Emergency Preparedness: A Matter of Time

Emergency Preparedness

Just over a year ago, in the mountains near my hometown, there was a fire.  A BIG fire.  Around 1,400 homes were evacuated, and a state of emergency was declared.  My daughter’s friend in Colombia even heard about it on the news.  It was surreal to stand on the street corner with the neighbors at midnight watching as the fire approached our homes.  The wall of fire was reportedly 15-20 feet high, and it was moving very fast toward the homes due to high winds.

Although my street was not evacuated, some neighbors left voluntarily.  We decided to stay, although we packed up our car just in case.  I realized how unprepared I was as I stayed up until almost 3 am trying to decide what to pack.  Even then, I wanted to take a ridiculous amount of things. It was a sinking feeling to realize I’d put so little thought into emergency preparedness. As I packed, I thought how we possibly could return to find nothing left of our home.  I wandered all over the house finding photos and documents and memorabilia.  I finally went to sleep, and my husband slept on the couch by the front door, just in case someone knocked to tell us to leave.

The next day, the fire was more contained, and our concerns about evacuation slowly eased, although the previous evacuation orders remained for days.  The fire reached the yards of the homes on the hillside, and just then the winds had shifted and pushed the fire back onto itself.  Sadly, a few homes were lost.  But compared to the damage that could have been, my town was extremely fortunate.

I later learned that policemen had knocked on doors or called and told occupants that they had one minute to leave.  I spoke with a neighbor who said nobody had told them to evacuate, but they looked out the front door and saw the fire all of a sudden appear on the hilltop 100 feet from their home.  They ran for their car and left.  Although I didn’t have to evacuate, I spent hours trying to decide what to take.  It probably would not have gone over very well if a policeman had knocked on my door, and I’d said, “Just give me 3 hours, and I will go.”

From this experience, I came up with a mental list of things to take in an emergency.  I decided I should write the list down so that if there was a next time, I would be ready.  I decided to divide my list into 1-minute, 10-minutes, and 30-minute sections, so that I could take whatever time was available.  I also decided to make backup copies of all of my photos on to several CD’s and keep them in a box with my journals.  And I decided to organize my survival kits, so that they would be more accessible in a true emergency.

To be honest, I haven’t done any of this yet. But I did decide, so that should count for something. Right?  Although I don’t think it will help me much in a true emergency.  Imagine…one minute to get out.

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