What if you couldn’t go home? 6 Tips to prepare you for the unexpected.

Suppose you’re at work, and someone walked in and said, “Did you hear your neighborhood has been evacuated?” Would you be prepared? What do you have at home that cannot be replaced? There are many different types of disasters that can occur, some depending on where you live. Having recently gone through the Waldo Canyon Fire, I have put together some of my thoughts, and have come up with 6 tips that may help you in an emergency.

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One section in my area had been evacuated early during the fire, but another received a pre-evacuation notice around 1:30 in the afternoon on the following Tuesday. That changed to a mandatory evacuation a little after 4:00 in the afternoon. Many people left work early that day when they learned of the pre-evacuation notice, so they were home and ready to leave when the mandatory evacuation notice was issued. I have one friend who was out of town when the fire started. He returned from his vacation early, arriving about an hour before having to evacuate his home. He was one of about 347 families who lost their homes that night to the fire.

We never had a pre-evacuation notice, but our evacuation wasn’t until a couple of hours later. I was lucky as I was home when we received the evacuation orders. Also, we had started to get prepared a few days earlier when the fire started to threaten our city. However, when we returned home I realized there were several items I had forgotten that I would not have been able to replace. For example, my high school yearbooks and some old home videos were left behind. The time to get ready for a disaster is long before you have to worry.

1. First thing to get together is a 72 hour kit. I won’t go into what everything that should be in it as there are several good websites that you can go to for that. One thing you should do with it is update it regularly, at least once a year. When I reviewed ours, I realized the clothes I had packed for my oldest son were too small even for my youngest child, who is five years younger than his brother. Don’t forget copies of important documents like birth certificates, passports, titles, deeds, etc.

2. Second, you may want to put together is another box or pack you can just grab and throw in the car if you have to evacuate quickly. This would have things that are impossible or extremely difficult to replace, like copies of pictures and financial information, backups of your computer, etc. You can make copies of your pictures to CDs or DVDs and keep those in the box, scanning them to your computer of the pictures that are not digital. You can scan a lot of documents to your computer and save them as images or document files also. If you don’t have too many, they may fit in your 72 hour kit. If you’re able to, a better idea for these copies are to keep them somewhere out of your home like at a relative’s house, your work, or a safe deposit box.

3. Consider the cloud. The pictures you posted on the internet will still be there, probably forever. You may not want to put documents that must be kept confidential in the cloud, but it’s a great place for pictures, kid’s artwork, home videos, etc. The other advantage is that once there it’s easier to share with grandma once they’re in the cloud.

4. If you own a business, have you made emergency plans for your business? Many businesses were also evacuated during the Waldo Canyon Fire, including pharmacies, day cares, gas stations, churches, medical offices, and some of our county’s offices. The same backups, copies of documents, etc., that you plan for your home, need to be done for your business. You will want offsite, backups of your servers. Also, you will need copies of your business documents, client lists, patents, etc. You may have copies of some of these on your smart phone, just don’t forget your charger. If you’re a church or association, you will want a copy offsite of your membership lists. Keeping a copy of these in your home may be a good idea, but plan in case both your home and business have to be evacuated. I’ve a friend who evacuated to his business when his home was evacuated (he has an area that he can easily convert in an emergency), however a few hours later the evacuations were extended to include his business.

5. When you plan for emergencies for your business, don’t forget communications with your employees. Have a plan for communicating with them during the disaster. It may be as simple as using a Facebook page or your company’s website (assuming the server is offsite), as long as everyone has access to it. That way you will know who is safe and who may need help, and you will be able to let everyone know when they can go back to work, or to another location if possible.

6. Finally, you need a plan. It doesn’t matter what your disaster may be, you will want to make a plan and ensure all your family knows it. Everyone needs to know what to do, and more importantly where to go. In cases of a home fire, everyone needs to know how to get out quickly and where to meet once everyone is out. In case of an evacuation, you need to know where to meet in case you’re separated. You may not be able to use your cell phone during an evacuation to try to coordinate it. During the Waldo Canyon Fire, approximate 32,000 people were evacuating from the area at the same time. The cell phone circuits in the area were overloaded during that time. Using the cell phone for anything but text messages were next to impossible. Plan ahead where to meet, then plan where you will go next. Will it be to a relative’s home, an emergency shelter, or a hotel?

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For both your business and your home, review your insurance. See what you’re covered for and what you’re not covered for, and check what the deductibles are for each situation. I have a great home owner insurance company; they paid for my hotel room, for food, and to replace the food in my refrigerator from when they turned out the power in the evacuated areas. Not only did they pay for the hotel room but they went to great lengths to find us a hotel to stay in. That alone saved us worry from trying to find an available room when thousands were looking. Also, take videos of your home and keep the videos in a safe location, again, with a relative or safe deposit box would be better. Know how to contact your insurance agent. Most insurance companies will help you plan for a disaster. They’re a great resource to help in your plans.

The most important advice I have is plan today for what could happen tomorrow. Whether it is a wildfire, tornado, flood, hurricane, blizzard, house fire, earthquake, etc. make a plan today, and make sure everyone knows it. Prepare today for whatever may happen in your area. There are many resources on the internet. Use your favorite search engine, and look them up. I’ve included a couple at the bottom to get you started. If you see a firefighter, policeman, National Guardsman, or utility worker today, tell them thank you. They do a wonderful job to keep us safe.

http://www.ready.gov

http://www.redcross.org

Rick Wills, P.E.

Gould Design, Inc.