Evacuation: are you Ready? is the 4th installment of my Resolve to Be Ready 2014 campaign on this blog. If you aren’t, yet, following this series, I encourage you to catch-up now. Here are links to the earlier posts in this series on emergency planning and preparedness:
It’s never too late to start planning for an emergency. In fact, rather than go backwards, start with this post. Once you’ve completed the steps in this post, go back and read the other posts and work on those steps, too. I’ve attempted to make these posts manageable because the road to emergency planning and preparedness is a long one and
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!
A little bit of background for new readers: we lost our home in the 2007 Southern California wildfire known as the Witch Fire. We were not prepared. At all. Not even for the evacuation and we had hours (about 6) to work towards evacuation. In 2012, I wrote a 20-part series about the loss of our home in that fire and you can read it here: Any Way the Wind Blows. Part of that 20-part series includes an Emergency Planning Checklist that I created and this series will tackle the projects in that checklist.
We didn’t actually start packing our cars until about 10:00 p.m. after hearing the mayor of San Diego address a news conference. And, even though we were lucky enough to have 4 hours after hearing that news conference before we actually evacuated, we didn’t know we had 4 hours.
What I mean is that in an emergency, does any one ever really know how much time they have? For us, it was 10:00 p.m. at night. Pitch black outside. The winds were howling and we knew the fire was headed our way. What we didn’t know is when it would arrive. The news conference said the fire would breach the city limits of San Diego by 1:00 a.m. We knew to breach the city limits by that time, it would pass through our valley on its way to San Diego.
So, we knew that at the most, we had 4 hours.
And, it took us all of those 4 hours to evacuate. When we finally got in our cars and rolled out of our driveway to the highway that bisects our valley, traffic was streaming down that highway from families evacuating the towns to the east of us. And, we sat, waiting, at the end of our driveway to be let into the stream of traffic. While we waited, a power line blew over in a field to the west of us and caught the field on fire. Now we had fire to the west of us and the fire heading our way from the east.
To say that we were scared out of our minds is an understatement. Plus, we were not together, but in our two separate vehicles. You can read more about this harrowing night in the first few posts of the Any Way the Wind Blows series.
So, what could we have done better that fateful night?
We could have had an evacuation plan in place.
What do I mean by that? Well, in extreme emergencies, such as a house fire, leave the residence or building by any means possible. And, do it without hesitation.
But, if you have the luxury of time, as in a wildfire or storm heading your way, having a family emergency evacuation plan in place will make an extremely nerve-wracking time less so.
I’ve mentioned before that the universe puts lessons in my path. One such lesson, which I learned about a year ago, was that in the event of a power failure, and our whole-house generator doesn’t kick in because it has failed too, we will have to open our garage door manually in order to get into our vehicles to leave our property. And, this means that I have to do it. I have to do it because Charlie is handicapped and uses a mobility scooter. And, guess what? I’m not strong enough to do it easily.
Here’s the story:
A year ago, we received a letter by our local power company telling us that on a certain date, our power would be shut off for many hours while they did routine maintenance in our area. So, we were given plenty of advance notice. We weren’t worried because we had a backup generator.
On the day and time reflected in the letter, the power went down. And, guess what? The backup generator did not come on. It failed.
And, that morning I had an appointment in a nearby city with my mother and her doctor. And, the car was parked in the garage and of course, the garage door wouldn’t open. I’m so angry about the backup generator failing that I’m pacing around the house spewing f-bombs as I try to figure out how I’m going to get to my appointment on time.
I go into the garage and attempt to open the door manually. I’m only able to raise it above my head and since I’m just over 5 feet tall, I’m not tall enough to raise it further. At a certain point in raising our garage door manually, it clicks in and takes over, but it has to be at that certain point. I’m trying my best to heave-ho it up just a bit more, but don’t have the strength.
I try a step-stool to give me added height and that doesn’t work. So, I try a ladder, climbing it one step at a time as I’m lifting an extremely heavy garage door. Finally I’m able to get the garage door high enough that it takes over and lifts completely! Now I’m really mad. I’m mad because I’m running behind and will most assuredly be late and I’m mad because a critical piece of emergency equipment that we paid big bucks for (the generator) has failed. And, I’m mad because when I call the generator company to come out to our house and meet with Charlie (while I’m gone) to figure out what is wrong with the generator, the owner of the company is on vacation and there is no one available (they are all at other jobs) to come out.
So, guess what the first thing on our emergency evacuation plan is?
Go to the garage and open the garage doors.
Yep, that’s the first thing on our list. Because if we have a power failure AND our back-up generator fails again (it has now failed twice in the last 5 years), I don’t want to spend precious time trying to get our cars out of our garage!
Want to know what’s on the rest of our list? Here’s our list –
Go to garage and open garage doors.
Get Coco’s carrier from garage.
Place Coco securely in carrier.
Put Coco in the car.
Pack Charlie’s wheelchair and walker in the trunks of the cars.
Load Charlie’s scooter on the back of his car (his has a special scooter lift).
Turn cars around, back into place, facing the direction to head out of the driveway.
Shut vehicle doors and windows, but leave keys in the ignition.
Pack the cars with emergency supplies already on the dedicated emergency shelves in our garage.
Get Charlie in his car.
Call family and tell them we are leaving and where we are going.
If time permits and space permits:
Go around house and choose additional items to take and load into cars.
Move vehicles out of garage and close garage doors.
Close all entrances to the house (windows, doors, vents, etc.).
Turn off gas water heaters.
Turn off fireplaces.
Turn off propane tanks at the meter.
Move furniture away from windows.
Close all window coverings.
Turn on a light in each room to increase visibility of our home through heavy smoke.
So, between now and next month, I’m encouraging readers to create their own Emergency Evacuation Plan. Put it in writing. In the event of an emergency, don’t rely on your memory to remember what is important to you. Type a similar list, print it and put one in your Family Emergency Planning and Resources Binder and one in your “Fly-away Kit”. If space permits, print a third one and tape it inside a closet door or near the exit you will most likely use (garage?).
That’s it for this month. That’s all I’m asking you to do. And, if you’ve fallen behind on any of the earlier posts, spend the extra time and catch-up. Here’s the updated, ongoing checklist with this new task added: Resolve to Be Ready Project Checklist updated 4-22-2014.
And, remember to give yourself a pat on the back for proactively working on your family’s emergency plan.
Do me a favor, pretty please? Pin the photo to your Pinterest board and share this on other social media. Social media is a powerful tool to spread the word to encourage others to have an emergency plan in place. Thanks so much!
(other posts about emergency planning)