January 11, 2022 – A few days before the New Year, residents of the suburb of Boulder, CO, encountered a shocking place: a huge forest fire, something practically unremembered in the past. Fire season used to be the right season, but with climate change no more. It is a phenomenon throughout the year.
Ultimately, about 600 homes burned to the ground, spurred on by excessively dry conditions and winds of 100 and more miles per hour. Few were ready to grab the bag and evacuate in late December, but that’s exactly what thousands had to do.
The same was true a few weeks earlier in Kentucky, when a massive tornado passed through a 200-mile strip of cities and communities. This happened after floods along the east coast during the fall and fires along the west coast in the summer and early fall. As extreme weather events turn from rare to common, no one is sure. But you can prepare for the worst.
Christine McMorrow, a communications resource management officer in the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CAL Fire, says the first step is to know what the risks are near you.
“No matter where you live, there are disasters and disturbances all year round that can take you out of your home,” she says.
In CAL Fire, as the name implies, the focus is on forest fires, but McMorrow says the organization has tips for dealing with many types of risks.
“For example, if you live near an area that has recently burned down, the soil has not yet recovered,” she explains. “If it rains heavily, there will be potential for flooding and debris flow.”
McMorrow says CAL Fire recommends that everyone be ready to evacuate, regardless.
“It could be fire, flood, wind or snow,” she says. “If you have a plan, you will feel more stable and know that you will have all your necessities and key things if you have to leave.”
Make a plan
Preparing for a potential evacuation should be a family affair, says McMorrow, one that involves all generations.
“If there are older people in the home who can move more slowly, or if you have more pets or large pets, consider that,” she says. “In these cases, pay attention to the warnings and warnings and know that you may have to move out earlier than others.”
Your plan should include a meeting place outside the home and hazardous area. Also, know the escape routes in your area – some can become clogged with congestion as residents try to evacuate at once. Practice and review the routes and meeting place with everyone in the house. This should also include a plan for handling your pets.
“Practice the plan with your family, especially if you have young children,” McMorrow says. “Perform exit exercises so everyone can be ready when needed.”
Then make sure you have a communication plan to contact a friend or relative who lives elsewhere. They can be your person and share information with other family members and loved ones, avoiding overloading mobile and internet services during a disaster.
Pack your To-Go bag
One of the most important steps you can take in preparing for an evacuation is to have your bag packed and ready to go. This should include emergency accessories for each member of your family – a mixture of perishable food and water, medicines and recipes, glasses or contact lenses, first aid kit, flashlight, change of clothes and copies of valuable documents such as passports, birth certificates and the like.
If you have the luxury of extra time, add family photos and other irreplaceable items, along with chargers for your phones, laptops and other devices.
All in all, you should plan to have enough stock in about 3 days, McMorrow says. “It gives you time to regroup, think of your next steps and in the meantime meet your needs,” she says.
On Ready.gov, a site created by the federal government, officials drew up a checklist follow to prepare the go bag. In addition, it includes:
- Battery or handheld radio and NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
- Additional batteries
- Whistle (to signal help)
- Dust mask (to help filter contaminated air)
- Plastic foil and adhesive tape (for shelter in place)
- Wet towels, garbage bags and plastic ties (for personal hygiene)
- Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities)
- Manual can opener (for food)
- Local maps
In the age of COVID-19, the CDC also recommends even more items for your survival kit, as needed:
- Masks (for all over 2 years), soap, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes
- Prescription drugs. Organize and protect your prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and vitamins.
- Over-the-counter medicines such as painkillers, anti-diarrhea drugs, antacids or laxatives
- Baby formula, bottles, diapers, handkerchiefs and diaper rash cream
- Pet food and extra water for your pet
- Cash or traveler’s checks
- Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification data and bank account records stored electronically or in a waterproof, portable container
- Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
- A complete change of clothes is needed for your climate and sturdy shoes
- Fire extinguisher
- Matches in a waterproof container
- Women’s necessities and personal hygiene products
- Clutter kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils
- Paper and pencil (pens will not work in wet weather).
- Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children
Warning against Orders
In most natural disasters, emergency management departments will first issue evacuation warnings, before moving on to a key evacuation order. You should know in advance how you will act under any.
“This is a really personal decision,” McMorrow says. “The purpose of the warning is to prepare – put your bag in the car, gather your pets and implement your communication plan.”
But if you live somewhere in the countryside, for example with only a two-lane evacuation road, you might need to leave when there is a warning. The same goes for the circumstances in your home – with slower-moving family members or larger pets, consider going out sooner rather than later.
To receive alerts and orders, you should sign up to receive them from local, county, and state emergency services. The exact source of these warnings will vary, depending on where you live. In California, for example, the local sheriff’s office will issue warnings, but in other areas it may be a district government system.
The warnings themselves can come in the form of “911 reverse calls”. Check with local TV and radio stations if you can.
In addition: “We recommend that you sign up to follow these offices on social media,” says McMorrow. “We post accurate information on all of our social media accounts.”
To make all planning easier for you, CAL Fire has compiled a list of six “P’s” in case you need to evacuate: people and pets; papers, telephone numbers and important documents; recipes, vitamins, and glasses; paintings and irreplaceable souvenirs; hard drives and personal computer drives; and “plastic” in the form of credit and ATM cards.
McMorrow says, “It’s all about preparing in advance so you can leave your home quickly if needed. When you panic, your brain doesn’t think rationally. ”