How to prepare for a natural disaster

How to prepare for a natural disaster

My world is on fire.

As you may have heard, much of Oregon is burning right now. Thanks to a “once in a lifetime” combination of weather and climate variables — a long, dry summer leading to high temps and low humidity, then a freak windstorm from the east — much of the state turned to tinder earlier this week. And then the tinder ignited.

At this very moment, our neighborhood is cloaked in smoke.

I am sitting in my writing shed looking out at a beige veil clinging to the trees and nearby homes. The scent of the smoke is intense. My eyes are burning. After everything else that's happened this year, this feels like yet one more step toward apocalypse. So crazy!

Fortunately, Kim and I (and the pets) are relatively safe. We're worried, sure, but not too worried. Our lizard brains make us want to flee. (“Fight or flight” and all that.) But our rational brains know that unless a new fire starts somewhere nearby, we should be safe.

Here's a current map of the fire situation in our county. (Click the image to open a larger version in a new window.)

Map of the wildfires in our county

The areas in red are under mandatory evacuation orders. (And the red dots are areas that have burned, I think. They added the dots to the map this morning.) Residents of areas shaded in yellow need to be prepped to leave at a moment's notice. And the areas in green are simply on alert.

See that town called Molalla? That's where my mother and one of my brothers live. My mother's assisted-living facility was evacuated to a city twenty miles away. My brother and his family voluntarily moved from their home to our family's box factory. But even that doesn't feel 100% safe. (The box factory is located just to the left of that cluster of red dots at the top tip of the yellow area around Molalla.)

Kim and I live near the “e” in Wilsonville. We're more than twenty miles from the nearest active fire. We should be safe. But, as a I say, we're worried. So, I spent much of yesterday prepping for possible evacuation.

Update! As of Sunday afternoon (September 13th), things have calmed for us. The evacuation notice has been lifted for our area. The weather is changing. Rain is only a day or two away. So, we're standing down. Now, having said that, there are still many people in our country who remain evacuated, and there are others who have lost their homes. (My brother's town and home will probably emerge unscathed. Probably. For now, though, they're still evacuated and living in an RV at the box factory.)

Natural Disasters

We Oregonians don't have a protocol for emergency evacuations. It's not something that really crosses our minds.

While the Pacific Northwest does have volcanoes, eruptions are rare enough that we never think about them. And yes, earthquakes happen. Eventually we'll have “the Big One” that devastates the region, but again there's no way to predict that and it's not something we build our lives around. (Well, many people have been adding earthquake reinforcement to their homes, but that's about it.)

In the past fifty or sixty years, the Portland area has experienced four other natural disasters.

Now, in 2020, we're experiencing the worst wildfires the state has ever seen. That's roughly one disaster every ten or fifteen years, and it's the first one during my 51 years on Earth that's made me think about the need for evacuation preparedness.

Kim and I have been asking ourselves lots of questions.

If we were to evacuate, where would we go? What route would we take? What would we carry with us? How would we prep our home to increase the odds that it would survive potential fire?

Let me share what we've decided and what we've learned. (And please, share what you know about emergency preparedness, won't you?)

Evacuation Preparedness

The first thing we did was brainstorm a list of things that were important to us. Without reference to experts, what is it that we would want to do and/or take with us, if we were to evacuate.

  • Our animals (and animal supplies).
  • Phones, computers, and charging cords.
  • Important documents from our fire safe.
  • A bag for each of us containing clothes and toiletries.
  • Sleeping bags and pillows.
  • Sentimental items. (We have no “valuable”.)
  • Create a video tour of the house for insurance purposes (be sure to highlight valuable items).
  • Move combustible items away from the house.

After creating our own list, we consulted the experts.

In this case, we looked at websites for communities in California. California copes with wildfires constantly. (And, in fact, Kim's brother and his family recently had to help evacuate their town due to wildfires!) For no particular reason, I chose to follow the guidelines put out by Marin County, California. I figured they know what they're talking about!

The FIRESafe MARIN website has a bunch of great resources dedicated to wildfire planning and preparedness. I particularly like their evacuation checklist. While this form is wildfire specific, it could be easily adapted for other uses, such as hurricane preparedness or earthquake preparedness.

The ready.gov website is an excellent resource for disaster preparedness. It contains lots of info about prepping for problems of all sorts. You should check it out.

Creating a Go Kit

FIRESafe MARIN and other groups recommend putting together an emergency supply kit well in advance of possible problems. Each person should have her own Go Kit, and each should be stored in a backpack. (In our case, I have several cheap backpacks that I've purchased while traveling abroad. These are perfect for Go Kits.)

What should you keep in a Go Kit? It depends where you live, of course, and what sorts of disasters your area is susceptible to. But generally speaking, you might want your kits to contain:

  • A bandana and/or an N95 mask or respirator.
  • A change of clothing.
  • A flashlight or headlamp with spare batteries.
  • Extra car keys and some cash.
  • A map marked with evacuation routes and a designated meeting point.
  • Prescription medications.
  • A basic first aid kit.
  • Photocopies of important documents.
  • Digital backup of important files.
  • Pet supplies.
  • Water bottle and snacks.
  • Spare chargers for your electronic equipment.

That seems like a lot of stuff, but it's not. These things should fit easily into a small pack. Each Go Kit should be stores somewhere easy to access. Kim and I don't have Go Kits yet, but we'll create them soon. We intend to store them in the front coat closet.

Writing this article reminds me of one of the first posts I shared after re-purchasing Get Rich Slowly. Almost three years ago, I wrote about how to get what you deserve when filing an insurance claim. This info from a former insurance employee is very helpful (and interesting).

Final Thoughts

I spent much of yesterday prepping for possible evacuation. This isn't so much out of panic as it is out of trying to take sensible precautions. I gathered things and put them in the living room so that we can be ready to leave, if needed. If authorities were to upgrade us from level one to level two status, I'd move this stuff to my car.

Also as a precaution, I moved stuff away from the house and thoroughly watered the entire yard. (Not sure that'd make much difference, but hey, it can't hurt.) I created a video tour of the house that highlights anything we have of value. And so on. This took most of the afternoon.

This morning, I can see that the neighbors are doing something similar. We're all trying to exercise caution, I think.

Kim and I will almost surely be fine. Although the smoke is thick here at the moment — it's like a brownish fog, and it's even clouding my view of the neighbor's house! — there aren't any fires super close to us. And barring mistakes or stupidity, there won't be any threat to our home.

Still, it's good for us to take precautionary measures, both now and for the future. And it's probably smart for you to take some small steps today in case disaster strikes tomorrow.

Here's a terrific Reddit post about what one person wishes they'd known when evacuating for wildfire.

More about...Home & Garden

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
19 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Eileen
Eileen
16 days ago

I think I might increase the “snacks” to things to eat that might be more substantial (water too)? I’d also make sure you had OTC medications. It’s possible the first aid kit will have some, but I typically use a small daily pill case and fill the compartments with advil, tylenol, benadryl, and any other vitamins, etc. I disregard the “day of the week” and just fill up the slots with each kind of med. To be honest, I don’t have this in a “go bag” (I don’t have a go bag…yet), but it’s what I take any time we… Read more »

Frogdancer Jones
Frogdancer Jones
16 days ago

Yikes! As an Australian reading this, I’m worried. I know how fast fires can spread, especially if they start leaping across from tree to tree. If I were you, I’d not delay on getting those go bags organised. It’s scary when you wake up to a world filled with smoke. You know instantly that there are fires nearby, as you look up to an orange sun with a haze smudging it. You sound as if you already know that things (and homes) can be replaced, but people and animals cannot. Don’t dither and leave it too late to get out… Read more »

zzzzzz
zzzzzz
16 days ago

Photocopies (or scans) of important documents and backups of important files can (should?) be kept in a safe deposit box and/or in the cloud and/or somewhere besides your home (e.g., relative’s home) all the time.
If you do that, your evacuation list just got shorter.

Dave @ Accidental FIRE
Dave @ Accidental FIRE
15 days ago

Great advice here, good luck and stay safe dude!

Kevin
Kevin
15 days ago

Designate an out of state contact as your Check-In point for the family and extended family. Everyone can check-in (through whatever means available) with that one contact and when people check-in they can relay everyone else’s status. Communications can get very spotty and Data services are the first to go. Also, sometimes it’s necessary to shut down your phone to conserve battery making it hard to get ahold of each other. Having that central clearing house for information can alleviate a lot of anxiety both for the people scrambling to escape the disaster area as well as those on the… Read more »

Chris@TTL
15 days ago

Wow, stay safe out there. We’ve got good friends in Pasadena who have been sending some wild pictures. I’ve always thought of the PNW as wet, not as a place for mass fires there in Oregon.
J.D., thanks for sharing these helpful resources and keep safe (and wet!).

One Frugal Girl
One Frugal Girl
15 days ago

These fires are so frightening. I hope you and your family stay safe through it all!

Adam
Adam
15 days ago

Just outside of DC, our biggest concerns are man-made disasters (a bigger deal during the Cold War) and the occasional hurricane. Our city happened to get a hyperlocalized and highly rare drenching of 6″+ of rain yesterday over a two-hour period, which led to some dangerous flooding and property damage, but we came through pretty unscathed; I just need to snake out a gutter downspout later today. Here’s hoping you and yours stay safe! The one time we visited the PNW I was amazed at how gorgeous it was in the summer, but I wish we could pump some of… Read more »

Mary
Mary
15 days ago

I hope you and your loved ones are ok! One trick I was taught by my insurance adjuster if your house is ever ruined by fire (as mine was years ago): The insurance company will need a list of the replacement cost (not the current cost) of everything you lost. One easy way to do this is to go to, say, Target, and sign-up for a wedding registry. Then take that scan gun and go aisle-by-aisle and scan everything you lost. I remembered so much doing this, like salt shakers, that I wouldn’t have remembered otherwise. At the end, just… Read more »

Janette
Janette
14 days ago

Haven’t heard the left wing stuff out here –just the winds and lightning. After years in Flagstaff, I know what a to go bag is. Please make one NOW and Keep your gas tanks full. Personally, my go bag and extras would be in my car now…no waiting. I have had to bug out with the flames licking our camper. Scary. I would also put the pet food and cages in the car when you are home. Practice putting your pets in the cages, because in certain circumstances they have to stay in one. Pets freak out when you are… Read more »

Keith
Keith
14 days ago

Thanks for this post, J.D. We’re in Hillsboro, so while we’re right now a fair ways from any fire, we’re seeing how rapidly the situation can change and a threat arise from a new fire or impact the cities where our friends live. The air quality in our area is already listed as hazardous, and that’s triggering that “flight” response in us a little bit, too, what with trying to keep our littles safe. Hoping that you and yours, and all of those impacted by the fires here and elsewhere, get through this well. And that the Oregon rain shows… Read more »

Nico
Nico
14 days ago

J.D., wishing you and your loved ones all the best. I’m deeply shocked to learn how many things that had a certain way in the past are changing so thoroughly now. We have to accept that we have to give up on certainties and thank you so much for helping us to prepare.

DL
DL
14 days ago

JD, I am keeping you, and Oregon, in my thoughts and prayers. I hope you will all be safe. We just survived the Derecho in Iowa. We have a lot of damage here. We learned some lessons that no one talks about. 1. Have cash on hand. 13 days of no power and 3 weeks no internet means the only way you are getting supplies is with cash because systems go down until backup generators can be brought in. The nearest ATM we could find that worked was a hour away. 2. Most cell phone towers run on generators for… Read more »

Rachael H.
Rachael H.
13 days ago

I’m glad you and Kim are safe, and your family as well! I live in the South Salem Hills part of your map. I’m 7 miles from the level 1 evacuation line. I chose to leave with my kids on Wednesday afternoon – although it didn’t feel like much of a choice, truly. My asthma is super mild – I have gone YEARS without using an inhaler. But I was struggling to breathe. My 10 year old was born prematurely and I was concerned about him. The sky in Salem was blood red in the middle of the day, like… Read more »

stellamarina
stellamarina
12 days ago

My little tip is to use a money belt if you have one. Essential small items like passport, drivers licence, credit cards and emergency cash can be in it and you will wear it so that you have the VIP stuff with you and not just in a bag or car. A few years ago we had to evacuate for a possible tsunami and it just so happened that my money belt was still siting on the dresser from use on a trip to a foreign country. I just grabbed the money belt because it was there but afterwards I… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
12 days ago

I am glad that you posted. I’ve been watching the news and have been wondering how you are faring. This is timely since these kinds of things have been on my mind lately. I’m in CT and the number of power outages we experience are increasing due to tropical storms, tornadoes and snow events (Snowpocalypse of 2011! FML). I don’t have a go bag/evacuation plan but I should consider this. Some things I learned from the snow event (no power for 9 days) were life changing. I bought a solar powered/hand crank radio. Oil based emergency candles. I no longer… Read more »

RH
RH
11 days ago

A little off topic, but I will say you look 20 years younger in your Morning Musings video compared to your photo on the get rich slowly homepage. Your recently lifestyle changes are making a huge difference!

Joe
Joe
5 days ago

Things improved a ton over the weekend. The smoke was pretty intense. I’m glad we have breathable air again. You might want to add some freeze dried food to the list. You never know…
I also posted about putting together a go bag today. I never thought we needed one, but 2020 changed my mind. The go bag will be our winter project. Although, I’m pretty sure we’re safe from wild fire. Our area doesn’t have enough tree and vegetation for a fire to go out of control.

shares