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Disaster and emergency preparedness have been on my mind for quite some time. I have been wanting to share our experiences in hopes that our stories can help better prepare you for when natural disasters or emergencies strike. So below you'll find tips and ideas for planning for extreme weather or natural disasters like a wildfire, polar vortex, tornado, hurricane or long term power outage conditions.
On October 8th, 2017, our world forever changed when a major wind event started the North Bay Wildfires. My husband is in our local fire department and I remember hearing his fire pager go off at 11:29 pm and hoping that it didn’t wake up our newborn daughter as she was (finally) sleeping in the bassinet next to us. As he rushed out the door, I did a quick check on our daughter, and an orange glow in the distance caught my eye. Out of our bedroom window, I could see what appeared to be 100 ft tall wind-whipped flames barreling down our valley. Before my husband’s taillights had even vanished down our driveway, I knew that I had to act fast.
We knew it would be windy, but we all severely underestimated the strength of the winds and how dry the vegetation was. Within minutes, the 70-mph wind-driven fire had engulfed homes, pastures and was already burning up our ranch. Luckily for my daughter and me, it was burning in the opposite direction of our house. But I knew I had to be ready to evacuate by myself, with a newborn and three large dogs.
I immediately called my sister to let her know what was happening. I told her how to listen to the emergency dispatch online (through the Broadcastify app) to get an idea of where the fire was headed. Even though she lived eight hours away, I was able to let a family member know the emergency and my plan. And it was a good thing I did. Because soon after that, all the cell towers in the valley burned down and there was no way to communicate with anyone or get information about the fire. Make sure someone outside of your household knows your emergency plan.
I quickly talked with my sister-in-law, who was evacuating with her kids and my mother-in-law to the middle of the vineyard near a pond. We didn’t get to finish our conversation because the cell towers burned down. I spent the entire evening not knowing if they were ok and thinking the worst. Not only was I afraid for my husband trying to fight fire with 70-mph sustaining winds, but I was also worried about our family fleeing from the flames. This was the scariest night of my life, but it could have been worse had we not had our disaster and emergency kit and thought about our evacuation plan.
I stayed up the entire night watching the flames, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. When the sun came up the following day, I was able to see some of the damage from our house, but I had no idea how destructive the fire actually was. Within our area, over 5,500 structures were lost, and over 40 people lost their lives. It was devastating, and we had no idea what had happened, and was still happening, because we had no phone, power or internet connection. By day two, the fire made its way to our property and I had to evacuate. Luckily, I was prepared to leave, and in the end, fortunately, we didn’t lose our home to the fire. The firefighters were able to stop the fire before it came to us.
Thankfully our family didn’t lose any life or homes. We lost 2,000 acres combine of rangeland and vineyards, a couple employee houses on the ranch, barns, infrastructure and hundreds of miles of fence line. We were ok, but many people weren’t. Power was out for 7 days because lines were burned down.
And the 2017 North Bay Wildfires weren’t the first natural disaster that we’ve faced, and it wasn’t our last. In addition to several wind and storm events, combined with planned PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) during red flag warnings, we lose power a couple times a year for periods of 3-7 days at a time. And when you live a rural area with a well, when you lose power, you also lose water.
I wanted to put this blog post together to help other families prepare for the worst. We’re very far from “doomsday preppers,” but you tend to have less access to resources and slower response times when you live in a rural or remote area. So we’ve become more self-reliant in our lifestyle out of necessity – especially since our children were born.
I have slowly built up our disaster kit over time. Anything that you add to get you through a power outage, natural disaster or emergency will be helpful. Below, I am sharing what’s in our Disaster Preparedness Kit. I also thought I would show you tips on preparing for a natural disaster or power outage.
A note about preparation:
Watching the weather helps because you know when a natural disaster COULD occur. The news will let you know when there’s an impending red flag warning, incoming hurricane, arctic blast or tornado weather. While it’s not always 100% accurate, you usually have some time to prepare.
For us, when a red flag warning is predicted, I start to follow my tips below to prepare my house for a power outage and for us to evacuate. I grew up in the mountains, and when a big snowstorm was predicted, my family would start preparing a few days before so we had food, firewood and necessities in case we needed to hunker down for a few days. A little planning goes a long way in staying comfortable, safe, and fed during a natural disaster.
Whether it’s a fire, flood, or other emergency, you may only have moments to decide for an evacuation. We have found that rural living requires extra planning since help is not close by. Having a plan, a Disaster Preparedness Kit and knowledge makes me feel confident I can get through things like natural disasters and 100-hour power outages safely.
Please keep in mind, I don’t say ANY of this to scare you! Fear is not my intent at all! I believe that it’s important to prepare for the worst, and then hope for the best. Many items in this kit, I HOPE I never have to touch! But should a situation arise, I’ll be glad to have them.
Tips for Preparing for Power Outages & Natural Disasters
- Watch the weather!
- Keep a close eye on the weather and always be prepared for the worst case even if it’s just going to a “little” storm. Starting in July, we make sure our disaster and emergency kit is fully stocked and we pack a suitcase with clothes and essentials to quickly evacuate as that’s when fire season typically starts in our area. Think about where you live and when you typically have natural disasters, i.e. hurricane season.
- Fill up the bathtub
- If you depend on a well for water, when electricity goes out, so does your water source. The water in your bathtub can be used to flushing toilets, doing dishes, etc.
- Make sure you can lock the bathroom door where the tub is filled so your kids can’t get to it. Make safety a top priority.
- Pack a bag
- Every July, I pack one week’s worth of clothes in a large suitcase for everyone in our family. This is a grab-and-go suitcase if we need to evacuate quickly. I also make sure to include diapers and wipes for the baby.
- Include sanitation and personal hygiene items. I always keep travel size of these items in our grab and go suitcase.
- Prescription medications
- Make sure you always have a week’s worth of medication with you. Don’t forget it if you need to evacuate!
- Credit and debit cards are useless at gas stations and grocery stores when the power is out.
- Gas for the generator
- Make sure you have enough gas properly stored to run your generator for multiple days in a row.
- Gas for your car
- Always make sure you have at least a half a tank in your car in case you need to evacuate quickly.
- Don’t forget about your pets
- Pack pet food and extra water for your pet
- Pre-position collars, leashes, and water and food bowls in the crate so you can quickly evacuate with your pets.
- Firewood supply
- If you have a wood-burning stove or fireplace, you can stay warm when the power goes out.
- Sign-up for emergency and severe weather alerts in your area
- Our sheriff’s department and emergency services use Nixel to send out evacuation and emergency notices via calls, texts and emails.
- Cell phone portable chargers
- You will want a way to charge your phone during power outages and evacuations. My husband and I each have 2 of these and they have over 4 full charges each before they need to be plugged in. I always keep mine plugged into this surge protector so I know they will be full when I need them.
- Do the dishes every night
- We made chili the night the 2017 North Bay Wildfires started and let the pot soak in the sink overnight. We didn’t think about losing power and not having water to clean it. After 24 hours, it began to stink really bad and my favorite Dutch oven got moved to the porch until water came back on a week later. During fire season, I make sure not to have dirty dishes just in case we lose power and I can’t wash them.
- Clean house
- It’s nice to start a potential power outage period with clean floors because it’s hard to keep a house clean when you can’t run a vacuum.
- Do laundry
- You might not be able to wash your clothes for a long time so it’s always nice to have all the laundry clean going into a potential long stretch of non-power.
- Run the garbage disposal
- You don’t want food scrapes hanging around in a place hard to clean out when you’re without electricity and water for a week.
- Food supply
- On top of keeping our “power outage pantry” stocked. I also keep things in our freezer that require little to no mess or preparation, like marinaded chicken, that I can throw on the grill. I also have a few meals that I can dump in the instant pot or crock pot without having to prepare. It’s nice to have the comfort of a good meal during, or while dealing with aftermath of, a natural disaster.
- Set up hoses and ladders
- Connect garden hoses to outside water valves or spigots for use by firefighters.
- Have a ladder available and place it at the corner of the house for firefighters to quickly access your roof.
Longer Term Preparedness Tips
- Scan photos and documents that can’t be replaced to the cloud. I use this scanner where I can scan multiple photos at a time.
- Keep copies of personal documents, such as wills, deeds, medical information, passports, birth certificates, social security cards, insurance policies, etc. in something you can easily grab in an evacuation or scan and upload to the cloud.
- Back up your computer with a remote drive you can take with you. I use this one and keep it in my purse during red flag warnings.
- Take pictures of your house (exterior and interior), and vehicles for insurance purposes. Make sure to take pictures of things you would file on an insurance claim, like electronics, furniture, artwork, tools, etc. Keep these photos on the cloud.
- Come up with an emergency meeting place. We have one with our extended family so if fire strikes us again and the cell towers burn down (again), we all meet at one centralized location if it’s safe to get to. We also invested in long-range radios after the cell towers burned and I can talk with my brother-in-law who lives 5 miles away.
- Prepare your yard and house for a disaster. Where we live, our biggest natural disaster threat is wildfire. We prepare a defensible space around our house, clearing fuel and other items that could easily catch on fire. We also make sure our gutters and roof are clean so embers don’t catch dry leaves on fire.
Disaster & Emergency Preparedness Kit
I hope you found this blog post helpful. Check back here as I will be updating this post soon with additional emergency preparedness tools and ideas.
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