Hey, ya’ll! This week’s post is from my best friend and blogger-on-hiatus, Megan. You may remember her from our collaboration post a while back. She’s tackling the topic of emergency preparedness, given the recent wildfires and power outages in California lately, the latter of which we’ve both been affected by. Hope you all enjoy!
As a millennial, my definition of natural disaster was characterized by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It was a defining moment in my childhood, much like 9/11. Looking back, it never occurred to my 10-year-old self that I would grow up and have to prepare for anything like Katrina, especially as a California resident. I am very fortunate enough to have grown up in an area where the threat of natural disasters had never seemed so extreme. While we have always had earthquakes and fires, they occurred few and far between during my childhood. However, as the years have gone by, the effects of climate change have not only accelerated the frequency and intensity of fires in California, but brought on several other natural disasters not only nationally, but abroad.
Just off of the top of my head, I can recall hurricanes Lane in Hawaii (2018), Harvey in Texas (2017), and Maria in Puerto Rico (2017), dangerously cold blizzard conditions on the East Coast & in the Midwest (2018), and countless devastating fires in my very home state including the Camp fire in Paradise (2018) and Woolsey in Malibu (2018) — all within the past 2 years alone. Most recently, the Tick fire in Santa Clarita and the Kincade fire in Sonoma have been brought on by extreme dry and windy conditions that — combined with at-risk power grid infrastructure — have prompted PG&E to cut power to millions of customers, including myself.
Now, I don’t mean to get all doomsday-ey, and I know emergency preparedness isn’t the most glamourous topic, but at the rate that things are progressing, it sure as hell is relevant. And if I’ve learned anything from Gen Z, it’s all about being relevant. Jokes aside, I am a camping aficionado, possess basic safety skills, and have learned a thing or two from experiencing my fourth forced power outage — all of which is to say that while I’m not claiming to be an expert, I am slightly qualified to speak on this topic. I’ve also linked plenty of credible resources. That being said, here are my five main thoughts I’d like to share about preparing and dealing with an emergency:
1. Do your research
- Depending on where you live, “disaster” comes in its own unique flavor. Know what to expect and when to expect it, given your own location. For me, I know that my greatest threat is wildfire and wildfire season is at its peak from September to October. If you need some guidance, ready.gov is a comprehensive resource with guides broken down by type of event and is a great place to start.
- Stay in the loop by signing up for alerts relevant to you. You can also follow respective social media accounts, but they may not always be up to date. Here are a few resources:
California / fire alert systems
- CalFire Alerts
- PG&E Alerts
- CalAlerts (use this resource to locate your own county’s alert page or use the abbreviated guides below)
- Sacramento Region Emergency Notification System
- Bay Area Region Alerts
- Southern California Region Alerts
Other alert systems
- Wireless Emergency Alerts from the National Weather Service
- Ready.gov Alert page
- Find your regional emergency alert radio station from the Nationwide Station Listing Using Broadcast Frequencies list. It may seem a bit archaic, but in case modern-day communication systems fail, it never hurts to have a backup resource. Keep this information handy in both your car (research if your car model can receive NOAA broadcasts, otherwise you can add an in-dash unit if you so choose) and emergency kit (see #3).
2. Make a plan
- If the emergency you’re preparing for may involve an evacuation, be sure to sit down with all the members of your household and get on the same page of where to meet (designate either another family member’s house or a community crisis center), how to get there, and what to bring. The unfortunate nature of emergencies is that they are unpredictable and may not leave much time to gather your belongings or may interfere with communication, so it is best to have a plan beforehand. Depending on circumstances, you may not need a “go bag” lying around, but if you are at risk of being in an evacuation zone, keep an eye on your alerts and start preparing as soon as possible. Also, keep in mind that if evacuation orders are given, traffic may start to pile up, so the sooner you can evacuate, the better. If you need help creating your plan, use the ready.gov planning page as a resource.
- In an emergency, it’s easy for things to get overlooked, so be sure to take stock of any special circumstances that may cause snafus down the line and make a plan for those as well. Don’t forget about your pets and animals, any special medication that may need to be refrigerated, medical devices, features about your property, etc. For me personally, I know that my water system runs on an electric pump and during power outages I do not have access to running water. Luckily, since the outages are controlled, I’ve been able to prepare beforehand and not only ensure that I have water to drink, but also water for hygiene and cleaning.
- Designate your emergency contacts and alert them that they hold that role. Be sure to share that information with all relevant people.
3. Be prepared
- Build an emergency kit! Start with the basics, then add specific items for your particular emergency over time or as needed. You probably have many of these item lying around, but it is best to round them all up so that you do not have to scramble to find them. Time is valuable during an emergency.
Emergency kit essentials
- 1 week’s worth food supply (and the tools to prepare it!)
- 1 gallon of water per person per day for up to 3 days (up to 3 gallons if you lack running water for cooking and hygiene)
- Flashlights / battery-powered lanterns / candles
- Extra batteries
- Lighter / matches
- First aid kit & basic meds
- Scissors / knife / multi-tool
- Mobile phone charging bank & cord
- Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (preferably able to receive NOAA broadcasts)
- See the official FEMA checklist
- See the Build a Kit page on ready.gov
Other emergency preparedness items
- Backup generator & fuel — for most circumstances, but especially frequent power outages. (Trust me, with all the PG&E stuff, these have been a hot commodity lately.)
- Ice & ice chests — in case you cannot run or afford a generator to power your refrigerator during a power outage, use these to save your food and/or medication.
- Temperature-control items such as sleeping bags, blankets, heat sources, or battery-powered fans — for any circumstance, including power outages.
- N95 respirator masks — for areas prone to wildfires.
- Be sure to adapt these items to what’s most relevant for your type of emergency
(These items are commonly forgotten during an evacuation or relocation to a sheltered space. Keep these in mind when building your kit.)
- Prescription medication (including for pets!)
- Backup glasses / contacts & solution
- Menstrual products
- Infant formula & bottles
- Diapers & wipes
- Pet food
- Disposable dishes & cutlery
- Not only do you need to build a kit, but you also need to keep it accessible. It doesn’t do any good if it can’t be found or used by everyone so keep in mind those in your household who may have accessible devices such as wheelchairs or the height limitations of older children. Remember that you may not always be there or able to access your kit yourself.
- Replenish your kit as needed, and be sure to make sure to replace any expired items (including bottled water) when necessary. Also be sure to test batteries and make sure that they work.
- Set up protection measures as needed. This may include assessing your property and ensuring it can be a safe shelter. For fires, this means keeping a 100-foot radius clear from your home of brush and flammable debris. For flooding, it means being able to safely access high ground. For earthquakes, it means securing large furniture so it does not fall. For tornadoes, it means having a basement or shelter. Know what your needs are, and prepare your property accordingly. Protection also includes storing important documents and irreplaceable family memorabilia in a fireproof safe and/or digitally archiving them somewhere that isn’t subject to natural disaster (such as a backup hard drive in a safe and in the cloud). And as a final measure of protection, be sure that you are properly insured.
4. Take a moment for yourself
- In an emergency, it’s easy to get swept up in the adrenaline. Make sure to keep a calm, level head during the emergency — and once it’s safe to do so, take a moment to decompress. Not only do you need to ration your energy in an emergency, but it’s also necessary to show yourself some love and compassion by filling up your cup so that you might give to others. You know, the whole “put your oxygen mask on first” thing.
- When disaster strikes, it is not always easy to be positive, but giving a moment of gratitude really helps to put things into perspective.
5. Pay it forward
There isn’t much you can do to prevent a natural disaster from coming; however, it is crucial that we acknowledge their more persistent presence due to climate change. We can make a difference by not only donating to organizations that provide relief in the aftermath of such tragedies, but also to those who do work in order to combat one of the sources of increased disasters. Here is a list of charities you may consider donating to below:
Disaster relief charities
Climate activism charities
So with all of that said, the three main takeaways are:
- There is always more to know. While this is quite a lengthy post, it still does not cover the breadth and complexity of emergency preparedness. If you are interested in knowing more, please use the following resources:
- FEMA’s 12 Ways to Prepare
- FEMA’s guide to Preparing for Disaster
- Know Your Alerts & Warnings Factsheet
- Better to prepare now, rather than later.
- Don’t forget to take care of yourself and our planet, not just others.
Thanks to my best friend for allowing me the opportunity to get back into blogging. If you’d like to keep up with my own exploits, and hear more rants about PG&E, find me here:
As always, thanks for reading and good luck adulting! Stay safe out there, and let’s do what we can to help others do the same. Comments always welcome below or on Twitter @ohgrowup. See you next week!
P.S. Happy Halloween! Due to the whole just had a wedding/honeymoon and then got our power shut off thing, I’m recycling last year’s costume. Enjoy the holiday!
(Photo is a free stock photo because this sums it up better than I thought a single image could.)