Colorado wildfires: Ready an evacuation kit – even if you’re not in a danger area
posted by: Guest Blogger
When the call or text-message order to evacuate arrives, most people remember to bring their wallet or purse along with a suitcase and a handful of valuables. But what about the rest of the paperwork that governs their lives?
The policy number and phone number for homeowner’s (or renter’s) insurance policy? The policy number and phone number for the mortgage company? Car insurance information?
“It’s a completely good idea to have an emergency evacuation kit even if your home isn’t at risk from a wildfire,” says Steve Lipsher, public information officer for Lake Dillon Fire Rescue in Summit County. He lives in Silverthorne, and keeps emergency supplies in his car as well as next to his front door.
“An electrical short could cause a house fire if you live in the middle of the city. What’s the harm in having a kit? And if you are in a disaster, for whatever reason, and you have to leave your home — or can’t get to it — you can still have access to information and to things you think are really important.”
The American Red Cross gives evacuees “Moving Forward After a Disaster,” a booklet with lists for essential information in addition to your driver’s license, passport and Social Security number. That includes contact information for:
• Family members and other loved ones
• Homeowner’s or renter’s insurance agent
• Mortgage agent
• Car insurance agent
• Health insurance, including a list of prescription medications and dosages
• Credit card issuing institutions
• Utility companies
• Veterinarian and veterinary records
Most vital documents — marriage, birth, death and divorce certificates — can be recovered or replaced. So can passports, titles to deeds, stocks and bonds, wills, income tax records and citizenship papers.
To be on the safe side, scan vital documents, along with insurance policies and other important papers, and upload the information to a couple of flash drives. (Family photographs and art can be scanned and saved on a flash drive, too.)
It’s also a good idea to take and keep digital photographs of all your possessions. Take pictures of furniture, paintings, CDs and DVDs, recreational equipment and other gear. For special valuables, document details including make and manufacturer. This will help minimize disputes with insurance companies.
Keep one set of flash drives in a safe-deposit box; the other should be in your emergency supply kit.
Michele Steinberg, public affairs officer for the National Fire Protection Association, also recommends keeping a compact stash of 72 hours’ worth of food, water, prescription medication and clothing for every member of the household.
Keep that stash small and easily portable, no larger than a conventional laundry basket, says Lipsher. It can be kept near your front door or in the car. During the summer, Lipsher’s car holds a stash that includes 2 gallons of water, three days’ worth of food (canned tuna and other shelf-stable products) and three days’ worth of food for his dog, Scout.
“Having a plan for animals is just as important,” Steinberg said.
“One girl told me, ‘All I could think about was my goldfish. Who would save my goldfish?’ In house fires, people die because they run back inside to get their pets. A homeowner needs to think about how long it might take to get the cat out from under the bed when things are going haywire, or how long it takes to get large animals into a trailer.”
Lipsher also noted that parents with small children should include the kids’ favorite shelf-stable foods and drinks in the 72-hour stash, along with activity books and games.
“Think about what it’s going to be like to be stuck somewhere for 48 hours or longer,” he warned.
“Because of the nature of my job [with Lake Dillon Fire and Rescue], I might not get a chance to get home if there’s a fire. So I’ve contacted neighbors on both sides, and they each have a key to my house and instructions to save the damned dog. Fortunately, Scout has ingratiated himself to them.”
Finally, sign up for your county’s emergency alert email and text service. (See sidebar.)
“Those alerts are faster than the reverse 911 notification service, which is not flawless, as we saw with the Lower North Fork Fire,” Lipsher said.
“Reverse 911 doesn’t have cell numbers, and that is a real concern we have. We recommend all the time for people to sign up for scalert, a free, text-based service that filters by geographic area so you don’t get pestered with stuff for other areas.”
Claire Martin: 303-954-1477 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Go online to inciweb.org for timely, reliable information about fires, floods and other active situations that pose a risk to the public.
ReadyColorado (readycolorado.com) has advice on emergency-preparedness kits and paperwork, plus links to the Denver area chapter of the American Red Cross (redcross.org) Governor’s office of homeland security (colorado.gov/homelandsecurity), Colorado division of emergency management, (coemergency.com) state fire protection districts, emergency help for pets and animals at animalevac.org.
Email and text alerts at scalert.org are specific to emergencies in Summit County.
Larimer County residents get emailed updates, several times a day during active events like the High Park fire or Woodland Heights fire, at larimer.org/emergency.
To catalog your home possessions go to http://www.dora.state.co.us/insurance/consumer/homemain.htm
For a complete county-by-county list of emergency alert notification systems, emergency email contacts and other information, go to coemergency.com/p/sources.html.