Tag: wildfire

A Fire Hydrant for Helicopters?


The overwhelming threat of wildfires hangs over us in California, and promises to get worse. A week ago we personally were at the very edge of a fire. Hundreds of fire fighters, multiple aerial firefighting crews, more than 70,000 people evacuated before the winds shifted and sent the flames in another direction. (I posted my minute-by-minute description of that day last Thursday!) The next day, a second fire sprang up only 20 miles away! The two fires, Silverado and Blue Ridge, ultimately were managed jointly. As of today, they are reported as “98% contained.” But fire season continues.

An unexpected discovery . . .

In the midst of this ongoing bad news, I was excited to discover what seems to be a sort of “secret weapon” for wildfire suppression. Something I’d never seen before in all the fire-fighting footage I’ve watched!

The discovery? The Heli-Hydrant – a simple, reliable source of nearby water to help fight fires at the wildland-urban interface.

It all started when I noticed an unusual photo. A helicopter hovering near the ground, siphon dangling. OK, I got that – it’s a water-carrying fire-fighting helicopter. But no flames in the photo? No lake? Just an ordinary-looking gravel lot with fence and some sort of tank in the background?

Fire-fighting helicopter hovers over unusual water source - the Heli-Hydrant.
So what am I looking at here??

I clicked to read more. Then I made a phone call. And I discovered what looks to be . . .

The best idea I’ve seen in a long time!

The helicopter in the photo is getting ready to refill its belly with over 2,000 gallons of water from that simple tank visible in the background.  And that tank is only minutes from an active wildfire line. Even more impressive, the tank is hooked to the municipal water system like a regular hydrant. Open the valve and the tank fills so fast that the helicopter can’t empty it.  It’s a source of water that doesn’t run out!

I needed to know more. That meant asking a lot of questions about this fire hydrant for helicopters. Here are some of them. If you have any connection with fires, fire suppression, emergency management, or real estate development, I think you’ll be as interested as I was to find these answers.

“Why haven’t we seen these tanks before?”

It seems as though tradition rules just as strongly in the fire-fighting industry as it does in many others. Fire departments focus on fighting fire. Water districts (that provide the water for fighting fires) stick to water. That all makes sense: following proven practices keeps people safe.

Still, a tank serving as a fire hydrant for helicopters doesn’t seem too far outside the box. So my next question was,

“Maybe helicopter tanks add new risks for pilots?”

Who would know any better than a pilot actually filling up at the tank during the twin fires last week? He was definitive when I asked about being able to hit the tank target.

“Not a problem. We do that kind of flying all the time. This was the first time I’d used this tank so what I was concerned with was visibility and potential obstacles. It turned out to be a great location – at the top of a ridge and wide open.”

And then before I could ask my next question, he added, “And that location cut my turn-around time in half – from about 15 minutes to 6 or 7!”

“So you only had to travel half as far for water as you would have otherwise?”

In this case, yes. Other aircraft had to travel to a nearby lake to refill.

Then he added a comment about the water itself. “The tank water was clean. We don’t always like the water we sometimes have to use. Lake water can bring up fish or algae or, if the water level is low, we get mud. And we don’t want to use salt-water at all– too corrosive. Clean water means things go smoother.”

“How does the water get into the tank?”

Often, when a fire is discovered, water has to be delivered to a distribution point using a tanker truck, with driver and crew. That takes decisions and time. According to Whaling Fire Line Equipment, manufacturer of the Heli-Hydrant, this tank is permanently installed and is connected to the municipal water system, just like a regular fire hydrant – hence the name, Heli-Hydrant!

When not in use, the tank is drained and remains dry. When it’s needed, the valve feeding the tank can be opened remotely by the helicopter pilot. The 2,700 gallon tank fills from empty in less than 3 minutes.  

“And when the tank gets emptied out?”

Here’s the magic. It doesn’t empty! The flow rate from the municipal system is such that the tank fills faster than the helicopter can pump it out. So the minute one helicopter leaves with its load, another can pull in and fill up, right behind it. In the Blue Ridge fire, three different machines took turns using the Heli-Hydrant.

“How much water do fire-fighting helicopters carry, anyway?”

A variety of helicopters are used to fight fires. Smaller models carry from 100–500 gallons; a larger model, like the pilot’s I talked to, can carry as much as 3,000 gallons. Some, even larger, are equipped to carry both water and fire-fighting crews.

“Who owns the fire-fighting helicopters?”

Since not every fire department has its own helicopters, departments depend on a network of leased, contracted and even jointly-supported machines that come from agencies and private companies across the country. According to news reports, in last week’s fires 14 copters from multiple sources were active.

“That Heli-Hydrant was in the right place. Who decided to put it there?”

The Yorba Linda Water District owns the tank in the photo. The District’s recently retired general manager headed up the award-winning installation. And he spent a lot of time talking to me about the location of the tank. Not just its site (top of ridge, no dangerous power lines, etc.), but even more important, a location close to the wildland-urban interface. As new residential developments spread ever higher into the hills of Yorba Linda, they get harder to reach quickly in fire emergencies. This Heli-Hydrant is near such a development. It seemed a sensible addition to the fire safety services provided by the District.

“Why don’t cities require fire hydrants for helicopters to be mandatory for developments that butt up against the interface?”

I thought this was a legitimate question, but I didn’t get a clear answer from any of the people I talked to. But I gleaned some intelligence about who would be interested. My non-professional opinion:

  • If I were a local fire department, I’d certainly be looking at whether strategically positioned Heli-Hydrants could help get more water more quickly onto a wildland-urban interface fire.
  • As a residential developer, I’d consider adding tanks as a “perimeter defense” — a feature to complement the “natural setting with spectacular views” of my new homes on the interface.
  • If I were part of a water district, responsible for the water being used for fire-fighting, Heli-Hydrants could be a water-saving investment to take a look at.
“Last question: How much do the Heli-Hydrants cost?”

Of course, the answer to this question is, “It depends!” The Yorba Linda tank has the most efficient set-up possible, sited by an expert already on staff and simply added to the already-existing water system. Extending a water main to allow for the tank connection would add to the cost, as would the size of the lot required for a larger tank. So obviously, every install would be unique.

But the concept seems so straight-forward, and so obvious. I am looking forward to seeing some Heli-Hydrants positioned at the edge of our town soon, since there seems to be no question that fires will again find their way there!

If you have more questions, please contact Whaling Fire Line Equipment. You can tell them I sent you!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

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

Dust Mask for Your Survival Kit

dust mask for survival kit
Useful for emergencies?

Update as of 9-2020. Because of COVID-19, supplies of commercial masks may be limited. Take steps NOW to get the masks you need.

Do I need a dust mask for my survival kit?

As the pandemic continues, and fires explode in California, we are taking yet another look at the role masks play in protecting our health.

This week, a question first asked over a year ago was raised again.

What’s the best dust mask to protect me from smoke from a wildfire?

In my neighboring county here in southern California the overall Air Quality Index today registers more than 5 times the “safe” levels as set by the EPA!

Air quality considers gases and particles. Particles are the first thing a dust mask attempts to stop. Masks are labeled according to how much particle protection they offer. For example, a mask will get a measurement like “90” or “95” or even “100.”  This tells you the percentage of particles this mask can block from entering your lungs.

Particles are also measured by size. Some masks protect against particles down to 10 microns in size. Others protect against particles down to 2.5 microns. The smaller, the better.

Let’s look more closely at some of the options from the standpoint of preparedness.

1-Option One – standard disposable paper or cloth dust mask

(FYI, the child in the image at the top of this Advisory is wearing a standard surgical style disposable paper mask.)

As we wrote just a couple of weeks ago, your Go-Bag should include a supply of surgical style paper masks as protection against the spread of COVID-19 in a evacuation or shelter situation. Thin paper masks are meant to stop YOU from transmitting virus via droplets from your breath.

They can also protect you from breathing in larger particle pollutants that may be in smoke.

These masks typically have thin elastic straps that go around the ears or around the head. You can see that the one in the image has only one strap. This means it probably won’t fit too well — particularly if you have a beard or mustache.

These masks are for one-time use only.

Inexpensive cloth masks – or just a bandana — can be washed and reused but tend to get wet around the mouth. These masks may give you the impression of providing security. They may stop you from passing on the virus. But they can really only prevent some of the very largest smoke particles from getting into your lungs.

2-Option Two – “respirator” built for better protection

It appears that the best all-purpose masks are those labeled N95. They filter out 95% of pollutants that aren’t oil-based. (Some masks are labeled N99 or even N100 and are more effective.) These are the masks that health care workers, first responders and volunteers working in the burn areas of California wear – or should be wearing.

Like the Option One masks discussed above, these masks are also disposable. But they fit better (two straps, nose piece) and are more comfortable and thus can be worn longer before being replaced. One additional comfort feature is an exhalation valve. The valve makes it easier to wear the mask in hot or humid conditions.

Here’s an example from Amazon (where we are Associates) of an N95 mask with exhalation valve. This model comes 10 to a box.

3M 8511 Respirator, N95, Cool Flow Valve (10-Pack)

Caution: While a mask with an exhalation valve may make it easier for you to work in smoky conditions,, it does not protect you from harmful gases. Moreover, the CDC warns that because an exhalation valve makes it easier to breathe out, the mask will not keep you from transmitting a virus to others.

Masks can also be combined with additional layers or filters to keep out specific pollutants. The more layers, the more effective (as long as the fit is good). The mask below, for example,  is designed with extra layers of activated charcoal. (Note adjustable ear straps.) My research does suggest that while these masks with filters can protect against particles as small as 2.5 microns, they are NOT rated by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the one that gives us the “N95” rating.

Mouth Mask,Aniwon 3 Pack Anti Dust Pollution Mask with 6 Pcs Activated Carbon Filter Insert Fashion Cotton Face Mask PM2.5 Dust Mask for Men Women

3-Option Three – masks for specialty use

If you find yourself in a specialty situation — for example, where you are engaged in grinding or welding, or working in heavy pollution caused by a fire – you need a reusable respirator. Typically, it will have one or dual cartridge holders permanently affixed to a half-face or full-face mask. You add filters or cartridges to the holders to match the job you’re performing. If you’re looking for the highest level of protection, go for P100. It filters out 100 percent of both oil-based and non-oil-based particles.

3M Rugged Comfort Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator 6502/49489, Medium

You can probably find specialty, reusable masks like the one above starting as low as $25. (Prices quickly go up to well over $100). Be sure you’re getting the filters and/or cartridges you need. In particular, be sure the mask fits WELL. Any air leakage defeats the purpose entirely. Straps that are too tight will keep you from wearing the mask when you need to.

If you prefer a half-face mask, you may want to add goggles or some sort of eye protection.

For everyday survival kits, a full face respirator is probably more than you need. But if you know you are heading into a dangerous air situation, and can grab some extras from your stash of supplies, having a reusable mask with the appropriate cartridges would certainly be useful.

Some final thoughts about a dust mask for your survival kit.

Putting on a mask seems simple, but wearing one for hours can be difficult for some people. The masks become hot and scratchy, and if they get wet they may become soggy and block air altogether. People with facial hair and small children can’t get the fit that’s necessary for the best protection.

But in an emergency, it makes no sense to be without sensible simple protection.

I recommend you buy a box of surgical masks and another of N95 masks and put some in each survival kit you own — family members, the car, and the office. Practice putting on one of the masks to check its fit.

Now, take that mask off and tuck it back in the bag with the others and know protection is there when you need it.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Have you had experience with face masks? Tell us your story!

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.

What’s coming next?

What weather events are coming next? How should we be preparing?
Are you thinking about what tomorrow will bring?

Look up! Clear your head of coronavirus news for just a minute. Notice the sky, and the light. Feel the breeze. It’s spring! What’s coming next?

As someone always conscious of preparing for the future, I have recently been reminded by friends and experts that some unusual events are just around the corner. And we need to be ready!

What am I referring to? Why, dramatic weather!

  • Do you live in “Tornado Alley?” Tornado season has started – with April, May and June being the peak months.
  • The wildfire season is just around the corner, too. Traditionally most dangerous in the fall, the fire season in California has lengthened by 75 days. Fire departments are urging people to take the time now to “fire harden” their homes.
  • The official hurricane season for the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico runs from June 1 to November 30. Experts have already named 16 tropical storms – and 8 of them are expected to reach hurricane status.
  • In the Northeast, mosquito season will be starting before April is out, and will last until the first frost in the fall, typically in October.
  • And while it’s not exactly related to the weather, everyone in the Pacific Northwest needs to keep one eye out for earthquake activity in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. It stretches from Vancouver Island to Northern California and has a lot more pent-up power than the famous San Andreas fault.

Oh, my!

Virginia, why are you giving us more to worry about?!

I’m not meaning to add to your worry. I want to add value — because I have the feeling that you may be one of those people not ready to bury their heads in the sand. For people like you, these weather-related events are another aspect of ordinary life and while they are challenging, they are welcome in their very ordinariness.

And you can take advantage of their coming!

Smart preparations you can make for what’s coming next will hold you in good stead for nearly all that’s coming! So now is maybe a good time to review some of the basics of your emergency plan. For example:

  • Do you have food supplies over and above what you need right now? Yes, it’s tough to shop when you are “sheltering in place,” but I’ll bet you have a much better idea now of what’s really essential!
  • Can you take some time now check out your home? Do you need to clear out weeds or dead plants? Secure a porch or patio to withstand the wind? Finally, you’ve got time!
  • With the family at home, now would be a good time to practice some safety drills – like where to reassemble after an emergency, or what to do if there’s a fire. Turn these into family learning experiences!

It’s scary and depressing being overly focused on the bad news from the coronavirus.

Taking positive action can make you feel a whole lot healthier.

And in the case of emergency preparedness, taking action will give you a measure of peace of mind.

That’s what I’m striving for, anyway!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

April – A month of Action

Wildfire Prevention Starts Now


Wildfire hazardWildfires are now a year-round threat

We used to consider “fire season” to be summer into fall, and then winter rains came along. These days, wildfire season seems to be year round!  So we should be taking steps for wildfire prevention year round, too.

Here are 5 Action Items for wildfire prevention. Let’s look at them right now, even while cold January rain is falling outside my window . . .

Wildfire prevention on your own property

I hope that you are pretty familiar with what to do for your own property. Action item #1: Confirm you’re following these basics of wildfire prevention.

1Maintain defensible space. Maintain an area around the home cleared of brush, dead tree limbs, and flammable plants. In the areas close to your home, chose fire-resistant plants and keep all plants properly irrigated. The image below, showing different defensible zones, comes from the CalFire website: http://www.readyforwildfire.org/Defensible-Space/ .

CalFire zones

State law in California requires properties in wildfire areas to maintain a 100 ft. defensible space. In 2015, The Los Angeles’ Brush Clearance Program set more specific – and more stringent — standards for clearance:

  • 10 feet of roadways
  • 10 feet of combustible fences
  • 200 feet of structures

2Use fire-resistant building materials. Use brick or stone for walls and garden borders. Build decks of noncombustible materials. Re-roofing? Choose fire-retardant shingles. Obviously, you might not be able to make dramatic changes immediately. But at least be aware of changes you should plan for.

3Block embers. Most fires start from embers that catch on the house, not from a wall of fire! Install screens over vents and block access to eaves and under decks, etc.

This is only a partial list! 

I’m in California, where fire danger is particularly high. You may be in a less vulnerable location, or have different issues. So, Action item #2: Check with your own fire department for recommendations or programs for your neighborhood.

For another good overview resource, get this pamphlet from Farmers Insurance. https://www.farmers.com/content/dam/falcon/pdf/catastrophe-brochures/wildfire.pdf

And while we’re on insurance, be aware that your premium may reflect what you’ve done for fire prevention. Some companies may even offer a discount for defensible space and/or fire retardant building.

Action item #3: Talk with your insurance agent about your personal fire insurance coverage.

Wildfire prevention in your neighborhood

It’s one thing to take steps to protect your individual home.  After all, by law you are responsible for it.

But what if you live in a neighborhood of closely spaced homes, condos, or in a mobile home park? What about nearby community buildings? Local schools?  Parks? If they catch fire, you may be threatened, too.

Action item #4: Find out who is responsible for neighborhood properties. Do they know best practices for fire prevention, and are they following them?

You may need to contact a city or tribal agency, a property manager, or a neighborhood association. Once you have a contact, put on your leadership hat.

Are you on or can you attend a governing board that hires landscapers and/or gardeners? Make sure that your board and the landscapers are aware of basic fire prevention techniques for their site. Do they know what to plant, what to clear, what to trim – and do they do it? (Your fire department will surely be happy to send an expert to one of your board meetings.)

Your own HOA or emergency response team can help individual families understand the safest way to maintain private patios and gardens. Hold a meeting. Draft a notice to include with the rental invoice. Train a couple of your team members as “consultants” for people who have questions or don’t seem to get with the program.

Of course, even with well-maintained defensible space, a property can still burn. But if there’s a choice for fire fighters to protect a prepared space vs. an overgrown and unprepared space, which do you think they will choose?

Consider a community project for wildfire prevention

Since 2013, The National Fire Protection Association® (NFPA) and State Farm Insurance have been sponsoring Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.

This is a national campaign that encourages people to come together ON A SINGLE DAY to reduce wildfire risk. This year, Wildfire Community Preparedness Day is on May 4, 2019.

The idea is to get a group to work together on a project or event. Their efforts may be supported by $500 grants from State Farm.

Here’s what some groups have done in the past:

  • 20 volunteers from the Red Cross, AmeriCorps and the tribe prepared a defensible space around the residences of 3 tribal elders in San Diego County.
  • The local fire department and a youth organizations spent 3 days clearing out dead trees and underbrush from Colorado Mountain Zoo.
  • An elementary school created a “Firewise garden” in front of their school.
  • Boy scouts and local residents worked together on a clean-up day, cleaning roofs and gutters, removing vegetation and debris.
  • Four towns in Colorado banded together to rent equipment to remove 66 truckloads of slash from home sites!

What about your emergency response group taking the lead on a project?

A community project might be a great way to motivate your group! At the same time you could help promote wildfire safety and strengthen relationships among residents, local fire department,  community leaders and elected officials.

To get one of the 150 awards being made by State Farm, you’ll have to submit a plan for your project by March 1.

Action item #5: get all the info about Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, including the application for the grant, at this website:  https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Campaigns/National-Wildfire-Community-Preparedness-Day

With the government shutdown still ongoing this week, the whole concept of reducing fire risks seems particularly important. Why? Because thousands of agency employees are not able to do the cleanup and training they would normally be involved in.

Time for us to step up ourselves. Even starting in the rain!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. This Advisory focuses on preparations you can make BEFORE a fire threatens. Evacuating and fighting fires are separate topics in themselves.

Covered for a natural disaster, or not?


Covered for natural disaster

Time for an insurance review.

I’m putting together my to-do list for the holiday vacation. After all this year’s natural disasters, first on the list is an insurance review. I started the review, and more and more questions kept coming up! Naturally, this led to an Advisory!

Ask your insurance agent these 7 questions to see how well YOU are covered for a natural disaster.

“How many of your clients are under-insured? Am I one?”

This is a tricky question, of course! Maybe you could soften it starting with this quote from Nationwide:
“I understand that 60% of American homes are under-insured by an average of at least 20%. I want to be sure I’m not one of them!”

“I’m worried about all the recent (fill in the blank: wildfires, storms, tornadoes). Am I covered for a natural disaster? What if my house is totally destroyed?”

This is the main question you want answers to. Start with these sub-questions . . .

  • What is the amount of my home coverage?
  • Is that based on the value of the house, or replacement cost? (Be careful. “Value” of a home could include the value of the land, in which case your coverage might not be enough to replace the house.)
  • Exactly how is replacement cost figured in my policy? (It turns out that there is “replacement cost” and then there’s “extended replacement cost.” Make sure your agent can explain which you have, and the difference between them.)

“If I have to live somewhere else while the house is being rebuilt, will my policy cover additional living expenses?”

How much and for how long? Any restrictions on where I stay? How do I get the money in my hand?

“Will my policy cover (fill in the blank: floods or storm surge from a hurricane, earthquake, land slide following rain, volcanoes)?”

You will probably NOT BE COVERED for a natural disaster from the list above!

I love this paragraph from esurance

Homeowners insurance typically doesn’t cover landslides or mudslides. That’s because both are considered a form of “earth movement”, and like an earthquake or sinkhole, they’re generally excluded from a standard homeowners insurance policy. Flood policies often don’t cover damage from landslides or mudslides, either. And earthquake policies only offer reimbursement if an earthquake caused the events.

Quiz your agent closely on coverage for natural disasters. Be sure you know just where “water damage” (covered) leaves off and “flood water damage” (not covered) starts, where “rain damage” (covered) ends and “mud damage” (not covered) starts – on YOUR policy!

Perhaps you need separate policies to be sure you are covered for natural disasters?  We have addressed some of these special threats, including insurance policy info, in earlier Advisories about Volcanoes, Earthquakes , and Floods.

“What else don’t I know about? What about . . .”

  • Mold
  • Sewage backups
  • Debris removal after a disaster
  • Lightning
  • Hail
  • ????

Get your agent to mention some of the frequent problems he or she has encountered here in your neighborhood. Some of these may be covered by your policy, others not. You may want to add an endorsement to your policy to cover a specific risk.

“This is adding up. What can I do to reduce premiums?”

The first thing to discuss are your deductibles, particularly if there has been a change – from dollar amounts to percentages, for example. A 5% deductible may sound better than a $15,000 deductible, but not if your house is worth $400,000!

Generally, the higher the deductible, the lower the premium. You want the highest deductible you can afford.

And you may want to check with your agent to see if you can make changes or improvements to your home that will improve your coverage for natural disasters while lowering the insurance company’s risk. These might include replacing the roof, upgrading the electric system, clearing brush around the house, retrofitting for earthquake, or installing storm shutters. Ask for a list of all the home discounts you’re eligible for, not just those associated with natural disasters!

Now, I don’t review my insurance every year – but this year I’m going to with the help of these questions. I hope you use them, too!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S.  If you discover that you seem to be well covered for natural disasters (Hooray!), you still might want to pose this last question:

“Is the bill for my current homeowner’s policy going up?”

If the answer is YES, and it’s more than 5% or so, ask why. You might hear these reasons:

  • Recent disasters have made prices rise for all insurance companies.
  • Risks have gone up in your neighborhood.
  • Your personal risk profile has changed. (Confirm what’s changed – is it your credit score? That could have an impact in some states.)

P.P.S. Consumers Reports says that people who shop for better deals on property insurance can save hundreds of dollars a year. You can get quotes for free through insure.com or InsWeb.com. (as recommended  by This Old House)

And finally, a disclaimer. I am not a licensed insurance agent, hence all the links in this Advisory to what I trust are reputable sources. Be sure to get advice on insurance from professionals.

Stay or Go? Keeping Ahead of California Wildfires


Take a look at these 2016 maps, from CALFIRE. On the left, the Current Incidents map shows 10 wildfires burning. Now, look at the map on the right. Just one month later, 17 fires are burning!

California Wildfires

And these are just the MAJOR wildfires burning.

Today, as I write this Advisory, there are 31 fires being fought and/or monitored by CALFIRE.

CALFIRE is the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Its people respond to an average of more than 5,600 wildland fires each year. This year, as of 27 August 2016, they have already responded to 4,270 fires – above average due to significant drought conditions. (No, El Nino didn’t bring Southern California the much needed rain.)

What causes wildfires?

The simple answer: people. Yes, some are started by lightning or lava, but over 90% of fires are started by hunters, campers, tree trimmers and grass mowers, smokers, people’s cars’ catalytic converters and, of course, arsonists.

What can I do to protect my home?

Before you buy or build

Find out before you make an offer if that site is high-risk for wildfires! (If you have found what you think is a good deal, increased wildfire or flood risk may be the reason why.)

Plan for, or confirm, that the home is built from the ground up to the highest fire-resistant construction standards. Building standards vary, but you can get detailed information from your City’s Municipal Code Department and even more detail from the National Fire Protection Association. http://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards

Before a wildfire threatens

You’ve heard before about creating a defensible space around your house. Briefly, that means clearing combustible materials from around your house – trees, bushes, uncut grass, piles of wood, fences, sheds, etc. – to create a 100 foot buffer zone between home and fire. Find out full details of each of the 4 zones of defensible space here: http://www.napafirewise.org/index.html

Protect against flying embers by cleaning and then closing up or blocking off gutters, eaves and vent openings or areas under the deck or porch. Purchase or make custom-fitted vent covers.

Pay particular attention to windows and skylights, because they may be more vulnerable to heat. Consider upgrading them to more-resistant materials, and installing metal shutters for the outside of the house and fire-resistant curtains inside.

Fight a fire threatening your home

It is not always possible to protect your home from a wildfire.

However, you may be able to protect your home from a threat or until the fire department gets there by the use of a personal water supply and pump delivery system.

This does NOT mean a garden hose!

Your water source needs to be independent – a pool, dam or lake. Your pump needs to be gas-operated or otherwise stand-alone, since electricity may be out. The entire system – with hoses — needs to be big enough to cover your whole house and preferably the entire defensible space. At the same time, it needs to be portable.

Here is an example from Amazon of the kind of home system you may wish to consider. This model has two 50 foot hoses and can be expanded with more nozzles and hoses. It also delivers foam and comes with approximately 3 hours’ worth.
Home Firefighting HF-S14FC-100F-BK Pool Fire Pump Cart System with 1-Inch Fire Hose and 30 gpm Solid Cartridge Foam System

Obviously, you need to maintain a system like this and practice with it before you actually need it.

Know when to evacuate

For all the above recommendations about preparing for and fighting fire, be ready to go sooner rather than later.

Here are evacuation recommendations from CALFIRE. You can get their full evacuation checklists at http://www.readyforwildfire.org/Pre-Evacuation-Preparation/

Inside the House

• Shut all windows and doors, leaving them unlocked.
• Remove flammable window shades and curtains.
• Close metal shutters.
• Move flammable furniture to the center of the room.
• Shut off air conditioning.
• Shut off gas at the meter; turn off pilot lights.
• Leave lights on so firefighters can see your house under smoky conditions.

Outside the House

• Gather up flammable items from the yard (furniture, toys, trash cans) and put them inside or in your pool.
• Turn off propane tanks. Move propane BBQ appliances away from structures.
• Connect garden hoses to outside spigots for use by firefighters.
• Don’t leave sprinklers on or water running (can affect water pressure).
• Leave exterior lights on so your home is visible.
• Have a ladder available and place it at the corner of the house for firefighters to quickly access your roof.
• Seal attic and ground vents with pre-cut plywood or commercial seals.

We have seen the news footage of fire after fire, and, unfortunately, heard about not only property damage but death.

Preparing for the risk of a wildfire needs to be part of your emergency planning, particularly if you live in California.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Any more ideas you’d like to add to this list?  Just drop them into the comments!


Can You Believe This?! Responses to Disaster Warnings


Sometime you just gotta shake your head in disbelief.

After all the years of educating . . .

I attended a great conference this weekend. It was held in Las Vegas. Temperatures outside were about 105 degrees while inside the AC was set to 68 degrees. Impossible to be comfortable anywhere.

After years of trying to educate folks on the value of energy efficiency, all I can say is, this just seems stupid.

Allow me to continue with that theme in the world of emergency preparedness,with some examples of

Disaster Warnings

Warning, High Surf Sign

What does this mean to you?

Hurricane season started this week.

I have never experienced one here in Southern California, but certainly we’ve all seen plenty of hurricanes on the news.

And have you also noticed the number of TV newscasters who seem to feel the need to STAND RIGHT OUT IN THE WIND AND WATER, threatened every moment by debris, while telling viewers to take shelter?

Tornados – some 339 of them already in 2014!

How about the local citizen/amateur filmmaker, “getting great footage” of the approaching funnel cloud, who is dragged down into the shelter at the last possible minute by his screaming children?

California wildfires pushed westward by “Santa Ana” winds.

Newscaster: “Why didn’t you follow the evacuation order from the Fire Department?”
Homeowner: “I can’t pack up all my pets, so I guess I’ll just have to die with them. . .”

(This is a true quote.)

High surf advisory issued through Wednesday.

Oh, goodie. Let’s grab the children and head down to the beach and stand on the rocks and watch the giant waves come in. Even better, let’s get out there on our surfboards . . .

Is my cynicism showing?!

Thank goodness for this blog. It gives me the chance to unload my frustrations on you, my loyal reader. The next post will be more uplifting, I promise!

In the meanwhile, if you see something as ahem, “unwise” as any of the above, please point it out the the people and particularly to the newscasters who model or perpetuate such behavior. What are they thinking?!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Please pass this along to friends, and urge them to subscribe to all our Advisories.  Most of ’em are pretty positive!