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Do you have an Evacuation Plan?

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The afternoon that the Lower North Fork Fire started, I received a text alert on my cell phone from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. It was a “MANDATORY EVACUATION” notice, and my heart leapt into my throat. I looked out my home office window in Arvada to see a huge plume of smoke to the south.

A mandatory evacuation?!

My immediate thought went to our Evacuation Plan. In my head, I started our four step process:

1) Where is Claire, my kindergartener? (in her room playing)
2) Where are my cats? (both asleep on our bed)
3) How quickly can I get to the three “Go-Bag” backpacks we have hanging downstairs? (less than 30 seconds)
4) All of this was followed quickly by my plan to call my husband at work from my phone when we got to the car. (My cell phone connects through my car stereo as a totally hands-free option.)

Fifteen seconds later, I read the text again and realized that my cell phone number had been lumped into a group of numbers in a different area of the county. The text didn’t apply to me.

But, it could have.

Could you evacuate your home in less than an hour? What about 15 minutes? Could you leave right now? Would you know what to grab and where it is, right at this moment?

We do. We have an Evacuation Plan in place, more than one, actually, depending on the Emergency. We also have our “Go-Bags” ready. (“Go-Bag” is what my husband and I have always called them. This may be trademarked. No infringement intended.) They are with the copies of our important documents, easily accessible in case of emergency.

What’s in our Go-Bag? All three of us each have a backpack containing a head-lamp, a change of clothes, hygiene items, basic first aid, dried food packs, water bottle, and water purifying tabs. We also have a pocket knife multi-tool and a roll of duct-tape. No, we wouldn’t be allowed to get on a plane with our Go-Bags, but we would be able to evacuate and be somewhat prepared.

(The above photo is one of our Go-Bags, with the head-lamp hanging on the outside for easy access.)

Admittedly, we need to revisit our Go-Bags. They’re not perfect, but they’ll do in a pinch. To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve looked in them, and I’d almost bet that Claire’s bag has clothes that are way too small. (I remember finally taking the diapers out of her Go-Bag, but it’s been a while ago!) Also, we switch out the dried food packs when we go camping, but I need to check them to be sure nothing is expired.

The Red Cross has a great check-list. If you haven’t already, please check it out.

That’s the silver lining of getting an accidental “Mandatory Evacuation” text. It is a good reminder to adjust Claire’s bag for a kid who is completely mobile and growing. It is a good reminder to practice our Fire Evacuation Plan. The last time we practiced, she was portable. Elementary school kids aren’t portable. Babies present their own set of challenges, but there are new challenges when that baby has grown into someone who is cognizant of her surroundings. It’s a good reminder to talk to her about how the “treasures” we have at home are just things, and that in the case of an emergency, the things stay behind.  It’s a good reminder to reassure her that Mom and Dad have a Plan, and we’ll be fine.

The accidental “Mandatory Evacuation” text I got shook me to the core, and my husband teased me about it. He asked if I’d already driven away (as per The Plan) before I confirmed that it was legit. I told him that the information in the text didn’t seem to fit our area, so before we fled, I called the Arvada Police Department (non-emergency number) who transferred me to our Fire Department to confirm that we were indeed safe in our area. We did not need to evacuate. We were safe…this time.

We had a bittersweet laugh about it, because it WAS a real mandatory evacuation notice for people who did lose their homes and their lives, and our hearts go out to them.

Do you have a Go-Bag? Do you have an Evacuation Plan?

Author: JoAnn

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson April 4, 2012

    Thought-provoking discussion and I suspect most people don’t really have much of a plan! We have an emergency 72 hour kid that is woefully in need of updating (I think we still have diapers in there from when the kids were babies). But like you, it would do in a pinch.

    On another note, if there’s anything those Mormon folk do well, it’s tout emergency preparedness. We are encouraged to have a one-year supply in our food storage, which has turned out to be a huge blessing for us. We’ve gone through some lean financial times the last few years and it’s great to have a fallback and not be worried about where our next meal is coming from. Some bulk food guidelines:

    • comment avatar JoAnn April 4, 2012

      Amber, you bring up a great point that I didn’t touch on: the difference between “hunker down preparedness” and “evacuation.” We, too, have extra food and water in place for that first scenario. It’s the second scenario that came to mind with the fires!

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson April 4, 2012

    There is no hunkering down when it comes to a fire!

    In addition to our 72-hour kit, we’d grab our kiddos, Fat Kitty, important documents (passports, etc.), iPhone, laptop, batteries and food. Makes you realize how, in a crunch, most things in your home don’t really matter.

    • comment avatar JoAnn April 4, 2012

      It’s so true. Honestly? Most of it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The important thing to remember is that people face imminent danger and disasters in different ways. They can overlook the important things (get out of the house now!) while trying to save something that only seems important at the time (all our photos!).

      We don’t know how we’ll react until we’re in the situation, but it’s good to get a plan in place and acknowledge that most of the stuff we have is just stuff.

  • comment avatar Gretchen White April 4, 2012

    Great topic! I need to have some bags packed for sudden evacuations. I thought about it too when that fire was at the park down the street. What if it jumped the main road? Nothing but a sea of wooden houses. Things can go so wrong so quickly.

    • comment avatar JoAnn April 4, 2012

      Gretchen, that fire at the park was REALLY too close for comfort for you guys!! How to be prepared for an emergency is taken to a whole new level when it comes to larger families. That could be another whole topic in and of itself!

  • comment avatar Jo April 4, 2012

    Great piece! Also, those people with pets need to absolutely ensure they have evacuation preparation that covers every member of the family, including non-human. Research shows people often won’t leave without their pets, or will risk their lives (and those of emergency services personnel) by re-entering evacuation zones before they are ready. Lives are lost this way. Ensure you have a spare animal crate, food and water, and family or friend outside your local area who is agreeable to have you arrive in an emergency.

    • comment avatar JoAnn April 4, 2012

      Oddly enough, we had an Evacuation Plan for pets in place before we had one for children…but that’s purely logistical and due to the fact that we had pets before we had a kid. 😉

  • comment avatar rajean April 4, 2012

    Great subject, I suspect many haven’t visited in a long time. I like the backpack idea. This reminds me I need to download disks of our photos. Besides our family, that is really the only thing I’d be worried about losing. The rest is really just ‘stuff.’ And thanks for the link to the Red Cross. I’ll share.

    • comment avatar JoAnn April 4, 2012

      Our photos are backed up as well as they can be, and other things are in a Fire Safe. It’s hard to think about losing mementos of a different time (photos included), and hopefully it will never come to that, but planning ahead may be able to alleviate some of that.

  • comment avatar Ratna getcluedIn April 4, 2012

    Oh this is soo good— I remember you sent me the information after the Arvada Brush fire near our home and honestly it has gotten us thinking and implementing so thanks lady — as of now, no we could not … we would need 2 -3 hours so … we will get there but thanks lady!

    • comment avatar JoAnn April 4, 2012

      You, too, had a fire extremely close to you!! I fear that with the drought situation the way it is in Colorado that we’ll be seeing more and more fires. Hopefully you’ll never need to use the Evac. Plan, but having one in place could be crucial. Good luck with your plans!!