When I read Mathew Clements’ story yesterday – (Glad you and your family are safe!) I thought about how many people I’ve talked to who have been in exactly his position.  We all think there’s time to prepare, until there isn’t. In a true emergency, when you’ve been given the order to evacuate, fear and adrenaline start pumping and it gets a whole lot harder to think clearly.

I’ve been the Fire Officer that gives the order to evacuate immediately.  My heart goes out to the first responders in Fort McMurray, the decisions they’re making are tough and they’re seeing the human toll of a natural disaster.  I have also been on the flip side of that coin, needing to evacuate my family during a hurricane.

Yes I am the guy who carries a flashlight and whistle on my key ring, a knife in my pocket, as well as a pen and paper. One week a month I am on a 90 minute electronic leash to deploy anywhere in the world, from two weeks to 45 days because my family is prepared to be self-sufficient.

It’s my job to make sure that families are prepared for the worst, and I’ll be doing that in a series of posts on TheScientificParent.org this summer.  In light of Mathew’s post I wanted to share some tips to start you thinking about how you can be better prepared for an emergency like the one that Mathew’s family faced.

Pre-Planning is key.  You need to develop a plan that your family knows and understands. What does your emergency kit need? Who is calling the shots in an emergency? Who does what tasks? If you’re separated where will you meet? After planning you need to drill/practice the plan to tweak and adapt as needed.

If you need help figuring out what to put in your emergency kit, Ready.gov has a helpful list, as does Apartment Prepper.

Your phone is a great tool to help you not only catalogue the possessions you have for insurance purposes, but you can store images of key documents on a secure server, accessible anywhere you go.  Few people think about documents when they think about emergency preparedness, but if your house and it’s contents are destroyed, you will need some way to prove that you are who you are.

In terms of evacuations they come in several different forms, which require different types of preparation.

Immediate short term | This can be an evacuation due to a hazardous event, like a gas leak, hazmat spill, or terrorist threat in your neighborhood, with no loss of the home. You need your medicine, clothing for 3 days, personal care items for the needs of the family, to include having everything ready for your pet(s).

Immediate – unknown length |  This could be due to a flood, oil spill or an uncontrolled gas leak, with the potential loss of your home, or inability to access it for more than a week.  You will need the same supplies as above, plus the documentation for your household, passports, social security cards and insurance papers. At least $500 cash will help if you need to stay in a hotel for several days.

Catastrophic |  This type of evacuation is the one we’re most familiar with and all dread.  This could be something similar to the Fort McMurray fire, a hurricane or immediately following a devastating earthquake. In this case you will need to take everything listed in the above two categories with the expectation that you will never be able to access your home again.  You will need to take a reasonable amount of comfortable clothes, as much medication as you have/need, and you will need a small toolkit and first aid kit.

I know this issue is contentious in many households: leaving the gas tank empty (or nearly empty).  You should never allow your vehicle fuel tank to be below half a tank. As Mathew said in his post yesterday he was lucky he had a full tank of gas and could immediately drive as far away from the fires as he could get.  A full tank of gas in your average car you may be able to get 150-200 miles away from my house.

You also need to have an emergency kit in your car.  You don’t know where you will be if a disaster such as a tornado or a wildfire strikes.  I always carry a minimum of a dozen bottles of water and 8-10 energy bars in a cooler. The worst-case scenario, everyone in the SUV and we have to leave – when caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I can feed and water everyone. The car has a flashlight – spare batteries, first aid kit, one gallon of water and coolant. A change of clothing, sunscreen, bug spray, two hats, 1 pair of work gloves, one light coat; 50’ of 1’ nylon webbing 1 ABC fire extinguisher

So what’s my “bug out plan” (your plan for when you have to evacuate immediately) for our house?

  1. We have copies of our important documents (passports, insurance papers etc…) and cash in one location.  That is the first thing we get.
  2. Next are the prescriptions: No one in our house ever runs out of maintenance medication, we have an emergency supply on hand, pre-packaged.
  3. We have one “bug out bag” per person in our house.  In it are three days of clothing updated 2x a year for summer or winter. Inside includes one beach towel, hat, headlamp, and extra batteries.
  4. Next is the cat – an animal crate +s mall litter box, litter & yes the cat has a pre-packed Bug-Out Bag, complete with food, water, 2 favorite toys, and treats.
  5. Finally, my work bag  has all of the chargers for the electronic devices, I would add my solar charging kit (Stored in the basement)

Living in the south, our basement is prepared for a Tornado shelter. The Bug Out Bags, litter box and animal crate, portable self-charging light are in the basement – two people – one trip.

Where would I go? Identify like-minded friends who you would become a host if they needed to evacuate, and would be willing to have you visit for a couple of days within that 150 – 200 mile evacuation range. Be prepared to take the road less traveled (literally) everyone doesn’t have to drive on the interstate, keep maps in your car and program your GPS to use routes that are not highways.

Maybe you can commit to a loving Mother’s Day gift by helping your family, parent, or neighbor become prepared, to be self-sufficient during an emergency. Nothing says love like preparedness … and roses. Ok, so maybe this is a bad idea for a Mother’s Day gift, but you get where I’m going with this.

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