10 things I learned from my evacuationby Gina Pogol
If you live in an area prone to natural disasters, you’ll probably have to evacuate your home someday. Last year, 2.5 million folks were ordered out when Hurricane Irene neared the East Coast. Thousands were told to leave Texas in 2011 as 180 wildfires broke out across the state. And even the White House evacuated last year after an earthquake. Chances are good that someday you’ll evacuate as well.
I was working from home, just south of Reno, Nev., last Thursday when I got a reverse 911 call from the sheriff’s office, telling me that a large wildfire was moving quickly in my direction and that I should get to an evacuation center right away. My mind went blank, my knees turned to water and my hands started to shake. I grabbed my dogs, cat and laptop and fled for safety.
Here are 10 things I learned from my evacuation:
1. Line up a decent place to stay. Yes, there will be evacuation centers, but how well will you sleep—and do you want to sleep–on the floor in a room with hundreds of people?
2. Exchange keys and phone numbers with neighbors. Under mandatory evacuation in Nevada, they can’t force you to leave, but if you’re away (at the office, for example), you’re not allowed to reenter your neighborhood. Friends still at home may be able to grab what’s most precious to you–whether it’s your cat, your jewelry or your bowling trophies—but there are no guarantees.
3. Compile emergency phone numbers. Program the numbers to hotels, animal boarding facilities, food delivery, etc. into your phone. You’ll want to call and reserve a room before a thousand other people take them all.
4. Drive very, very carefully. I saw panic-stricken drivers running lights, tailgating, even driving the wrong way down one-way streets. A five-car-pileup happened right in front of me.
5. Put a smart evacuation kit together. You might be gone for days, weeks or even forever. I grabbed clothes and toiletries, but I forgot to include something respectable to wear at night when I had to take my dog out. If you stay in an evacuation center, a see-through nightgown is probably not what you want to be wearing. Also, don’t forget about your animals–I grabbed food, treats and leashes, but forgot the cat box.
6. Take your meds. Carry your prescriptions with you. I packed mine in a big pile of things that I didn’t have ready access to. I ended up wheezing and covered in hives.
7. Create a video record–now. This will be helpful if you have to collect on your insurance policy. Zero in on big-ticket items, including expensive things in your closets and basement; photograph recent home improvements that affect your home’s replacement cost. Load this record onto your computer.
8. Back up your computer. I use Mozy, which is free, online program that backs up automatically twice a day. Even if my laptop burns up, I can replicate it on a new machine in about an hour. I have had to do this and it really works.
9. Make a list. I went completely blank when figuring out what I should take with me. My family heirlooms would have been gone forever had my home burned. Rank the items on your list from most important to least important. You’ll be able to save as much as you can, and more importantly, you’ll save the right things.
10. Be grateful. In all, 29 homes were destroyed and 10,000 residents had to leave their homes. We survived, and my house is still standing. The most important thing I learned from my evacuation is that I’m not terribly attached to any of my possessions. That discovery made me stronger, and was well worth the terror and inconvenience.
This entire list can be taken care of in about two hours. Take care of them this week, and share this list with your friends and neighbors. That way, you’ll all be prepared and looking out for each other.