There’s a fire raging outside, you can see the orange glow approaching, police are knocking at your door and you need to evacuate. What do you bring with you?
This is a question that should be answered way before a disaster, like the October wildfires, occurs, according to Napa Valley College Police Chief Ken Arnold. If you prepare ahead of time, he says, you’re more likely to survive.
Arnold, who is also part of the Napa Valley Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), led two workshops last week in order to help residents prepare for the next disaster.
“You are going to be subject to a disaster at some point,” he said. “People with a plan survive.”
Arnold’s focus was on creating a “go bag” – a bag outfitted with essential supplies and documents that’s ready to leave when you are. It isn’t a survival bag, he said, but it will reduce stress when you’re evacuating your home as well as provide comfort when you’re at the shelter.
The point is to be able to grab it and leave, he said. He keeps his “go bag” in his garage, which is his and his wife’s main entrance and exit, he said.
“It’s simple stuff but necessary stuff,” Arnold said. “If you camp, you’ve got everything you need.”
So, what’s in Arnold’s bag? Here are some highlights:
- A solar-powered AM radio with a crank and rechargeable batteries
- An LED crank flashlight
- EMT shears
- An emergency blanket and a fleece blanket
- Dual cell phone charger
A radio is important because information becomes hard to come by, Arnold said. In the recent fires, cell service was down, power was out and many people had no way of getting information.
Having some sort of identification is important, too, he said. You may feel confident now that you will remember to grab your purse or wallet in the event of an emergency, but you may not have time, he said.
One man showed up at the college shelter in only boxers and a T-shirt, Arnold said. He had no time to grab anything; his home was destroyed.
Copies or scans of your and your family’s vital records, including birth certificates and passports, should be included in your ‘go bag’, Arnold said. He keeps copies of his records on a USB flash drive in a Ziploc bag. And don’t forget bank account, insurance and credit card information as well as some cash.
“We are back to a cash economy without power,” he said.
Other things to pack include: duct tape, a first-aid kit, and a utility knife.
Arnold pointed out that a few contractor-grade garbage bags can easily become a poncho or sleeping bag, and, if you end up in a shelter, can be used to help give you some privacy.
Speaking of privacy, Arnold said it’s difficult to get at a shelter, so you may also want to pack some earplugs.
“If you don’t like snoring, you’re gonna have a hard time in a shelter,” he said.
Although the shelter provides as much as it can to people, many things, like personal hygiene products and clothing, are not the first things donated, so you should take this into account when packing your go bag, Arnold said. He keeps a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a razor in his bag along with a few extra pairs of clean underwear.
After three days in the shelter, he said, you may be able to stay in your outer clothes, but you’re going to want to change your underwear.
One of the biggest problems he saw at the shelter, though, involved medications.
“That became a really big issue during the evacuation,” he said. There were people who didn’t have any medication with them as well as those who weren’t even sure what they were taking, he said. That’s why, in addition to some basic over-the-counter medications, people should put a few days of prescription medications in their go bags as well as a complete, updated list of all their medications.
There were a lot of people whose blood sugar crashed without their proper medications, he said. Medical personnel on site did their best to identify and provide medications, but the process would have been easier if people knew what they were taking and in what dosage, he said.
“You gotta have your list.”
A spare pair of glasses – or at least a copy of your prescription – is also a good thing to have in your bag, he said.
Don’t forget the food and water, Arnold said. A little bit of food can get you through an emergency, he said.
Make sure you have enough gas in your vehicle to get out of harm’s way – Arnold’s motto is “half a tank is empty.”
In an immediate evacuation, try to turn off the gas and electric, unplug everything except the refrigerator, lock the doors and windows, and grab your keys and go bag. If you have some time before evacuating, he said, pack a small suitcase (something that will fit under a cot) of clothes, close the blinds and curtains, hide or secure valuables, and move or secure outdoor possessions. If you have extended notice, be sure hoses are attached outside, arrange for second vehicle evacuation, and pack the things you cannot replace.
“Try to have an honest conversation with yourself” about what is really irreplaceable, he said. If you can buy it at the store, then it’s probably replaceable.
If you have animals or children, make sure you pack a “go bag” for them, too, he said. Animals need to have things like leashes and food, and children should have something to give them comfort, like a stuffed animal or game, depending on their age.