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Emergency Preparedness + Being Mobile
When I was a child in school, I went through the entire Girl Scout program, starting with Brownies and all through high school. I was even a Girl Scout camp counselor. So I was am well familiar with the Girl Scout motto “Be Prepared.” For Girl Scouts this means being prepared at any moment to face difficulties and even dangers by knowing what to do and how to do it. This is an excellent motto for life and has served me well. Girl Scouts prepared me to know how to do many things, but at the time the organization did not prepare us for emergencies of the type we face today.
Some years ago after…I think it was my first hurricane in Florida…I wrote three long posts about emergency preparedness. I can’t find them now, but they probably aren’t necessary. There are many websites that give the basics about emergency preparedness.
What I want to give you here are some things that I learned about how I wasn’t prepared for last week’s evacuation from my local wildfire. I didn’t realize until after I was driving away what I had left behind.
So I’ve decided to make a list NOW of the things I need to bring with me in an evacuation, and put it on the refrigerator door so I can find it if and when that moment comes.
I remember getting the warning to get ready to evacuate and suddenly wondering what I should bring. My mind went blank. I didn’t have any guidelines about what was important. My mind leapt to wanting to bring the “irreplaceable necessities” and then thought about what I needed for the immediate week to come.
In my case I couldn’t bring all my irreplaceable necessities because that would be all my research and writing notes that I’ve collected over a lifetime. After a few minutes of contemplation, I decided to leave all that behind. I know my subjects and if I needed to I could recreate the necessities anew. That was a difficult decision to make, but I felt confident. Already I had been experiencing not being able to find things I wrote years ago. Aside from my research, there was nothing else I needed to take.
When I lived in Florida I had put together a waterproof plastic envelope with my social security card, etc. All those important papers.
I grabbed three sets of clean underwear, but I didn’t bring an extra set of clothing. This is really important because you want a set of clothes to wear and another set to wash.
The thing I didn’t bring that surprised me most was I didn’t bring food. No, I brought a bag of red grapes. But I had a whole refrigerator of fresh organic fruits and vegetables that I knew I would need to put in the compost when I returned, and I didn’t take them with me. I don’t know why. I just didn’t think of it in those last moments when we were packing as fast as we could. We had jars of nuts, and raisins…we could have been eating all these foods during our evacuation, but I didn’t think of it.
The most important thing I failed to bring was my passwords. I have a program on my computer that has “all” my passwords it in, but I just put “all” in quotation marks because in fact, ALL my passwords were not there. All my LOGIN passwords were there, but not the phone number and passphrase to call the hosting company for my website. And some of my passwords actually were missing or incorrect. So even though I did have both my laptop and desktop computers with me, the only work I did was find out what wasn’t working.
Another vital thing to have on hand is cash money. I mostly use my debt card so at any given moment I don’t have much cash. One of the reasons we went to San Francisco was by the time we got the evacuation notification, all of Sonoma and Marin counties were without power. No ATMs. No stores. No restaurants. No gasoline. That was another thing: gas in the car. Fortunately, Larry had just filled the tank the day before, but in an emergency gas is vital and the gas pumps don’t run without electricity.
We also learned that we really we’re ready for an extended power outage. Ours lasted almost five days. While we had our little power station, we hadn’t yet purchased the solar panels to recharge it. And while our family has solar panels, they don’t have batteries to store the power. More to learn here and set up so we can continue life without central power from PG&E if we have to or choose to.
About three years ago, when I was planning to leave Florida, I began to think about how I could “be mobile.” I was considering living in the UK for a year and was looking at how I could bring my business with me. Plans changed and Larry and I came to California instead to live with his Mom, but I still want to be prepared to travel. For me this means having everything I need to run my business online. For the past six months, I’ve been working on finding and transferring things I’ve written in the past to online archives. My goal is to be able to do my work from my laptop anywhere in the world. And if I have to walk away with my laptop and let my house burn, I’ll be able to do that and not lose anything.
I am far away from being completely mobile, but I am moving in that direction. Last week’s evacuation really helped me see what more I need to do.
Our friend in San Francisco who offered us refuge during the evacuation also taught us a few things about emergency preparedness. In San Francisco, the emergencies are earthquake and fire. Our friend has prepared by taking a course to be trained to help community organizing in the event of an emergency. Because earthquakes happen without warning, and fires move fast through old wooden structures in San Francisco neighborhoods, she has her go-bag next to the front door, shoes by the bed, and she constantly wears a flat fanny pack around her waist with essentials like ID, keys and cash. She is as prepared as can be.
This experience of evacuation has taught us to get ourselves more prepared. After all, our experience in an emergency—like everything else in life—will be what we make it to be.