Tag: evacuation

On oxygen and the power goes out!



We experienced a short power outage a few nights ago. Afterwards we collected stories from neighbors about how prepared they had been. The results?

  • Most neighbors had flashlights or lanterns, and they waited calmly for the lights to come back on.
  • A few neighbors had NO lights – and they have since hustled to get batteries and/or lights – particularly, lights that attach to mobility devices!
  • But one group of neighbors had no easy solution. These were people on oxygen when the power went out. Their stories were painful. They came to our neighborhood meeting with this question:

“What do I do if I am on oxygen and the power goes out?”

We didn’t have a good answer for these folks! In fact, in a previous emergency we had faced people having to evacuate without their oxygen, and we were unable to identify them, much less help all of them.

This time, we’re making another effort to find out how to help. As you will see, it comes down to this:

Your personal emergency plan has to have a way for you to manage without your oxygen or to have a way for you to continue to get it!

Remember, I am not a medical professional, so I do not present this information as a complete, medical answer. Please do your own research with your doctor and trusted caregivers and suppliers. This could be a life-or-death situation.

We have done a lot of research on this topic, and this is what we have discovered so far. These questions will give you a head start on putting together a PERSONAL emergency plan for yourself or another person on oxygen for how to respond if the power goes out.

Your first question should be: “How long can I go without my oxygen?”  

Contact your doctor. Emphasize that you need to plan for a power outage. Find out what you can expect if your oxygen is stopped for whatever reason. It’s possible you could cut back on activity and make it through OK – but only your doctor can answer this question.

Second question: “Can I get a reserve or back-up supply for my home?”

The answer here depends mostly on whether you own or rent your oxygen equipment. Here are three possibilities:

  1. If you own your equipment, go back to the manufacturer for help buying a back-up solution. They may want to see a new prescription from your doctor to be sure they are giving you the correct solution.
  2. Don’t forget to check with your utility company to see if they have special programs for people using “qualifying medical devices.” You may be able to sign up for a battery back-up or generator for when the power goes out. Some utilities offer rebates to help you buy a back-up power source. You’ll have to get approved for any of these programs in advance.
  3. If you rent or your equipment is paid for by Medicare or insurance, ask your oxygen supplier about getting a back-up. Unfortunately, the stories from people about getting back-up equipment in this situation are patchy. If your supplier seems hesitant or unhelpful, keep reading!

“If I don’t have a back-up supply at home, where could I go to get the oxygen I need during a power outage?”

If you have to leave your home, we are now talking about evacuation. All the planning for evacuation comes into play, with the added concern about your oxygen supply. Specifically . . .

Your oxygen concentrator needs electricity. A safe place to plug in your equipment might be available at a local emergency shelter, a church, or a hotel in your town or nearby. But call in advance before you set out, to be sure they have the type of connection you need. And don’t plug into a multi-plug or extension cord!

If you use an oxygen tank, you may need to go to the emergency room at a hospital or an urgent care facility for direct access to oxygen. Some sources suggest you might get help at a local police or fire department. I checked with our first responders they said they are not set up to offer oxygen and they would have to direct you to a medical facility.

Again, find out NOW where medical facilities are located near you. Find out if they have emergency power. Find out if they might be able to help if you are on oxygen and the power goes out or you are worried about running out of oxygen. 

How will I get there? Who will take me? Will they be able to explain my needs if I can’t?

These are all important questions for anyone with a mobility or medical issue. The challenge: thinking it through and making arrangements with a neighbor, friend or family member BEFORE the power outage hits! You’ll probably want to make a list with all the key info about your oxygen use, including a copy of your oxygen prescription. Attach your list to your emergency go-bag.

If you have the answers to all these questions, you will know what to do and when to do it in a short or extended power outage.


If you are already on oxygen, you probably know much of this. But your friends and/or family may not – so share it with them! Also, consider sharing with neighbors who are talking about having to go on oxygen. These are the basics all of us should know about!

“What’s the first thing people need to know about emergency oxygen?”

This was the first question I asked of one of the oxygen concentrator sales people I talked to. (I talked to a half dozen of them. They were all extremely helpful.) Her immediate answer: “When a patient needs oxygen as part of medical therapy, it is prescribed by a doctor and delivered through a medical device. To get oxygen, you need both the prescription and the device. ” (In other words, you can’t prescribe it for yourself – and you can’t just simply order a device online.)

“What kinds of devices deliver oxygen?”

The two most common devices are an oxygen tank and an oxygen concentrator. The patient breathes in the extra oxygen from the device through a tube – a small clear tube that goes into the nose (called the nasal cannula) or a tube that feeds some sort of face mask. The amount of oxygen is carefully monitored. It is measured in liters per minute. Baseline amount seems to be 2 liters/min. and it can go up from there.

Man with nasal cannula delivering oxygen during a power outage
Nasal cannula delivers supplemental oxygen

(There are also small bottles and cans of liquid oxygen available as non-prescription supplements. They are only a very short term solution to an immediate medical issue and don’t fit into this discussion.)

“What’s the difference between a tank and a concentrator?”

Tanks deliver a steady stream of oxygen. A concentrator can deliver oxygen in a steady stream or in “pulses” that fit to the way you breathe. Your prescription will specify how much and what sort of delivery pattern you need.

Now, as I was studying this, I was mostly thinking about preparing for emergencies. So with preparedness mind, here’s more  . . .

  • An oxygen tank is the simplest device for oxygen therapy. The tank – called a cylinder – holds oxygen under pressure and releases it in a steady stream when the valve is opened. Ultimately the cylinder will run out of oxygen, so you’ll always want to have the next one ready. Big cylinders are heavy and pretty much stationary. Smaller cylinders can be wheeled around. Depending on how much oxygen you use, your tank could last for days or be empty after only hours!
  • An oxygen concentrator is a machine with a motor that, when it’s on, pulls in the air around it, filters out particles and nitrogen (which is what makes up about 80% of our air), and delivers nearly pure oxygen. The concentrator can run as long as it has electric power. That power usually comes from a plug or from batteries. (It could come from your car battery – but you can’t drive while using your concentrator!) Obviously, if you are on oxygen from a concentrator, and the power goes out, your oxygen supply will stop.

“Should I buy or rent my oxygen device?”

That depends on several things. First, on how long you might be using it. Second, on how much flexibility you want (stationary model, different sized mobile models, a light-weight model to carry around with you, etc.) Third, on how much you can afford. You’ll always need a prescription to rent or buy.

Medicare and private insurance companies typically pay some or all of the cost of long-term rentals – but apparently, not so often or not at all for the higher-priced mobile concentrators. Those you may have to buy on your own. Costs for concentrators start in the hundreds of dollars and quickly move into the thousands.

“I’m on Medicare and use an oxygen tank. How do I get a back-up tank?”

When it comes to getting an extra tank for back-up, here’s what I have learned. I haven’t experienced this myself so your story may be different. But to start with the basics regarding Medicare . . . 

  1. Your doctor issues the prescription for your oxygen: how much, how often, etc.
  2. The doctor sends the prescription to a Medicare provider.
  3. The Medicare provider delivers to you the device that fits the prescription.
  4. Medicare pays the provider on your behalf. (You may have a co-pay.)

Now, providers don’t like to “lose” their customers. They want to keep you satisfied. However, Medicare wants to pay the minimum for your care. Medicare doesn’t want to pay for anything “extra.”  

So your provider typically gives you just what the prescription requires. When you ask for a better model of equipment, or an “extra back-up tank,” your provider may say, “No, not approved by Medicare.”

To be fair, some providers seem to schedule deliveries in such a way that they deliver multiple tanks at once.  In that case, you might have the extra tank you want during a power outage.

“I’ve already asked for and been refused a back-up oxygen supply by my Medicare provider. Any suggestions?”

Go back and take a look at the recommendations in PART ONE about having a plan to get to where you can access the oxygen you need.

Then, consider the following.

Isn’t the government constantly urging us to prepare for emergencies? At the same time, Medicare (the government!) seems to resist helping us get a back-up supply of prescriptions – including a back-up supply of oxygen! Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me – and I’ve worked with my own doctors, and worked around them, to try to build my own back-up prescription supplies.

But one person’s complaints are not likely to really go anywhere when it comes to making a change. To have a real impact, we have to put on our organizing hats and find others with the same concerns! Here’s how a group might go about making a change.

Start with your doctor. Find out why the doctor recommends a particular Medicare provider. Explain that your provider doesn’t seem able to give you what you might need for oxygen in a power outage (for example, extra tanks or extra batteries). See if you can be assigned another provider willing to provide back-up oxygen for emergencies.

Push harder. Find out who else in your neighborhood or community is getting oxygen from that same provider. AS A GROUP, go back to your doctors and share your concerns about the provider. As a group, file a complaint with the provider company – it should have a grievance procedure. Or call 1-800-MEDICARE to file a complaint against the provider company or even against your insurance plan! (For more suggestions, check out this resource.)

“That’s a lot of activism!”

Yes, it is. And there is no guarantee that your activism will make a change.

But if you are on oxygen and the power goes out, you need a plan. This sort of activism may be necessary. Certainly, everyone involved will become more knowledgeable. And you can be sure that everyone involved will be better prepared when the next power outage hits!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. The number of power outages is going up because of new, more violent storms and fires, and because our grid is aging. Don’t postpone planning for an outage, particularly if you are on oxygen.

Maybe you missed this? Tsunami warnings.

tsunami evacuation route sign
Are you familiar with this?

Yes, where you’re located makes a difference when it comes to emergency planning. I’m writing from sunny Southern California, just about 12 miles from the Pacific and its beaches. We plan a lot for earthquakes, but seldom if ever for tsunamis. But we need to keep remembering that everything is changing these days! On January 15, just 3 weeks ago, we were alerted by a series of unexpected but real tsunami warnings!

A volcanic eruption near the Tonga Islands in the South Pacific was the cause . . . and I’m sure you have seen images of what happened there. (Actually, not many images have surfaced since the eruption and waves destroyed all internet connections in the area.)

While effects were minor on the West Coast, some marinas and harbors were hit, some streets and parking areas were flooded, and a few boats were damaged or even sunk.

Could you find yourself in a Tsunami Danger Zone?

Maybe a LOT more easily than you think!

In the U.S. residents of coastal cities are at risk for tsunamis: in Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California. We need to add to the list US business travelers and tourists heading to Japan, Thailand, Singapore and anywhere in the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire” countries. That’s a lot of people and a lot of places!

My son was caught in the tsunami that hit the Pacific in 2004. He was vacationing in Thailand. As he reported it live on Larry King (!), he saw a “strange long unbroken wave” forming way out in the bay. He even paused to take a photo without realizing that the wave was bearing down on the beach much faster than he could run.

Pacific Rim countries showing reach of 2004 tsunami

Yes, he was caught, washed off his feet and pushed into a building, where he was able to clamber up above the water and wait until it went down. He was young and very strong and lucky. He lost only a shoe and a camera. Over 227,000 people around the Indian Ocean weren’t so lucky. They lost their lives. This little map shows just how far that tsunami reached! 

That was in 2004, and many Americans really didn’t know how to recognize a tsunami. My son didn’t. He would now, though, and you should be able to, too.

Be prepared before you ever hear tsunami warnings.

I’ve written before on how to know you’re in a tsunami zone, and what do to to be ready in case one hits. I just recently came across and excellent video on LinkedIn and I decided it was a lot better than my earlier written description!! Even if you think you’ll “never be in a tsunami zone” someone you love may be headed on vacation next summer. Be sure they see this video, too!

Thanks to Steve Eberlein for another great training video!

Some compelling highlights from the video

  1. Are you in a tsunami zone right now? If you’re in the US, you can check at http://www.tsunamizone.org/knowyourzone/. Or if you’re on the road, check the World Map at http://www.mapsofworld.com/world-maps/tsunami-zones.html
  2. How will you know a tsunami is on its way? NOAA emergency radios and various alert apps broadcast this information. You may hear local sirens if the tsunami is threatening.
  3. If you are in a zone — particularly if you are traveling and in an unfamiliar place — you MUST know the evacuation routes! (Steve’s video makes this very clear!) Family members need to know them too, because you may not be together when you hear the tsunami warnings. Nor will it necessarily be in the daytime, during moderate weather, etc.
  4. If you feel an earthquake and are on the coast, and if you hear tsunami warnings, how long do you have to get to safety? It may be as little as TEN MINUTES! That means you won’t have time to run back home or to a hotel to get personal things or your emergency kit. So — be sure every family member has at all times a day-pack that holds some essentials, including emergency contact information. A jacket, snack, etc. would be good, too. You may not be able to get back, or get back together, for hours or even days.

Pass along this information to friends and family – and stay safe! Don’t wait until World Tsunami Awareness Day comes around on November 5 to be better prepared for this hazard.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. While we’re talking about tsunamis and earthquakes, did you know that April 26 is National Richter Scale Day?

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.

Evacuation Plan Breakdown

Wildfire approaching. What's our evacuation plan?
Heading in our direction . . .?!

Sometimes you think you’re pretty well up to speed on preparedness – and then a real emergency hits. You get the chance to see how your plan holds up. Today, I want to tell you about the recent breakdown of our evacuation plan – and what we’ve done about it since.

(Oh, I know the saying that “No plan withstands first contact with the enemy.”  Source? Graf Helmuth von Moltke, Prussian field marshal during Franco-Prussian war of 1870, known as Moltke the Elder – just in case you wanted to know. I always want to know these things.)

But back to the story of our evacuation plan breakdown. It happened only two months ago.

Not only did our plan break down, but we discovered we hardly had a plan at all!

It’s taken us a while to dig out from under, but now’s the time to share just what we discovered and what we had to do as a result.

My goal is to encourage you to spend some time looking at your own emergency response plans to see if you can spot some holes.

If your plans are as bad as ours were, you’ll want to take remedial action!

What happened that day. . .

You’ll recall earlier Advisories about our “near miss” with a wildfire in the final weeks of October. It was during one of Southern California’s well-known Red Flag (high wind) events. A vegetation fire started in the early morning. By afternoon it had exploded to over 5,000 acres – and it was barreling right toward our town.

Evacuation orders were issued and extended, covering zone after zone of the town. By 5 pm they had reached the apartment complex right across the street from us.

I’ve detailed a lot of what we were doing that day to alert neighbors, keep them up to date with evacuation warnings and orders, where shelters were being set up, etc. (If you didn’t read my “Diary” of that day, please do. I think you’ll find it useful to get the blow by blow.)

As it turned out, late in the afternoon the winds changed direction. We never got a mandatory evacuation order.

But by 5 pm we had learned a whole lot of why evacuation would never have worked.

In the following four weeks we learned even more. Here were the realities in our senior retirement community:

  • More than half of our neighbors received no emergency alerts. Either they hadn’t signed up, or they’d turned them off. By afternoon everyone did realize that there was a fire because of the heavy smoke in the air.
  • The 30% (or more) of our community without internet access had no idea about evacuation routes or where shelters were to be found. (The shelter location map put out by the city was excellent – but it was online.)
  • Around 40% of our neighboring households could not evacuate without assistance, i.e. help with physically getting out of the house, or help with transportation. We didn’t know who they were.
  • Neighbors with pets had no emergency supplies: crates or carriers, leashes, and ID papers that would allow the pets to accompany their owners to shelters, hotels, etc.
  • Despite multiple calls to various city offices, we got no useful answers about what official help to expect.

We are a community that has actually won awards for being so well prepared! How could so many failures have existed?

The answer is amazingly simple.

Over 10 years ago, following multiple wildfire tragedies, our neighborhood emergency response group hosted a series of meetings. Local fire department, police, utility companies, community managers, and experienced neighborhood response group members attended.

We discussed how to evacuate the community. We identified many of the same issues that are listed above. It was agreed that evacuation would be so challenging that it would have to be the very last resort. Professionals advised us that our energy would be best used helping neighbors be ready to shelter in place.

So for the past 10 years, that’s what we have done!

What we did differently after this evacuation plan breakdown.

Our “near miss” was so traumatic that Joe and I wasted no time is raising the alarm. We wrote to the mayor. We gathered more facts by surveying neighbors and the property managers via phone, zoom and email. We contacted our city’s emergency manager, who helped pull together a virtual meeting that included all the key players, just as had happened years ago.

This time, the results were different.

First, we discovered that a new evacuation plan for the city had actually been completed just before COVID hit! The shutdowns meant that where we normally would have had a community meeting to reveal the plan, it never happened.

Second, members of our group spent hours tracking down the answers to questions that still remained. The next step was to share this information.

Getting more information out to the community.

Series of flyers with Evacuation Reminders

The only way we have of reaching all our neighbors is via flyers. Accordingly, members of our neighborhood emergency response team researched, wrote, duplicated and distributed a series of flyers – in multiple languages — to all 360 homes in our community.

(Photo of actual flyers, slightly crumpled and purposefully blurred since they contain phone numbers specific to our community. See more details below.)

The flyers reminded people that they are responsible for their own evacuation . . . and urged them to take immediate steps to be more prepared.

  • Flyer #1: Get Connected! reminded people how to sign up for various emergency alert programs and suggested multiple sources for emergency news.
  • Flyer #2: Get Packed! reviewed the importance of having an already packed evacuation Go-Bag and listed what needs to be in it. (Supplies for pets, too.)
  • Flyer #3: Get Out! listed evacuation transportation options, with particular guidance for people who need assistance. Most important: make sure your needs are known before an evacuation is called! By the way, here was my original sentence that the Fire Department asked me to soften, “If you refuse to leave, First Responders will not come back for you.” (Even though it’s the truth!)
  • Flyer #4: Know where to go!  provided a map of our city showing likely shelters, complete with addresses and phone numbers. (This was particularly for neighbors who do not own cell phones.)

Our flyers were written specifically for our community, taking into consideration its cultures and languages, ages, role of property managers, and resources of our city. If you have questions, or would like to see the actual flyers, just let me know.

For the time being, we’re confident that our community’s evacuation plans have been strengthened. Now our job will be to repeat and remind neighbors of all its recommendations – without overlooking the continuing emphasis on shelter in place.

What should be your next steps?

I urge you to take another look at your family’s evacuation plan and at the same time, your community’s evacuation plan. After all, one doesn’t exist without the other. Ask a lot of questions!  “What do we do if . . .?” “Where do we go if…?” If you have questions with no good answers, become an “activist.” Get to know your city’s emergency manager!

I can assure you, you won’t forgive yourself for an evacuation plan breakdown.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. This Advisory has touched on just a few aspects of evacuation. I hope you’ll consider getting our Mini-series book on the topic. It covers more questions and offers answers that may fit. (Click the link above, scroll down on the page until you get to Evacuate!)

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

Evacuation Realities This Week

Sigh showing evacuation route ahead of hurricane

If you’re reading this, you’re probably not considering evacuation. You are probably not one of the hundreds of thousands of people who, right now, are displaced, wondering when they can head back home, trying to figure out if home still exists!

It’s been an astonishing couple of weeks. Evacuation orders impacted tens of thousands in the Bay Area of California and over 1.5 million people in Louisiana and Texas!

The current evacuation situation is calming, but . . .

As of today (September 1, 2020), all hurricane evacuation orders have apparently been lifted. A few new orders are still coming out in California for specific wildfire hot spots.

For many, the nightmare of cleaning up has already begun – in the worst cases, with no safe water and no electricity. (Read on for some more details.)

When will it be your turn to evacuate?

My “job” here at Emergency Plan Guide is to help make people aware of potential disasters. Maybe you’ve never had to evacuate before. But that good fortune may be running out. Not because you “deserve” to have anything bad happen, but because the number and the intensity of disasters is increasing. Take a look.

Bigger and fiercer wildfires still threaten the West.

For example, in California, where wildfires are of course expected this time of year, we have never seen so many at one time!!  Two weeks ago there were 560 wildfires burning simultaneously! The fires grew so quickly and so big that they outgrew their original names and came to simply be called “complex” fires! 

We watched real-time maps that showed the creeping growth of the CZU Lightning Complex, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the LNU Lightning Complex, in the North Bay near San Francisco, and the SCU Lightning Complex in the South and East Bay.

And did you notice the word “Lightning” in each of these names? The record-breaking heat I wrote about last week was accompanied by thousands of lightning strikes. These strikes sparked the smaller fires that joined to make up the complex fires.

Even today, while temperatures are somewhat cooler, more thunderstorms and lightning strikes are expected over the next few days. (And they don’t bring any rain with themselves.)

I have lived in CA for most of my adult life – and Lightning Complex fires are new to me! The way experts are talking, it looks as though this is just the beginning . . .

The peak for hurricane season has yet to arrive.

Thousands of miles away, along the Gulf Coast, it was a one-two punch as Louisiana’s first Category 4 storm made landfall. Tropical storm Marco was right behind. This year’s hurricane season had been forecast to be “extremely active.” and the forecast is proving accurate. This is the first hurricane season on record in which 9 tropical storms formed before August and 13 formed before September. And the historical peak of the season doesn’t come for another couple of weeks!

As I’m writing this, the National Hurricane Center warns that 3 more storms are forming in the Atlantic.

If an evacuation were called right now, would you be ready?

This year we added another book to our Q&A Mini-Series. It carries the title “Evacuate!”  (With exclamation mark.) The intro to this mini-book asks four simple questions that I think are worth reviewing right now.

  1. Are you confident you would HEAR the call to evacuate?
  2. Do you think you would BELIEVE whoever made the call?
  3. Are you sure you would UNDERSTAND what you are being asked to do?
  4. Are you PREPARED for what you would need to have and do?

Now like the other booklets in the Mini-series, this book goes on to discuss about a dozen preparedness issues associated with evacuations. Along the way, it helps you answer these four questions.

Do you need a quick review of your readiness to evacuate? Grab a copy of the booklet and take the time to read the questions, consider the answers and fill in the blanks about your own situation. Here’s the direct link to Amazon.

But wait, there’s more . . .

But because I wrote this before the continuing spread of COVID-19, here are some more evacuation issues that have come up. You’ll want to build them into your own evacuation planning.

COVID-19 has made recent evacuations more difficult and longer-lasting.

In California, the high heat, hundreds of fires and the number of fire fighters incapacitated because of COVID-19 (including the thousands of inmates that usually support fire-fighting efforts) means that resources have been stretched much thinner than usual. Even though National Guard troops have been activated, and crews, aircraft and bulldozers have been arriving from other states, the big complex fires are still less than 50% contained. Evacuees are facing more days of waiting to try to get back home.

Social distancing and quarantine requirements for ill patients have further complicated matters.

Sign for Evacuation Assembly Point marked FULL

In Louisiana, one emergency planner trying to move people out of the way said that 2/3 of their bus capacity was lost because buses could be only filled up part way. It was the same story with community shelters. People were sent to hotels to maintain distancing.

In Texas, the Circuit of the Americas race track was being used as an intake center where evacuees could get a voucher for a local Austin hotel. But thousands showed up, where only hundreds were expected. Available hotel rooms were full by Wednesday, the day before the storm hit. In some cases, even where rooms were available, they couldn’t be used because staff had been furloughed or was sick because of the pandemic.

And more people could not afford to evacuate at all because they’ve been unemployed for weeks. They had to depend on public shelters or simply ride it out.

Recovery is now underway – but it’s going to be tough.

For hundreds of thousands of people, even if they can get back home to begin clearing debris and/or rebuilding, they’ll have to work and live without electrical power or water.

These difficult conditions add to the disaster. In Louisiana, half the 16 casualties of Hurricane Laura have come from carbon monoxide poisoning as people used generators to offset loss of utility electricity.

Mayor Nic Hunter of Lake Charles, Louisiana posted on Facebook: “There is barely a trickle of water coming out of most faucets in the homes of Lake Charles.” No estimated time of restoration for utilities was mentioned. “Make sure you understand the above reality and are prepared to live in it for many days, possibly weeks,” Hunter wrote.

Is it time to double down on your own preparations?

A doubling up of disaster – COVID-19 plus storm, or earthquake, or heat wave – will stretch everyone’s capacity. Now would be a good time to review your own preparations with regards to your emergency supplies (both home and Go-Bags) and your readiness to evacuate.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Really, our Mini-Series booklets were designed just for this review purpose. Check them out.

Are you vulnerable to landslides?


Southern CaliforniaCalifornia Landslide

Santa Barbara County, California – Landslide Photo – USGS

Landslides can occur in all 50 states. They can be sudden and shockingly deadly. Are you vulnerable?

It’s Wednesday November 28th. I’m watching the weather reports today. Here’s a sample of the local headlines  – this one from ABC. today:

Storm system will bring rain to SoCal starting Wednesday evening with heavier downpours expected overnight and into Thursday morning, causing flooding concern for residents in the recent burn areas.

This led me to an older news report. This one was also from California, back in January 2018:

For days, officials advised residents in areas burned by the Thomas fire that a coming storm could bring major mudflows. Several neighborhoods were under a voluntary evacuation order. Many residents decided to stay. Some assumed the threat was overblown just weeks after the fire triggered similar calls to evacuate.

And the result: At least  21 people were killed by the flooding and debris flows at followed the heavy rains.

Have you experienced heavy rains yet this season? If yes (or even if no), are you vulnerable to landslides?

Take a look at this map from the US Geological Survey, showing regions of vulnerability. As you can see, they are mostly along the west coast of the US and also in the eastern mountains.

The bright red Appalachian Mountains area is labeled as having 15% of the land vulnerable to mud and landslides!

vulnerable to landslides

How do you protect against landslides?

Much of the following information was provided via resources suggested by one of Emergency Plan Guide’s readers. Thanks, Bradley Davis at DisasterWeb.net. !

Learn more about your risks beforehand.

  1. Check on detailed maps like the one above from the USGS to see if you are vulnerable to landslides, and if so, just how vulnerable you are. Maps are based on geographic features, soil properties and historic and anticipated rainfall.
  2. Second, be aware of recent fires that may have raised the risk in an area that otherwise might not have been so risky. Note: you may be traveling into a higher risk area that will make you more vulnerable. Find out what’s been going on there recently!
  3. Check with your insurance agent to find out if you have coverage for mudflows. Unless you have Flood Insurance, you probably don’t!

Be ready to evacuate.

Have an evacuation plan and evacuation kits. You may have very little notice so be prepared to leave IMMEDIATELY and know where you’re headed or at least how to get in touch with other family members. (That out-of-state emergency contact, remember?)

Take action now to protect your property.

You can’t stop the rain. But you can take steps to control and redirect water on your property. Some examples:

  1. Consider plants and trees that have deep roots, to control erosion and to help absorb and filter water.
  2. Landscape to include depressions/channels to direct runoff. The water needs to end up on your property, remember.
  3. Build a “rain garden” to catch and hold water, where it can soak into the ground within 24 hours. Plants in the garden need to be wet-soil tolerant and have deep roots. Get professional assistance in planning this depression. Find more info and great photos of rain gardens at the Groundwater Foundation.
  4. Divert water from rain spouts so it doesn’t collect and make puddles.
  5. Build up grass and natural barriers at the perimeter of your property to keep water out or redirect it.
  6. Install permeable paving and porous surfaces in driveways and walkways.

Know the signs of impending danger.

As always, be alert to your surroundings. Some indications that land may be starting to shift, signalling a potential landslide . . .

  • Strange sounds – trees cracking, rocks clashing, water flowing rapidly.
  • New cracks or bumps in roads, on slopes.
  • Soil moving away from foundations, road bed dropping.
  • Saturated ground where it is usually dry.
  • Tilted trees, decks, fences or walls.

Watch the weather reports, and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice!

Finally, if you do have to evacuate as a result of landslide, before you head back in . . ..  

Even if things look OK at first, be cautious before you assume anything. Check with authorities that are on site to see if Personal Protective Equipment is required or desirable. (Direct Relief,  a disaster relief organization, is providing coveralls to victims of California fires right now.)

At the very minimum, wear heavy rubber boots, long pants and long sleeves, heavy work gloves, and use a mask (N95) to protect against breathing in contaminated dust and/or ash.

Approach your “re-entry” step by step.

  • If your home suffers structural damage, take photos and contact your insurance agent. Keep receipts for any clean up and repairs.
  • Utilities may be off or damaged. Check for gas leaks, broken wires or the smell of burning insulation. Check for broken water and sewer pipes. Call on professionals for help turning these back on.
  • Everything that got wet may be a health hazard. Disinfect (Bleach is the best) and then dry. Wear gloves, mask and eye protection against dust, chemicals, mold.
  • Watch out for rashes as a result of exposure to debris. Watch for “trench foot” as a result of having wet, cold feet hour after hour.
  • Any cut or even breathing contaminated air may turn into a serious infection. Check your condition frequently and don’t delay in seeking medical advice.

When many people are displaced and living in local shelters, the chance of contagious diseases is also increased. Again, use respiratory and eye protection to help prevent the spread of germs, and be aware of hygiene at all times.

Wow. So how vulnerable are you?

What started out as an extended weather report has turned into quite a lengthy discussion. If you are outside of a potential slide area, perhaps you can forward this Advisory to friends elsewhere. If you’re not SURE whether you are in a slide area, head back to the USGS and see if you can dig into their maps for more detailed info about YOUR location.

If you’ve been affected by recent fires in California, you may also want to check out some of the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) at the USGS. Here’s one specifically about wildfires and debris flows. And here’s even more detail about Southern California susceptibility.

The latest weather update . . .

So I just checked with the National Weather Service. They have issued a FLASH FLOOD WATCH  for my area and in particular for burn scar areas, for tomorrow, Thursday morning through Thursday night.

Here’s the message:

Heavy rainfall could cause debris flows in recent burn areas according to rainfall thresholds provided by the USGS. Debris flows are extremely dangerous and happen suddenly often with little time to act. It may even not be raining at your location to be impacted by a debris flow. You should monitor the latest forecasts. Heed any advice given from local authorities.

This is real life.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Prepare Your Pet for an Emergency


Pet in emergency

Last night our neighborhood response group hosted a special presentation from a local non-profit, SoCal Animal Response Team. The group’s mission is to help animals in disasters and to educate owners to have a pet emergency preparedness plan.

They stress preparing yourself but also how to prepare your pet to come safely through an emergency!

Here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare your pet for an emergency.

Everyday emergencies can keep you from getting home to your pet.

Even on a regular day, there are a lot of reasons why you might not make it home to your pet . . .

  • There’s a broken pipe at work and you have to stay to help clean up.
  • You get in a traffic accident on the way home and end up in the hospital.
  • A gas leak threatens your home neighborhood and you are trapped OUTSIDE the safety perimeter. No one is allowed in.

OK, so this emergency lasts all day and all night and well into the next day. In the meanwhile, what is going on with your small house pet?

Baby is wandering around in the dark, no lights, no heating. Baby finished off food and water a long time ago. Time to pee – where to go?  Time to poop – no one to take Baby for a walk! Baby whines, whimpers, howls and then gets mad and tears into a few pieces of furniture and starts destroying them.

You get the idea!

Prepare your pet with a Pet Buddy.

This is a friend or neighbor, someone who . . .

  • Knows you have a pet and notices you don’t get home as usual.
  • Knows and likes the pet, and the pet knows the Buddy.
  • Has a key to your house, knows where food, leashes, and pet medicines are kept.
  • Would be willing and able to get your cat into a pillowcase and thus into the carrier.
  • Has been authorized to take your pet to the vet for medical care if the pet gets injured. (Probably the vet will require a signed release for this.)

Being a Buddy is a big responsibility. But if you don’t find and train that Buddy, you could arrive home to a sick and hostile pet and a wrecked and reeking house.

Action item: Plan a meeting of a few neighbors (with pets) to see if you can come up with some Buddy pairs. Everyone’s pet will be safer and you will all feel better!

Prepare your pet for immediate evacuation!

Some emergencies hit without warning, but in many cases you will have some time to get packed up and into the car and headed for safety.

If you have 15 minutes, you will not have time to run through the house to grab everything you need, much less what your pet will need.

Heck, in 15 stressful minutes you may not even be able to find your pet! (Our speakers told horror stories of pets crawling into unreachable spaces.)

The plan for bigger emergencies:

  • Have your pet’s emergency kit already packed and sitting right there next to your own survival kit. (Need a reminder of what all should/could go into that kit? Here’s our recommended supplies list.)
  • Know where your pet is likely to hide and have a good way to call it to come out – for example, shake the food bag!
  • Keep important ID papers in a waterproof container (folder), along with the pet carrier. (See list of important pet papers here.)

If you are directed to a shelter, keep in mind that no matter what the law says, not all shelters will accept pets. If you’ve done your homework, you will already have a list of “pet friendly” hotels or kennels in the region. Clearly, if the disaster is widespread, these facilities will fill up fast. If you can, evacuate early to have the best chance of finding shelter for your pet.

Two-week plan for managing your pet after the hurricane, earthquake, etc.

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all for disaster response. Your home could be fine, but the power is out. Your home could be partially damaged, or cut off by floods, snowed in roads, etc.

To prepare your pet for a two-week emergency, at a minimum you’ll need food, water and medicines not just for yourself but also for your pet. How much will depend mainly on the size of your pet. Of course, you’ll need warmth, light, etc.

In addition, our speakers gave us important reminders about what we might watch out for in the way of expected pet behavior in an extended emergency situation.

If your home is damaged, your animal will be disoriented, just like you are. Long-standing pet “markings” (with urine) may have disappeared or moved so your pet won’t recognize his or her territory.

Remember – your house pet is likely so domesticated it cannot protect or defend itself from danger. You have chosen your pet to be your companion. Now it’s your job to be your pet’s protector.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Inside, keep the pet in a bathroom. Safe, able to be closed up and cleaned up, no place for pet to hide.
  • If you go outside, keep the pet closely leashed to protect it from injury or from being attacked by other animals. If there is debris — broken wood, broken glass — make sure your pet is wearing booties.
  • If you’re in a group setting, you may need to muzzle your dog to be sure it doesn’t injure other people or animals. (If your dog is injured, it may bite YOU. Muzzle it.) Your cat can’t be muzzled, but injuries caused by a cat’s scratches or bites are particularly dangerous. Our speaker said that anytime their workers are bit or scratched they go immediately to the emergency room! Control your cat.
  • If your pet does escape, a couple of things can happen very quickly. First, your small pet is likely to become a victim of other hungry animals. Second, it may take only a few days for it to “revert to wild.” If you see the pet again later, it may not recognize you, may react aggressively, and may have become part of a dangerous pack of other animals. Approach with extreme caution.

Action items to prepare your pet to make it through an emergency

1-Have a pet emergency kit packed and ready to go. Include items you might not normally need, such as booties or muzzles.

2-Build and maintain a list of pet-friendly hotels and kennels – not just in your own town but wider afield in case you need to evacuate some distance away.

3-Update important identification papers for your pet, including medical information and photos.

4-Familiarize your pet with its carrying container. (Many animals find their cages/containers a very comforting place to sleep in, particularly when they have a favorite blanket or piece of your clothing.)

5-Plan a way to help organize neighborhood Pet Buddies.

Clearly, this Advisory does not cover the whole picture. But it’s a start –  with more to come! Please share with others who have house pets – and that probably means over half of your neighbors!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Knowing your neighbors’ pets is important. If the pets are always in the house, you may not realize just how many of them there are, or what KIND there are, until the walls fall down!

Will Your Business Survive a Disaster? What About the Employees?


Updated 2018, after Hurricane Florence. Note: this Advisory touches on a number of very significant issues that all employees and their employers need to be aware of. Everyone is urged to talk directly to their employer to get specific answers to the questions raised. Different states have different rules; different industries may have different requirements. Will your business survive a disaster? Know more about what to expect!

A second update, from 2020. Business closures as a result of the pandemic are not likely to reflect all the general guidelines described in this article. Still, it’s worth knowing questions to ask.

If you evacuate, and your work shuts down, will it survive?

evacuate ahead of storm

When Hurricane Irma threatened Florida and Georgia just about a year ago, over 7 million people were under mandatory evacuation. This year, as Hurricane Florence approached the Carolinas, officials ordered over a million people to pack up and leave.  As I write this Advisory today (September 27, 2018) thousands more people in South Carolina are closing up and getting out to avoid historic flooding.

Most if not all of the businesses that employed all those evacuating people were closed; some are still closed.

Questions to consider:

Survival Question 1 – How long will it take to get the building back up and functioning?

If the business is damaged by winds, flood, contamination, fire, or even if it was not physically damaged, how long will it be before it can be re-opened?

  • Getting electricity and other utilities back up is only the first step — and that may take days or even weeks as we have seen.
  • Repairs to roads, bridges, etc. may be required before repair crews, equipment and supplies can reach individual business or residential communities.
  • Construction supplies and crews will be in short supply, which means you will have to get in line — and their prices will go up.

Survival Question 2 – Once the building is up, what about the employees?

  • Some employees may be unable to return to work because their homes have been damaged.
  • Some employees may be unable to return to work because roads are still closed.
  • Family issues (injury, child care, medical, etc.) may keep employees at home.
  • Some employees will have run out of money and will not have been able to wait for the business to reopen.

Survival Question 3 – Even though the business is now ready to re-open, what about customers and suppliers?

  • Your regular customers may not have returned from having been evacuated.
  • Some may still be struggling with their own disasters and not want or be able to use your services.
  • Your regular vendors may still be struggling, too — and you may not be able to get your usual deliveries of supplies.
  • The entire economy may be depressed. (The tourist economy of Puerto Rico has not recovered after Hurricane Maria.)

Where will the money come from to make survival and rebuilding possible?

Timing is everything. If you can’t get the doors re-opened within 10 days, your business has little chance of surviving. In fact, about 40% of companies hit by natural disasters never do re-open.

And for small businesses, the chances of going under are even greater because not only is the workplace damaged or destroyed, but local customers have been hit by the storm, too.

OK, those are statistics. But stick with the scenario a bit longer.

Big storm hits – and thankfully you get through unharmed. Your family is shaken, but safe and back together. Unfortunately, your workplace was flooded and needs some major repairs. So now, the real emergency begins, because . . .

Income Question #1 – Will employees get paid during the evacuation and the re-building process?

If you are an employee, here’s what you need to know first about getting paid during and after a disaster.

  1. Are you paid on an hourly basis and eligible for overtime? Or are you “exempt” from overtime?
  2. How long is the business likely to be down?
  3. Can you work from home?
  4. Does your employer have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that will help?
  5. Do you have a personal retirement plan – 401(k) – that you could borrow from?

As you can imagine, answers to these questions may vary company by company, and state by state. Here we are publishing general guidelines.

Income Question #2 – What does the Federal Government require of your employer?

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (https://www.dol.gov/whd/flsa/), employers must pay covered non-exempt employees (hourly workers) for hours worked, and overtime to those workers who work more than 40 hours in one week. So, if you work, expect to get paid.

If you DON’T work because a disaster shuts down the business, don’t expect to get paid.

If you are a salaried employee, and the business is shut down for less than a week, you will probably get paid for that time. However, your employer may deduct those days from your leave bank. If the business is closed for a full workweek, your employer isn’t required to pay you.

If the workplace is completely destroyed from the disaster, you may be eligible for unemployment while you look for work or the company is being re-built.

If the company re-opens, but you can’t make it back to work because your own home has been damaged, or someone in your family has been injured, your absence is considered “a personal day” and it will likely be counted against your leave bank or deducted from your salary.

Your employer may have set up an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) that in addition to referrals and counseling might provide short-term financial help – perhaps advancement on future wages. Note my use of the word “might” in that sentence . . .

Income Question #3 – Does your employer have the resources to hold things together?

If your employer has planned for emergencies, and made sure the company has the right insurances, funds may be available to keep the business and employees going while the business regains its footing. Applicable insurances may be property, flood, business interruption, added expense, etc.

For example, insurance coverage may allow for essential operations to be moved to a temporary location. There, office or other equipment can be rented so the company can provide regular or at least a skeleton service. Employees may have to be put up in a hotel. New temporary employees may have to be hired. Or, a few key employees may be called upon to work from home if they can get upgraded broadband, etc.

These additional expenses can add up quickly and many may have to be paid in cash, so this will require advance planning.

What’s the best answer?

Of course, you can’t predict a disaster, but the more you and your company prepare, the better the chances you’ll make it through the disaster and get back up and running before it’s too late.

So, even if emergency planning isn’t part of your official job description, you are advised to find out what planning your employer has done. It’s very possible that you could help improve whatever plan exists.

We have resources right here at Emergency Plan Guide.

  • Use the search bar to find specific topics.
  • Click on Business Planning in the Build Your Survival Skills section of the sidebar to page through some of the recent Advisories specifically for business owners and employees.
  • Consider getting and sharing a copy of Emergency Preparedness for Small Business. Like this Advisory, it asks a lot of pertinent questions, and has many, many resources in its Appendix.

Even if the business ultimately survives a disaster, the people who worked there may experience their own, personal disaster. Smart planning may help everyone involved.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. In the midst of a disaster, employment issues can quickly develop. We are not legal or licensed insurance experts. If this Advisory has raised any questions about termination, discrimination, wage or hourly pay, insurance benefits, etc., please consult with a qualified adviser for answers that fit your individual situation.

Evacuation Fundamentals


“What do we do?”  “Where do we go?”

Evacuation MeetingAfter the wildfires last fall, we kept hearing these two questions from a number of our California neighbors.

The questions seem simple, but people were not satisfied with what they were hearing.

So, we invited the local fire department to address the topic at a special community meeting. Nearly 100 people showed up that evening to get answers to the questions we had sent in advance.

Here are some of the questions we sent, and some of the answers we got. I recommend you consider finding out what YOUR local First Responders would say if asked.

“How will we know if we are supposed to evacuate?”

An evacuation order can come from the governor, the mayor, or the fire department. In every case, once the decision is made, the order will be announced via television, radio, various social media (Facebook and Twitter), the app iAlert, reverse 911 services – and even loudspeakers on cars or trucks.

Your job is to be aware of the POSSIBILITY of an order, and be ready to act when it comes.  That means, at the very least, having your Evacuation Kit packed and your car full of gas. Having a battery-operated emergency AM radio will keep you up to date if power goes out.

“Where are we supposed to go?”

When an order is given, it is typically accompanied by a list of shelters that will be available. The addresses of the shelters will be given, and new shelters will be added as the incident evolves. (In our community, all high schools and community centers are prepared to serve as shelters.)

You can download the FREE Red Cross Shelter App for your Smart Phone and get a list of all open shelters in your area. (Look for Emergency App at the Red Cross site.)

Shelters are set up by the Red Cross and staffed by Red Cross and other volunteers, including CERT volunteers. Note that service animals are allowed in the shelters, but pets are NOT ALLOWED. You need to make arrangements for your pet beforehand!

“When is the best time to leave?”

Our speaker from the Fire Department emphasized that you do NOT need to wait for the order. You can leave any time you want – and sooner may be better than later. He told us that when the fire department arrived in one community where the order had just been given, everyone was already gone!

Of course, you don’t need to go to a shelter. You can stay with friends or relatives, stay in a hotel, etc. (If you have a pet, you may want to put together a list of pet-friendly hotels long before you might need one.)

Note: Once an order is given, and you have left your home, you will NOT BE ABLE TO RETURN until the official all-clear is given. Police need to be able to secure the neighborhood so fire fighters and other emergency personnel can move freely and safely.

“What about traffic?”

Cities usually plan for evacuation in phases, with specific traffic patterns laid out in advance. Streets can be converted to all-one-way. Unfortunately, in widespread evacuations as we saw in Florida last year, even freeways can become parking lots as everyone heads out in the same direction. (I don’t know why those Florida freeways weren’t converted to all-one-way!)

We saw during the Northern California fires, and later during the mudslides in Santa Barbara County that evacuation orders were delayed precisely because officials feared panic and traffic jams – and those officials have come under severe criticism. This is a tricky problem.

But it’s another reason for you to evacuate early if you can.

“How long can we stay in a shelter?”

Per the Red Cross, shelters stay open “as long as there is a need.” At the same time, while the shelter provides basic food and a place to sleep, the Red Cross recommends you bring your own supplies to make your stay more comfortable. On their suggested list:

  • Prescription and emergency medication · medical equipment such as a wheelchair/walker, oxygen, etc.
  • Extra clothing · pillows · blankets and sleeping bags
  • Hygiene supplies
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Small board games · books for entertainment
  • Specialty snacks and juices for those with dietary restrictions
  • Baby food and formula · diapers
  • Beach chair or camp chair

You may NOT bring illegal drugs, alcoholic beverages or guns.

“What about people who can’t evacuate without help?”

Our Fire Department and the head of the Office of Emergency Management assured us that they know our community well enough to know where extra help would be needed – at hospitals, nursing homes, etc. Our speakers also agreed that having a current list of neighbors who would need extra help would be invaluable.

Unfortunately, putting together such a list is a challenge. In our senior community, our emergency response team attempts to collect information about neighbors. But some people are unwilling to provide the personal medical or financial information that would direct special assistance to them in an emergency. So, our list is always incomplete. Have you had success building a list?

“How should we prepare our homes before we leave?”

Fire. Here in California, where the danger is likely to be from fire, we are told by CalFire to take the following steps to protect our homes:

  • Build using fire-resistant materials.
  • Clear out underbrush and overhanging branches from around the home. (Create a “defensible space.”)
  • Block vents and under-eave spaces where embers can catch and smolder.
  • Remove curtains and move flammable furniture away from windows.
  • Remove flammable lawn furniture and other outdoors hazards.
  • Shut windows and doors and leave them unlocked.
  • Leave the lights on (to direct fire fighters if it’s smoky).
  • Do NOT leave water or sprinklers running (will lessen water pressure for professional fire fighters).

Flooding. In areas where flooding is the risk, suggestions include:

  • Make serious changes to the way your home is built: make sure electrical panels, appliances and heating systems are elevated, not in the basement.
  • Waterproof your basement.
  • Raise the whole house (stilts?).
  • Clean out gutters, downspouts and drains.
  • Move items you want to protect to a higher floor or to a safer place altogether.
  • Before you leave, turn off gas, water, and electricity if you know how and can do it without touching water or standing in it!
  • Put sandbags around your property.

Hurricane a risk? Again, some basic precautions before you leave:

  • Close storm shutters or board up windows with 5/8” plywood, cut to fit.
  • Install addition clips or straps to fasten roof to the frame.
  • Clean out rain gutters and downspouts.
  • Determine how and where to secure your boat.
  • Unplug radios, TVs, and small appliances (not refrigerator or freezer).
  • If you live in a mobile home or a high-rise apartment, evacuate for sure. These structures are more vulnerable to both wind and flooding.

Now, consider these last three steps everyone can take.

Start To Work Now On These Longer-Term Protections

Check Your Insurance.

By now, you should know if you are in a burn corridor, a flood plain, an inundation footprint (from a dam collapse) or in a coastal area where your home could be impacted by a hurricane or tsunami. The right insurance policy could help protect you in the aftermath of one of these disasters. It’s likely that your regular homeowner’s policy will not be sufficient. Check with your insurance carrier and do preliminary research yourself, online.

You can start here with our Advisory: Flood Insurance

Get Involved In Your Community.

With so many disasters happening lately, many people are taking political action to strengthen their communities.

First, they are forcing community leaders to reconsider zoning and building codes and their enforcement. (Think about the massive landslide in Washington State where homes were build below a hill that had been identified as unstable. Think about the new homes built flat on the flood plain in Houston.) People are demanding better emergency alerts and automated communications.

Second, they are building community emergency response groups, so knowledge and assets can be shared in case of a disaster. (You saw Joe and me at the table in the picture at the top of the article. Later — the inset — I jumped in to wave the information about upcoming CERT classes in our city!)

Neighbors are the true first responders — they are already there when the disaster hits. You want the most qualified neighbors possible!

Pack Your Evacuation Kits.

This entire article assumes you have a kit ready for each member of the family in case an evacuation is called. Our Fire Department speaker mentioned just three things: Food, Water and Medicines. For a more complete list, check out our complete list of Emergency Supplies — scroll down to the Evacuation Kit section.

This turns out to be quite a list. I hope it’s useful as a review or to stimulate some remedial action on your part.

Virginia and Joe
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. This isn’t the entire list of questions we came up with for our guest speakers. If you are thinking of approaching YOUR fire department and police department, drop me a line and request “the full list of evacuation questions” and I’ll send it to you directly. Naturally, you’ll want to customize your list. But we have found over the years that by providing speakers with questions we get a much better presentation than if we just invite them to “come give us a talk about safety!”

Survive An Airplane Disaster


Announcement from the cabin attendant, “In the unlikely event . . .”

My last airline flight was a short trip from L.A. to San Francisco. It was a Friday evening flight so before we even started taxiing people had removed their coats and shoes, turned off their overhead lights, and curled up to get in a quick hour’s nap after a long week’s work.

"you have 90 seconds to get 370 people through this doorway . . ."

“You have 90 seconds to get 370 people through this doorway . . .”

Alarm bells started going off in my head!

Why?  Because I had just finished reading a series of articles about airline safety and here are some of the details that stuck with me.

Three Airplane Safety Facts

It’s easy enough to learn and remember these. Make sure your family knows them, too.

Fact 1: Most airplane disasters happen between 3 minutes after taking off and 8 minutes before landing.

According to a 2017 Forbes.com article, nearly HALF (48%) of all fatal airline accidents happen during final approach and landing. Taking off and starting to climb accounts for only about 13% of fatalities. These statistics have changed over the years; take-offs have become safer as both engines and runways have been improved. Engines are stronger, making it easier for planes to off the ground. Runways have been extended, and in some cases with break-up-able concrete, so if a plane can’t take off it can at least stop safely.

In any case, during both take off and landing the planes are close to the ground, the crew is busy, and options are necessarily limited.

With all that in mind, I was horrified to see that at take-off most of my co-passengers were NOT thinking about emergencies, had NOT taken a look at the emergency brochure, had NOT checked their flotation device, had NOT noted the number of rows to the nearest exit.

Worst of all, many were barefoot.

If we had to evacuate, these people would be groggy, confused, and naturally hesitant to scramble out in the dark onto a strange, maybe hot or broken surface – or into the ocean!

We were set to fail the 90 second evacuation test.

Airplanes are designed to get everyone out within 90 seconds. To accomplish that, over the years airplane designers have widened the galley ways (to 30 inches), widened evacuation slides to handle 70 people a minute, etc. Planes need to be certified that they can be evacuated within the 90 seconds using only half the emergency exits.

The 90 seconds isn’t an arbitrary number.

It’s about how long you can keep moving to save yourself if you can’t take a good clean breath of air.

And that’s because, in the case of a crash, more people perish from smoke inhalation than from injury

Update: The evacuation rule is also set at 90 seconds because that’s about how long it takes for a fire to develop into a flashover — that is, when everything within the cabin bursts into flame.

Well, our flight didn’t have a problem (after all, I’m writing this) and when we landed, I witnessed an orderly exit. Still, it took a long, long time for everyone to dig out their hand luggage from under the seats and from the overhead racks. And this reminded me of the second thing I learned.

In an evacuation, people naturally want to bring the stuff they boarded with. The problem?

Fact 2: Evacuation slides on modern passenger aircraft are designed to rapidly remove human bodies from a plane that may be as tall as a two story building.

Key word is “rapidly.” A rapid evacuation works only if you JUMP onto the slide. It won’t work if you attempt to sit down to start your slide.

Jumping and falling that fast means you cannot control suitcases, computer bags, or rolling luggage carts. For sure, slowing your fall means you will be plowed into by the 350 lb. guy coming behind you with HIS rolling cart.

Even in evacuation drills, trained volunteers with nothing in their hands get injured sliding that fast and that far.

Luggage on the slide makes injury inevitable.

Fact 3: Once you’re on the ground, the next sensible thing to do is get away from the airplane. Fast!

We have all seen movies where the heroes run away from a burning car, house, or boat and it blows up behind them. (Great special effects.)

This image could just as well be an airplane loaded with aviation fuel.  Do our heroes stop to take a video of the flames behind them . . .?

While we’re on the subject, here are just . . .

A Few More Airline Travel Tips and Good Ideas

Take another look at that photo at the top of this Advisory, then keep reading . . .

Negotiating Emergency Doors and Exit Rows

Apparently getting to and then through an emergency door isn’t always as simple as it looks in that brochure. (“Pull down on handle, lift up door.”) In fact, some airline industry professionals suggest that you anticipate that half the emergency doors won’t be able to be opened at all – due to location of a fire, a damaged frame, whatever. That’s why you need to

  • Identify the two closest emergency exits as soon as you are seated. (Is one in a different section of the plane altogether?) Take a look at the emergency card to see just HOW those doors gets opened. (“Pull down on handle. Pull door inside. Turn door. Throw back outside???”)
  • Count the number of rows to the emergency exits so you can get there in the dark.
  • If you can choose your seat, get one within 5 rows of an exit.

(During my research I came across stories of people attempting to open the emergency doors during flight. Mostly, it’s because they (1) were drunk or (2) had never been on an airplane before. Unbelievable.)

Managing Yourself

In a crash, your goal is to get up and get out right now! Do not sit there checking to see if you are OK or waiting for your breathing to return to normal all while wondering what is going to happen next. Do not try to open the above-the-seat compartments to get luggage.

Remember that 90 second rule and get yourself and family members moving to the nearest exit!

Leave your luggage behind!

You are going to have to launch yourself off the side of the plane. Extra weight and/or encumbrances will slow your passage to the door and threaten your ability to slide safely and to negotiate your landing.

Of course, crew members will guide the evacuation. The more assertive they are, the better it will go, so don’t get huffy at being yelled at. Get off the plane!

Assuming all goes well, be more comfortable!

There are lots of good ideas for traveling comfortably, and they depend on your size, the length of the trip, etc. Here are a few “universal” tips! If you click on the images or links you’ll go right to Amazon, where you can check on details and current pricing, and take a look at other models, too. The items shown here have received consistently high ratings and have features I value.

Great Travel Pillow

I’ve traveled for years – why, I remember the days when a turbo-jet was the big thing!  Every time I’m on a long distance flight, I wish I could sleep better. I’ve just discovered a NEW TRAVEL PILLOW that might solve the problem!  It’s stiff enough to prop up your head and neck, and then is held in place by a soft scarf.  Folds up neatly so you can tuck it into your carry-on bag (unlike one of those fat pillows!). Check it out at Amazon – click the image or the link!

Trtl Pillow – Scientifically Proven Super Soft Neck Support Travel Pillow – Machine Washable Grey

Carry-on Bag

What you can carry on for a long flight is really important. Of course, if you have a big bag, it goes into the overhead rack, and you can’t easily get into it until you land. So I usually prefer two bags. A small one carries important papers, glasses, snack, medicines, etc. and tucks into the larger bag for moving within the airport. When I get to my seat, I take out the small bag and go ahead to put the big one up above.

Having just one bag to manage while traveling through the airport is a lot easier and safer, too. Toting several miscellaneous bags makes using the restroom a REAL nuisance, and also makes you a natural target for pickpockets.

Here are a couple of bags that seem to offer both the size and extra security features I look for. They are made by a company called PacSafe. Naturally, they come in different sizes and colors and configurations, but you can look for these:

  • Easy to reach outside, easily accessible pockets for tickets, etc. or for that “small bag” I mentioned above
  • Fabric and straps embedded with Slashguard, a flexible, stainless steel wire mesh that protects against slash-and-run theft
  • A security hook so you can attach the bag to a table or chair leg as you attempt a nap or eat a quick meal during your layover
  • Lockdown points for zippers to protect against pickpockets
  • RFID blocking pocket for passports, credit cards, etc.

Capacity is measured in liters; sizes start at 15L and run to 45L. The smaller versions are more like day packs; the larger versions more for real hikers, with chest and belly straps. If you plan to carry a computer, be sure to get the right size pack! (Check the height and width measurements, as well as the capacity.)

Here are a couple of examples – a 15L and a 25L. Both have the security features mentioned above.  Click on the images or the links to get exact colors, sizes and prices from Amazon. (There are probably a dozen different bags available from Pacsafe so take the time to be sure you get just what you want.)

Warning. Whereas in the US people manage to get aboard with bulging carry-on bags, in Europe the short-haul carriers are extremely strict. If your carry-on exceeds the allowed size limit, expect a charge! This is why I included the third example, below. The Eagle Creek Convertabrief is handy and practical and not stuffable and therefore not going to bulge! Plus you can open it at security to show your computer, without having to remove the computer. (Note: I checked prices today, and found that purchasing this item on Amazon would save you $50 over what it costs elsewhere. That’s one reason why we’re Associates!)

Pacsafe Metrosafe LS350 Anti-Theft 15L Backpack, Black

Pacsafe Venturesafe 25L GII, Navy Blue


Eagle Creek Convertabrief, Asphalt Black

Travel Document Holder

At different times you need to have a passport, tickets, credit cards and cash handy. Whoever was in charge made these all different sizes, so having them handy is not always easy.

Generally, I try to have the next needed item in an outside pocket, and I keep the other emergency stuff hidden deeper in luggage. Some things I prefer to actually wear — hence, a document holder. (Obviously, if you have a holder under your clothing you’re not going to be able to access it easily.)

I look for belt style document and money holders that have these features:

  • Soft shape and outer material. (Unfortunately, “sturdy” sometimes means stiff, and that is uncomfortable to wear for any length of time.)
  • Easily adjustable belt to go around you based on what you’re wearing under it. And that may depend on the weather! (I don’t like my belt against bare skin.)
  • Waterproof layer to protect against heat and dampness.
  • More than  one pocket so you can find things without having to paw through everything.
  • RFID protection to keep thieves from stealing your credit card numbers.

Here’s a document holder that seems just about perfect. It’s beige, so you can wear it pretty much invisibly under light-colored clothing. It even comes with a unique “insurance policy” against theft. As always, click on the image or link to get current prices at Amazon, where we are affiliates.

Travel Money Belt with built-in RFID Block – Includes Theft Protection and Global Recovery Tags

Compression Socks

I don’t want to overlook this travel item, which has made all the difference for me and members of my family!

These socks keep your feet and legs warm during long flights and help maintain circulation for feet that have any injuries, swollen veins, etc. I first bought them when I knew I’d be standing a lot for a new job; now I wear them regularly, almost as a “pick me up” for a day when my feet feel tired!  For sure, I wear them on long plane flights.

There are all lengths and styles of compression socks, in all price ranges. Most cost between $15 and $30 a pair. I’ve tried flimsy nylon ones. I’ve looked at short ones and tried on some that are so long they would have to be folded over at the top — not a good idea!

I’ve tried the lower tension ones (15-20 mmHg* ) and the more supportive ones (20-30 mmHg *). I own the ones in the picture below and I recommend them highly for travel.

  • Sizing is accurate.
  • Plenty of room in the toe; compression really starts at the ankle.
  • Socks are tall; the amount of compression keeps them up and in position even on my thin legs!
  • They are made with wool. (Some compression sock brands are 100% synthetic.)
  • I like this pattern!  (There are many other patterns; pattern choice does affect price.)

Sockwell Women’s Circulator Graduated Compression Socks-Ideal for-Travel-Sports-Nurses-Reduces Swelling, Medium/Large(8-11), Black Stripe

“In the unlikely event . . .”

Heading back to the subtitle for this Advisory — it’s important to realize that air travel is still statistically safer than other modes of travel.

Update: Aviation deaths have been steadily falling for the last two decades, and 2017 was the safest year in history for commercial airlines, according to industry research. Separate reports by Dutch consultancy T070 and The Aviation Safety Network found “. . .no passenger jets crashes anywhere in the world,” despite more flights being made than ever before. (“Crashes” doesn’t count airplanes downed deliberately by their pilots.)

When there is a crash, though, death statistics can be dramatic. Being aware and taking immediate action may keep you from becoming one of them. In the meanwhile, Bon voyage!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. The Number 1 airline fact above – the 3 minute 8 minute rule – came from a book that we have read with great interest. It’s called Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life: A Former CIA Officer Reveals Safety and Survival Techniques to Keep You and Your Family Protected. The travel safety tips are just a small part of what is fascinating reading about protecting your home and yourself from people out to get you.

P.P.S. * The amount of compression is measured in mmHg, defined this way by Wikipedia: “A millimeter of mercury is a manometric unit of pressure, formerly defined as the extra pressure generated by a column of mercury one millimetre high and now defined as precisely 133.322387415 pascals. It is denoted by the symbol mmHg or mm Hg.”

P.P.P. S. If you want to get regular tips and recommendations, be sure to sign up for our weekly Advisories below. There’s no cost, and you never know when one of our Advisories will give you a great idea or even be enough to save your life.


Preparedness Checklist for 2018


Lists work. They’re easy to figure out, satisfying to check off. Here’s one to get us all going toward some new levels of preparedness for 2018.

Review or reminder?

For a few people, this will be review. But for most of us, at least one of these items will cause a grimace or even a slap of the forehead because we know we should already have dealt with it!

There are more ideas and resources below the chart. But take a quick first look.

Which item should be first on your list?

Preparedness Checklist for 2018More resources for items on the list.

  1. Homeowners’ insurance may not cover water damage to the stuff in your basement. Neither may flood insurance! If you rent, what about the items stored in your “cage” in the parking garage? You will never really know what’s covered until you pull out your policy and go over it with your insurance agent. Here’s an Advisory that will give you more questions to ask about any insurance:
    Flood Damage Not Covered By Insurance
  2. What was a good place to head for last year may have changed. Update your plans, particularly if you have children. Pick an assembly place nearby – like the big oak tree at the back of the lot – and another place further down the block or even across town. Can your family members FIND these places without the maps in their phones?
    Get Out Now — Family Evacuation Plan
  3. Every homemaker knows this, and knows how to do it. In a survival kit, just pull and replace everything! (You may discover that more and more canned items now are self-opening. Yay!) On the kitchen shelves, load at the back, eat from the front. Basta.
  4. I finally got far enough ahead on my blood pressure pills to have 10 days’ worth stored in my survival kit. But they’ve been there a while . . . And as we all know, over time pills lose their effectiveness, band aids lose their stick, bottles dry out, tubes ooze. Your first aid kit could actually do you harm if it’s not up to speed.
    First Aid Kit Failure
  5. Seems as though it would be easy to run outside in a fire, doesn’t it? But people are trapped and burned every day. Practice with your family! Make sure you know two exits from every room, how to get down from the second floor. What’s your agreed-upon signal for a home invasion threat? Every individual needs to know how to respond. If all your children know is to come screaming for you, you have NOT trained them properly.
    Escape from Burning House
  6. People around you could turn into rescuers – and even into friends. It can’t hurt to be open to meeting more of them. Besides, it’s just a neighborly thing to do. And if you have a neighborhood emergency response team, invite them to come and find out more.
    Build a neighborhood team
  7. Memorize important phone numbers. Assume phones won’t be available in a car wreck, a storm, or an earthquake. Memorizing is healthy brain activity, too!
  8. Computer companies compete to be your back-up service. But where do they PUT your files, and how to you access them if your computer has been destroyed? Have at least 3 back-up methods: onto your own computer, onto a separate physical hard drive stored off-site, and into the cloud. Test whatever procedure you have put into place. Just having a COPY of something doesn’t mean you can necessarily start right back up to work.
  9. Did you know that if one roommate applies for relief from FEMA, the other roommate may not be eligible? Do you know who would have to sign off for you to get an insurance payout on your house? We all tend to let legal questions linger . . . 2018 is the year to clean legal issues up for a number of reasons, not least of all to get them off your mind.
    Legal problems surface after flood
  10. Emergency preparedness isn’t supposed to be all long faces and determined expressions. It’s supposed to be positive!  What would be fun for you and your family? Learning to tie knots? Identify edible plants? Start a fire without matches? Operate a HAM radio? Take a course in basic self-defense? Do the CERT training? Every one of these skills will improve your knowledge, improve your confidence, and make you better prepared for any emergency!
    Tie the right knot!
    Ham radio operators play key role
    Self-defense for the rest of us

OK, I think that should do it!  Post this list somewhere handy, so you won’t overlook these items. What else should we add to the list? Just let us know in the comments!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. While we’re still on the positive aspects of preparedness, don’t miss my most recent Top Ten list!  It’s a collection of comfy camping items that would make ANY trip so much more pleasant — and fun!  Here’s the direct link: https://emergencyplanguide.org/top-ten/



Expand your thinking with some NEW IDEAS


New Ideas

Real preparedness extends beyond the walls of our homes.

We spend a lot of time at Emergency Plan Guide examining the best supplies to lay in, and how to select the right emergency tools. Last week we reviewed in detail individual or family survival kits, and everything that needs to go into the best ones.

Yes, focusing closely on our immediate needs is a good idea.

But from time to time we need take a wider look around.  Joe and I often do this at our monthly team meetings.

This week’s Advisory could become a great topic for YOUR next meeting. At the very least, it will broaden your personal horizons!

Here are 7 news headlines to inspire NEUE IDEEN! (That’s German for “New Ideas!”)

For each headline, I’ve added a brief comment and then posed questions for you or your group to follow up with.

You know our favorite saying: “The more we all know, the safer we all will be.” Well, I hope these questions inspire a new level of knowledge – and safety!

1-“Fayetteville NC works on downtown evacuation plan in case of emergency on train tracks.”

It turns out Fayetteville has train tracks running right through the town. And the city doesn’t know exactly what those trains may be carrying. Since they have experienced more than one terrible train wreck, it seems to make sense to prepare for the next.

Questions: Do you have nearby train tracks? Do you know what’s being carried on them, and at what time of day? Perhaps more pertinent, do your city’s First Responders know this information? Find out! (Hint. It may be impossible . . . but whatever you can do will move the ball forward for your community.)

2-“Everett WA Graduates First Ever All Spanish Speaking Only CERT Class In Washington”

When the disaster hits, everyone will be pretty much in the same boat. Think of how much safer you’ll feel – and how much safer you’ll BE – when neighbors pitch in as a coordinated team!

Questions: Does your city put on CERT classes in another language? If not, what language/s should they consider? How could you or your group make that happen? (Think about reaching out to work sites, churches, private schools.)

3-“Florida’s 3,200 assisted living facilities and 640 nursing homes were ordered, by this week, to submit emergency plans that include enough generator power to run air conditioning . . .”

You surely heard about the 14 people who died in Florida during the aftermath of Irma. You may not have heard that nearly 2,000 facilities in FL haven’t yet complied with the order.

Questions: Do you have elderly relatives? Any in nursing facilities? What is that facility’s requirement for an emergency plan? What are your city’s requirements when it comes to emergency and/or evacuation plans for facilities of this sort? Can you bring pressure to bear if it appears to be necessary?

4-“The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency will begin testing its Attack Warning Signal or ‘Wailing Tone’ next month as they continue preparedness for attack from North Korea..”

Whether you live on the West Coast, the East Coast or in the middle of the country, a nuclear disaster is a frightening thought. It doesn’t have to be the result of war; it could just as well be the result of a natural disaster or even an accident at an aged facility.

Questions: Are there nuclear power plants anywhere near you? How old are they and what kind of maintenance do they receive and/or report on? What sort of warning signals do they have? (Have you ever heard one?) What’s the evacuation procedure for your home, your town? (Important: Sometimes the evacuation zones of plants overlap, which could make one or both of the individual plans inadequate.)

5-“Amid wildfire risk in Bay Area, UC Berkeley’s emergency management office to lose 50 percent of its staff…

This isn’t the only headline I’ve come across on the topic of staffing. Communities and their budgets change, often without much warning. If emergency management funds are cut, the quality of response to emergencies will decline.

Questions: Does your city have an Office of Emergency Management? An Emergency Operations Plan? Who heads up the department right now? What are the leader’s qualifications? What does the future for the department look like? What role can your local neighborhood group play in community preparedness? (Maybe you can get that department leader to be a guest speaker at one of your local meetings?)

Ask these same questions about the place where you work!

6-“JOHNSON COUNTY, ARKANSAS — The owners of C&H Hog Farms and the international corporation that supplies the operation’s swine are planning to apply for a permit to operate another farm, this one in a flood-prone area just south of Hartman.”

We heard just a couple of months ago about how unrestricted development added to the flooding tragedy in Houston. We all remember from 2014 the massive landslide that swept away an entire town in Washington – a town built below a hillside with a well-known history of slides.

Questions: What’s the status of your home and your community with regard to flood plains and/or past flooding? Has it been the victim of wildfires? What about hurricanes and/or tornados?

A developer, real estate agent and/or insurance agent may not be eager to share the history of the locale. In fact, they may not know it!

As a homeowner, you need to know this information. As a member of the wider community, you want everyone to know and be prepared to the extent possible.  What plans does the city have for growth and new development?  You CAN find out . . . and maybe keep ill-advised development from taking place.

7-PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — State health officials are encouraging people with special health care needs to enroll in an emergency registry.

In a widespread emergency, people with special needs will be most vulnerable. But they’ll not get the help they need if people don’t know they need it! Some sort of registry, like the one mentioned above, may help direct resources.

Questions: Does your state or local community have a registry for people with special health needs? How do you sign up? How is the registry maintained? How is it updated?  Note: People with special needs could be a target for unscrupulous or even criminal behavior, so privacy and security for any registry are paramount.

How to use these headlines.

OK, so while you’re digesting this spread of preparedness morsels, I hope you will have taken note of several questions that you want to answer for your personal benefit.

You can expect that getting those answers will take some time.

But as we have discussed many times, being prepared is a continual state of mind built on awareness, knowledge, and confidence.

I think pursuing news headlines like these can help on all fronts!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Use these headlines at your next group meeting, or ask people to bring in their own news item on emergency preparedness. Pick a few to discuss. Come up with questions like those above and, if appropriate, turn getting answers into a group project.  (In our neighborhood team, we almost always have one small group or another pursuing one idea or another!)


Wildfires In Our Backyard!

Virginia scanning important documents
Procrastinating no longer

Here in California wildfires are threatening thousands. Last Tuesday the evacuation area got within 5 miles . . . but fortunately for us, the fire turned and headed in another direction.

That fire is still burning, but for the time being we are safe.

The whole situation developed quickly. People just 15 minutes north of us were forced to leave their homes with only minutes’ warning.

Moreover, even though their houses haven’t been damaged, these people still haven’t been able to get home again!

The close call right here at home has made me reconsider our own state of preparedness.

I am embarrassed to tell our story of being “ready for evacuation.” 

I have written many times about go-bags.

Our go-bags were ready.

We have them in the house and smaller ones in the car.  They include a change of clothing, some water, first aid kit, personal items. At the top of each bag: shoes and a flashlight. So, all I had to do was put in some prescription pills.

I added a couple of personal items to my house bag, and some energy bars, and stashed it near the back door. So far, so good.

How about the car?

Our car was 7/8 full of gas, thanks to Joe’s unfailing attention.

Plus there’s a warm blanket and even a pillow in there, our CERT duffel bag, and a couple of walkie-talkies.

But what else would we put into the car?

Here’s where the challenge became clear.

  • What about our “original official documents” that we’ve collected over a lifetime – birth certificates, death certificates, marriage and divorce certificates. Military records. Transcripts. Credentials. At least they are all mostly in one filing cabinet drawer! One big swoop and they all landed in a cardboard file box.
  • What about proof of ownership of the house, the car, past houses, past cars, property taxes on all? What about insurance on all these? OK, another drawer and a second box was filled.
  • All the business records – we’ll take the computers themselves, a laptop plus a desktop with keyboard, screen, mouse. The back-up drives. Oh, and that binder with all the account passwords in it . . .Ugh. This would take time to disassemble and haul outside. We leave all this for later.
  • Photo albums! Another THREE boxes full, and we’re leaving the framed pictures behind on the wall.
  • All the cards — credit cards, health cards, insurance cards, passports. Plus some cash. Surprising how much room these take up when you never seem to have enough of them!
  • Phones, power bank, plugs and cords. Ham radio and batteries. This stuff is scattered throughout the house.
  • And more . . .

It quickly became clear that we have far more to save than is possible to stuff in the car.

But what was even more painful was the realization that for all our writing and speaking and encouraging and nagging, we had never taken the time to prepare fully for evacuation.

We have procrastinated about scanning our official papers!

Flash drive holds copies of important papers
The answer to important papers

The data from more than half the items listed above would fit easily on a couple of flash drives!

So, that’s why you see that photo of me at the top of the page, scanning what is actually my mother’s birth certificate! I’m using our all-in-one printer. Even a  modest multi-function printer can do a reasonable job as a scanner.

Of course, it will take hours to scan EVERYTHING using this printer/scanner.

So, I’m actually going to take it step by step. (I’ll be leaving the filled file boxes stacked in the hall, just in case another emergency arises!)

  1. First I need to come up with the labeling system I want to use to be able to find things later. (Not too hard. I’ll use the same file names I have in my computer.)
  2. I’ll start with documents that would be difficult or impossible to recreate, like that birth certificate, or photos.
  3. Documents that exist in some government or commercial file somewhere (like property tax records) will be a lower priority.

Of course, I could also scan documents using a smart phone. Depending on what version of phone you have, you can get an app that will allow you to scan documents into your phone, send to your computer or store in the cloud (DropBox, OneDrive, Evernote). Some of these apps are free; some cost a few dollars. Depending on what you need, you can adjust for size and clarity, combine multiple pages into one document, convert text into editable files, etc. This would work really well for scanning on the go, of course.

If scanning each document one at a time gets too onerous, I’ll likely invest in a higher-speed document scanner. (In the past we used a desktop scanner for business receipts. It scanned well but became outdated and as our business needs changed it wasn’t worth it for us to upgrade.) A full-featured desk-top scanner that can handle multiple pages at a time, with documents of different sizes and shapes, may cost $200-$400; the “mobile” models (about the size of a short box of tinfoil – the documents feed through one at a time) cost less than $100. Before you buy, make sure to find out if you are required to purchase a monthly subscription for the software and/or the digital storage as part of the deal.

Of course, you can also consider using a professional document scanning service. Many options are available. Some services scan, store, or shred. Some certify. Some can convert scanned documents to searchable pdfs for ease of retrieval. Photo retouching may also be available. It all depends on the number and condition of your documents, and your concerns for privacy.

In my case, images of my documents will end up in my computer, copied on a flash drive, backed up on our back-up drives, and . . .

I’ll also file these digital documents somewhere in the cloud!

We’ve prepared before for evacuation from potential flooding, but we had plenty of time to do it. This last week, once the order came down, we would have had only minutes to get things organized and out the door.

Yes, that go-bag is the first step. But taking care of other “loose ends” is also part of preparing for an evacuation.

Boxes packed for evacuation
Still in the hall . . .

This has been a valuable lesson for us. I hope it’s useful for you, too. I’ll let you know how the scanning goes.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. These are the boxes I mentioned. As you can see, they’ve been used before. We always have a few empty ones on hand!

Lessons from Harvey – The First Week


Flood Hurricane Harvey


How well would you have done?

“I’ve heard it a hundred times: Be prepared for emergencies!”

I’m sure you have. And I’m sure the people in Texas had heard it, too. But what we witnessed this week suggests that a whole lot of them were caught unprepared.

Let’s take a look at some of what we saw just this week. It might be useful for all our neighbors and friends, not to mention ourselves.

We have learned a lot about Houston, Texas.

So many people who had been through past storms just weren’t ready for this one. Why not?

This is turning out to be an historical event. That is, NEVER BEFORE SEEN!  Not a hundred year rain, or a 500 year rain, or a 1,000 year rain. Amounts of rain outside the insurance guidelines; amounts that required weather forecasters to tear down their charts and build new ones, live on the air!

One simple fact stands out to help explain the event. Sea surface waters near Texas rose as much as 7 degrees Fahrenheit above average, creating some of the hottest spots of ocean surface in the world. This heat is what caused the storm to develop so rapidly into a Category 4 storm. (Read more at The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/08/did-climate-change-intensify-hurricane-harvey/538158/

One neighborhood after another fell victim to flooding. Why is flooding so widespread in Houston?

Again, one fact seems to stand out: “over-development.

Houston has been called “The Wild West” of development. It’s the largest U.S. city to have no zoning laws. As millions of new residents have moved in, development has been allowed in flood-prone areas. Water management seems to be built on a patchwork drainage system of bayous, city streets and a couple of 80-year-old dams. (Looking for more background? Check out this article from the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/investigations/harvey-urban-planning/?utm_term=.f2848cb00326)

The city just isn’t able to handle a big storm like Harvey.

(With more and increasingly violent storms on the horizon, you should be asking yourself about your own city’s plan and preparedness.)

Then we learned a lot from individual families.

From TV footage you could see and hear the differences between people who had prepared and those who hadn’t. Here are some of the images that stick with me, and questions we could all be asking ourselves.

1-We didn’t hear from people who actually evacuated safely before the rains hit. We did hear about some people who refused to evacuate. (One man was quoted as saying, “I got food and I got my gun. That’s all I need.”) Ask yourself: “Am I prepared to evacuate if word comes down – or would I resist, delay or flat-out not go?”

2-Many people were not prepared because they weren’t expecting a disaster. (“Lived here 20 years, assumed we’d be fine.”) Even if their homes weren’t flooded, when their neighborhood was surrounded by water, these folks hadn’t set aside enough supplies to shelter in place for more than a few days. Ask yourself: “How many days’ worth of supplies do I REALLY have?” (Follow-on question: What about supplies, including flashlights and batteries, for if the power is out?)

3-We heard so many stories from people who said they’d gone to sleep and then somehow, in the night, had wakened to find water in the house. If course, you don’t leave your TV on all night for weather reports. In an emergency, though, getting important communications in a timely fashion could mean the difference between considered action and panic. Ask yourself: “How do I plan to get emergency news?” (We’ve written before about emergency and weather alert radios that could be left on all night if need be! And here’s an Advisory with alert app info. And does your community have a Reverse 911 system, that is, an automated message delivery system that could notify you via telephone about impending flooding or other emergency?)

4-We saw image after image of people climbing out of boats with just the clothes they were wearing, perhaps gripping a small plastic bag with “valuables.” And did you see how many of them were barefoot?! Ask yourself: “Do I have an evacuation bag or backpack compact enough to carry or wear onto a boat or bus or even into a helicopter rescue basket?” (And does it have shoes in it?)

5-Pets were visible in nearly every shot. I saw a boat going by that carried probably a dozen animal carriers – just pets, no people! By the same token, I’m sure we all saw the image of the dog swimming at the end of his leash. If you have a pet, ask yourself: “Does my pet have a carrier? Can I get my pet INTO the carrier? Can I handle the carrier myself while helping my other family members?”

6-People were using landlines to call 911, and cell phones to share emergency messages via Twitter and/or Facebook. Ask yourself: “Do I know how to use social media in an emergency? Who would I send a message to? What’s their number/address?”

7-In the midst of everything, I heard newscasters mentioning that people were being urged to apply for disaster relief – like, immediately! (FEMA anticipates some 450,000 people will apply.) Ask yourself: “If I had to apply for relief from an evacuation shelter, would I be able to supply the necessary information?

Here’s a brief list, taken from the DisasterAssistance.gov website, of what you need for the application:

  • Social Security Number
  • Proof of citizenship (non-citizen national or qualified alien)
  • Insurance coverage you have (type, amounts)
  • Damage you’ve sustained (photos?)
  • Household income at time of disaster
  • Contact information

You might be able to provide direct deposit details, too, if you have them.

Don’t let Harvey get by without doing something about your own preparedness.

So do you know people who STILL haven’t done any preparing for an emergency because they “can’t imagine it happening?”

If you do, and if you care about them, please forward this article while Houston is fresh in everyone’s minds.

If you know people who need even more of a push to build a simple evacuation bag, send them to EmergencyPlanGuide.org with the recommendation that they buy our guide to building a custom survival kit. (Actually spending a few dollars may be the impetus they need to take this seriously.)
Build Your Custom Survival Kit
If you need to refresh your own kit, or build MORE kits so you have one for each family member, the workplace and your cars, our workbook will help sort it all out. (It has pictures, lists, charts, product reviews and recommendations – everything you need to approach this systematically and get it done!)

⇒    Here’s the link to the Guide: http://EmergencyPlanGuide.org/custom-survival-kit/.

Let’s all of us use Houston’s story to add to our own knowledge and resolve. And let’s contribute to helping residents of Houston however we can. They are going to need help for a long time.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. One other thing we learned about Texas is that people pitched in to help their neighbors. It was inspiring. Let’s hope that our neighbors would help us and we’d help them in the same way.