Some of the 188,000 people ordered to evacuate beneath Oroville Dam on Sunday night had to flee with little more than the clothes on their backs. Others lost precious time packing necessities before heading to safety.
While those evacuees are now returning home, Californians live under all kinds of threats – from wildfires to earthquakes and, yes, flooding – that can prompt evacuation orders. Here are five things you can do right now to prepare for a possible future evacuation:
1. Know your risks. The California Office of Emergency Services suggests identifying the likely hazards where you live and work. Check the Cal OES MyHazards site to learn what natural hazards exist in your neighborhood. Simply enter your address to get a rundown of potential emergencies.
2. Pack and store a go bag, also called a bug-out bag or, less colorfully, a disaster preparedness kit. The Centers for Disease Control suggests packing at least three days of food, water, medication, medical needs, personal care items like soap and toothpaste, and clothing for each person in your household. You also may want to include safety gear, such as a first aid kit, and electronics, including flashlights and a spare cellphone charger. If you’ll be bringing pets or other animals with you, you’ll need food, water, medicines and other supplies for them, too.
3. Organize important documents for quick retrieval. The CDC advises storing copies of insurance cards along with immunization and medical records. The Federal Emergency Management Agency says you’ll also want to pack copies of your homeowner or renter insurance policy to help speed your recovery in case of damage to your home. The FEMA site offers an Emergency Financial First Aid Kit to help you identify other records you’ll want to keep safe.
4. Identify possible escape routes. While your precise route may depend on the specifics of the emergency and evacuation order, FEMA suggests thinking now about how you’ll get out of town, including alternate routes if roads or highways are blocked. If you’ll be evacuating someone with a disability, children, pets or others with special needs, work out plans for those circumstances, too. You’ll also want to pick some places away from home where you can go if you have to stay away for an extended time, whether a hotel, motel, or home of a friend or relative.
5. Come up with a communication plan. Ensure you have contact information in your phone or otherwise at hand for everyone you may need to get in touch with in the event of an evacuation. Work out ahead of time whether you’ll communicate by text, phone, social media or some other method if you’re separated in an emergency. Since it’s often easier to reach someone outside the area in a disaster, FEMA suggests choosing an out-of-town contact everyone can reach in case you lose track of each other.
▪ Personalize your household’s evacuation plan. If you have children, ask what books, games and activities they’d like to pack in the family go bag. Also think about what priceless family items, such as photos, mementos and other valuables you might need to pack or secure in an emergency.
▪ Be sure your plan accounts for family members who may live elsewhere part of the year, such as members of the military or children away at college. How will you contact them if they are out of town, and how will your plan change to include them if they are home?
▪ Come up with a plan for pets, livestock or other animals, too. How will you provide for them, or bring them along, if you have to leave town? Remember, if it’s dangerous for you to stay, it’s dangerous for them, too.
Get the apps
▪ Download the American Red Cross Shelter Finder app to find the nearest shelters in an emergency. You also can text “shelter” and your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) – store that number on your contact list – to find the closest shelter.
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▪ Find out if your community has a text or email alert system for emergency notifications, and sign up for it. Also, consider buying a NOAA weather radio, which receives broadcast alerts directly from the National Weather Service. You can find them at many retail outlets.
▪ Learn CPR and first aid.
▪ Know your house. Find out where your gas, electric and water shut-off locations are, and how to turn them off in an emergency.
▪ Prepare your children. Tell your kids about what kinds of emergencies they might face, and what your family will do if disaster strikes.
Keep it fresh
▪ Check the expiration dates on food, water, medicines, batteries and other perishables in your go bag at least twice a year. You may want to mark dates on your calendar to check emergency supplies for freshness.
▪ Practice evacuating once a year. Grab your go bag and drive your planned evacuation route.
Oroville residents returning to their home say they're happy the evacuation order was lifted, but understand why it was imposed.