Disaster Preparedness

I began writing this article on Tuesday May 13th, 2014 after a bad wildfire broke out in central San Diego county. My introduction was concerning several of the natural disasters my husband and I have faced in California as well as up and down the east coast when we lived there. Wildfires, ice storms, blizzards, hurricanes, earthquakes – all can be frightening. Sometimes the best thing to do is be prepared at home and just hunker down for the duration.

However, many times being prepared to evacuate is the best choice. Having been evacuated several times, I thought I would share my evacuation preparations.

But halfway through writing this article the fires in San Diego continued to grow and several others broke out. I saved the article, turned on the news, and went online to begin coordinating some pet and livestock rescue efforts. At one point there were 11 fires burning at one time; including one just a quarter mile from my house. After the fires were out or fully contained, and we could all breathe again I came back to this article with a fresh perspective.

Before Anything Happens

Disaster preparedness begins long before any emergency occurs. Creating a plan of action is necessary because when an emergency hits you may not be thinking clearly nor may you have much time.

  • If you’re evacuated, where will you go? Have a couple of different places in mind, preferably in two different directions just in case roads are closed in one direction. Make sure you know how to get to these places without using the GPS on your phone. Cell phones don’t always work; especially if local cell phone towers are down.
  • Have someone to check in with away from a potential emergency area. Once you reach a safe destination, check in with a previously appointed third party. A relative or friend outside of the immediate area is best. Make sure everyone in your family knows how to check in with this person. Don’t plan on calling each other; call this third party.
  • Have a stash of cash. Debit cards and credit cards may not be usable so have some cash available.
  • Keep gas in your vehicle. Don’t let your gas tank go down to dribbles. In an emergency, it may be difficult to get gas or if the electricity is out, pumps may not work. You could also waste valuable time filling your tank.
  • Create a first aid kit for both dogs and people. Gauze pads, tape, first aid ointment and many other supplies can be used for both species. And yes, that’s multiple kits. I have one at home, one in each vehicle, and one at my dog training facility. (I also check the kit each spring and fall when the time changes to replace items that have been used and to make sure nothing has expired.)
  • Your dogs’ vital information. I have taken photos of the dogs’ shot records, rabies certificates, and licenses and saved those on my phone and to a couple memory cards. On those memory cards are also photos of the dogs – full faced and both sides. If I should get separated from one of my dogs not only do I want photos for lost dog flyers but I also want to be able to prove ownership. A memory card is in the home first aid kit and in the dogs’ truck first aid kit.
  • My health information. I have done the same thing with my health information, including a photo of each prescription.
  • Camping Gear. I have a rolling trash can in my garage that can be accessed even if the garage has collapsed. In the trash can is dog food, dog bowls, food for people, water, and basic camping supplies. The camping supplies include matches and fire starter, tools, cooking equipment, sleeping bag, blankets, towels, flashlights, batteries, a hand crank radio, and other commonly used camping supplies. Also included are a couple changes of clothes, another pair of shoes, and a jacket. Twice a year I check these supplies, too, and rotate the food and water for fresh.
  • Dog Supplies: I include a folding crate for each dog, multiple leashes and extra collars, identification tags, dog food, bowls, water, grooming supplies, and even a few toys. A play session can relieve stress for you and your dog. These are all either in with the camping gear in the rolling trash can or stored with it.

When it looked like I might need to evacuate during the last round of wildfires, I grabbed the rolling trash can, pulled out the ramp, and wheeled it into my pick up. I grabbed my laptop and the drawer out of my desk with important papers (everything is kept in one drawer. I have one bag in my office with duplicate chargers for laptop, smartphone, tablet, and so on. I grabbed that, too.
Plan on being away from your home for several days. In years past, people were told to have food and water for three days. Now, however, post-Katrina, most experts recommend having supplies for at least a week.

The Six P’s

I have seen the six P’s of disaster preparedness wildly shared in recent years. It does help people think through the process of preparing for a future problem because everyone is different. What’s important for me isn’t going to be important for you. For example, last week I didn’t grab any photo albums because all the photos important to me have been scanned and saved via a computer back up service online. To other people, however, grabbing the photo albums might be one of the first things done.

Here are the six P’s:

  1. People and Pets: If time is short and danger immediate, lives are the most important thing to save.
  2. Papers, Phones and Phone Numbers: Have important papers all saved together in one spot. Or have them scanned and saved. In this day and age, most of us keep all the important phone numbers on our phone. Check that once in a while and make sure numbers are identified and saved.
  3. Prescriptions, Eyeglasses (or contacts), and Medications: Again, take photos of your prescriptions (and your dogs). Ideally, don’t have medications in a variety of places all over the house. Organization makes evacuation easier.
  4. Photos and Irreplaceable Items: One gentleman in San Diego said after losing his house, “My family and my dogs are safe. That’s all that is important. Everything else is just stuff.” While this is true, there may be a few things that you would like to save if you have the time. I did grab a couple of things that were my late husband’s. Decide now what is most important and if you have the time, how would you get them?
  5. Personal Computer, Hard drives, Memory Cards, and Passwords: I use a laptop so it’s easy to grab and run. I also have memory cards and flash drives but everything is kept in one spot and easy to access. Although I do save everything online, if I have time I’d like to bring them with me.
  6. Plastic and Cash: Debit cards, credit cards, cash, and financial information.

Keep Time in Mind

I take the time to organize everything prior to a disaster – and keep everything organized and refreshed – because I know disasters don’t always announce themselves. During the fires last week first there was no fire near my house and then there was. In addition, our infamous California earthquakes don’t announce themselves. Having the rolling trash can (or box, suitcase, or duffle bag if you wish) already packed and available not only makes the evacuation stay more comfortable but eases also eases my mind.

When you’re deciding what to bring, keep in mind that you may not have much time. Have a mental list of priorities. Obviously people and pets need get out first; if you only have seconds, that’s who goes. But if you have a little bit of time, what is next on your list?

Swap Keys with a Neighbor

Swap copies of your keys with a trusted and well known neighbor. That way if you’re away from home, your neighbor can get your dogs. Or visa versa.

If there is time, your neighbor may be able to grab your evacuation kit or other important items. Make sure he or she knows what you’d like. Then find out about their important items.

My Neighbors Used to Scoff

None of my neighbors have prepared for an evacuation and up until last week, several laughed at me when I mentioned I was checking my kit. But last week when my truck was packed and ready to go, several of my neighbors were gathering items in a panic.

Paul and I were evacuated for a huge wildfire a number of years ago and we evacuated to a local beach and set up camp. We were comfortable and had everything we needed. Granted it wasn’t a planned vacation and we had no idea if we’d have a house when we went back but at least we had everything we needed.