The unthinkable is happening right now to thousands of people just 35 miles north of me. 22 separate wildfires are raging out of control across Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties. Utter devastation that can’t be stopped, and couldn’t have been predicted.
So far 31 people have lost their lives, 400 more are missing, 3500 homes and businesses have burnt to the ground, and 50,000 households are without power. Thousands of people had to evacuate, and none of the 22 fires have been contained.
Though my home and family are safe, the air outside is thick with smoke. A smelly reminder that this kind of disaster could be visited upon us too, at any moment, and without warning.
So rather than wallow in other people’s misery, I’m turning off the news and taking time now to prepare for when disaster hits my neighborhood. We Manics can’t afford to procrastinate on this.
Getting The Hell Out Of Dodge In A Hurry
Whether it’s a hurricane, an earthquake, a wildfire or a flood, a natural disaster can force you to evacuate your home at a moment’s notice. Where will you go? What will you take? How will you stay in contact with family and friends when 77 cell towers in your area get knocked out by a fire? Here are a few suggestions.
The Family Emergency Communication Plan
On any given weekday, most family members are separated by dozens of miles between home, work or school. Without an emergency communication plan, you’re likely to be cut off from each other without a way to know if everyone’s safe. This can be terrifying, as my friend Wakane learned in 2011.
She was at her home in Sendai, Japan, when an earthquake triggered a massive tsunami. Her husband was at work in another city, and her kids were at two different schools in different parts of town.
Wakane was frantic. She couldn’t reach anyone by phone, the streets were impassable and the trains weren’t running. She had no way of getting to her kids or knowing if her husband was safe.
It took two days to get word on everyone, and three days to reunite them all. Three terrifying days for Wakane, full of the worst kind of worry – that the unthinkable had happened to her family.
This same scenario is playing out right now in California.
How To Stay In Touch
So step one is to have a plan in place. Choose an out-of-town family member to leave messages with, or use the Red Cross Safe And Well List to get the word out. Instruct all family members to report their whereabouts with the same method.
Then whenever you see a disaster on the news, quiz your kids and spouse on how you’ll all stay in contact in an emergency.
Know that if cell service is disrupted, you may be able to use a laptop and connect through email. If you’ve never used your internet provider’s remote login service, now’s the time to set it up.
If you haven’t given up your landline yet, you can record an outgoing message to family and friends on your answering machine. You can also leave or retrieve messages remotely, and use this as your method of staying in touch. It’s old school fogey style, but as long as your house is still standing it can work.
When the shit goes down, you better have a clue of where you’re going and what you’re taking. If you’re scrambling to line up a place to stay, use the Red Cross real-time map for listings of emergency shelters open in your area. Your county will probably have an emergency operations hotline you can call as well.
You’ll also want to check the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s ( NOAA) All Hazards Radio Network. They broadcast 24/7 evacuation and emergency service info on the VHF band, but it’s not something you can pick up on a regular radio.
Every county in the country has a designated station, so find your station, get a portable weather radio now, and tune it in advance to your station. Most come with a hand crank so you don’t need batteries and can charge your cell phone with it too.
The Go Bag
Like smart drug dealers, you need to plan ahead to bail in a hurry. Pack a backpack with clothes, cash, water, energy bars, and a few days of meds and stash it in your trunk now. You’ll have basic resources if you’re caught away from home when the unthinkable happens. While you’re at it, toss in a portable cell phone charger too.
The Priceless Carload
Most everything in your home can be replaced. But know the priceless few things that can’t, and be prepared to pack them in the car in under 5 minutes. For most people, that means rounding up the pets, photo albums, small heirlooms, and medicine you can’t readily replace.
Let everything else burn, and get your insurance company to buy you new stuff. But take ten minutes right now to go through your home and video all your possessions. Open every closet and drawer, and narrate what you see. Pay special attention to jewelry, antiques, and electronics. Doing this now can be the difference between being made whole or being hosed if you ever have to file a claim.
But don’t forget about your data. Besides your photo albums and family movies, your computer files could be your most precious items to recover.
If you’re a geezer still using AOL, you might not be using cloud storage for all your important documents. Now’s the time. Don’t compound a disaster by losing all your data when your computer melts down. Get your teenager to show you how to keep your computer files safe in cloud storage at Dropbox, Google, Apple, or one of these cloud storage providers.
Surviving The Unthinkable
Overall, the Red Cross is one of the best resources for surviving the unthinkable. They’ll help you prepare for, endure, and recover from a disaster. Check out their tips on preparing for emergencies, then call your insurance agent and make sure your coverage is up to date.
And since you can only prepare for, not prevent, a natural disaster, you’d better start building up your karma now. Give as much support as you can today, so when it’s your turn to face the unthinkable, there’ll be plenty of support for you. Here’s where I’m donating because 100% of the money raised goes directly to fire victims.
Stay safe, and get ready. Because the unthinkable could just as easily have happened to you…