PRIORITIES & TIPS
URGENT EMERGENCY EVACUATIONS
Copyright August 2009 by RockyMtnHomeSolutions
Like many of you, I spend part of each summer following various wildfires in the Western U.S. (and especially California). One article that caught my eye concerned the preparedness level of a family in Santa Barbara who had lost their home to wildfires once before, about 18 years prior. Then, they were pretty unprepared and got totaled out on their home and possessions within a matter of minutes.
Today, they are much better prepared. Although the article focused on the unpleasantness and uncertainties of living on the edge of a perpetual wildfire zone...it was also obvious that the family had learned from their unfortunate previous experience. They keep crucial documents in fire-proof safes or safe deposit boxes, crucial supplies are pre-positioned, they have family evacuation plans and pre-designated safe meeting points, etc.
But, let's run a quick exercise here...WHAT IF the Fire Department, Sheriff or Forest Service firefighters showed up at YOUR door, and shouted at you:
"There has been a major wildfire breakout, and it is heading straight at YOUR home. An emergency evacuation order has been issued, YOU MUST LEAVE YOUR HOME WITHIN TEN MINUTES, OR YOUR LIFE WILL BE IN GRAVE DANGER!!!"
Let's assume that you previously put together an emergency evacuation/72-hour kit, something recommended by FEMA. the RED CROSS and every State, County & Local government that I'm aware of. So you're not starting out completely in the lurch. But, what concerns should you be having/addressing, right now, as that Sheriff finishes getting you out.
FIRST PRIORITY: getting yourself and/or your family out safely...so think about the following:
How much time do I really have?? Do I actually have TEN MINUES??? What if I have less? Do you have time to gather anything, or should you be sprinting out the door with the clothes on your back??
Err on the side of safety! Better to get out 5 minutes early than 1 minute late.
In which direction lies safety? Did the First Responder official tell me which route to take?
Turn on your home / auto radios (or maybe that nifty emergency radio you bought for just this purpose--see our recommendations below) to determine if that route is still safe, and/or find another one.
Remember: ultimately, most important paperwork can be replaced, even if it's a pain in the neck. Mementos may seem irreplaceable...but compared to you loved ones' lives, they're not.
Jewelry, other valuables or cash are important...but not if you're dead.
YOUR FIRST RESPONSIBILITY IS TO LEAD YOUR LOVED ONES TO SAFETY....never, ever forget that.
Don't let someone die or suffer serious injury because of a piece of paper, photograph or piece of jewelry, no matter how irreplaceable it might seem.
SECOND PRIORIY: Once you've double-checked that you actually do have ten minutes (or whatever time-frame given by emergency responders...it could be fifteen, 30 or even 60 minutes) to evacuate safely, you can turn your attention to the "stuff" you want/need to take with you. Here are some general suggestions:
- Your first priority for "stuff" is whatever will be needed to KEEP you alive over the next several days.
- The particulars will vary depending on where you reside: New York City; Las Vegas Nevada; the Colorado High Country (ever been to Alma, Colorado?); Branson, Missouri; or Oregon, Arkansas, Florida....or wherever? The answer also changes with the seasons.
- Water is far more important in summer than winter, for most locations--but no matter the time of year, you will need water, especially if you're not heading to a government shelter.
- You can carry SOME water with you, in water bottles, canteens or even 5/7 gallon transportable water containers.
- But. you probably will need a water filter/microfilter of some type--you simply can't carry enough water to last you more than a few days.
- We recommend the KATADYN line of MicroFilters, Filters and MicroPUR water purification tablets, available at our eBay Store...and here's just a few pictures of Katadyn products suitable for 72-Hour Kits, Bug-Out Bags, Go-Bags, etc..
- Water & food are far more important if you're in an isolated rural region than in an urban area with lots of alternative supplies & shelter.
- Warm clothing & heating capabilities will be hypercritical if you're high in the mountains, any time of year; not so important if you're in Florida in May.
- Cooling capabilities are critical anywhere if temperatures are going over 100 degrees Fahrenheit; probably not so important if you're evacuating a cabin at 11,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains.
- Grabbing your cell phone and/or laptop computer is becoming an important item to grab as you evacuate. The data stored thereon is important...but you purchase an off-site backup service for about $50 bucks a year...so why wouldn't you??
- My backup service costs $49.95 per year, is INVALUABLE, and has saved me many dozens of hours fooling with backup stuff, because the service is automatic and transparent,
- Today's elecontronic gadgets are growing ever-more important because of the universal communications/information capabilities they give you....internet radio broadcasts, email, web cams, Skype, VOIP phone communications, direct access to emergency responder websites, etc.
- A simple email to relatives letting them know you're okay and at the county disaster shelter will save you dozens of hours on your cell phone, and your relatives/friends days of worry.
- Serious survivalists will point point out that such electronic gadgets may become useless during serious natural disasters or societal disruptions--and cite Hurricane Katrina as an example, when cell phones still worked but there weren't any operating cell phone towers. Or, that your batteries will soon run down, rending the
- Keep in mind that for every Katrina, there are many dozens of smaller regional disaster events. If you've been smart about evacuating, you should be moving out of harm's way...where your cell phone will still work.
- And keeping your cell phone charged is as simple as purchasing a small, foldable solar charging unit, available all over eBay; or, you can use one of the Eton line of emergency/survival radios, that can charge your cell phone batteries from either solar or hand-cranked power!!!! (and we just happen to carry these...here's a picture of one:
This is the Eton FR150; yes, it has an LED flashlight, too.
- Many of the new VOIP/internet-based phone systems (such as Vonage, the company we use) also let you simply unplug their router box & take it with you...whereever you can connect your computer again, THAT is the new location of your home phone. Cool, huh?
Once personal safety is assured, here are the priorities we'd suggest:
- Survival supplies FIRST;
- Crucial financial documents & paperwork SECOND;
- Things you need to continue earning a livelihood THIRD;
- Important family mementos & heirlooms FOURTH, and comfort items FIFTH (dead last).
- Don't die or get seriously injured because your ten-year old simply must have their "pookie bear" to sleep at night; they won't be sleeping very well, anyway, if they (or you) get third-degree burns on their body as a result of a heroic foray into an advancing wildfire.
- Be prepared emotionally to say NO to your kids, your spouse...and even yourself. This isn't a feel-good Hollywood movie, and there won't be a dramatic musical score playing as you run through the flames to get good old "pookie bear" or your high School Letter Jacket.
WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE IN ADVANCE, TO MAKE THIS MOMENT EASIER AND MORE SURVIVABLE:
Have, maintain & update a REAL 72-hour emergency evacuation kit that is easily transportable.
- For most folks this should be in a backpack, or several backpacks, depending on the size, ages and capabilities of your family unit.
- If your pet is good-sized, you should expect them to carry at least some of their own pet food; pet-appropriate backpacks are available online or at many pet specialty stores.
- If you're disabled (like me), older or simply not in good physical condition, a wheeled duffle storage bag might be a better choice..
Scan into well-organized files, copies of all your valuable documents, paperwork, deeds, mortgages, photos/images of and valuable photos for sentimental reasons.
- Combined with an automated off-site backup storage capability...you can save every valuable image you might ever want to have or make, with only some upfront time, effort, and maybe a little money.
- Make a family party of it...your kids will love the chance to go through the old family photos & souvenirs
- I particularly advise all military veterans to get their complete medical and service records recorded electronically, most especially their DD214.
- Perhaps you have a computer-savvy teen...HIRE THEM to do it for you (just make sure specify the organization pattern YOU want, and then double-check the work).
- If worse comes to worse...hire an imaging/copying place to scan the items for you, then place them onto DVDs/CDs, which you'll upload to your computer. To be extra-safe, send the extra DVDs/CDs to a relative's house for safekeeping.
Many experts advocate making copies of these and including them in your evacuation pack/kit in a large notebook...I advise against it.
- During an evacuation, these can be left behind & burned, misplaced in a shelter, stolen by someone else in the shelter, or simply lost in the urgency of the moment.
- You have more important things to worry about. Get those records stored electronically and offsite!!! Keep the originals in a bank's safety deposit box--truthfully, you rarely need originals.
They'll be there when you're ready to start picking up the pieces; until then, they'll only be in the way in your emergency shelter, and a burden if you're trying to escape a dangerous situation.
However, you probably WILL need a list of key phone numbers and account numbers for your credit cards, mortgage accounts, car loans, etc.
You can quickly enter this into a Word document and print it out, then toss it into a larger zip-loc type baggie for protection. Toss THAT into your pack.
Plus, you can email the same document to yourself via one of these free email services, making it accessible from anywhere in the world that you have computer services--such as hotels, motels, internet cafes, (some) emergency shelters, you'll probably want to take special care with the security of this documents, such as website encryption levels, document password protection, etc.
DO make backup copies of ALL your computer files (including multiple computers, if you have them). DON'T just rely on your onsite backups...you may not have time to save them. DO invest in any of the dozens of offsite, online computer backup options that are now available at extremely reasonable prices.
The importance of going this in advance, PARTICULARLY if you operate a home-owned business out of your home, CANNOT be overstated.
I've seen prices of as little as $49.99 a year to back up your home computer on a daily, even hourly basis. Heck, you probably spend quadruple that amount going to movies every year...make some hard choices!
There's a lot more that can be said on this subject, so we'll update and expand this blog entry over the coming weeks. In the meantime, this is more than enough to get your started thinking.
Better yet...get started DOING. First, make sure your 72-hour kit is emergency-ready, and that no one has "raided" it for convenience (e.g., snarfed some of the food supply or water).
Create/update a family disaster plan...where to meet, alternative meeting sites/contact numbers, etc.
Dedicate ten minutes a day scanning your key documents & photos, starting today, till you finally get it done
You probably want to do this anyway...we've known friends who lost a DECADE of digital photos when a hard drive crashed...and it wasn't backed-up.
Again, if you don't want to do it yourself, pay a college student $15/hour to do it for you. Or pay a copying/imaging center to do it for you...they might cost $25/hour.
Rent that safety deposit box and store some key papers in it.
Buy some backup hard drives for home use.
Yes, even if you've got an off-site/online backup system going, you still want to make an occasional on-site backup copy, as well. REDUNDANCY = GOOD.
Set up that off-site, online computer backup capability
Let's recall some advice you're heard here before:
"Slow & Steady"
Adds Up To
"Sure and Ready"
So, get to it!!! The lives you save may be your own family's; the business you save may be yours!!
If you're interested in any of the products mention above, click here to be taken to the Rocky Mountain Home Solutions eBay Store !!