Tuesday, October 30, 2007


The dust has settled (not even), the ashes are gone (as long as you don’t breathe), and the air is clear (again, don’t breathe). Residents are swapping stories and taking stock. We all know people who evacuated their homes, some whose homes sustained fire damage, and even some who lost their homes. For those, things won’t be back to normal for a long time. And even then, their lives will always be divided into “before the fire” and “after the fire.” “Oh,” they’ll say, “I lost that in the fire.”

Since I had to go through the exercise of packing for home evacuation, I realize now how unprepared I was for choosing, gathering, and preserving. I have vowed to do a few things so that if this happens to me again, I will be more organized.

The television news was helpful in telling people what they should do to prepare for evacuation. But, what if you don’t have time or if you lose power and don’t have access to radio or TV?

Rule 1: Be prepared as much as possible. Have a battery operated radio on hand that has fresh batteries. Go out and fill your cars with fuel if you think you might need to leave.

Sometimes officials only let you return to a neighborhood if you can prove that you live there.

Rule 2: Have documentation on your person that proves your address of residence. This can be a driver’s license or a utility bill that shows the service address.

During my rush to pack and organize, I got my digital camera and started taking pictures of my entire house. However, just hastily taken pictures probably isn’t sufficient. Each picture should also have verbal descriptions.

Rule 3: Grab all documentation and paperwork that will help you get your life back together quicker. Some of this stuff may be in a safe-deposit box (it’s probably safe) or a fire-proof box at your house (grab it). This includes passports, birth certificates, bank accounts, insurance policies, and documentation (including pictures) of your household goods that may need replacing.

Mentally go through and evaluate the effect of losing your possessions. Replaceable or irreplaceable? I have two wool, hand-woven tapestries given to me by my grandmother. They were woven by an ancestor cousin, Sophia Flagg, in 1845. Irreplaceable. The family bible lists births, deaths, and marriages and was my first source in genealogy research. Irreplaceable. Then there are photos of my family, both very old photos and even current ones. Irreplaceable.

Rule 4: Make a list and check it twice of your irreplaceables!

If you have to evacuate, you’ll feel so much better if you can at least change your clothes, take a shower, and brush your teeth.

Rule 5: Pack a change of clothes and toiletries to last a few days at least. Think practical. Include a sweater (even though Santa Ana winds drive the temperatures into the 90’s, you never know how it may cool off, especially if you’re sleeping in a tent in an evacuation center), closed-toed shoes, hat, sunglasses.

You may be able to crash at a friend’s house. You may not be able to.

Rule 6: Bedding, a pillow, sleeping bag, air mattresses. Not every one has camping equipment, but blankets and pillows will help.

Again, think camping.

Rule 7: Flashlight, water bottle, water, snacks.

Children present a whole new set of issues. Children like familiar things, familiar food, and familiar people as much as possible.

Rule 8: Include your child’s favorite toy (or two) in your irreplaceable list. Include their special blanket or pillow and special T-shirt or sweater. Include snacks or drinks that they like.

Pets also require extra planning. San Diego County residents needed to take care of horses, livestock, and other animals besides the normal dogs and cats.

Rule 9: Include pet food, bedding or portable kennel, container for food and water, leashes, toys, and anything that will make their relocation less traumatic.

Although life stops for you during such a crisis, amazingly enough, the world goes on outside the disaster zone and you may have to participate. Organize what you need to continue your day job, including paperwork and computers.

Rule 10: Go ahead and grab the entire desk top computer if you’ll regret not having all of your files. Don’t forget your cell phone and charger.

And finally, don’t go through this alone. Talk to your neighbors and call your friends and family. Keep in touch throughout the ordeal because conditions change. If you need something, go ahead and ask for help. You’ll feel much better if you don’t feel like you’re dealing with this all by yourself.

Rule 11: Try with a little help from your friends.

Additional information can be found here.

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