You’ve Survived a Disaster, Now What?

A Sausalito evacuation drill drew a good turnout in June  |  photo from Southern Marin Fire District  |  reposted from S.F. Chronicle

This is the third installment of wildfire preperation tips offered in a Survival Guide supplement to the San Francisco Chronicle:

Surviving a wildfire is just the first step. An important one, yes — but the danger and challenge are rarely over right away. You will need to push on for the next several hours, days or even weeks.

  • If your house is livable, stay in it even if the utilities are out because officials are still trying to avoid congregate shelter settings as much as possible because of the coronavirus. This is where your survival kit will prove its worth, for food, water, first aid and the rest. Be prepared to go it alone for as long as three days.
  • You may have turned off your gas, but if you smell or suspect a leak, don’t light a match or a candle or flip any light switch, which can cause a spark, until you’re sure the gas danger is over.
  • Never touch a downed power line.
  • If you are ordered to evacuate, you may be directed to an evacuation point, not a traditional shelter.
  • If you rent or decide not to replace your house, prepare to make relocation arrangements—signing a new lease, getting new furniture or other belongings, applying for insurance payments or governmental emergency assistance. If you are moving back into a rental that was only damaged, the landlord is responsible for making your unit fit to live in again—but not for the loss of your personal property.
  • Take care of yourself. Consider counseling, stay healthy through exercise and good diet, stay current with your friends—in other words, recognize that you’ve gone through an emotional wringer, and let yourself process the grief. Remember: To some extent, you will be rebuilding your life, and that comes one step at a time.

Even with the best–laid plans, family members might be unable to meet at prearranged points. Cell phones with contact information might be left behind in the rush to escape danger. Here are some tips for locating loved ones:

  • Parents should ask childcare providers or schools what their policy is for when a catastrophic disaster hits and whom they’ll need to call if children need to be moved.
  • Persistence matters. There may be several roadblocks before one contact method pans out.
  • Try calling the people you’re searching for during off-peak hours, when the working lines are less clogged.
  • Try texting if calls aren’t going through.
  • Check social media—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—to see if they are online.
  • Email. Even if a phone is gone, those who are missing might still be able to log on to a computer.
  • Call people whom missing loved ones are close to who may know where they are.
  • Check in with their neighbors, employer, school, or church—anywhere they usually hang out or spend time.
  • For those in distant locations, try sending a snail-mail letter that has a good chance of getting forwarded if the missing person has relocated.

The Chronicle guide may be downloaded as a PDF.