Showing posts with label emergency preparedness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label emergency preparedness. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Mandatory Evacuations - What to Take With You


With wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods expected to increase in frequency and intensity in the coming decades, millions of people in the U.S. and around the world are likely to face a mandatory evacuation at least once in their lifetimes. In the best case scenario, you might have plenty of time to prepare, such as when a hurricane is predicted to hit your area in a few days.  On the other hand, a mandatory evacuation could happen without warning and you may have only a few minutes to get out.  The warning could even come with a phone call in the middle of the night, when you are groggy and not thinking clearly.  

Whether you have plenty of time to prepare, or you need to leave in a hurry, everyone should have a plan and a list of everything they need to have with them during an evacuation.  One thing you could do is print this article and post it in a prominent place in your home, where you can quickly review it and use it as a checklist when you need to leave in hurry.  Just add your own notes in the margin about where to find things.

If You Have 15 Minutes or Less to Evacuate

Obviously, if a wildfire is roaring up the hillside towards your home in the middle of the night, you may have to rush out the door in your pajamas, jump in your car, and take off, leaving everything behind. Your life is more important than anything in your home.  

However, in most cases, people have at least a a few minutes of warning that they need to evacuate.  In that situation, below are the most important things you need to make sure you have with you.  Clip out this list and put it in several convenient places in your home, such as in the drawer of your nightstand, on the door of your refrigerator, or some other safe place where it will be easy to find. In an emergency, it is easy to get rattled and forget something obvious, such as your wallet or cell phone.  Having a list will help you stay focused on the most important things you need to do. 

Your family - Try to be sure that everyone is accounted for and in the car with you before you worry about anything else.  

Your pets
- If possible, put your pets in a small, portable pet kennel (Ad). They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. It will make it easier to control your animals, especially if they become afraid or excited about what is happening.  Put your pets in the car as soon as you can, so they do not panic and disappear.  However, do not delay your evacuation by spending a lot of time looking for them.  If they hide and cannot be found, you may have to leave them behind.  In the event of a fire, let the firefighters know about any missing pets and they will try their best to rescue them.

Your purse and wallet - If you have your wallet and/or purse with you, it means you will probably have your driver's license, some cash, your bank debit card, and credit cards.  This will enable you to rent a hotel room, or purchase food and other items you may need while you are evacuated. 

Your medications - If you are taking any life saving medications, grab a bag and just sweep them into it.  Do not take the time to sort through them.  Just take everything you think you might need.  Once you get to an evacuation center, they can help you replace any medications which you may have missed.

Important documents
- Ideally, everyone should have a small portable lockbox or fireproof home safe (Ad) that contains your important documents, all in one place.  These documents should include your passports, birth certificates, social security cards and copies of insurance policies, including policies on your home and automobiles. If you store all these papers in one convenient lockbox or safe, it will be easy to grab all the documents you would otherwise not have time to locate.  Later, it will save you time if you do not have to replace your important documents.   You may also want to keep copies of your important documents in a notebook, which you can grab as you rush out the door, even if you have very little time. My husband and I have a notebook which contains copies of our wills, trust, Advanced Directives, I.D.'s, insurance policies, marriage certificates, birth certificates, and other important information we might need in an emergency.

Small electronics - Because most of us have a great deal of important information stored on our phones, tablets, and laptop computers, you want to try to grab these things, along with their chargers, before you take off.  It will make it easier for you to find contact phone numbers of your friends and family, and enable you to let others know you are OK. 

If the items above are the only things you have time to grab, at least you will be leaving with your most essential items.  Hopefully, however, you will have enough evacuation time to toss a few more items in your car.  

IMPORTANT:  If you are fleeing a wildfire, do not spend more than 5 minutes gathering as much as you can before you leave.  Fires can move quickly and you may have less time to get to safety than you think you do.

If You Have an Hour or More to Evacuate

If you have a little extra time to evacuate, you still need to hurry.  This would include situations such as when a fire is in your general area, but has not reached your neighborhood; or when a hurricane has taken an unexpected turn towards you, but is still a few hours away; or when you live in a flood prone area with a major storm headed your way.  In these situations, you might have an extra 30 to 60 minutes to evacuate, or even a little more time, but you still should not linger too long. If you are fortunate enough to have this extra time, what additional items should you take with you?

Make sure you have everything listed above - Do not let yourself get distracted by things you want to take, until you are sure you have loaded everything you need to take. First, double-check that you have everyone in your family, and, if possible, your pets, wallets, medications, small electronics and important documents.  

Secure Your Preschoolers in the car - Strap your youngest children into their car seats, and pack up a few things for them.  Make sure they have a favorite stuffed animal they can cling to.  Things could be very crazy for the next few days, and having their favorite toy will bring them some comfort when they do not understand what is happening.  Make sure you also have diapers, formula, or any other essentials which could be hard to find for a few days.

Let Your School Age Children Grab What they Want -  Give children who are old enough a suitcase or even a couple of trash bags.  Tell them to put some clothing and their toothbrushes in one bag, and a few of their favorite toys in the other.  This could reduce their stress in two ways.  First, you are giving them a task which will distract them from what is happening.  Second, if your home is destroyed, at least your children will have been able to bring a few of their favorite things with them.  Most other things can eventually be replaced. 

Fill a suitcase or a couple of shopping bags with your valuables - Since you have a little extra time, put your jewelry box, small family heirlooms, photo albums, artwork, sterling silver, and similar items in a few shopping bags and put them deep in interior of your car's trunk. These are things you will not need to get out when you stop at a hotel or an evacuation center.  However, it will give you peace of mind to know that they are safely locked in your car.

Fill a suitcase with an armload of clothing - Ideally, you should have a change of clothing, underwear, toiletries and similar items for everyone in your family.  However, this is not the time to pack carefully.  Just grab a few things and stuff them in a suitcase.  You just need enough clothing to last a few days.  If your home is totally lost, local charities or your private insurance will help you replace some of your clothing.

Do a Last Minute Walk-Thru of Your Home - If you have the time, grab a trash bag and your cell phone camera.  Use your cellphone to make a video and quickly document everything you are leaving behind.  It will help with your insurance claims. Meanwhile, fill the trash bag with any last minute things which you would like to bring with you. Suggestions include favorite framed photos, the family Bible, mementos of trips, or a favorite painting still hanging on your wall. Grab anything you can quickly stuff into the bag.  You will cherish these things if you eventually have to replace your home.

Take All Your Cars With You - Although it may seem more convenient to have your whole family in one car, if there is more than one driver in the family, have them each drive one of the cars out of the evacuation area.  You do not want to lose one of your cars, if you can avoid it.  In addition, the extra car will give you more space to take things with you.  If your home is destroyed and you need to stay in temporary housing for a while, it will also be more convenient if everyone has their car with them. 

Below is a list from FEMA which you may also want to print out. It includes some of the additional items you may want to bring with you when you evacuate, if you have time.  It includes items you may want to have if you are uncertain about the conditions where you will be staying after an evacuation.  Below it you will find more emergency evacuation information.

How to "Prepare" to Evacuate

About 20 years ago, there were a number of fires burning in our part of California.   Although our home was not in immediate danger, we were told to "Prepare to Evacuate."  This gave us plenty of time to fill our cars with all the things mentioned in the lists above, as well as do a better job packing a suitcase to take with us.  Fortunately, in that case, the fires did not come close enough to our home to necessitate an evacuation, although many other Southern California homes were destroyed.  By feeling prepared to evacuate, however, I was more comfortable knowing that everything portable that I valued was safely locked in my car, and we could have dropped everything and evacuated with a moment's notice.  

How to Pre-Plan for an Evacuation

Do you live in an area where evacuations are common?  Perhaps you live in an area which gets hit by a hurricane every few years, or occasionally floods.  You might live near a national forest that is prone to wildfires.  If this describes your situation, you may want to pre-plan for a potential evacuation. Here are some of the steps you can take long before you get an evacuation notice:

Fill a back-pack or "get away bag" for each member of the family
- This get-away bag (Ad) should contain a couple of changes of clothes, underwear, a jacket, an old pair of tennis shoes, and basic toiletries such as toothpaste and a toothbrush. Be sure to include a small supply of essential medications. If you have growing children, you should repack the bags at least once a year.

Pack an extra bag with copies of important documents - Make copies of your birth certificates, social security cards, driver's licenses, insurance papers, and other important documents.  Put them in your bag, along with a list of important phone numbers you may need to know in an emergency. You may want to include a small amount of cash, in case local ATM machines are out-of-order during an evacuation.  Keep your original documents in a small fireproof home safe (Ad), and keep an extra set of the safe keys in your get-away bag.  In case you have to evacuate in a hurry, and you have time, you can add your safe, lockbox and small electronics to this backpack and take off quickly.  If you are unable to take the safe with you, there is a good chance it will survive some types of disasters and you can find it after the emergency has passed.

Having get-away bags will also be convenient if you and your family leave your home each morning for school and work.  In an emergency you would not be able to return home to get important belongings. In that event, you can keep the get-away bags in your car.   If there is an emergency evacuation in your neighborhood, you can simply pick up your family members at their jobs or school and go to the evacuation center or a hotel. In a crisis, you would know that you have some basic necessities for each member of the family, as well as copies of important documents. It is likely that if you were away from home during the day, you would also have your cell phones and, possibly, other small electronics with you. It would not be an ideal situation, but it would be better than being caught by surprise without anything you might need.   

After An Evacuation - What Happens?

Fortunately, most of the time you will all be able to return home safely after the emergency is over, and everything will be exactly as you left it.  You can return your belongings to their rightful places, stow away your get-away bags, and relax. You might even decide to update your get-away bags before stowing them away in the trunk of your car. 

However, if your home is no longer habitable after a disaster, you will be glad you were so well-prepared for evacuation.  You will be able to start over and still have at least some of your favorite belongings with you.  If you have either homeowner's insurance or renter's insurance, many of your lost items will be replaced. 

After most major emergencies, FEMA, state agencies, the Red Cross, and local charities will help you fill out the paperwork to file claims, apply for loans, and get other types of assistance.  These organizations may also be able to help you obtain temporary housing and a few items of furniture and clothing.  Despite this generous assistance, you and your family will feel much better if you also have been able to bring some of your own belongings with you. 

While not everything you own can be replaced, it is important to remember is that you were able to save your family. Anything else you save beyond that will just make it easier for you to recover from a disaster.  The most important thing is that you are able to move on with the people you love and cherish.

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Be Prepared for Emergencies

Whether you are age 30, 60, or 90, there will be  times during your life when you will be affected by some type of emergency.  It could be an injury, a health setback, an unexpected expense or a natural disaster.  While it is impossible to be prepared for every eventuality, it is important for everyone to plan for the most likely emergencies which could affect us.  Below are a few common types of events which might happen to a retiree, and how to protect yourself.

In addition to the list below, you may want to add to this list emergencies which could be common in your specific family or community ... such as early coronary events in your family, or neighborhood flooding during times of heavy rain.

Financial Disasters

According to Investopedia, in 2016 people in their 60s had a median savings account of about $172,000.  This means that half of all retirees had less than that ... many of them much less.  If you are living off Social Security, plus additional income based on dividends or interest on your savings, you do not want to spend the principal in order to purchase a new car, buy a hot water heater, replace a roof, or pay the deductible for surgery or other medical treatments.  The obvious solution is for everyone to save as much as possible prior to retirement and designate a portion of that savings as an emergency fund which you do not depend on to cover your essential living expenses.

In addition, you may want to discuss with your financial planner or investment advisor whether your money is invested conservatively enough to be protected, in the event of a drop in the stock market or other major financial reversal.


According to the National Council on Aging, about one in four people over the age of 65 falls each year.  Falls are the most common cause of fatal injuries and are a common cause of hospital admissions.  Keeping your body strong and getting regular exercise is the first line of defense in preventing falls.  Everyone should make sure their homes are well-lit and contain no loose rugs or other items which could cause you to trip.

You may also want to purchase a medical alert device, especially if you live alone.  You wear them like a pendant or bracelet and use them to quickly contact an agent who can call an ambulance, neighbor or relative for you, in the event of a fall.

You should also talk to your doctor if your blood pressure medicine or other medications make you feel light-headed or dizzy.  They may be able to change your prescription.

House Fires

According to FEMA, older Americans are much more likely to die in a house fire than younger adults. If you have trouble hearing, take sleeping medications, or have difficulty getting out of bed by yourself, you have an especially elevated risk of dying in a house fire.  Make sure your home is equipped with plenty of very loud smoke and fire detectors, as well as a carbon monoxide detector.  Change the batteries frequently, at least every six months.

Install nightlights in your home and plug them into outlets near the floor, so they can guide you to an exit. The air is clearer near the floor, so crawl out if you have trouble finding your way.  Be sure some of your nightlights have a battery backup, in case the electricity goes out.  Sleep with your bedroom door closed so you do not succumb to smoke inhalation if a fire starts in another room.  Check to see if you can get outside to safety from a bedroom window if the fire is burning between you and an outside door.

Natural Disasters

If you live independently, you need to be prepared to handle any natural disaster which could affect you.  Depending on where you live, that could include hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, blizzards, earthquakes or wildfires.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says on their website that "being prepared can reduce fear, anxiety, and losses that accompany disasters."

Because you may move a little slower as you age, it would be wise to prepare a "get away" bag that contains some emergency cash, a change of clothes, a two-week supply of your medications, copies of your insurance documents, a list of important phone numbers and any other important items you will want to have ready if you ever have to hop in the car and leave quickly. Put paperwork and medications in waterproof plastic bags. If you have a back-up pair of glasses or an extra hearing aid, put those items in your bag, too. You may also want to include a flashlight, battery operated radio, small first-aid kit, photo id, and copies of items such as your birth certificate, Social Security card, Medicare card, etc.

Make sure the bag is not too heavy for you to lift by yourself.  If it is, get someone to help you put it in your car, where you can easily reach it and transport it to an emergency shelter, if you are evacuated.

Homeland Security has an online booklet called 30 Tips for Emergency Preparedness.  Print it out, read it, and keep a copy in your bag.  In a true emergency, you may have trouble remembering what you should do.

Make sure your bag is large enough for you to toss in any last minute items you may want to grab as you run out the door ... a tablet computer, phone charger, new medication, wallet, pet food, or similar items you may want to add, if you have time.  Some people have two bags ... one conveniently stored in their home and one they keep in their auto at all times.

In the event the disaster cuts you off from roads and outside help for a few days (for example, if the roads are flooded), you may also want to keep emergency supplies of food and water in your home.  A battery operated cell phone charger could also help you stay in touch with the outside world.  If you have a pet, make sure you have provisions for them, as well.

More Emergency Considerations

Depending on your health condition or other problems, you may also have to prepare for emergencies which are unique to you and your family.  We all have a tendency to tell ourselves that "someday" we will put together emergency supplies, save more money, or think about what to do in the event of a disaster.  Do not wait.  Do it now and you can relax knowing that, while you cannot possibly prepare for every eventuality, you will have done everything you can to protect yourself, your spouse, other family members, and your pets in an emergency.

If you are interested in learning more about how to prepare for common problems as you age, financial planning, where to retire, Social Security, Medicare and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

Watch for my book, Retirement Awareness: 10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement, which will be published by Griffin Publishing in 2018.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Be Prepared for Emergencies - It Could Save Your Life

No matter how old or how young you are, are you prepared for an emergency?  In particular, are you prepared for the most likely type of emergency that could happen where you live?  For example, if you live in coastal areas in the southern and eastern states, are you prepared for a hurricane?  If you live in California, are you prepared for an earthquake?  If you live in a heavily forested area, are your prepared for a forest fire?  And, if you live near a river or other waterway, are you prepared for flooding?  If not, you need to take action now.  Your life, and the lives of your loved ones, could depend on it.

Our retirement community has regular emergency drills.  In addition, we also have representatives throughout the community who are willing to go door to door to check on people in the event of an emergency.  These volunteers attend periodic trainings so they know how best to help their neighbors, especially those who are weak or injured.

However, it is also a responsibility for all of us to be as prepared as possible if we should become the victims of a hurricane, flood, tornado, blizzard, earthquake or other disaster. In a widespread emergency, it may take a few days before emergency personnel can find and help everyone who is is injured or displaced.  Our local authorities recommend that everyone be prepared to take care of themselves, if possible, for up to three days.  If you live in an area where you could lose your electricity and be snowed in for a week or more, you may need to make even more extensive preparations. While this may not be necessary for everyone, better safe than sorry.

Covering Your Basic Needs

Experts agree that we should make sure we are prepared to take care of our of certain basic needs, including:  food, shelter, water, light, personal hygiene, medicine, communications, and money. 

How do you prepare?   Take a chest or plastic storage bin and put in some essential supplies such as canned food and a can opener, a radio and flashlight with extra batteries, soap, eating utensils, a solar phone charger, a small amount of cash, a first aid kit, blankets, a change of clothing for each family member, and small quantities of important medications (which you should rotate out every few months).  Inside or next to your storage bin you should also put at least a five gallon container of water or more, depending on the size of your family.  If you have pets, you will also want to include zip lock bags containing their food, as well as enough water to satisfy their needs for a few days.

Next, you need to decide where to keep your storage bin.  Here in Southern California, where the biggest danger is earthquakes, I know of several people who keep their emergency kit in a protected area of their backyard.  They do this in case their home should be so badly damaged that they would be unable to go back inside to retrieve the items they would need.  We keep most of our supplies just inside the door to our garage ... although I must confess that I am not good about keeping everything up-to-date and gathered in one place.  One of my reasons for writing this post is to encourage me to practice what I preach!

I have already purchased a combination flashlight and phone charger for my husband and each of our children for Christmas this year.  I thought it would be a thoughtful gift and could be really helpful to at least one of them in the coming years.

Items You May Wish To Purchase

When you are putting your emergency kit together, there are certain items you may wish to purchase.  In addition to food, clothing, blankets, 5 to 10 gallons of water and your medications, here are some additional items you may need.  If you don't have them on hand, purchase them in advance:

A well-stocked First Aid kit that includes bandages, antibiotic cream and alcohol wipes
A back-up phone charger -- either solar, battery powered or wind-up
A battery powered camp lantern
A battery powered radio that will pick up emergency announcements
A propane stove with extra cartridges
A whistle so you can signal rescuers
Plastic tarp to protect you if you must stay outside in bad weather
Metal dishes, cups, eating utensils
A few pots and pans
Dishsoap and moist towelettes
Garbage bags (which can be improvised for use as a toilet in an emergency)
Toilet paper
A wrench or pliers that can be used to turn off utilities.  (Make sure you know how to do this before an emergency occurs.)

You may also want to have items like sleeping bags or a tent stored with your emergency supplies.

Why We Need to be Prepared

As we get older, it is easy to assume that someone will come rescue us if we are in danger.  However, as we saw with Hurricane Katrina and many other disasters, it can take quite a while before our rescuers are able to reach us.  If at all possible, we want to be able to take care of ourselves and not wait to be rescued.  Being prepared could save your life.

If you are retired or thinking about retiring in the future, you may be interested in reading some of the other posts from this blog.  They are all listed and linked in the index articles below:

Gifts, Travel and Family Relationships

Great Places for Boomers to Retire Overseas

Great Places to Retire in the United States

Health and Medical Topics for Baby Boomers

Money and Financial Planning for Retirement

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