Category: General

Paradise was a Test for Emergency Responders. Many failed.

Could you survive a wildfire like this?

Since you’re a reader here at Emergency Plan Guide, I’m sure you remember the fire season of 2018: the “deadliest and most destructive wildfire season on record in California.” You may even remember some of the statistics: nearly 8 thousand separate fires, nearly 2 million acres burned. And 100 people confirmed dead – with a possible 50 more never found.

But so much has gone on since then that you may have forgotten about the single worst fire of that worst year. The Camp Fire roared through the Northern California town of Paradise on November 8, in one day destroying 95% of homes and businesses and leaving 85 dead in its wake. Paradise was a test for Emergency Responders. And many failed.

Yes, you may have forgotten. But if you read the book I just finished, you will NEVER forget Paradise.

“Paradise: One Town’s Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire”
by Lizzie Johnson

How to describe this book’s impact on me? It was so compelling I read all day the day I got it. So intense I couldn’t sleep that night. Some images remain in my mind: walls of flame 200 feet high; children only vaguely visible in a school bus filling with smoke; propane tanks exploding like bombs; floating embers as big as dinner plates . . .as big as dinner plates!

People who were heroes. And people who made bad decisions. . . a lot of bad decisions.

Paradise is a must-read for people who can’t afford to make bad emergency management decisions. Here are some questions to identify who those people are and force them to think about the decisions they might make under similar circumstances.

Are you one of the people who could be tested by disaster?

Do you live at the wildland-urban interface?

There are more of you every year, and you are a target. At Emergency Plan Guide we’ve written more than once about the dangers of wildfire, and how to be smart about defending your property from it. We’ve even written about new technology for the professionals who fight these fires. But technology only gives you more options. Judgment is still the real difference between success and failure. And in a case like Paradise, between life and death.

As I write this, over half the states of the U.S. are in drought. There’s no longer such a thing as “fire season.” Rather, it’s fires year-round.

Everyone at the wildland-interface needs to know how to build, how to defend, how to evacuate when fire threatens. As you read how people struggled in Paradise, your own choices may become clearer.

Do you deal with particular sub-sets of your community, such as seniors? Children? People with disabilities?

Johnson’s research included digging deeply into the living conditions and also the mindset of the people who lived and worked in Paradise. You get to know these folks and their community. It was like many others. But it had some unique characteristics that played into the choices emergency professionals made.

One was a higher-than-average population of older people – 25% compared to the American average of around 15%. This meant more people in Paradise had health and mental limitations, and physical disabilities. When it came to evacuation . . .

  • They didn’t know the fire was coming. Few had signed up to receive emergency alerts. They were busy with life, not watching the news.
  • In Paradise and even here in my community, older people have lived through other disasters in their lives. They tend to figure they will get through this one, too. In fact, many simply refuse to consider evacuation.

Seniors stand to fail the test of responding to emergencies more often than other groups. What about the seniors in your life?

Are you connected to a health-care facility?

Some of the most powerful stories in Johnson’s book describe what happens as clinics and hospitals are threatened and overrun by the fire. Talk about heroes! But talk about impossible situations: not enough wheelchairs, much less ambulances. Patients too large or too ill to walk or even fit into a car. Ultimately, no power.

How confident are you in your facility’s evacuation and overall emergency response plans? Or in the plans of the facilities where you have family members?

City leaders, including professional emergency managers, struggle to balance politics with safety. In Paradise, they lost.

Paradise describes a history of town development, where decisions were made by various councils about paving, widening, and narrowing streets. About water supply. Code enforcement. Hiring. Economic considerations often won out over safety. And everything came into play during the fire.

One of the most difficult decisions was when and how to call for evacuation. For me, reading the details of those decisions was agonizing.

If you are a professional emergency manager, a First Responder, or simply a concerned citizen, you’ll find yourself wanting to make a checklist of things to look into for your own community. I did. My list contains over 35 items.

First Responders showed up. But things didn’t work as planned.

Johnson describes helicopter pilots unable to fly because violent downdrafts threatened to smash them into the mountainsides. Police officers directed traffic without understanding where they were sending people. Communications between different departments didn’t always work.

Some Incident Commanders were up to the job. Others weren’t sure, and waffled.

Paradise can be a mini-study in how mutual aid works – and sometimes doesn’t.

And last. But perhaps first in importance: what can you expect from your utilities?

The Camp Fire was determined to have been caused by PG&E, the largest utility not only in California but in the nation. PG&E pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter, admitting that a spark from a 91-year-old transmission line started the fire. (Interestingly, the utility had previously warned that power might be shut off. Later, though, they claimed that conditions that day did not meet the company’s criteria for emergency shut-off.)

Does your utility do “Safety Shut-offs?” Under what conditions? What do you know about the history, maintenance and current condition of your utility’s grid? What plans do they have for back-up in an emergency? The same questions apply for your communications providers.  

These are only some of the urgent questions that filled my mind as I followed the increasingly desperate stories of individual Paradise residents. As each profile developed, I kept wondering – “Is THIS person going to end up being one of the 85 dead?”

I urge you to read Paradise yourself, as a citizen, community leader, or emergency response professional. You will be captured and inspired by Lizzie Johnson’s moving narrative. You will also be tested as to your own level of preparedness and readiness to respond. Please don’t wait.

Click on the image to order now from Amazon.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Totally unexpected? Not!

explosion and fire in urban setting
OMG! What’s happening in Ukraine???

This past year we’ve seen image after image of people emerging from the debris after tornados, trapped in long lines of cars to avoid a hurricane, escaping from a burning building in the midst of alarms and smoke. Were all these disasters totally unexpected? No!

Today, we are seeing more disaster images – people trying to escape sudden danger in Ukraine. And yet, that situation wasn’t totally unexpected, either. Let’s take a look.

The first images I saw yesterday were of Ukrainians who had rushed into underground subway stations to avoid explosions.

They were jammed in but seemed warm enough, and calm. Still, I didn’t see any supplies that would keep them comfortable for hours. Did you have the same questions I do?

  • Do they have anything to eat?
  • What about water?
  • What about babies with no formula?
  • How were hundreds of people able to use the toilet?
  • Did they have any idea of what was going on above ground?

Today, the next day, the danger is no longer totally unexpected. People are taking action to protect themselves.

Today the news shows people fleeing Ukraine for neighboring countries. Some are walking across the border, abandoning household and pets “just to get somewhere safe!” Some are running out of gas in long lines of cars stretched across the countryside. Others, deeper inland in Ukraine, are crowding onto train station platforms, hoping to get a place on an outbound train.

Today, most of these people have a suitcase or backpack. But what about their future?

  • How long will it take for them to get across the border?
  • What will happen when they arrive?
  • Where will they go? Or where will they end up?
  • What about family members who have gotten separated?

I have questions about the people we don’t see in the news.

Those left behind. Those who are unable to walk or who have no money for trains or simply no place to go to. How are they faring now? What will happen to them in coming days?

Most of these questions remain unanswered as of right now. But the message for this Advisory is . . .

Emergencies aren’t always “natural disasters.” And they seldom are totally unexpected.

What’s going on today in Europe is a good reminder that there are many, many events that can result in emergencies. (In our business books we list 97 different threats!) But few of them should be totally unexpected.

It’s also a good idea to remember that many emergencies require the same or a very similar immediate response.

Of course, we can’t possibly be prepared for everything, but we can surely be prepared for an immediate response to whatever hits.

Here at Emergency Plan Guide we’ve examined that immediate response many times. A quick summary:

  1. The more we pay attention – to the weather, the news, political developments, etc. – the more likely we’ll have time to pack up some essentials in case things come apart. Having a Go-Bag already packed keeps you from being one of the victims that ends up stuffing some clothes into a pillowcase or plastic bag and having to make do with that!
  2. Having a family plan for re-connecting during or after an emergency can keep family members focused on immediate needs instead of spending valuable time worrying.
  3. Building a store of essential emergency supplies means that empty shelves in stores won’t terrify you. (We’ve heard that stores in Kyiv are already empty . . .) Supplies need to include non-perishable food, water, warm clothing, lighting, prescriptions, list of emergency contacts.
  4. If you have imagined and talked over how you might respond to expected emergencies – power outage, storm, riot, nuclear accident, hazardous chemical spill, whatever – you’ll have more confidence that you’ll be able to respond. Practicing with your basic emergency tools – radio, lantern, cookstove – will add more confidence. So will having a tank full of gas.
  5. Should you take some basic preparedness actions now?

Mindset makes all the difference to effective preparedness.

The more Joe and I are active in the world of emergency preparedness and response, the more importance we give to mindset or attitude! What a huge difference between a wild-eyed “What shall we do???” and a firm “We can handle this!” 

Emergencies are part of life, to be expected. When they are anticipated, you’ll be far more able to get through them without them turning into a disaster.

Let’s treat the current situation in Ukraine as a valuable reminder of preparedness essentials.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. I know you know, but if this is a good time for a review, don’t forget our mini-series booklets.  They’re laid out with questions and answers. Easy to read, easy to get ideas from. Here are a few that might be particularly helpful for this review:

Pre-Disaster Plan. Number 1 in our series because it deals with the toughest challenge of all – getting started on a plan. Major emphasis on coping with disaster when you or other family members are not at home.

Emergency Cash. How much cash do you need to shelter in place? To evacuate by car or train? Where to get cash/money and how to store it?

Custom Go-Bags. Able to take you and your family through the first 3 days of an emergency – as long as the bags are customized AND ready to be grabbed.

There are 10 more titles in the series. You can see them all here.

End of Life Options

woman thinking about end of life options

(See 2022 update to California Death with Dignity Act, below.)

Most of my friends in the Emergency Preparedness realm seem to agree with our mantra, “The more we all know, the safer we all will be.” For me, the mantra extends to “The more options we know about, the less fear we’ll have.” (Options certainly drove the content of books in the Mini-Series like “No water?” and Personal Safety.)

Today I want to touch on some options that very seldom get discussed, namely, your end of life options. That is, what choices you have about medical care and particularly, what choices you have about when and how you will die.

We don’t usually spend much time talking about dying or the choices we have at end of life.

It seems that we actually avoid talking about dying although it’s something we all have in common! I’m not sure exactly why this is the case. Are we afraid of dying? Do we think that talking about it will make it happen? Do we somehow want to “protect our children?”

Well, Joe and I have experienced the death of a number of family members and, more recently, of several neighbors. And the hundreds of thousands of deaths resulting from the coronavirus have made death something we hear about every day.

It’s time to know more about end of life options and take some preparedness actions NOW before it’s too late.

Disclaimer: This Advisory isn’t meant to be a statement about religious or cultural beliefs. Nor is it meant to offer medical or legal advice. It is meant to clarify some concepts that may be fuzzy (as they were for me a while back) and give you an idea of where to go for more info.

Before you get ill, you need Advance Directives to tell your doctors how to handle certain situations.

Several documents can be consdidered Advance Directives – a Living Will, a DNR order, and/or a Medical Power of Attorney. Here are simple definitions:

  • A Living Will tells your doctor what kind of medical care you want should you become incapacitated. Examples might be ventilator for life support, artificial nutrition, etc. If the Living Will doesn’t mention a specific issue, then the doctors will probably go ahead and treat you as they ordinarily would to save and sustain your life. You need to have the Living Will completed before anything happens.
  • A DNR, or Do Not Resuscitate order, gives medical personnel specific instructions about what to do when your heart or breathing stops.
  • The Medical Power of Attorney gives someone else (usually a family member) the right to make medical choices for you if you are incapacitated or unable to make decisions for yourself.

Different states have different rules regarding these documents, so your first action is to find out how things work in YOUR state. Action item: Simply type into your browser the words, “Advance Directives [your state].

The challenge with all these documents is if you have wishes, they need to be clearly spelled out, appropriately witnessed, and readily available to medical personnel. In addition, your family needs to know exactly what your wishes are.

Example of worst case

You’ve been through a long illness and know you do not want to be resuscitated if your heart stops. But you haven’t really made it clear to family or, for that matter, to your doctor. An incident occurs. Out of fear or emotion, your family insists you be kept alive no matter what it takes or what it costs. A bad situation becomes terrible.

Please don’t wait. Get these forms and make these decisions and talk about them NOW.

What end of life options do you have regarding your body after death?

Burial or Cremation

I’m sure you are familiar with standard burial and cremation. Decisions here may be determined by religion, timing, location, and your survivors’ finances.  Be aware of these financial benefits:

  • Social Security will pay a one-time lump sum of $255 to a surviving spouse.
  • The Veterans Administration has benefits to help with burial, funeral and transportation costs for veterans who die in a VA hospital and/or who were receiving a VA pension.
  • The stimulus bill passed in December, 2020 has a plan to reimburse families for funeral costs if they had a loved one die from COVID-19 between Jan. 20 and Dec. 31 of 2020. As of February, 2021, FEMA reports it is working on setting up a hotline.

Donation of your Body to Science

People who want to advance the understanding of science may wish to donate parts of their body or their entire body after their death. Many different programs are available so again, it pays to do your research. (Do more than just read their websites, which will always be positive. Check on reputation via news stories.)

Joe and I agreed we want to donate our bodies to science. Here’s what we discovered as we looked into options here in Southern California.

  • Many programs exist. Some are national, some local. Some are free; some have a fee. We elected to go with our local university’s medical center.
  • Being accepted requires that we have an application on file. The university will collect our bodies and transport them at no cost. The program will not return any remains.
  • There are some circumstances that would deny us coverage. For example, while our program will come to get us no matter where we are, another program placed a 50 mile maximum distance. We must fall within normal weight limits and our bodies must be intact. And if we die from COVID, the university will be unable to use our bodies so we need to have alternate arrangements.

If this seems weird or uncomfortable to you as you read this, you can believe that some of our family members found it uncomfortable, too!  We have had multiple conversations about our choice!

What options are available regarding how and when to die?

Hospice Care

If you have a terminal illness (most likely with no more than 6 months to live), you may choose to stop trying to cure the illness and ask for hospice care so you can die as comfortably as possible at home or, if necessary, in a hospice inpatient facility.

Mayo Clinic defines hospice this way: “Hospice care is a service for a person who has discontinued disease-fighting treatments and is preparing to die.”  Medicare Part A and most health plans cover hospice.

(Palliative care is often linked with hospice care. Palliative care is aimed at providing comfort for a particular illness/symptom/pain and may be short or long-term. It is usually paid for by your insurance. Hospice care is always palliative care, but palliative care is not always hospice care.)

As you might expect, you have choices of different hospice providers, so do your research.  Your doctor or hospital may be able to refer you. Ask questions about what exactly the hospice workers will do and what they won’t do, how often they come, their response time, does the program offer respite care, etc.

Ending your life on your own schedule

The idea of choosing when to die is extremely controversial.  Still, people who suffer or anticipate constant pain, sickness, depression, anxiety or fear deserve to know about these end of life options, too.

Here are two programs as examples.

1. Final Exit Network (FEN)

The Final Exit Network (FEN) is a newer version of a program many of us have heard of: the Hemlock Society. FEN is a national, non-profit organization serving members in all 50 states.  

The network believes that “a mentally competent person with intolerable suffering or pain has the right to end their life, choosing the timing and persons present, and should be free of any restrictions by the law, clergy, medical profession, friends or relatives.” 

FEN does not encourage people to end their lives, and does not help people end their lives. Rather, its goal is to educate people about end of life options and to provide a compassionate presence at their bedside. FEN also defends people’s legal rights to end their lives.

2. Death With Dignity Act

Since I live in California, I’ve spent some time finding out about this particular end of life option. Ten states have the Act; the parameters in all seem quite similar.

The California Act allows terminally ill adult residents in California to get medical help to end their own lives. Under the law, this is NOT considered suicide. You can get the full history of the CA Death With Dignity act here.

Here’s how “aid in dying” works in California.

The “aid” is a prescription for a medication that will end your life. To request the prescription, you must be 18, a California resident, capable of making your own decisions, and diagnosed with a terminal illness that will result in death within six months.

UPDATED JANUARY 2022. Before 2022, you had to make at least two requests for the medication, 15 days apart.  You had to provide a written request, signed by two witnesses. Two doctors had to confirm your condition and confirm that you were capable of making your own medical decisions. As of today, the process has been simplified. Duplicate written attestations have been eliminated; most importantly, your two requests only have to be 48 hours apart.

NO OTHER PERSON can make this request on your behalf. Moreover, you have to be able to take/drink the prescription by yourself. It cannot be “administered.”

According to the California website, in 2019, the latest year for which statistics are available, 618 people received prescriptions under the act and 405 used them to die. 

A personal note.

I inquired of my own doctor about the Act. She told me that she would never agree to sign off on the prescription for me, based on her personal beliefs. I was surprised! However, she assured me that competent colleagues would be willing and able to do so.

So, don’t assume anything about your own doctor!

Writing this Advisory has brought back memories and reminded me, again, that every single person may have a different idea about how end of life should be approached. All competent and caring individuals, however, surely do not want to leave an emotional mess and even a tug-of-war behind because they didn’t make their wishes known.

As long as you are healthy, you can always make changes in any of these end of life decisions. But if you haven’t made decisions, the minute you get ill they may be taken right out of your hands.

I welcome any real-life experiences to add to this Advisory.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Last week we talked about the simple things you can do to prepare for personal emergencies. If you didn’t see it, please go back and take another look at the Just In Case letter. It’s a good first step in this type of planning.

Holiday Decorations Safety


Did you notice the second sentence in last week’s Advisory?  Here it is again: “So much of emergency preparedness is just getting smarter and more secure around the basics.” This week I was forced by my neighbors to take another look at one of those basics: making sure holiday decorations safety isn’t overlooked in the excitement of the season.

The reason I say “forced” is because our neighborhood sponsors an annual Holiday Decorating Contest.  The rules are simple: pretty much anything goes!  So outdoors we have strings of lights, plastic icicles, inflatable Santas, wire-sculpture reindeer, nativity scenes with the Star of Bethlehem. Through the windows we can see miniature villages with moving trains, Christmas trees of all sizes, and . . . burning candles!

Holiday Decorations Safety: A perfect theme for our December HOA meeting

Because of the decorating contest, we devoted some time at this week’s meeting to holiday safety. I hope this is all review for you. But in case you have new neighbors, new decorations or simply forgetful folks anywhere nearby, you may want to share some of this!

Our “educational display table” focused on extension cords.

We have found that people really do love to look at pictures and handle real examples. So we set out a simple display of things to watch out for. Here it is, nearly finished . . .

Step right up . . .!

From left to right you can see:

  • Image of broken and burned cord
  • GFI (GFCI) outlet (with real example)
  • How extension cords are sized (text)
  • Comparing indoor and outdoor extension cords and plugs (with real examples)
  • Image of cord showing “Indoor/Outdoor” label
  • Image of dangerously over-loaded wall socket (purposefully exaggerated)
  • Methods for keeping outdoor light plugs dry (plastic cover, baggie)

When people arrived, we had Emergency Response Team members staffing the table and making sure people got their questions answered.

An important benefit of building the display? We “experts” learned we weren’t so expert after all! How about you? Test your own level of extension-cord expertise with the 3 questions below!

(1) You need a really heavy-duty cord to run power tools for your construction project.  What gauge would you start looking at, a 10 gauge or a 16 gauge?
(2) Can you quickly name 3 common household appliances that should not be used with an extension cord?
(3) Your cord is marked with the letters SJTW.  What do they mean?

(You’ll find all the answers you need at this appropriately-named site:

Next in the spotlight, a favorite hazard: candles!

You probably know this statistic from the NPFA: “On average, 20 home candle firs are reported per day, peaking in December and January.” Just about a year ago one of our neighbors lost her home as the result of a candle fire. We consistently warn about that danger here in our neighborhood, with a big emphasis on fire extinguishers.

One of our creative volunteers built a second display highlighting alternatives to candles!  Here’s a photo showing her different battery-operated, LED “candles.” The largest one actually flickers thanks to a clever floating “wick” mechanism. The main feature of these lights?  NO FLAME AND HARDLY ANY HEAT!  (Did you know that LEDs use less than 1/10 the energy of regular lights?)

You can imagine the flickering . . .

We ended up giving away about a dozen small LED tea candles to people who had never actually seen them before!  (See what I mean about getting smarter and more secure about the basics? Everyone can learn more!)

And to sum up: “Tis the season for safety!” checklist as handout

Finally, we handed out a one-page holiday decorations safety checklist to everyone. It offered 16 tips for lighting safety as regards

  • Candles – Avoid them!
  • Lights and Trees (6 tips on how to buy, how to maintain)
  • Cords and Outlets (Temporary use only! 9 tips for using the right size, when 3-prong plugs are required, what NOT to plug into an extension cord, etc.)

As always, we also created a version of our holiday decorations safety checklist in Chinese.

Some safety samples for your own use, or your educational display

If you think a display like ours might be useful, but you can’t rustle up examples of all the items we’ve mentioned, check out these items at Amazon. (Your purchase may give me a small commission that will keep me getting examples for my own trainings!)

General purpose outdoor extension cord

The important thing is to confirm that the cord is actually meant for outdoor use! The label may say “Indoor/Outdoor” and you may also see the letter “W” stamped on the cord itself. The longer the cord you need, the heavier gauge you should get, because current is lost over distance.

This general purpose 50 foot cord is heavy enough that it can be used to drive hand tools and gardening equipment – and of course it will work for holiday decorations.

Go Green Power Inc. GG-13750BK 50′ 16/3 SJT W-A Extension Cord, , , Black
Not sure about a GFI? (Ground Fault Interrupter) or GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter)? (They are the same thing!)

(I’m including this because I promised to dig ever deeper, remember?)  We had one of these in our tool shed that we pulled out for the display, but I had actually never really looked at it.  (Joe is the electrician around here.) You may have noticed one in your bathroom: they are required in kitchens and bathrooms to prevent shock in areas that may be damp.

This model has both a TEST button and a RESET button so you can have extra confidence that the circuit is working and is safe. (It glows red when it’s not working and/or needs to be replaced.)

Instructions say you can “install in 10 minutes.” I’d be sure to get an experienced installer!

ANKO GFCI Outlet 20 Amp, UL Listed, LED Indicator, Tamper-Resistant, Weather Resistant Receptacle Indoor or Outdoor Use with Decor Wall Plates and Screws
Something altogether new for me: A waterproof cover for extension cord plugs!

If your decorations will be outside in the weather, you’ll want to keep the plugs dry.  (In warm climates, that includes keeping them out of the path of the irrigation.) Of course, you can use a baggie and tie it shut, but this simple plastic case would be a whole lot easier and more reliable. Just place the plug into the case, snap it shut, and voila. Easy, Dry. Safe! (This one comes 3 to a pack.)

Flemoon [3 Pack] Outdoor Extension Cord Safety Cover with Waterproof Seal, Weatherproof Electrical Connection Box to Protect Outdoor Outlet, Plug, Socket, Christmas Holiday Decoration Light, Black
Finally, some REALLY attractive and very safe LED candles!
Table setting showing holiday decorations including LED candles

I was given these candles as a present!  They are absolutely beautiful and since they’re made of wax when they are lit you can’t tell they aren’t real. (Two AA batteries in each, can be turned on and off with a switch on the bottom, or remotely using controller.)

The candles are 3 inches across, so not small. The image from the advertising shows their relative size.

Flameless Battery Operated Flickering Candles: LED Real Wax Electric Votive Candle Lights with Remote Control Set of 3 Large Pillar Fake Candles for Wedding Party Outdoor Votive Diwali Garden

OK, that’s it for today’s review of extension cords vs. holiday decorations. Perhaps I’ve treated some of this in a light-hearted fashion, but it’s a serious topic. Every year 770 house fires are caused by Christmas lights. Take just a few sensible steps so you can enjoy your own holiday lights without a tragedy.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. If you would like a copy of our Holiday Decorations Checklist, click here to download the pdf. I’ve left space at the bottom of the checklist page so you can customize it to your own group before duplicating it.

School Preparedness Questions for Parents

She’s ready to learn – but is she ready for an emergency?

Every year in August I think about school starting and ask, ”Do I really need to give parents a list of questions about school preparedness?” And every year, because things keep changing, the answer is YES. Lately my list has had to be updated more than once a year!

Here are updated school preparedness questions for Fall, 2021.

These questions are written primarily for elementary school parents, teachers, staff, security and healthcare providers. Of course, every school is unique – not to mention every student! – so we can’t provide guidelines for every single situation.

In particular, we can not address the situation with COVID-19 and public health that is front and center for school children this year.

But we can ask pertinent questions with the hope that all parents will make sure to get the answers that work for their family.

Preparedness questions to ask the school

Caution: School personnel may be hesitant to answer some of these questions. They may not want to share details. They may be uncomfortable with preparedness issues in general. Or given all the changes that are happening, they may simply not know the answers. But remember, if you feel good answers are not forthcoming, stick with it!

Also remember this, too. School staff members may not consider themselves “First Responders,” but when something happens, they are the first ones there. Their actions can keep an emergency from turning in to a disaster. School staff deserves and needs to have the right training and supplies — and support from the district and the community — to do this job.

1 – General school emergency policies.

  1. Does the school have written emergency policies and plans? Have they been updated to account for the Coronavirus? For air quality or other emerging situations?
  2. How do parents find out about the policies?
  3. What about emergency contact forms for each child. How are they distributed? Where kept? How detailed? How often updated?
  4. Who decides on the definition of “emergency?”
  5. How will parents be notified in emergencies? Are all parents notified for each emergency?
  6. What are student pick-up policies? What are alternative pick-up locations if school has been closed? Who can pick up your child if school is shut down? How will they be notified? How will they be identified before child is released? What if your child won’t go with them?

2 – Emergency drills.

  1. Does the school face any particular threats because of its location? (near railroad tracks, busy traffic or airport, environmental hazards from neighboring businesses, potential for earthquake or tsunami, etc.)
  2. How are teachers and students on site notified of an emergency? (site-wide PA system, internal phone system, cellphone app, etc.)
  3. How can teachers advise the office of an emergency?
  4. What emergencies does the school train for other than fire or storm? (Earthquake, tornado, wildfire, active shooter?)
  5. Does the school train for evacuation as well as shelter in place?
  6. What should parents know about how these drills are called and how conducted?
  7. Who does the training and how often?
  8. How are substitute teachers included in these drills?

3 – Emergency supplies and equipment.

  1. What food and water supplies are maintained in the school?
  2. Are supplies kept on school buses?
  3. What food, water and hygiene supplies are in the classroom in case of extended lockdown? (Please see P.S.!)
  4. Are first aid supplies available in each classroom?
  5. What first aid training do staff members get? Do they get age-appropriate training? (For example, CPR for infants and children is different than for adults.)
  6. Where is emergency equipment located? (fire extinguishers, AEDs, wheel chairs, etc.)
  7. Who is trained in equipment use?

4 – Security features.

In recent years, many schools have made changes to their physical infrastructure to provide more security. Parents and students should know what to expect.

  1. Have changes been made in the classroom or on the campus due to the threat of COVID?
  2. Has the school made any changes to the way visitors are allowed onto the campus or into the buildings? What are the policies?
  3. Does the school have security cameras? Are they monitored?
  4. Does the school have a professional security force? How many officers with what credentials, what training and what weapons? Their role?

(By the way, a report from the National Center for Education Statistics can give you an idea of how your school stacks up compared to others when it comes to physical security and crime statistics. The report is updated every year.)

5- Getting back to business as usual.

Sometimes it’s easier to focus on immediate protective actions and overlook what it will take to recover once the event is over. A good school preparedness plan has procedures in place to help parents and students “get back to business as quickly as possible.” (Obviously, after a year of distance or hybrid learning, these procedures may be new for everyone.)

Depending on the age of the students, such activities might include

  • professional and peer counseling
  • student-aided clean-up
  • building safety inspections
  • memorials
  • acknowledging First Responders, etc.

See what plans the school has for such activities and what role the parents are expected to play.

Next steps for parents.

First, share your list of school preparedness questions with other parents. You may want to take the time to expand it with details unique to your school. Next, approach teachers and administrators for answers.

Make sure the answers get out to everyone in the neighborhood! You may want to insist on special presentations on some topics. Guest speakers could be school staff and a member of the police or fire department. You yourself might volunteer to help design and put on parts of the presentation.

You may need to create materials in multiple languages.

Presentations could be held virtually, or on Back to School night, at a PTA meeting, and, of course, in the classroom. Have students videotape the presentation for later showing or showing online, as well.

Working together, schools, students, parents and other community members can keep emergencies from becoming disasters and do the best possible job of protecting students when disasters do occur.

Your Emergency Preparedness Team that naturally includes children!

P.S. Does your school ask that you send an “emergency kit” to school with your student? If so, please read this companion Advisory, also newly updated for 2021: Emergency Kit for School.

Emergency Kit for School

Emergency kit for school
Any emergency supplies in that backpack?

Is your child missing an emergency kit for school?

The first time I did research for this Advisory, I was shocked to read comments like this:

“Wow, an emergency kit for school. What a good idea! I just thought the school would be taking care of this!”

These were comments from people reading articles online!  What about all the other parents who don’t have time to spend online?!

First things first. What emergency supplies does your school store?

A year or so ago I attended a training put on by the Earthquake Country Alliance, and sat next to a woman who works with schools. She told me about a school that called to ask her to inventory their emergency supplies shed. “How long has it been since you checked it?” she asked.  The answer was, “Uhhhh…”

When she opened the shed she discovered what she called “a hazmat situation.” The shed had leaked and everything inside was completely spoiled and contaminated!

That story should encourage you, when you go to your Back to School night, to ask not only what supplies are kept at school but also how often they are refreshed.

Next, what emergency supplies does the school want children to bring? Are they adequate?

In some schools in our area, each child is required to bring an “emergency kit for school” at the start of the school year. Reading the instructions closely, I discovered that the kit is to consist of a quart-sized resealable plastic bag with the child’s and teacher’s name on the outside, some snacks, and a personal note from the parent to the child.

This “kit” would sustain the kids I know for about 15 minutes.

Here’s another list from a school district in the mid west: ”A little food, some water, a space blanket or large plastic trash bag, a non-toxic light stick and a letter or photograph from home.”

As a parent, you need to find out about “required kits” at your school. The questions to ask:

  • What goes in the kits?
  • How are they stored?
  • What about kids whose parents send nothing at all?

Third, what sort of PERSONAL emergency supplies make sense for YOUR child?

Here at Emergency Plan Guide we talk about survival kits frequently, so none of this should be new or different. In this section we’re not talking about the “required kit” that the school wants to collect and hold. Here, we’re talking about emergency supplies specifically for your child. A few things to consider:

  1. Your child may need access to emergency supplies at any time! An emergency could happen on the way to school, or on the way home, not just while the child is in class. So, the best place to have supplies is in the kid’s bookbag or backpack.
  2. Of course, this kit is meant for emergencies only. It’s not to be shared or talked about at recess. This means the kit has to be separated from the rest of the stuff in the bag.
  3. Every kid’s personal emergency kit will be different. Your first-grader just won’t need or want the same stuff that your 6th-grader wants! And, of course, that kit’s contents will have to change regularly.

Some suggestions from parents for customizing an emergency kit for school.

The kit needs its own pocket.

Pick a backpack or book bag or rolling cart with a zippered pocket for the emergency kit.  A bottom pocket would work, as well as an outside pocket of the right size.  You’ll have to shop for the right backpack based on your your kid’s size, sex and whatever is in fashion at the school! 

An older child may like a “tactical” bag with mesh and lots of pockets – as long as it has one pocket for the survival kit.

Find a sensible container for the personal emergency kit.

Depending on the size of your kid’s backpack, you will very likely be able to find an individual zippered toiletries bag or one in a set of organizers that will fit perfectly in the pocket or on the bottom of the bag. You might want to use a clear bag (meant for travelers) and a couple of sets of compressible “packing cubes.” If you’re packing a jacket or other emergency wear, being able to compress it would be a great space saver. ( Here’s the link to an Advisory with some handy packing tips and organizers.)

You may even be able to pack supplies in a tin box that will fit in a particular pocket.

In any case, the idea is to avoid your child having to paw past the kit to get to books and papers, etc.

What goes into the personal emergency kit for school?

If the student carries the bag every day, it can’t be too heavy. (That’s why a rolling cart is a good idea!) Still, the kit should include items from this list:

  • Food – energy bars, non-perishable snacks. Hard candies. Get some protein bars and not just carbs!
  • Water – if your child carries a water bottle every day anyway, that may suffice. Otherwise, consider packets of water.
  • Warmth – Poncho, space blanket, extra jacket. Maybe hand warmers.
  • Light – Pen with light; light stick.
  • Emergency whistle – good quality. Cheap plastic whistles are hard to blow and may not give the sound quality your child needs.
  • First aid items – Most children won’t be able to use a full first aid kit, but they certainly know and love band aids and maybe anti-bacterial cream.
  • Face mask for emergency use.
  • Wet wipes individually packaged.
  • ID card with emergency contacts and family photo – protected from getting wet.
  • Emergency phone if allowed and if the kid knows how to use it.
  • Small toy, book or comfort item.

Warning: The emergency kit for school is NOT the place for medicines or drugs. Most schools have strict rules about how student prescriptions are to be handled. Be sure you find out about those rules.

Suggestions for parents whose kids walk home alone . . .

Phone Wristwatch.

The minute school lets out I have two young neighbor children who immediately call their parents using a phone wristwatch. Children aren’t allowed to have phones at school, but the watches are allowed. I’ve interviewed the parents, who REALLY like being able to check in via voice and talk with the kids as they head to their after-school care locations. Questions to have in mind:

  1. Is the wristwatch phone limited to a particular carrier?
  2. Can you connect the wristwatch phone via app to YOUR phone? (iOS or Android)
  3. Does it monitor the child’s location via GPS? Can you set limits and get an alert when the child goes out of area?
  4. How many phone numbers can be programmed into the wristwatch phone?
  5. What sort of access to the internet (games!) is available through the phone?

The phone below is a good example. I was attracted because this phone limits calls to 10 known friends or family, and blocks all others. It also can block calls during class time. Naturally, I was looking for different colors, too! Click on the image or the link to check out all the details at Amazon.

Cosmo JrTrack 1 Kids Smartwatch | Pink | Voice & Video Call | GPS Tracker | SOS Alerts | Water Resistant | Blocks Unknown Numbers | SIM Card Included | Class Mode | Perfect for Back to School

Welcome-home doorbell Camera

By now we’ll all seen the home security cameras that can alert you when your kid steps through the front door. Again, parents whose kids arrive home to an empty house are really comforted by this technology. Of course, you’d want to get the kind that allows for two-way conversation.

We’ve written many times about front door security. New models are coming online all the time. The Ring model shown below does what I was looking for for parents wanting to know their child is home safely after school.

Ring Video Doorbell – newest generation, 2020 release – 1080p HD video, improved motion detection, easy installation – Satin Nickel

Special needs kid?

If you have a special needs kid, please take a look at my recent Advisory that describes a particularly powerful tracker for kids who need close supervision.

Let me know of other suggestions you have for items for kids, or what your school requires. I’d like to include that research next time!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Welcome to new readers! If you’d like more on the topic of kids and school, you may want to check out this Advisory with Preparedness Questions for Back to School.

Get-Out-The-Door Bag


Packed and ready . . .

Packed and ready with room left over

We recently asked readers what worried them the most. There was one clear winner (if that’s the right term for it):
“Not being prepared to evacuate.”

One person (Elizabeth!) had a very specific request regarding evacuation, and that’s what we’re addressing today.

“Can you please send us a SHORT list of what we need to have ready?” 

Here’s what goes into the . . .

Get Out The Door Bag.

This is the bag you need to have packed and available at all times, ready for that unexpected emergency.

This is the bag you grab when suddenly there’s a police officer banging at the door and yelling at you to get out, because . . . there’s been a train wreck, a chemical spill, some sort of terrorist attack, whatever. You have ONE MINUTE to get out! 

You pull this bag out from under the bed, scoop it out of the closet near the door, or maybe it’s already stored in the car when you scramble in.

And if it happens in the middle of the night, remember, you are in pajamas.

The Get Out The Door Bag is meant to get you to wherever you end up and give you a sense of confidence until the situation is straightened out, which may take minutes or hours.

This is not the 3-day or 72-hour kit that we talk about so often. Watch for THAT list later. It’s a longer list, so it doesn’t fit in this Advisory!

What 10 things go into the Get Out The Door Bag?

(If you look carefully, you’ll see all these in the image above!)

  1. Sturdy shoes and socks
  2. Long pants, long sleeved shirt (You might be in pajamas, remember?)
  3. Jacket
  4. Flashlight + extra batteries
  5. Emergency radio
  6. Cell phone and charger
  7. List of emergency contact names and numbers
  8. Toiletry kit including several days’ worth of medicines
  9. Extra glasses, sunglasses, contacts
  10. The one small thing you just can’t leave behind . . .

Everything 1-9 on the list will fit into an ordinary-sized backpack, depending on the size of your shoes! This was my list, and it all fit into my bag, with room left over!

As for that item #10 . . .

If you have extra room, or specific concerns, one or more of these might be your “one small thing you just can’t leave behind.”

  • Cash
  • Extra set of keys
  • Memory stick/flash drive with copies of your important documents including website/account passwords
  • Pocket knife or multi-tool
  • Favorite photo, book, etc.
  • Stuffed animal
  • Mylar space blanket/sleeping bag

Because Joe and I are such fans of walkie-talkies, we’d probably each have a hand-held radio, too. You may also have noticed the hard candies in the image above. I always gotta have something sweet!

Some suggestions about how to pack your Get Out The Door Bag.

Line your backpack with a big plastic bag to help keep everything dry.

To make this really work, you will have to “build” a second toiletries kit, just for the Bag. Get a small toothbrush, small sized deodorant, wipes. Pack a supply of pills in small plastic bags. (Get in the habit of replacing pills with a new supply every other week or so.)

Use another plastic bag to build a minimal first aid kit and tuck it into the toiletries bag, too.

And as for phone and charging cables, if you always plug in at the same place, you’ll be able to scoop everything up as you head out the door. Have a plastic bag or see-through packing cube for them, too.

Keep reading for more about plastic bags!

Specific recommendations to consider for your Get Out The Door Bag.

The Packable Jacket

While I was waiting in one of the endless lines at the airport last summer, I watched a young woman dig into her suitcase and pull out a wadded up piece of clothing.

She straightened it up, slipped it on and everybody standing around nodded and smiled in approval! Turns out this is an actual fashion: the PACKABLE jacket. These jackets look like a very light-weight, close-fitting down jacket. Some, of course, are filled with material other than down. The outer material also varies; some are weather resistant. Some have hoods. But all of them are very light, very crushable and would be the perfect item to pack in your Get Out The Door bag and/or have in the car all the time!

Here are a couple of examples from Amazon: prices for packable jackets start as low as $25 (though most are more), so check out several different brands.  (Click on the images below to go directly to Amazon to start your comparison shopping.)

Amazon Essentials Men’s Lightweight Water-Resistant Packable Puffer Jacket, Charcoal Heather, Large
Amazon Essentials Women’s Lightweight Long-Sleeve Full-Zip Water-Resistant Packable Puffer Jacket, Black, X-Large

Plastic baggies

A second essential item for packing is something you may have at home, but maybe not – and that is a collection of different sized zip-lock or other plastic baggies! There’s nothing better for building that

  • Streamlined toiletries kit
  • A small first-aid kit
  • A sewing kit
  • Place to store your cell phone cords, charger, etc.
  • Last summer I spent about $2 I think to buy individual pill baggies. They are tiny – and perfect to hold a daily supply of a half-dozen pills!

I saw this collection at Amazon and it looked very convenient, with six different sizes. Get a couple of packs so everyone will have the sizes they need.

You know what plastic bags look like. Click the link to see this collection:

ShipGuard 600 Ziplock Bags 6 Assorted Sizes Clear 2MIL baggies1.5×2 2×2 2×3 3×3 3×4 3×5

Packing cubes

Here’s yet another packing idea. This one you should consider if you travel AT ALL!

They’re called “packing cubes.” The cubes are soft-sided rectangular-shaped  zipper containers that you pack tightly (fold or roll) and then stack in your suitcase. Put underwear in one, socks in another. PJs in another. All your little “kits” – toiletries, sewing, first aid– in another. The idea is to not have to paw through everything to get to the bottom of the case where these socks are hiding.

Obviously, our Get Out Of The House bag won’t have multiples of many items, but still, organizing in layers simply makes sense. Here’s one set that is bright red. Click on the image to get details.)

Amazon Basics Small Packing Travel Organizer Cubes Set , Red – 4-Piece Set

Extra warmth

And finally, particularly for the Get Out The Door bag, pop in a couple of space blankets or even one of the space blanket mummy bags. These flexible sheets of Mylar aren’t too sturdy, but could add extra warmth in place of or even inside a sleeping bag. The shiny reflective side goes toward your body to capture heat, or turns outside to reflect the sun.

(I added  some duct tape to my kit. I could use it to tape my blanket into a bag.)

Bought singly they cost somewhere around $4-5 each; buy in bulk and you can get them for more like $1-2 each. We have space blankets in every survival kit we own.

EVERLIT Emergency Mylar Thermal Blanket (4 Pack) Space Blankets for First Aid Kit Camping Kit Hiking Outdoor

Here’s another Mylar product that’s been turned into an instant “sleeping bag” with its own fabric case, perfect for emergency shelter and/or camping:

Tact Bivvy 2.0 Emergency Sleeping Bag, Compact Ultra Lightweight, Waterproof, Thermal Bivy Sack Cover, Emergency Shelter Survival Kit – w/Stuff Sack, Carabiner, Survival Whistle + ParaTinder (Orange)

You don’t NEED any of these Amazon items to pack up your Get Out The Door bag. Still, having the right stuff will make the bag easier to pack, easier to carry and easier to manage when you need it.

Let me know when you’ve got YOURs all packed!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Ready to get an emergency radio — or another one? Check out our radio reviews. One of these small radios will fit in your Get Out The Door bag, just like my black and red one does.

What happened to Alice – Part Two

Woman sewing mask during pandemic shut-down
Sewing two-layered pandemic mask . . .

Last week I relayed the story of “What happened to Alice” during the pandemic shut-down. (If you missed it, please read it now.) I found Alice’s story disturbing. I’m confident, though, that anyone who could describe a 13-month lock-down as “$4k a month to be in jail” will be able to get back to a full and satisfying life!

While I was writing, I found myself with questions. How might Alice’s “stay” have been handled differently? What could the retirement facility have done? Did other seniors experience this same sort of lock-down? Answers started coming – so this week, here’s “What happened to Alice – Part Two.”

First, the difference between an “assisted living” facility and a “retirement community.”

Alice lives in an assisted living facility where meals are provided. She gets various levels of medical assistance, and social activities are offered (when it’s safe for people to get together). Assisted living apartments usually have emergency communications (a pull alarm or a wearable medical alert). And in an emergency like a wildfire or flood, facility staff manages an evacuation.

By contrast, I live in a 55+ retirement community where we are considered “independent.” We own our own homes, and property managers don’t come in. Meals and (most of) our activities are up to us. We get ourselves to the doctor or call 911 when necessary. In an emergency like a fire, we are responsible for our own evacuation – following police instructions, of course. (You can read our near-evacuation story, too, if you missed that!)

The important point: Retirement or assisted living communities are not nursing homes. The former are considered “residential” environments; nursing homes are considered “medical” environments. (Want more details on these definitions? Here’s a good resource.) This Advisory deals with senior residential living.

How did senior retirement communities respond to the pandemic shutdown?

Here are some examples of what went on in different communities. All this information comes from people I know – or heard about from readers.


Alice’s facility closed its doors and residents’ doors and monitored all traffic. As already mentioned, no one died of COVID. (Editor’s note: Nationwide, 1 in 12 people in assisted living homes died of COVID.)

Where I live, visitors — including gardeners, housekeepers, etc. — came and went. People wore or didn’t wear masks. (Our clubhouse was closed.) We had a handful of COVID cases among neighbors, but no deaths that I know of.


Alice was alone in her room all day with her TV. Food was delivered at the door. Had she not picked up her food, staff would have noticed. (But it doesn’t sound as though anyone lingered to chat.)

My brother lives in a large (1,000 + people) retirement community in Arizona. Some people had meals delivered, but not all. To track their residents, that HOA set up a system of hanging a sign on the door knob. (Picture a “Do not disturb” sign on a hotel room door.) If you didn’t take the sign in in the morning, security personnel knocked and then came right in to check on you.

In our community of over 500 people, most people stayed home. We shopped during “senior hours.” Some people picked up food boxes via drive-thru, and food programs delivered meals. During these months at least 4 people living alone fell and were not found for hours or days. Three died on the floor and the other died later in hospital. There was no system for checking on everyone. (A particular challenge during our near-evacuation.)


So many people report having “binge watched” old sitcoms, series, movies, etc. Alice had TV and probably did her share of watching. But she didn’t have internet access because she didn’t have her own computer. Joe and I have both TV and internet. My brother had the computer and internet and conquered Zoom so we were at least able to see each other’s smiles.

What could have been done to combat what Alice described as “being in jail?”

As long as people are still getting infected by the coronavirus, it has the chance to mutate again. More shut-downs are very likely. We might as well be ready. Here in “What happened to Alice – Part Two” are some ideas I’ve picked up.

  1. Set up a one-on-one “Buddy Phone-Call” program. Within a week of the shut-down we had found volunteer telephone callers. They checked in daily with a handful or even a dozen neighbors up and down the block. (The program worked for about 3 months, then dwindled.)
  2. Connect groups via conference calls. Many families set up weekly zoom calls, as did church groups. Our emergency preparedness group held zoom meetings with professional guest speakers. Our low vision support group set up a weekly telephone conference call. And a senior friend of mine attended a weekly “book club” zoom call. Everyone still read the book – via Kindle – and participated in the discussion. Only thing missing were refreshments!
  3. Plan a daily activity – like delivering meals or the newspaper or picking up trash – to make it clear when people aren’t responding. (My brother reported that sure enough, some mornings he got a knock on the door because he’d forgotten to take in his door-hanger!)
  4. Come up with a no-contact game.  At a retirement community not far from where I live, neighbors staged a “mailbox scavenger hunt.” Special stickers were placed on a couple dozen mailboxes sprinkled throughout the community. Neighbors taking their daily walks searched for and “found” the stickers. They noted the mailbox numbers and deposited their entry forms. Winners were chosen. This simple game got people safely out and about – social distanced — and gave everyone something to enjoy.
  5. Combine some ideas! Our craft group was amazingly creative. First, they sewed and delivered over 700 hand-made masks (as in the image above)! Then they switched to working on a monthly craft project for people at home. Neighbors signed up to get the project pieces. A conference call later on delivery day helped explain how to assemble everything. Different group members took on planning, assembling the pieces, writing directions, boxing everything up, delivering boxes to that month’s participants, and conducting the conference call. Everything took place while members maintained proper “social distance.” (Now that we are open again, the monthly craft project delivery service is still going strong to about 25 home-bound seniors.)

Of special concern for seniors — internet access.

TV and internet access seem essential these days for entertainment and mental activity. But I am afraid many may be making inaccurate assumptions about internet usage by seniors.

Alice’s retirement home apparently had internet, but she hadn’t had time to get a computer before everything closed down. My brother’s community offers basic cable as part of the rent but charges extra for upgraded internet service. (They do have a “computer club” to help with computer literacy, but of course it was shut down during COVID.). In our community, you’re on your own to buy TV and internet service and to get the help you need to make everything work.

What we discovered during the evacuation scare last year is that at least a third of our senior neighbors have no internet access.

They don’t have it because they either can’t afford it or don’t have the necessary computer skills. Obviously their entertainment choices were limited during the shut-down. Worse, they missed emergency communications during the evacuation threat!

What have we learned from What happened to Alice – Part Two?

This Advisory is not a complete analysis of how seniors cope with isolation or how senior residential facilities provide “caring and supportive environments.” It’s just a collection of what I have learned and observed within my own circle of friends and acquaintances.

A couple of things stand out.

First, some communities had better chances of connecting. These were communities with active and creative neighborhood leaders. Setting up meetings, games, etc. took thought and time and the ability to organize things remotely.

Second, voice and video connections were essential to helping people combat loneliness and isolation. Hugs would have added, of course. Anyone heading for retirement living needs to find out about services and support for digital devices!

As I wrote at the beginning of telling Alice’s story, preparedness really means having some options and some extra supplies. It also takes some extra creativity. When it comes to coping with a pandemic shut-down, we need all three!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

What are some things you did in your own community to keep people entertained and engaged during these long months? What can you add to our findings about “What happened to Alice — Part Two?” Please let us know.

What happened to Alice

Isolated, watching TV alone
This could have been Alice. Or you.

Early in June 2021, when it appeared that COVID shut-downs were finally being lifted, I joined in the general wave of relief. I also joined what seemed to be a separate wave of people taking time to assess just how lives had been changed. I invited Emergency Plan Guide readers to share their experiences. One of the most compelling stories came from Clare in Maine. She gave me permission to share “What happened to Alice.” It’s a story of scarcity and resilience in a setting you ought to know more about. Clare wrote . . .

When the COVID confusion hit in March 2020 I thought,
“At least Alice is ok.”

My dear friend Alice, widowed 2 years before, sold her big house and moved to a swanky, top of the line assisted living apartment. Though the apartment was smallish, the menu of activities, excursions, classes and other offerings at the facility meant my 82-year-old friend in good health would be constantly on the move. No money worries, no worries about accidents, upkeep on her home, driving herself–a perfect solution for her active later years.

Well, that is not what happened. Having moved in just a month before COVID, the assisted living immediately went into lockdown, promising “No deaths here from COVID!”

Total and absolute lock-down

No one was allowed to visit at all, and Alice and the other residents could not leave their apartments. There was onsite medical care but everything else was cancelled. Residents who formerly ate in the dining room had meals left on trays outside their door. Alice had a phone, no computer, her TV and cable subscription. She’d downsized all her books as her vision failed. Games, puzzles and other amusements went in the yard sale, and her new apartment held only the most basic furniture.

As Alice put it: “$4K a month to be in jail!”

At Christmas we were allowed to leave gifts, unwrapped in an outside bin with the resident’s name attached.  In late winter friends and relatives were finally able to leave groceries and such for residents, on a table outside the main entrance.

It was April 2021 before the restrictions were lifted and residents were allowed to leave the building. Just imagine yourself in this situation.

Results of Alice’s lockdown experience

The plus: no resident got COVID.

The minus: no assisted living resident was at all prepared for a 13-month isolation. They had been assured of 24/7 services to meet any need when they moved in to the facility.

We all had various trials and problems in 2020 but I wonder how many people realize what happened to those who truly lived alone in a bubble.

How does what happened to Alice apply to us?

  • Do you know any seniors? Do they live in retirement homes or communities?
  • Maybe you are thinking of moving into a retirement community yourself?
  • Would you be prepared if you found yourself in a situation like Alice’s?

Next week, I’ll be sending out a follow-up to Alice’s story – because I believe it could have been different. Part Two of Alice’s story will feature some more stories, this time about what other retirement communities did to keep their residents safe and engaged.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

As long as people are still getting infected by the virus, it has shown it will mutate. More shut-downs are very likely. We might as well be ready. Stay tuned for some ideas in Part Two of Alice’s story!

What’s your preparedness mindset?

Man satisfied with level of preparedness
Who me? Sure, I’m prepared!

One of my favorite sources of ongoing news and trends is LinkedIn. Members of several LinkedIn groups post daily articles about emergency management technology, jobs, trainings, and new people in the field. (Did you know that the new head of FEMA, Deanne Criswell, is the first woman to head that organization?) The posts and articles also often reveal the state of the “preparedness mindset” of the people writing.

One recurring theme among these professionals, of course, is frustration with getting more people to prepare. It seems that every year a few more people do at least one or two things they call “preparing.”  By 2020 people doing one or two things had climbed up to 80%! (Here’s info on the actual National Household Survey.) But only 30% of people are considered to be “prepared.”

Agree or no? “Simple actions get you better prepared.”

Over the past 20 years Joe and I have encouraged our neighbors and our readers to take some of these same preparedness actions. It starts with learning about what’s likely to happen. Then we discuss having some basic strategies and supplies to help carry us through the emergency.

People understand supplies. They are quite happy to buy a few flashlights or some extra jars of peanut butter. Why, when we ask for a show of hands for “Who has extra water stored for emergencies?” we’ll typically get a response of around 70%! People with their hands raised look around with proud smiles on their faces! 

Community projects also often focus on supplies. People hand out “emergency kits” to various groups (often seniors or so-called “underserved.”) Volunteers assemble small packs and fill them with donated snacks, a bottle of water and maybe a whistle.  When the bags have been distributed, and the number documented, the program is declared a success. (In reality, most of these bags have been raided for the food before the day is over.)

Taking action on supplies is easy and has visible rewards. But it may be misleading.

Controversial mindset: “Having a Go-Bag means you’re prepared.”

One of my favorite active members in LinkedIn emergency preparedness groups is Vincent B. Davis. (You can look him up there to see all his credentials. He has plenty.) I first saw his article about Go-Bags, or disaster kits, in 2020. And he reprinted it again just a week ago.

In Vince’s opinion, disaster kits are “preparedness placebos” and we should stop telling people to get one!

He believes disaster kits will make little difference in a big disaster. Moreover, they let people off the hook and give them a false sense of security. I guess you could say that for Vince, Go-Bags create a false preparedness mindset!

Dangerous assumption: “I have my Go-Bag; I’ve done my share. Now it’s time for the authorities to step in.”

Counting on “the government” or “the authorities” can be disappointing or even deadly. We have seen that there are many circumstances where help may NOT be on the way!  Here are some of the obvious ones . . .

  1. In a widespread local disaster, emergency services can be stretched too thin to cover the entire territory.  (That’s where CERT comes in – to provide some assistance until professionals arrive.)  Every year, at one of our neighborhood meetings, some people’s “preparedness mindset” is shattered to hear our Fire Department tell us just how low we are on their list of priorities! (We are a senior community!)
  2. In a regional disaster, your state has to formally declare an emergency before it can ask for Federal assistance. And it may also have to commit to paying part of the bill. These political decisions may take time.
  3. And during the massive disasters like hurricanes, necessary support may need to come from states or organizations all across the country. It may take days or even weeks for that support to get to your street and your door. We’ll likely see “imported” specialty Search & Rescue teams at work this week. And you may remember the pictures of mile after mile of utility company trucks, coming from states half-way across the country, heading toward Florida after Hurricane Irma hit in 2017.

So what’s the solution to being prepared?

I’ve been thinking a lot about preparing for this summer. It is forecast — and has already proven — to be dangerously hot and dangerously dry, with draught, power outages and wildfires. And that’s just here in the west!

And yes, Joe and I have taken a few actions we think make readiness sense. We’ve refreshed the 55-gallon water barrel and bought a grill so we can cook outdoors if there’s no power to the house.

When I think about it, though, no matter what the season or the weather, in our house we regularly start a conversation with “What if . . ?.”  and “How would we handle . . .?” and “I’ll bet that if we . . .” And we spend some time thinking it through to our satisfaction. We have operated with this mindset for years. So for us,

Preparedness is an attitude, not a curriculum! The attitude goes something like this: “Hey, I’m ready for anything! And even if something happens I didn’t prepare for, I’ll have a head start on figuring how to deal with it!”

This is the preparedness mindset we try to inspire in everything we do at Emergency Plan Guide!

Nearly every one of our Advisories tries to deepen our understanding of some aspect of preparedness that we’ve become curious about.  (Even if it’s a disaster like a volcano that I’m not likely to experience, or a piece of equipment like an ATV that I’ll never own.)

Every one of our books is full of examples and options – to give people that “head start” on dealing with any unexpected emergency. We think that whatever you do to prepare for one emergency will probably apply in 80% of all cases. With that foundation, we can get to work immediately to solve the particular problem at hand.

Joe and I both had the advantage of active childhoods – and we are particularly interested in making sure young people get exposed to physical risks and challenges along with their digital experiences. I am busy right now working on a presentation for a group of high-school aged Girl Scouts! (More on that to come.)

Quiz: So where does preparedness fit in your mindset?

  1. Is it built into your daily routines, or is it something you only think about when you catch a glimpse of a disaster on TV?
  2. Do you keep adding to your knowledge or have you pretty much “been there and done that?”
  3. What are you doing to give young people more opportunities to develop their strength and problem-solving skills?

Our world doesn’t seem to be getting either safer or easier to navigate. I think that having a “ready for anything” attitude, based on knowledge plus experience, can be a valuable asset.

That’s what keeps us going, anyway!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. If the concept of having a “head start” sounds attractive to you, please take another look at our Q&A Mini-Series. Each one of the booklets is filled with examples and answers about one basic emergency need, like water, security, communications, etc. The questions in the booklets are great questions for kids, too.

Respond to an Active Shooter


Ready to head back into society after the pandemic?

Planning an outing to a favorite shopping street for the first time in months? A big family picnic in the park for the 4th of July? Looking forward to getting back to the office? If you’re like me, you probably are spending time just imagining how great it will be to be with people again! If you’re like me, you are also taking some time to think about personal safety in these crowd settings. In particular, you’re thinking about how you would respond to an active shooter.

The huge upsurge in shootings over the past year just can’t be ignored.

Can you prevent an active shooter event?  No.

Can you protect yourself from being a victim? Possibly. But only if you know WHAT TO DO and you DO IT IMMEDIATELY.

What’s the latest intel on active shooters?

I just attended two webinars on the topic of active shooter events, one from a commercial security firm and the other sponsored through FEMA. I looked at the latest statistics and reviewed the latest “best practices.” Interestingly enough, the people doing the shooting are pretty much the same: 98% men.

How police respond has changed dramatically. (As the security guy said, “The first officer to show up will be coming in running . . .”) Weapons have become more deadly. And the number of shootings is increasing.

How to protect yourself, though, hasn’t changed much. But that won’t do you any good if you haven’t prepared.

It’s time to prepare emotionally and review just how we would respond.

“I just lay there, waiting for my turn to die.”

I first read that statement after the events that took place at Virginia Tech way back in 2007.  You will remember that the shooter entered several classrooms and simply shot all the students one after another.  Then he came back and shot them again. The quote is from one of the girls who survived.

What is shocking is that this same quote has been repeated more than once in similar situations! Faced with an active shooter, some people seem to become like sheep! I was outraged and dismayed by the quote, and determined that Emergency Plan Guide readers would never respond this way!

So, what’s your plan?

Start now working on situational awareness.

In our Mini-book on Personal Safety, we describe a half-dozen “exercises” you can practice — alone or with your kids – that will up your readiness. The exercises almost all have to do with what’s called “situational awareness.” That is, noticing what other people are doing, noting where entrances, exits and potential hiding places are, and thinking and talking about “What would we do if . . .?”

Since Active shooter events are almost always over within 10 minutes – sometimes before the police even arrive — what counts is what you do within the first minutes or seconds. The faster you realize that something is wrong or out of place, the faster you’ll be able to act. Situational awareness is what gives you that edge.

Then, it’s good to know what to do to respond. Here are three resources I hope you’ll put to use starting immediately. Share them with your family, groups you belong to, and at work. You’ll come out with a better idea of how to respond if you encounter an active shooter.

Step One — Watch the video: Run – Hide – Fight

The original Run-Hide-Fight video was produced in 2012 by the City of Houston. We have shown the video multiple times to different audiences. They are always taken aback even though it’s a staged production. It lasts only 5 minutes but will generate important comments and questions. Here’s the link to YouTube: (Be ready to skip the ads at the beginning.)

Step Two — Watch the video: Options for Consideration – Active Shooter Preparedness

The Department of Homeland Security produced this video in 2019. It’s about 7 minutes long. I didn’t find it as powerful as the Run-Hide-Fight, nor is the quality as good. What is good, though, is to observe how long it takes the people in the video to respond to the sound of gunfire! And it has some more good ideas about hiding. You could watch both videos at the same meeting.

Link to the DHS website where you can view the video:

Step Three — Download: “Active Shooter – How to Respond”

This is a 13-page pdf from the Department of Homeland Security. You can use it in many different ways — as study material for a discussion, as a guide for a quiz, material for a flyer, etc. Since you’re here right now, though, here are some highlights taken from all three of these resources to get you started.

And now, some specifics.


If you hear gunshots, don’t stop and ask, “Hey, do you think that’s gunshots? Maybe it’s just fireworks? Or is it a car backfiring?” If you see a shooter, or see people running, don’t just stand there looking for the source of the noise or action! You need to get away from the shooter and any stray bullets!

  • Have two different escape routes figured out – at all times! First may be back the way you came in. But if that route is blocked, or the shooter has come in behind you, you need an escape route that takes you out another way. Maybe it’s through the kitchen of the restaurant, out the loading area of a grocery store, out a marked emergency exit. Always keep a lookout for alternative exits wherever you are.
  • Leave your stuff behind – purse, backpack, computer, etc. You can’t run with your arms full of packages.
  • Get out even if others don’t seem to want to. But don’t allow people to head INTO danger if you can help it.
  • Call 911 when you can. Give as much information as you can to dispatch: who, where, how many, etc.


The shooter is in a hurry. He wants to injure or kill as many people as possible. He knows he will probably die before it’s all over. So he’s looking for easy targets. If you can hide, and he doesn’t know or suspect you are there, he’s likely to move on. So, how to hide?

  • Get into a room with a door you can lock or block. Reinforce by pulling furniture in front of the door. (Remember that scene in the Capitol where furniture kept insurrectionists from breaking into the House Chamber?)
  • Turn out lights. Pull blinds or otherwise block the view into your room. You don’t want to draw any attention to your hiding space.
  • Get behind heavy furniture as protection from stray bullets.
  • Be quiet – really quiet. That means turning off radios and computers, and SILENCING your phone, not just putting it on vibrate.


If the shooter is so close to you that you can’t run or hide, your only option is to fight for your life! Yes, you may be injured. But you may also save many lives that otherwise would surely be lost.

  • Attack means attack! Scream and yell aggressively and dramatically! Move rapidly!
  • Create chaos! Throw stuff to hurt and disorient the shooter. Computers, chairs, lamps, a pot of coffee, your purse, books, a fire extinguisher. Anything can become an effective missile.
  • Gang up and attack as a pack! Some people can go for the shooter’s legs, others for his body. The sheer weight of several people can overwhelm one individual. You may be able to hold him down until authorities arrive.
  • Commit . . . and don’t quit.

And here’s one more exceedingly simple suggestion – When you get back to work or to school, take a look at the doors of the rooms you use. Can they be locked to keep out a shooter?

You may not be able to harden door frames or replace locks. But for sure you could make sure every inward-opening door is equipped with a simple rubber door stop! Shooters are looking for easy victims; if a door appears to be locked or is too hard to open they will go on to the next one.

I found this commercial door stop at Amazon. It’s meant to block doors with an up to 1 ½ inch gap.

Shepherd Hardware 9133 Door Stop, 1-Pack, Brown

At a cost of less than $5, I would buy one for every non-secure door in my building!

Be ready to take action. Train family members and neighbors, too. This is life-saving information.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

No phone service!

“. . .but it’s fully charged!”

Nearly 20 years ago, Joe and I worked on a marketing campaign for one of the largest telephone companies in the country. Called “Silence can be deadly,” the campaign was aimed at selling more dependable phone service.

In the middle of the campaign the Loma Prieta quake hit in San Francisco. No phone service! Only static on the car radio! Traffic lights missing in action! Worse, because it took the World Series right off the air, the whole country was suddenly struck by the shock of no communications! (This dramatic interruption helped make the campaign a huge financial success.)

That was then. This is now, when we are all carrying cellphones. Still, communications can be interrupted by disasters. Be ready!

For example, just last month, you’d have seen this news coming out of Texas.

“.. . all major cell carriers are experiencing interruptions.” And this meant . . .

“Can you hear me?”  Hundreds of thousands of cell phones were silenced when power was cut to cell tower sites. Even if your cellphone is fully charged, when cell towers don’t function, either because they have lost power or are turned off, that means no calls, no texts and no access to the internet news.

No emergency alerts. When California shut off power deliberately in the summer of 2019, it wasn’t anticipated that without TV, radio or cell service, governmental emergency alert notices do not come through. Without power, the only way you’ll get notified of impending disaster is via physical alarms like sirens, airhorns, car-powered loudspeakers, etc. (Does your preparedness team need any of these devices?)

No 911 service. These days, 96% of people carry cellphones, so that’s where 80% of 911 calls come from. If your cell phone isn’t working, you can’t get through to 911!

It feels as though this list is just a start for the inconvenience and the danger that awaits in a widespread and/or lengthy power outage that includes telephone companies.

What is the answer when you have no phone service?

So far, there seems to be no one perfect answer. If your power goes out because of a disaster or a policy decision, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Adjust your attitude. Just expect to have no instant communication with the outside world – with your family, your work, or your health care providers. It’s not impossible – our grandparents lived this way! As for attitude, one of our Emergency Plan Guide readers reports that she invited neighbors for dinner every night of a recent power outage! Together, by the light of solar garden lamps, they put together meals (cooking with charcoal grills) and enjoyed each other’s company.
  2. “Read you loud and clear.” If you have family or neighbors within a local neighborhood, you may be able to use inexpensive battery-operated walkie-talkies to touch bases, ask for assistance – or invite people to dinner. Longer-rage satellite radios could reach to just about anywhere! (We just added info about satellite radios to our review page.)
  3. Get on the air with HAM radios. Amateur radio operators – HAM radio operators – have higher-powered equipment that will likely be able to get news from other HAM operators and receive emergency communications from official agencies, too. They may be able to send messages from your neighborhood, as well. A good HAM set-up should have battery-back-up — check with your local HAM team members!.

What about getting to the internet via my cellphone?

It’s possible that you can reach the internet through your cellphone or VOIP phone even if your local phone service isn’t functioning. Once there, you could reach emergency contacts using internet phone systems (Ex.: Vonage, GotoConnect) or apps (Ex.: Google Voice, WhatsApp).

This scenario makes a lot of assumptions. First and foremost, you’ll need ready-to-employ back-up power for your own home or office wi-fi set-up (modem, router). It also assumes your internet provider (operating over fiber or in the cloud) is able to continue operations.

Action item: check with your own internet provider to see just what will happen to your service in a power outage! Find out if they have recommendations to keep communications open.

What about my hard-wired landline?

Honestly, I don’t have a solid recommendation here. Many phone companies seem to be discontinuing wired phone service – I know we can’t use our cheap hard–wired phone any longer. Still, some people’s wired phones do seem to have continued to work even during the outages. If you have a hard-wired phone, you may want to hang on to it. (Check first to see if it is actually working!)

Don’t confuse “wired phone” with “portable phone.” Your portable phone’s base may be connected by hardwire, but – surprise! – that system itself needs electricity to operate.

Once again, do you have suggestions? Stories about power outages that might be useful to other Emergency Plan Guide readers? Please share! This is a complicated issue, with many possible variations. And they keep changing. We’d like to hear from you with your latest discoveries!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. And while I’m writing from here in California, where we have experienced planned and deliberate Public Safety Power Shut-offs, please remember that historically, the leading cause of power outages in the U.S. is hurricanes! So if you’re not in wildfire country, don’t shrug this info off as something you won’t need to know!

Covid-fatigue? Two Suggestions for Relief

Man on phone with covid-fatigue

Covid-Fatigue is a Big Problem

Yesterday I had a video-visit with my doctor. It was a regularly-scheduled check-up, and as soon as it was clear there were no medical issues to discuss, the conversation went to my state of mind. (On the list of interview questions these days, I am assuming.)

Then I turned the question around and asked about HER state of mind. As a kidney specialist on the front line, she laid it out clearly and starkly. “Virginia, I haven’t had one of my patients walk out alive.”

Punch in the gut. Then the call was over. And I can’t forget what she said.

Later the same day I was struck by the title of this recent article about Covid-fatigue, coming from The Atlantic: The Pandemic Has Erased Entire Categories of Friendship

The author writes about all the people and simple social interactions she has missed, “without fully realizing it.” Her list includes watching sporting events in a crowd of fans, saying hello to the local barista, even discussing the weather in the break room at work.  Ordinary conversations with people not so close but people who “were all, in some capacity, my friends, and there was no substitute for them during the pandemic.”

My own list of missing people doesn’t include sports bar fans (!), but I miss greeting the stylists at the salon. I miss discussing books when I visit our neighborhood library. (Only one person at a time allowed in the room.) My world has become strangely silent since all those people that used to make up my day are staying safely invisible at home. Has your circle of friends gotten smaller, too?

Some Ideas for Covid-fatigue Relief

So let me report on a couple of ideas that may work to help. Of course, they are related to emergency preparedness. Happily, preparedness isn’t controversial. Pretty much everyone can relate to the topic. So you may find more response to either of these than you might have expected!

Idea #1: How about a one-time Zoom call featuring a police officer on the topic of personal safety?

We’ve had more neighborhood reports of cars being broken into and stolen, wallets disappearing from shopping carts, packages scooped up by strangers right out from under the Ring porch cameras. Facts are hard to come by – mostly we get stories via fearful or angry online messages.

People in our neighborhood are calling me, too, because I’m head of our local emergency response team. They want to report on “strange people” they have seen in the street, or worries about elderly neighbors being abused . . . things that I can do little about. But I listen and offer what little advice I can.

These negative stories, mixed in with misinformation about the availability of Covid vaccine, started taking over our daily communications. We needed facts and realistic recommendations, not more rumors.

So I took the initiative and scheduled a zoom call with the police. I invited everybody on my neighborhood email list to join in. For some, this was their first ever Zoom call. For most, it was useful info. And for all, it was a chance to see smiling neighbors’ faces WITHOUT MASKS, and to hear voices!  Yes, a social interaction! 

I recommend you call your police department immediately and set up something similar! (I’ll be happy to share the invitation I used, with the questions I wanted to be sure to get answers to.)  In a future Advisory I’ll be sharing all the tips we got.

Idea #2. How about a multi-session group activity designed to make new friendships while helping everyone in the group get better prepared?

You know we’ve been publishing a series of booklets on preparedness topics. It’s called the Emergency Preparedness Q&A Mini-Series. One topic to each mini-booklet; 14 topics in all.  

What you may not know is that as the series developed, it became clear that each of these little booklets could be used as the basis for a group discussion – on Zoom or in person.

The whole series can be a tool for building community – and fighting Covid-fatigue!

When I say “community” I’m referring to groups. Which kinds of group do you have in your life?  

  • Church group
  • Scout troop
  • Service organization
  • Neighborhood group
  • Etc., etc.

The secret that makes this idea work for any group? “Shared Leadership.”  That is, your group doesn’t need an “expert” to lead the group. With the help of the mini-series booklets, members of the group make it all work by themselves!

The last booklet in the series, Prepare & Share, goes into great detail about how to use this tool to help your group reconnect with current members, or attract new ones.

If you and family or neighbors are struggling with COVID-fatigue, either or both of these suggestions may put some welcome “social activity” back into your lives. If I can be of any help setting them up, please let me know.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Visit this separate webpage for full details on the Prepare & Share concept!

Drones in Emergency Situations

Drone at dawn

By now you know our mantra here at Emergency Plan Guide: “The more we all know, the safer we all will be.” This attitude is convenient for people like me. I enjoy learning more about aspects of emergency preparedness I don’t expect to become an expert in

Today’s Advisory about the use of drones in emergency situations is an example. While we’ve written about drones before, Joe and I don’t own one. But drones appear ever more frequently in First Responder and emergency preparedness circles. When I got the chance to work with an expert, I grabbed at it.

Today’s Advisory is built around the professional roles that drones are playing today. It’s written by Anthony Jamison, head of the Outreach Department of Drone Services Phoenix. The company provides aerial photography and videography for commercial projects (real estate, construction, etc.. (If you’re interested in learning more about drone services as a career, check out their website! Lots of good info there.)

So here’s what Anthony pulled together. I emphasized a few sentences in bold that I thought were particularly important.

How Drones Are Being Used To Assist In Emergency Situations

Drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) have come a long way from their beginnings as a purely military tool. While they remain an indispensable part of countless military operations to this very day, their ever-increasing commercial availability has ushered in a new era of widespread use among everyday people.

Today, UAVs are a potent business tool, with many companies and entrepreneurs leveraging aerial drone photography to further their business goals.

Drones are also proving to be quite handy during emergencies. Let’s take a closer look at how people are using drones for disaster relief and other emergency situations.

Water Rescue

A drone operated by lifeguards saved the lives of two people who were at risk of drowning after getting caught in heavy surf in Australia.

It took only two minutes to complete the rescue. The drone flew half a mile above the struggling swimmers and dropped a flotation device, which helped the swimmers back to shore.

It’s the first time that a drone was used to achieve such a feat. It likely won’t be the last. After all, drones can get much faster to those in trouble in the water than rescuers swimming towards them.

Drones can also be used to scan the surf for sharks and keep beach-goers safe.

Supply Drops

Disasters can render any part of a village, town, or city inaccessible.

With drones, we can now deliver supplies and emergency survival kits to those who need them most without delay. Our increased drone capabilities also mean that we don’t have to risk human lives to make food, water, and medical supply deliveries to victims of a disaster in hard-to-reach spots.


For the longest time, firefighters have been using planes and helicopters to combat wildfires. But flying them through the conditions such conflagrations create can be downright dangerous.

Drones equipped with infrared cameras, however, can fly through thick, black smoke into spots too dangerous for manned aircraft.

Whether they’re carrying buckets and massive tanks filled with water and foam for dumping over large areas or ping-pong ball-sized incendiary devices that deny advancing wildfires of fuel, drones are proving to be quite effective firefighters.

Search and Rescue Operations

Locating people that need rescue and evacuation is a task that drones appear to be built for.

Drones can reach high altitudes, fly into mining shafts, and detect body heat through thermal imaging cameras. They are proving their worth as an indispensable tool for search and rescue operations.

CBRNE Events

Natural disasters are bad enough, but chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosive, or CBRNE events are even worse.

Whether the release of hazardous materials was accidental or intentional, like in the case of a terrorist attack, a CBRNE event creates extremely unsafe situations for victims and relief workers alike. However, immediate relief must be provided and the extent of the damage assessed. An aerial drone can help with that and more.

Drones were deployed to inspect the meltdown-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, a direct result of a powerful earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. With the help of drones, authorities were able to receive data that allowed them to measure radiation inside the reactor, monitor possible radiation exposure, and repair destroyed areas.

With drones doing the dangerous parts of the job, nuclear fallout exposure for relief workers was kept to a minimum.

COVID-19 Response

The COVID-19 pandemic is the worst crisis to hit humanity since the Second World War.

To date, the coronavirus has claimed the lives of more than two million people worldwide. Its economic impact is also massive, with millions of people losing their livelihood amid business shutdowns and country-wide lockdowns.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has given birth to a larger role for drones.

  • With the pandemic in full swing, drones have become instrumental in contactless food and medical supply deliveries.
  • Drones are seeing use as a disinfectant delivery system, spraying large areas to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
  • In the United States, special drones designed to monitor public spaces and ensure compliance with social distancing protocols are already in use. These UAVs can detect temperatures, heart rates, coughing, and even social distancing.

As drone technology evolves over the years, we can expect to see more developments that will make them even more useful in times of crisis.

What about us non-professionals or hobbyists using drones in emergency situations?

I know that some preppers have considered using drones in non-professional – and maybe even illegal – ways. For example, just today I read an article suggesting that drones could serve to intimidate or distract people approaching your location, or to surveille people or situations that might turn into a threat.

I think these are good uses. The “illegal” part is that these drones would likely be flying low over groups of people, or flying out of the sight of the operator, both of which have not been allowed.

An update on drone regulations has just been announced.

In December, 2020, the Federal Aeronautics Association (FAA) finally passed new rules that have been in the works for a couple of years. They give drones new flexibility to fly at night and over humans and traffic as long as the drone is able to broadcast its identification and location. (Apparently community-based and educational groups will still be able to fly non-remote-ID equipped aircraft in specially designated areas.)

I assume that professional pilots know all the details. (I had trouble finding a source for more than what I’ve written above.) If you are interested in flying a drone as a hobby, be sure to check in with the FAA regarding licensing and flying requirements.  

I’ll close this Advisory with a few more words from Anthony:

As drone technology evolves over the years, we can expect to see more developments that will make them even more useful in times of crisis.

While we may still be a long way off from drones capable of evacuating people from disaster areas, the advances that we are going to see will be just as exciting.

All very thought-provoking, isn’t it?!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Our earlier Advisories about drones – what to look for, limitations, what they cost, what equipment they carry, etc. – have been updated. Check them out:

California wildfire! Here’s what yesterday was like . . .

Emergency vest with emergency radios and walkie-talkies ready for California wildfire
This is not an exaggeration. Four pockets, four radios/phones. All on, all day long.

We live in a senior community right in the center of our Southern California city.  One edge of the city butts up against the wildland interface: hills cut by sharp ravines, covered with dry grasslands and brush. The other side of town runs gently downhill toward the Pacific Ocean (about 8 miles away). Every year we endure strong winds coming over the mountains off the desert – the so-called “Santa Anas.” Every year the winds carry with them the threat of a wildfire. This week the winds started with a vengeance on Sunday night. This is what happened here on Monday.

7:14  Waking up. Whew. Smell of smoke is strong! So windy last night, with strange booms and flopping sounds. And our motion-activated porch light was driving me crazy – it kept going on and off, on and off.

7:18 Banging on the door! I open to great loud gusts of wind and clouds of dust and the community managers, disheveled and out of breath. Are we awake? Do we have the bullhorn? (As head of our Emergency Response Team we keep some supplies in our shed.) They rush off.

7:23  I log on and get the official notification: “Vegetation Fire 6:47AM in the area of Santiago Canyon Rd / Silverado Canyon Rd. Firefighters on scene of a 10 acre fire, wind driven with a moderate rate of spread. Crews aggressively attacking the fire with air units en route.

7:46 Phone call from neighbor. “I drove up to see what the fire was doing and am sending you a photo!” (Dramatic shot of fire topping a ridge.)

9:11 (I send email to my team) “Please turn ON your M.E.R.T. walkie-talkie to your Division channel. Have your fire extinguisher close at hand. Be on the lookout for flying embers and attack fire immediately – IF IT IS SAFE TO DO SO. Command will be monitoring on Channel 7. You can follow our local fire department on Twitter @OCFA_PIO.”

9:15 Phone call to a M.E.R.T. member I know sleeps late (with earplugs). Unable  to raise her.

9:22 Phone call to neighbor who has guide dog. She has called the “Help” number for people with disabilities. All she got was, “If you need help we can send a car for you.” We have dozens of people  in our senior community with one or another disability, and “sending a car” is not a plan!

9:35 Finally get a shower and get dressed. Phones are ringing. I end up digging out my vest so I can carry all phones with me at the same time. I am in constant contact with someone. (Many are known procrastinators in our community!)

10:00 Phone call to neighbor across the street who is housebound and on oxygen. “I’m scared!” she says weakly. I tell her to get dressed “in real clothes” and put on shoes and pack up her medicines, just in case. (She has no car and no nearby family.) “We won’t leave without you,” I promise.

11:05 Branches have come down onto our garage roof from big redwood tree.  (Those booms from last night!) Joe puts on gloves, grabs ladder and rake, and pulls them down. We see more downed branches in our neighbor’s back yard and remove those too. Winds continue, stronger than ever. Joe coughs and his eyes are irritated from the smoke. Mask is no help.

12:00 Evacuations start up the hill at the wildland interface. Our daughter is in the first evacuation zone.

12:21 I track the growth of the fire on TV. Fire Department reports: “150 firefighting units are working the Silverado Fire. 20-30 mph erratic winds that can reach up to 60-70 mph. Approximately 20,000 homes evacuated.

1:00 pm “Silverado Fire has grown to 2,000 acres. All air support has been grounded due to high winds. If you are in the evacuation area please evacuate immediately. See below for school list evacuation.”  Seven city elementary schools are being evacuated, with 9 more recommended. Parents told to pick up kids at their schools or later at one of area high schools.

City reports 2 emergency shelters have been set up. I send out email to my response team members and management repeats it to everyone via our reverse phone service. Before that report has even registered both shelters are full and 2 more shelters have been opened. (Over the course of the day our city opens 9 shelters. They fill fast. Only 3 have room at end of day.)

Call from neighbor. “Should I take bottled water to the shelter? How much?” (I sigh and put on a friendly voice.)

Call from another neighbor. “I can’t find the pink slip for my car!” (I retain the friendly voice, refrain from reminding her that we put out a full list of emergency documents just a couple of weeks ago.)

1:00 or so Joe and I build a couple of boxes and start putting file folders with important original documents into them. Our Go-bags sit by the door, waiting for last minute additions. (I add snacks.)

1:22 Response team member calls via walkie-talkie. We are interrupted by Morse Code messages from another group somewhere using the same channel.

1:25 A neighbor calls to check on traffic conditions. She has to travel into the evacuation zone. What?? “My cat needs special food that I can only get at that particular pet store.” I wish her good luck, noting that I need to go back and add this story in our Protect Your Pet book, scheduled for publishing this weekend!

1:35 Our daughter calls. “Can we evacuate with the dog to your house?” (How do you answer if you’re worried about COVID? If you are busy helping neighbors and getting ready to evacuate yourself? ) We decide it would be better if she went to another family member closer to her.

2:17 Text message from Food Delivery service. “No food delivery today.”

2:21  I send email to NextDoor website with basic info about evacuating and link to our website. The email is acknowledged by at least one reader!

2:46 Life goes on as previously planned. I get a cellphone call from my doctor’s office to confirm a video appointment set for tomorrow. We test the video technology.

3:00 My neighbor with the guide dog calls via cell saying she has been in touch with local bus service that provides transportation to seniors. What that organization can actually do for us remains unclear.

3:00 I receive email from City. “CERT will NOT be activated.”

3:15 Evacuation zones expanded further down the hill, now about 1/2 mile away.

3:19 I receive phone call from another neighbor telling me she has arranged for her children to pick her up later, “Just wanted you to know.” As people leave, it is clear there is no way of keeping track who is here and who has gone.

3:34 Emergency Alert arrives via text and phone announcing mandatory evacuation for parts of neighboring town. Traffic jams reported.

3:35 I notice a big ad on the police website: “Sign up for emergency notifications. Now is the time.”

4:42 Email arrives from team member saying she has discovered a HAM radio operator out there who is scanning emergency airwaves and reporting on fire and police activity. I can’t seem to find the right channel.

4:44 Team member sends email message that Red Roof Inn takes people and a pet up to 80 libs.

4:49 Community management sends out call: “The Wildfire Evacuation Warning Area now extends to the street bordering our community. All people with disabilities or with pets should leave.”

4:55 I make third call to City hall to remind Community Services that if mandatory evacuation is called our community will need buses and social workers to help evacuate those neighbors who are disabled, lack transportation and/or money. Even though I reach a couple of live people no one has any knowledge of a plan.

5:00 Joe’s daughter calls to say they have re-evacuated to a hotel closer to the coast. The dog is with them.

5:32 I finally get through (via a helpful assistant) to Emergency Operations Center. The assistant transmits this report:

You are not likely to become even a secondary evacuation warning zone. If things change, we will call you personally. We are fully aware of the circumstances in your community and will be prepared to assist as necessary.”

Well, this is a big step in the right direction! The fire seems to be trending south and away from us. I can now take a deep breath! I send out my report via email and get relieved answers.

Of course, the threat of immediate evacuation may be over. But the day goes on. . .

5:41 Police Department: “The Police Department has issued an additional IMMEDIATE EVACUATION ORDER (Mandatory) for all residences between Great Park and Bake, and north of Toledo until the city limits.” (This isn’t us.)

5:44 Police Department tweet: “Expanded instructions . . .”.

6:30 I see car pulling in to neighbor’s driveway. He has recently had surgery. It’s his daughter. She decides to take him with her, and comes over to offer Joe and me a place if we need one!  (Never met her before.)

7 pm. Tweet sent to City from a resident: “Please issue WEA alerts! Since not everyone is on AlertOC [our local alert platform]. WEA is helpful for those who are deaf, disabled, or those that need assistance!” (FYI I wrote about WEA here.)

7 pm announcement: “Silverado fire:  7200 acres •500 firefighters •0% Containment.

Somewhere in here we finish dinner, watch the news, take a shower to get rid of the worst of the smoke smell.

9 pm We fall into bed. A neighbor calls to report her reservation at a local hotel was not honored and all hotels are full so she has had to come back. . .

Yes, the day ended. At 7:00 am the next morning the update read: Silverado Fire update: 14 helicopters 11,200 acres More than 750 firefighters 5% contained 10-15 mph winds with ridge top gusts reaching 35 mph Residents under evacuation order: 70,000 Irvine 6,000 Lake Forest

And so it continued.

There are many more stories from this day, but you get the idea. It wasn’t fun.

But what would it have been like if that red evacuation zone on the map had inched over one more street and into our neighborhood?!

Over the years we have met with members of five different city and county agencies on the topic of emergency response. We’ve discussed many times the challenges of evacuating from our location and the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors. On Monday, we did not get any real reassurance that authorities were ready with a plan for us. Now, there may be a plan and it just wasn’t on the top of anybody’s clipboard. . . ?

In any case, there will be more to this story!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team