A couple of weeks ago there was a bad fire that accidentally started near a fairly new housing development. There were more than a hundred families that were evacuated and they were not allowed back to their homes for several days until the fire was under control. Three houses were burned to the ground, but the rest of them just had to deal with the smoke damage. I say,”just”, but smoke damage can be a mess to clean up. This is a good time to review your insurance policies and see exactly what you have and make sure that it is what you want. Don’t be surprised and frustrated after the fact.
The next week another near tragedy, in a different area, happened when an 8″ gas line was accidentally broken during some heavy duty excavation in a densely populated area. It could have been very tragic, but all of the different emergency responders and the professional fix-it guys were able to quickly evacuate the area, fix the problem and nobody was hurt. And then that same week, same town, there were the people who were woken up at 2:30 a.m. only to find out that a 16″ water main had broken and was flooding their homes. Sigh.
For the most part, the people that were evacuated because of the fire had at least a ½ an hour to evacuate. The gas line evacuee’s only had moments given to them to evacuate. The water main evacuees had to leave quickly, but a least it wasn’t life threatening – only soggy. I wonder how many of them took their 72 hr. kits when they were asked to leave so unexpectedly?
One of the local news channels was interviewing an older gentleman and they asked him about the fire and what he did when he was asked to evacuate. He said, “They only gave us a ½ an hour to gather our stuff together and leave! We didn’t know what to take and so we just started to grab pictures off the wall and got a change of clothes and threw them in a bag!” I yelled at the TV, “What? They gave you a ½ an hour to get your stuff together and all you grabbed was pictures off the wall and only one change of clothes?” Then, before I could continue my tirade, my mind suddenly went back to a time when I wasn’t thinking too clearly either.
It was about 30 years ago and I was in the middle of what I considered a medical emergency. A young girl collapsed and went into seizures. I knew exactly what to do – call 911. The only problem is, dispatchers at 911 expect you to know things, simple things, like: What is your address, what town are you in, what is your name? Okay, I knew my name, but that was it! I couldn’t even remember what town I was in or the address of the house that I had lived in for six months! Sometimes when you have a highly stressful situation happen, your brain can completely shut down except for your basic needs such as breathing and the movement of your blood – everything else is in “off” mode. (That is my excuse and I am sticking to it.) Sometimes your brain can go into overdrive and you will be especially keen and aware of everything – the problem is, is that you never know which one your body is going to choose.
The good news is – you don’t need a brain to think in an emergency situation! You can prepare ahead of time and then, when your brain decides to eventually turn back on, you will already be ahead of the game. Yes, I’m talking about making a list. I love lists! Like I said, you don’t have to be fully coherent, but as long as you are lucid you can still head in the right direction if you follow your pre-made list of things to do.
As I listened to that poor, scared man on TV, I started to mentally gather all of my stuff up and time myself (hypothetically) as to how long it would take me to get all of our necessary items packed and ready to go. Obviously with the gas evacuation you would only have time to grab a 72 hr. kit, some medicine and possibly some medical hardware. Note: If you do have necessary medical hardware like an oxygen concentrator or oxygen tanks, you might want to check with your equipment provider, ahead of time – before an emergency, to see if they have enough equipment to provide an emergency backup so you won’t have to worry about packing them if you run out of time or don’t have a way to transport them.
If you have a little bit longer to pack supplies, like those people in the fire, make a list that is easy to find that would help you pack the most important things first, like:
- 72 hr. kit
- Medication / medical supplies / First-aid kits
- Important papers (e.g. birth certificates, social security cards, passports, etc.)
- Bills, banking information and mortgage paperwork
- Insurance documentation and vehicle titles
- Extra change of clothes (beyond what is in your 72 hour kit)
- Pictures / non-replaceable items of sentimental importance
(here are good forms to use: Family Estate Inventory Worksheet in Excel 2007 and Family Estate Inventory Worksheet in Excel 2004.)
- …and don’t forget your pets!
Of course I have learned my lesson and instead of having to be told, I just got real proactive and made an emergency bug-out document for you called First Things First that you can easily fill in and post in an obvious, easy to get to, place.
Another very important thing to remember is to notify other family members of the evacuation. You won’t want them to worry about you when they find out about the evacuation, and you will want to make plans to meet up later. Remember to take your Emergency Contact list. Even if you have a cell phone, still have another person, preferably in another town or state, which everyone in your family can call to coordinate your/their moves if necessary.
The most important thing to remember is to think this through before an emergency. Gather everything together and then when something DOES happen, and chances are that it will, you will be ready – TV reporter or not.