As a fire near Yosemite grew to more than 4,900 acres on Oct. 10, Mariposa County residents in a few high-danger areas were ordered to evacuate. Others anxiously prepared for evacuation orders of their own.
In the Bay Area, a similar scene played out — on a much smaller scale — as the fast-moving, 60-acre Merrill Fire was quickly attacked by firefighters.
That same week, more than half a million Californians found themselves without power for more than a day.
Fortunately for Lodi residents, the city isn’t facing any emergencies at the moment.
But if a fire, flood or power outage interrupted local life, would you be prepared?
When people have an emergency plan in place, it’s an enormous help to first responders and volunteers in a disaster, said Shellie Lima, director of the San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services.
“The more people who can take care of themselves, the fewer people emergency responders need to worry about,” she said.
Plans don’t have to be incredibly detailed or account for every single possibility, but even taking a few steps can cut down on panic and save time in a catastrophe.
For example, residents should have a friend or family member outside of their area who can act as a point person in an emergency, Lima said. Sometimes, the communications network in a local area is overloaded, but calls or texts can still get out to a relative out of state, she said.
Choosing a contact person outside of the area also means that they won’t need to worry about their own safety while monitoring everyone else. That person can also be in charge of informing other friends and family, so that the people back in Lodi aren’t fielding a bunch of calls while trying to evacuate or preserve battery power on a cellphone.
“Develop a family communications plan so that everybody knows,” Lima said.
She also suggested families sit down together and come up with a meeting spot, so that if people are in different places when disaster strikes, they know how to find one another.
Other steps local residents can take to prepare for an emergency:
In addition to coming up with a communication plan, residents should sit down and think about those things that they can’t live without. What would you need if you suddenly had to leave home for several days or weeks? What electronics would you miss if you couldn’t use them for 72 hours?
Important documents, backup disks or hard drives, and photos are a few of those items.
“Start putting some of that stuff in a box,” Lima suggested.
Another idea, at least for documents and photos, is to scan them and upload them to a cloud service, or — if they need to be secure — get copies to put in a safe deposit box. People should also make sure to have copies of their financial and property records, along with medical information such as prescriptions and vaccination records, said Ready.gov, a website created by the Department of Homeland Security.
It’s a good idea to have fully charged back-up batteries for items like cellphones, and to keep your car’s gas tank topped off, Lima said.
During a power outage, some people might want to cook on a grill, she said. Always cook outside, and make sure you have enough fuel to last for several days.
Lodi residents should sign up for electric outage and emergency alerts with the City of Lodi at www.lodi.gov, under “Notify Me.” Area residents outside Lodi can do the same with their city or county Office of Emergency Services.
Ready.gov suggests creating an emergency kit with the following items:
- At least one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days. (Be sure to change the water occasionally so it’s not gross and stale.)
- A three-day supply of non-perishable food, and a manual can opener. (Be sure to check expiration dates frequently.)
- A battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio.
- A flashlight and extra batteries.
- A first aid kit.
- Dust masks, plastic sheeting and duct tape.
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for sanitation purposes. (A camp toilet may also be useful in some situations.)
- A wrench and pliers to turn off utilities if needed.
- Local maps.
- A multipurpose tool that includes a knife.
People should also add items based on their own situations, including backup medications, pet food and extra water, infant formula and supplies and more.
Families with young children may want to also include some books, games or puzzles to keep children quiet and occupied during a power outage or if they have to relocate to a shelter.
It’s a smart idea to have secondary kits at work and in your car, the website states.
Non-perishable food is important, but what about what’s already in the fridge?
The PG&E power outages might strike a chill for families who have large freezers full of beef, venison or their favorite bulk food items from Costco. Two days’ warning isn’t enough time to eat all that food before it spoils.
One tip, Lima said, is to put plastic bags full of water in any empty gaps in the freezer while the power is still running. The water will freeze, keeping the food inside colder for longer. Once a power outage occurs, some of that ice can be transferred to a fridge as well.
Getting an insulated liner or covering a fridge or freezer with a moving blanket can also help maintain the cool internal temperature, Lima said.
Then, avoid opening the freezer or the fridge any more than necessary. Once the freezer thaws or the fridge hits temperatures over 40 degrees, the food is no longer safe to eat.
Those strategies are fine for a short-term outage, but if the power might be out for several days, the safest bet would be to purchase a small generator and run it for a short while every few hours.
Planning when you have a medical concern
A chronic medical condition or physical disability can make weathering an emergency situation even more difficult.
It’s incredibly important that anyone who is dependent on electric or battery-powered medical technology like a breathing machine, powered wheelchair or home dialysis have a plan in place before emergency strikes. That includes both for sheltering in place potentially without power, and for evacuating.
Residents who may need extra help during a power outage or emergency can call Lodi Electric Utility at 209-333-6762 for advice, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Have a list of emergency numbers in easy reach. Include multiple people who can help you in an emergency, and ensure that all of these people are comfortable with providing help and know how to operate your equipment.
- Consider a backup power source that will help keep your equipment working until help can arrive. If you use a powered wheelchair or scooter and can use an unpowered one, keep one available as a backup.
- Keep your individual needs in mind when creating your emergency kit. Do you need extra eyeglasses or hearing aids? Do you need backup batteries, and can you keep them charged? Do you have a medical alert bracelet or tag? Do you have a service animal that needs supplies?
- Have medical insurance cards, physician contact information, and laminated lists of allergies and health conditions.
- If you use any medical supplies regularly and can obtain extras, do so.
It’s a good idea to contact your doctor and go over an emergency kit with them. This is especially true if you have medications that need to be refrigerated.
Planning for pet owners
When disaster strikes, you might not be at home, Ready.gov points out. That means it might be difficult to get to your pets, and once you do, then what?
“If you leave your pets behind, they may be lost, injured — or worse,” the website states. “Never leave a pet chained outdoors.”
Pet owners can ask a trusted neighbor to check on pets during an emergency, and should make sure that all pets are microchipped. Microchip information should include emergency numbers not just for the owner but also for a friend or family member outside the area. Make sure all information is up-to-date.
- Map out at least two evacuation routes, then make a list of veterinary offices, pet-friendly hotels, boarding facilities and shelters along each route, just in case.
- Make sure to keep pets’ vaccinations current. Most boarding kennels and animal shelters need up-to-date shot records. It’s also a good idea to keep a copy of recent medical records, especially for pets with chronic health conditions.
- Even if they don’t always wear them, have a collar or harness for your pet and make sure an ID tag and rabies tag is attached.
- Have crates or carriers somewhere easy to reach in case you need to evacuate quickly.
- A photo of you and your pet together will help to document ownership if you become separated. So will adoption and licensing papers.
- Don’t forget to include pet food, extra water and dishes for your pet in your emergency kit.