“Gone In 60 Seconds”… Do You Have a Disaster Prepared Mindset?

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Ashes fell like rain and smoke drowned out the fiery red sun on our cozy Southern California beach town in October of 2007. The news reported that 1500 homes were lost in what is considered the worst fire disaster in San Diego County. At the time, I was a local non-profit chapter director and was receiving numerous calls and emails from eager volunteers looking to help. The American Red Cross already had boots on the ground and evacuation centers and shelters were being put in place. The unpredictability of the wildfires made setting up locations difficult as things can change in an instant.

image by Erik Charlton

The smell of smoke engulfed our home and the news reported out of control fires throughout the city. The nearest fire burned five miles away and it wouldn’t have taken much for the wind to have shifted or floating embers to ignite a new fire. We live near a grove of eucalyptus trees and fires spread quickly and sometimes even explode under extreme heat.  It could have been the perfect fire storm in our neighborhood.

The recorded message from the reverse 911 encouraged all residents in our neighborhood to evacuate.

My nerves started to unravel as the call confirmed the urgency.  As a mother of four, my greatest concern was for our four-year-old boy with asthma and life-threatening allergies, and our four-month baby girl as they were the most vulnerable to the dangerously unhealthy air quality.

My mind started to bring up all of the “what ifs”.  I wanted out now!

Escape to L.A.

As the air quality deteriorated and the wild fires spread and soot covered our car like snow, we needed to get out of the city to safer, cleaner ground. With nothing prepared other than what we could pull together fast, we loaded the car and headed north to Los Angeles.  I managed to grab my son’s nebulizer machine for his asthma but discovered if you are breathing in really bad air, medicine or not, you are going to feel horrible.

Freeways were jammed as city officials encouraged people to leave.  We traveled on one of the three main highways out of the city and it felt like a scene out of an apocalyptic movie. With windows rolled up, traffic that stretched for miles, and scared children in tow, it was amazing to think I never gave any thought of being disaster prepared for our family, especially with a child with dietary restrictions and asthma and an infant.

image by DVIDSHUB

Over the years in my job as a coordinator for a non-profit organization, I had received dozens of emails and calls from organizations and churches requesting extra funds, supplies, volunteers, prayers and anything else we could provide for their disaster.  Yet, I personally had done nothing to prepare!  You might say I was a physician who needed to, “Heal thyself!”

As traffic moved sluggishly along, our car was directly alongside a fire burning next to the freeway at Camp Pendleton, a military training base with miles of open land.  It was just left to burn. My guess is that most engines were already preoccupied with other fires although my husband’s theory is that it was just left to burn out. We could feel the heat even with the windows rolled up. I felt boxed in and claustrophobic. Strangely, the only sense of real comfort was to know the ocean was to the west of us and within view. I wanted to see water. It somehow brought a bit of psychological comfort and relief.

Los Angeles was ablaze in many locations and air quality wasn’t much better. I spent the night at my brother’s home, sleeping on the bathroom floor with the shower on trying to bring relief through steam to my son while getting up to nurse. I had delivered a baby the summer prior and feeling hormonally challenged was an understatement when my night ended with no sleep on a cold, hard floor. This night will forever be etched in my mind. Overall, a small hiccup if you stacked it up against a major disaster where there is massive loss of life, but enough to get my attention.

What is the disaster prepared mindset, you may be wondering?

It starts with the realization that disaster preparedness is as important as saving for college or obtaining life, car, medical, or any other kind of insurance your family may need.  I was aware of the “To Do’s” on the government checklist, but didn’t connect the dots.  Disaster planning was for the “extreme” type.  Here is my true confession: I didn’t have the time, patience or space to think about it.

Today, my attitude has changed.  Our family is more vigilant about what is recommended to be prepared.  After being laid off from a 15-year position, my goal was to launch a disaster preparedness business and blog that helps busy moms prepare their homes based on the biblical principles of the Proverbs 31 woman who I consider a “Master Preparer” for her family. She lives by faith, not fear and is described as being able, “to laugh at the days to come.”  I feel moms are the heartbeat of the home and if I could help them understand why and how they should prepare, perhaps more would consider it important enough.

image by mbtrama

A disaster prepared mindset means you are ready mobilize quickly and be self sustaining for the first 72 hours (some experts recommend longer) following a disaster. If you are prepared, then you can help others, too! This experience and desire for my own business encouraged me to become a CERT team member (Community Emergency Response Team) ) and become more educated and connected with those who care about the safety of their communities.

“Gone in 60 seconds”

Could you prepare to be out of your home in sixty seconds?   “Gone in Sixty Seconds” was a popular 1970’s movie about a desperate master thief who learned to steal a car within seconds. If a crook can learn to do it, then we can make it our goal to have enough prepared that we could flee at a moment’s notice.

In retrospect, it would have been smart to have had a “To Go” bag of supplies, extra water, special foods for our son and infant, as well as snacks for the older ones and a backup of crucial documents ready to go or already secured off-site.  Online backup systems for our computers and laptops should have been in place to ensure our precious pictures and work files were saved. A list of our home assets and photos of the items would have been useful to ensured proper documentation for insurance companies.  We didn’t have a pet at the time, but we do now and he gets a “to go” doggie bag.

We got a “pass” this time around as my home and neighborhood were saved.  This was a great lesson for our whole family about how crucial it is to be prepared.

For the hundreds of families who lost everything, their stories ended much differently. We hope and pray their lives and fortunes have been restored to normal.

This was my final wake-up call. What will it take for you?

Guest post by Tara.


7 thoughts on ““Gone In 60 Seconds”… Do You Have a Disaster Prepared Mindset?”

  1. Half Acre Heaven

    In August 2007, around one am, I awoke for no reason at all and stumbled to the kitchen. I had that “what did I come in here for ?” feeling that sometimes happens to people when they walk into the kitchen. I didn’t need a drink, I didn’t need the bathroom. Then the flames caught my eye. I went for a fire extinguisher that was under the sink only to find it had been moved to make room for something else. Then the lights went out. I woke my husband and we quickly decided we wouldn’t be able to stop the fire ourselves. We grabbed our 9mo old daughter and went next door to call 911. Luckily our nearest neighbors at the time were my in-laws, so while my husband spoke with 911 I was able to leave the baby in her playpen at grandma’s house and move our cars to make room for fire trucks. Good thing I did because a wall eventually fell where we parked. the previous winter our 100 year old bridge had been taken out by a particularly heavy snowfall and was still under re-building and the fire department didn’t know the alternate route. Also 911 had no record of our street (a private drive) and had to be given directions. In the nearly 30 minutes it took them to arrive we lost nearly everything. I still think a lot about the “If onlys”. If only I had mounted the fire extinguisher on a wall instead of putting it in a cabinet to be jumbled about. If only we had remained calm enough to grab our guns, photos, pets. In the short term we were blessed to understand that we walked out of the house with everything we truly needed- each other. In the weeks and months to come, however, as we started over, we sure wished we had been more prepared. Now we have copies of photos, important paperwork, spare cash (we lost our wallets and it was saturday, so there were several hours when we didn’t even have a diaper for our baby, not life altering, but a terrible feeling nonetheless) and the regular 72 hour kit supplies right next to the back door. We do need to work on evacuation drills now that the kids are older though. I heard a stat somewhere that 50 percent of kids won’t wake from a fire alarm, and of those who do only 20 percent know what to do. Scary. Thanks for the great article, it reminded me that we need a plan to go with the supplies we have prepared.

    1. Wow, your story is truly amazing and a reminder once again that we can’t take anything for granted. I am told that a fire can consume a home in minutes so it really isn’t much time to get out. Thanks for sharing your victory story because as you mentioned your whole family survived. As a CERT team member we had to put out a fire as part of our training. I was clueless on how to use a fire extinguisher so it was helpful to learn how to use one and they say the kitchen is one of the best places to place it. I believe it when they say children will sleep through an alarm. My two teens would sleep through a nuclear blast! This makes me think that I need to do another fire drill with my kids. It’s been a while! Thanks for your response.

    2. Amazing story, I have the 72 hour kit, but not the documents in it that I should, this is enough to make me do this.

      Also, the stats on kids waking up to fire alarms sounds about right. They do have smoke alarms that a parent can record there voice on telling there child to get up, that there is a fire and to get out. These have been shown to be more effective at waking up children and having them respond accordingly.

      1. I like the idea of having your kids voices recorded on the fire alarm to get them up. How unique. Thank goodness we had the reverse 911 call since its hard to know if you should leave or not.

        I really want to encourage all parents to make sure they have registered in their city for reverse 911. It can come on your cell or home home or even office. DisasterMOM

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