You Need to Prepare for the Expected


Note: This is the first part of a two-part series. Part two shelter in place

Disaster preparedness plans are like insurance policies; you have them hoping to never use them. September is the perfect month to review or create your personal disaster plan because it is National Preparedness Month and next month is the beginning of traditional Santa Ana winds in Southern California.

Because there are so many situations to prepare for, we are dividing this article in two parts: how to prepare to evacuate and how to prepare to shelter in place. Today’s article focuses on preparing to evacuate with the most likely scenarios you’d need to evacuate for in San Diego, such as wildfires, house fires, gas leaks and floods (especially if you live in low-lying areas or near water).  

Palomar Health’s experts in emergency and disaster management, Lisha Wiese and Brent Ansell, say everyone should learn and rehearse the five P’s:

  • People and pets
  • Prescriptions
  • Papers
  • Personal needs
  • Priceless items
These are the items you will want to take with you during an evacuation, and the less time it takes you to gather them the better. You will have more time to think in some situations than others. For example, you might only have seconds if your house catches on fire but may have minutes in the event of a Tsunami or wildfire. In any event, a lot will be going through your mind so you should have a thoughtfully crafted plan in advance. Ansell says every family member should have a preassigned role.

“My eldest daughter, her job is to grab the photo albums from the shelf in the living room,” Ansell said. “Someone else’s job is to get the dogs’ on a leash. Someone else gets the fire safe and another person gets the personal kits.”

If everyone has a responsibility, Ansell says, it will be less likely that someone will panic.

Wiese says it’s critical that everyone has a personal kit (go bag) that contains personal essentials including clothes, shoes, toiletries, prescriptions and anything else from the five P’s that you don’t use every day and can fit in a backpack or duffle bag. Because prescriptions expire, you should rotate items in and out of your go bag regularly.

A portable fire safe is recommended for papers such as passports, birth certificates, insurance information, financial documents, cash, etc. Priceless items like photo albums, family heirlooms and jewelry should be easily accessible and a person assigned to grab them.

Your pets should also have their own go bag with food, water, medicine, leashes, etc. You should also know where they go when they get stressed.

“You don’t want to be running around the house trying to find the dog when you don’t know where he is,” Ansell said.

Because disasters often happen at the most inopportune time, you might not be together with your family when the need to evacuate arises. In these cases you should have a predetermined meeting place, such as your kid’s school, to gather. Part of your disaster plan should include the scenario that cell phone lines are inaccessible, as is often the case in a disaster.

Last but not least is another P that is not part of the 5 P’s but Wiese says should be, “practice.”

“Go through the motions and make sure it’s not the first time you’re doing it when you’re evacuating,” Wiese said.

You should practice regularly with different scenarios so everyone is comfortable with their role. Debrief with everyone in the family. It will give you opportunities to fine tune your plan.

A good example of practicing is the Great California Shakeout that occurs every October (this year on the 15th). The annual event hosts a great resource for disaster planning on its website.  

Finally, commit your plan to paper. As the saying goes, an unwritten goal is merely a wish.

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