (he eats both), I rotate the food in the garage into the house and use that next, putting the newly purchased food in his emergency kit.
- Create an emergency kit for each family member and keep it near the exit of your home, close to your car. In that kit include a pair of tennis shoes, a couple pair of socks, several pairs of underwear, a change (or 2) of clothes, a heavy sweater or jacket or both. If you have a handicapped family member or an elderly family member, be sure to include items necessary for their continued care. If you have a baby or a young toddler, be sure to keep appropriate items such as diapers, wipes and disposal bags in their kit. While it might seem silly, you’ll be glad you took the time and made the effort if you have to evacuate quickly.
- If you take prescription medication, have a storage bag big enough to store all the medications and put that bag in the same area as the prescription medication. Then, if an emergency occurs, you don’t have to waste time searching for something in which to put them. This bag can be a toiletry-type bag, make-up bag, or a Ziploc bag – as long as it’s large enough for all of them. Practice. Then, in the event of an emergency, you can easily and quickly place them in the bag and throw them in your suitcase or in the car. They’ll be all together when needed.
- Keep a copy of all of prescription medications somewhere off-site. If you use one pharmacy, that’s your “off-site storage” because they will have a record of all of your current medications. Next time you are there, ask the pharmacy to print you off a list and review it for accuracy. This will give you a sense of security knowing this item is “checked off” your emergency “to do” list. If you use multiple pharmacies, make a list in the “Notes” section of your cell phone. FYI – if it is important that you not miss dosages of prescription medication, it’s best to try to remember them in the case of emergency evacuation. If you have a massive evacuation (such as the evacuation of an entire town), replacing medication could be difficult during the emergency.
- Buy a cell phone car charger and keep it in your car.
- Keep a blanket in your car.
- Make a checklist for evacuations. Keep it in a logical place. This will help you stay focused in an emergency (when your mind races and/or goes blank). We keep our checklist in our emergency bag by our back door. In the event of an emergency, the plan is to grab Coco, put him in his carrying case, load him and his paraphernalia in the car, grab the emergency bag and load that in the car. Then, if there is time, take the checklist out of the bag and start working the checklist.
- Have several suitcases in a logical place. For example, we keep ours in our master clothes closet, assessable and not hidden away.
- Make sure your home, contents, auto and RV’s etc. are adequately insured.
- Have important papers located off-site such as a safety deposit box in your bank AND keep a copy in your emergency supplies and designate it your “fly-away kit info.” A sample of what to include: emergency contact information (family, friends, doctors, insurers); ID cards (photo IDs, passports, health insurance, Social Security cards); family records (birth, marriage, death certificates); medical records (immunization, prescriptions); legal records (wills, trusts, insurance policies, contracts, deeds/leases); most recent tax return; bank and credit card statements, retirement account statements, investment records (just one month’s worth, so that you have address, phones numbers, account numbers); local maps; cash and change. Make a plan to update your safety deposit box once a year (for example: your wedding anniversary might be a good date to pick). In addition, electronic versions of these documents are good, too, but only if you store them in some sort of secure “cloud” service or on an external hard-drive that you remember to take with you during evacuation.
- Create a household inventory, including pictures. Keep it up-to-date and store off-site. There are now multiple apps available on-line. Choose one and use it consistently. At the very least, take pictures of each room of your house and store those pictures off-site.
- Keep your computer, whether desktop or laptop, backed-up. Backup to an external hard-drive frequently or to a secure cloud service. If you backup to an external hard-drive, be sure to grab it on your way out the door. If you have lots of photos, backup consistently and make sure all of your photos are on the hard-drive or your cloud. Those are irreplaceable.
- If a hard-drive is your method of choice, consider investing in 2 hard-drives. Download everything to both hard-drives. Then store one in your safety deposit box. Every time you visit your bank, take your hard-drive with you (of course, recently backed-up) and switch them out. Then, you don’t need to worry about grabbing it on your way out the door. Or, better yet, invest in a “cloud” service that backs up your entire computer.
- Have an emergency stash of cash in your wallet or purse (and, of course, make sure to take these with you). It doesn’t have to be much, because if you have credit cards, you can rely on those as well. But, it may be several days before you can go to a bank, credit union or other financial institution.
- Have a credit card designated as the “emergency” credit card. Make sure it has a significant available balance to provide you with food and shelter. You may have to rely on your own resources for these two major things. City and/or County services may not be adequate to service all victims of emergency situations OR you may not be able to reach the City, County and/or State services. In large catastrophic events, City, County and State services are taxed to their maximum and it could be several days before any of these services are available to you, respond to you or help you, if ever.
- In the event of an emergency, it is possible that you might not be home. Maybe you and your family are on vacation. Maybe you are just visiting friends or family nearby. All of the above suggestions are still valid. If you are on vacation, you probably have clothing and prescription medication. But, you may not have your beloved pet. Make sure that your pet is cared for by a responsible party whenever you are gone for several days. Make sure you create a “Backup Plan” for your pet. If you are a pet-lover, your grief at the loss of your pet will be unimaginable.
In my area of the country, wildfire is the greatest natural disaster hazard. However, we have had floods before and, of course, earthquakes. So, I consider our vulnerability a “triple-threat” and we continue to strive to prepare in those three areas.
The following are links to useful and informational government, utility and non-profit websites:
This site is the U.S. Fire Administration’s publication, “Wildfire…Are You Prepared?”
This excellent site is FEMA’s site with information regarding ALL potential disasters. A wealth of information with checklists, etc., this site includes information about Drought, Earthquakes, Extreme Heat, Floods, Hurricanes, Landslide & Debris Flow, Severe Weather, Space Weather, Thunderstorms & Lightning, Tsunamis, Volcanoes, Wildfires, Winter Storms & Extreme Cold as well as Pandemics, Technological & Accidental Hazards and Terrorists Hazards. In their Earthquake information on this site, their publication FEMA B-526 / March 2010 titled “Avoiding Earthquake Damage: A Checklist for Homeowners” includes a printable wallet-size Emergency Contact form. I’ve included it here for your use: FEMA EQ Emergency Contact Info Wallet Card. They also have an excellent brochure called Wildfire…Are You Prepared? and this hyperlink takes you direct to this publication (FA-287 / August 2004).
The is SDG&E’s site, specifically their Emergency Preparedness section. Here they have a video, planning outline and checklists for different scenarios: home, auto, work. And, they offer them in Spanish. Several months ago, SDG&E sent out a publication full of emergency safety information and basic checklists. In full color with a very “friendly” step-by-step process, I keep it in my emergency gear as a useful guide. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find it on their site, but if you, too, were a recipient of this mailer, I hope you’ve kept it and are using it. It isn’t labeled with an identifiable form number, but it’s called “Preparing for Emergencies: What you and your family should know”.
This excellent site is called ReadySanDiego. It is divided into areas such as Home, Kids (including interactive video games for various age groups to engage your children in learning about emergency preparedness), Pets, Business, Schools, Faith Based, and Spanish. It provides videos, checklists AND includes both a San Diego County Emergency and a San Diego County Recovery menu tab with a wealth of information.
Another excellent source of information is Firewise.org. This link provides fire-specific information and provides many tools: checklists, interactive tutorials, and brochures outlining landscaping do’s and don’t’s. It also offers courses and a catalog of free materials such as brochures and DVDs.
Finally, this is the American Red Cross site. It, too, has lots of information just waiting for you to access it.
Lastly, during an emergency, never assume that you will be returning home. While Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” said “there’s no place like home,” you might have to start over and create a new one.
Whatever you take with you during an evacuation has to fit in your vehicles. If it doesn’t fit, there’s no sense in earmarking it to take. Practice – after you’ve gathered your items in the designated storage place, pack them in your car to make sure you have room for all of it plus your loved ones and pets.
Plus, you need to be able to lift the suitcases, plastic tubs, boxes, etc. where you have stored your emergency supplies. If you can’t lift them into your vehicle, you probably won’t take them during an evacuation.
Start working on your plan today. Your Story Matters – do you have a disaster story you’d like to share? I’d be interested in hearing from you about story, your plans and your progress. Email me or send a comment through this post!
Until Next Time,
(other posts in the fire series)
- Prologue – Any Way the Wind Blows
- Chapter One – The Valley That Time Forgot
- Chapter Two – Eye of the Storm
- Chapter Three – In the Blink of an Eye
- Chapter Three.One – Too Far From Home (Tiffany’s story)
- Chapter Four – Between a Rock and a Hard Place
- Chapter Five – In a Blue Funk
- Chapter Six – Back to Square One
- Chapter Seven – One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
- Chapter Eight – Not Me, Why Me, Who Me, It’s Me
- Chapter Nine – The Whole Kit and Caboodle
- Chapter Ten – Feathering the Nest
- Chapter Eleven – The Blind Leading the Blind
- Chapter Twelve – Apple Pie Order
- Chapter Thirteen – All Hands on Deck
- Chapter Fourteen – In the Lap of Luxury
- Chapter Fifteen – Much of Muchness