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By Chris Whipple


July 12, 2018 (San Diego's East County) - Living in the back country provides many people a little bit of paradise that could never be found in a city.   Unfortunately, the worry about wildfires have caused lifetime residents to view their homes in the new light of "defensible space,” "insurance" and "preparedness.”  This is first of two articles to allow families to have "peace-of-mind" if disaster should strike. 

During the 2003 and 2007 fires, both my father and myself lost homes to fire.  Like so many others, we were under-prepared and under-insured.    We had to learn the hard way as we rebuilt our lives and homes.  Since those wildfires, many people have come together to ensure reliable information during emergencies.  East County Magazine has an outstanding East County Wildfire & Emergency Alerts system available to all residents in the County.   Additionally, San Diego has created an excellent online resource with information on just about everything you will need to become educated and prepared for wildfires or other emergencies:  http://www.readysandiego.org/


Learning the hard way has given me a unique perspective on the most important things for people to do if they suddenly need to evacuate with little to no warning.  This article is written to share with my community an easy and inexpensive plan that will provide peace-of-mind in a very scary scenario filled with uncertainty.   


The first and most important thing to have is a plan of how to communicate if cell phones are not working, and where to meet up with family members who may be at work or school.    The readysandiego.org site has a free Family Disaster Plan and Personal Survival Guide available at this link:  http://www.readysandiego.org/Resources/Family-Disaster-Plan-English.pdf


The Family Disaster Plan and Personal Survival Guide is a superb resource!  Print out a copy and fill it out completely.  When the Family Disaster Plan and Personal Survival Guide is complete, also print a paper map of your area, and highlight all the roads in and out of your home address, to-and-from school or work.   Focus on non-freeway routes.  Share your Family Disaster Plan with family members, and make additional copies to keep at your office, car, and home.


REUNION LOCATIONS:  Determine a primary AND a secondary meeting place if family members are unable to communicate during or after an emergency.   Example:  Grandma's home in Encinitas as primary meet location; Cousin Julie's apartment in Clairemont Mesa as a secondary meet location.


OUT-OF-STATE CONTACT PERSON:  Designate one person NOT in your state to be the contact person in case of emergency.  (This person will function like an answering service to take and relay information and post updates on social media.)      During localized emergencies phone lines, especially cell phones, may be overwhelmed; however, you can still call someone out-of-state and the call will go through.    Use text messages whenever possible since text messages may go through when the phone lines are not working.


IF YOU HAVE CHILDREN IN SCHOOL:  Provide written permission to the school for other designated people to pick up your child.   Tell your child who may pick them up in an emergency.  Give a copy of your Family Disaster Plan and Personal Survival Guide to the person who may be picking up your child.




Prepare a list of the highest priority items to "grab and go" and post it inside your bathroom cabinet door.   You should be able to grab the items on this list in 3 to 5 minutes.  In an emergency, having a written, clear list is a godsend because it will keep family members focused!   (Example:  Family documents/photos, medications, supplies for children, pet and pet supplies, cell phones/chargers, laptop/chargers.)


Family Documents and Photos:  Identify your most important documents:  Insurance documents, Deeds, family photos, family recipes, passports, birth/death/divorce certificates, etc., and put them in locations that can be grabbed quickly.  


Medications:  Put your medications in one place that can be grabbed quickly.  If needed by a family member, put pads or tampons with the medications.


Supplies for Children:  Prepare an "emergency only" diaper bag/overnight bag for each child with extra necessary items and comfort toys/blankets to reduce anxiety.


Pets:  Buy a dog/cat carrier for each of your small-to-medium size pets.   Go to the dollar store and buy an extra water and food bowl, collar, leash, cat box, and a pop-top can of pet food and a bottle of water.   Put these items in a bag and stuff inside the pet carrier in case of emergency evacuation.    No muss, no fuss, you're ready in seconds!   (For large dogs or other large animals, you must plan ahead and have a large animal plan, supplies and phone numbers for emergency evacuations.)




IF time permits, and there is space in your vehicle, take NO MORE THAN 10 MINUTES to pack the following items in your vehicle:

Paintings/artwork/family memorabilia, etc. that are not replaceable (wrap with family member clothing or blankets)


 If you have 30-60 minutes according to emergency response bulletins, you should take the extra time to pack the following articles in your vehicle. 


For each family member:   Pants, shirts, socks, shoes, underwear, coat (throw in large trash bag)

Blankets, pillows, sleeping bags (throw in large trash bag)

Water, sealed juice containers, drinks, sodas (throw in laundry hamper)

Snacks, cereal, anything that can be opened easily and eaten without preparation or refrigeration (throw in trash bag or laundry hamper.) 


Remember that roads will become parking lots in minutes.  Rapid evacuation is extremely important!   Do NOT wait for officials to tell you to evacuate, leave as soon as you feel threatened.   Always remember that time is of the essence and that roads to safety can quickly turn into parking lots or be overtaken by wildfire, making the route unsafe.  "Lynne Tolmachoff, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, warned that people misjudge how suddenly fires can be upon them, leaving no time or route to escape."*   




Part 2 of "PEACE OF MIND" 3-10 MINUTE EVACUATION PLAN FOR WILDFIRES will cover the topic of insurance.

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