Category Archives for Articles-Week 5

San Andreas for Preppers: 12 Earthquake Survival Lessons from the Movie

Nothing warms my prepper’s heart more than a good disaster movie that supports my hypotheses about a specific event, and the recent movie San Andreas was no exception.

Okay, sure, there was some pretty unrealistic stuff like when The Rock was driving a boat through post-tsunami San Francisco and just happened to find his daughter that he was looking for. The last time I went to San Francisco, my daughter and I had trouble finding each other on the first floor of Forever 21, for crying out loud.

But, when you only have two hours for a movie, you have to be willing to suspend your disbelief somewhat and put that kind of stuff aside.  So. putting that aside, I enthusiastically recommend the movie. We live about 4 hours from San Francisco and go there occasionally for educational outings to the excellent museums, so the setting was quite familiar to us, as was the premise of what would occur if an earthquake happened there. So familiar that my daughter was the frequent recipient of my elbow, as I whispered, “See!!!! I told you this was what would happen if the Big One hit that time we went to the Science Museum!”  Trooper that she is, she said, “Yes, Mom, I know, you were right about that too.” Since she’s a teenager, she probably also rolled her eyes each time, but it was dark and I can’t be absolutely certain of that.

As I’ve said before, you can’t overestimate the value of finding entertainment that enhances your preparedness mindset. A movie is like the prepper version of a sporting event, where we can cheer, jeer, and scheme our ways through some imagined event. It engages our love for critical thinking while allowing us to take a break from our everyday activities. (Here’s my list of 40 prepper movies you can find online.) I know that some folks don’t go to the movies or engage in any form of popular culture, which is certainly a matter of personal choice. It’s not an everyday thing for us to go to the movies, but I’m of the firm belief that a prepared lifestyle doesn’t have to be bereft of fun, especially if you want your children to get involved.  I try to enjoy outings like this with my kids every once in a while.  We really liked the movie, and the special effects were incredible in 3D.

Here are 12 things that interested me, as a prepper, about San Andreas. I’ll try really hard to be vague enough that I don’t spoil the movie.

  1. People panic and behave badly.  In every disaster movie, there’s always someone more concerned with his or her own skin than the skin of a loved one, and this is no exception. Life-threatening terror brings out the worst in many people.  As shown in the movie, some first responders will bail to take care of their own families. The bottom line is, you can’t rely on others to save you. Also, it helps to have some knowledge of engineering and basic physics, too.
  2. People panic and behave stupidly.  During the panic of the aftermath of The Big One, people do the dumbest things.  This is true of real life too, and part of the reason for this is cognitive dissonance. People are so complacent about the stability of their everyday lives that it is difficult for them to function when something horrible and out of the ordinary occurs.  Having a mindset that plays through potential disasters ahead of time makes it far easier to accept it when something terrible happens, which in turn, makes it easier to make a viable plan and then act on it in a manner that will aid in survival instead of running around like a chicken without a head.
  3. Drop, cover, and hold on. The seismologist guy repeated the same information over and over, but most of the time, people failed to listen. When huge chunks of cement are flying at you, running down the road is not always the best course of action.  The very best thing you can do is get down under something big and stable and hold on tightly.  According to the US Department of Labor, the quake itself doesn’t cause injuries, the aftermath of structural damage causes injuries: “Most earthquake-related injuries result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects as a result of the ground shaking, or people trying to move more than a few feet during the shaking.” Structural damage to buildings would be vast in a quake like the one depicted. (Here’s more information on potential structural damage.) PS:  Your car is not a big, stable place to go to for cover. (source) Knowing what to expect in the event of an earthquake is very important.
  4. The ability to communicate is vital.  In the aftermath of a major disaster, your cell phone is very unlikely to work. Partly because everyone else will be trying to use their phones at the same time, and partly because local towers may also have been affected by the disaster. If you live in (or are visiting) an earthquake prone area, a secondary communications device is essential.  This article about an earthquake preparedness kit has some excellent suggestions. Remember that landlines often work when the internet and cell phones do not.
  5. Also vital: basic first aid skills.  Remember above, where I quoted how must injuries come about from the destruction of buildings?  After the earthquake in Haiti, the CDC reported that the most common injuries were fractures/dislocations, wound infections, and head, face, and brain injuries. Doctors performed wound debridements, amputations, and treatment for orthopedic trauma from crushing injuries. You need to know how to remove debris that might cause further damage, immobilize an injured limb, stop bleeding, apply a tourniquet, and clean a wound at the very least. It also helps if you have some supplies on hand or know where to find them.
  6. You should always have a plan for the family to meet.  In the movie, the family has a meeting place planned. This is not something that should be left for the day of a horrible event. You should always have a plan for your family in the event that you can’t communicate.  It helps if you can fly (and steal) a helicopter like The Rock, but since most of us don’t have access to that resource, we have to make other plans. My family always sets up meeting places in case we get separated and my kids know to go there and wait. Actually, we did this from the time they were little and my oldest daughter got in the middle of a clothing rack to “surprise mommy” and I couldn’t find her.
  7. You always need a backup plan. In the event that Plan A isn’t going to work, you need to have a Plan B. (And C and D and so on.) It’s really helpful if your family knows what Plan B is so that you are able to meet up and not hope to just randomly find one another. Again, this goes to thinking things through BEFORE a disaster occurs.   You MUST be adaptable to survive.
  8. When one disaster happens, others soon follow.  This is a frequent truth of disasters.  When one thing goes wrong, some other horrible event is often triggered by that. This was true in the movie, with things like looters, instability of structures which collapsed later, rifts in the roads, and oh yeah, a tsunami.
  9. Don’t forget tsunamis. For the love of all things cute and fluffy, if you are anywhere near the coast and an earthquake happens, GO UP. Do not wait until you see the ocean draw outward or you see the gigantic wave approaching. You aren’t going to be able to outrun it, no matter how fit you are. Immediately seek the highest point around if an earthquake occurs when you are near the coast.  We take this a step further when we visit the coast and map out the high points beforehand.  I was gratified that my two San Francisco high points were the ones noted in the movie. There is also some good advice if you just happen to be out boating when a tsunami is approaching.
  10. Don’t take the closest evacuation route, take the safest evacuation route.  Because San Francisco is the point of a peninsula, it’s most directly connected to the rest of the state by long bridges. I’ve always thought it would be a terrible idea to attempt to evacuate over those bridges in the aftermath of a disaster, since a) everyone else will be doing the same thing, resulting in gridlock and b) the structure of the bridges is likely to be weakened or damaged by a huge quake and c) a tsunami coming into the bay would sweep vehicle right off the bridge even if it held up.  Oh – and d – there are sharks in the water below – lots of them, which is why Alcatraz is in the middle of the bay. I’m sure they’d just love an all-you-can-eat bridge collapse buffet. But I digress – my personal evacuation route out of the city is south, to where the peninsula joins the mainland. On foot, in a car, doesn’t matter – that is the safest route, although quite a bit further. Anytime we go to San Francisco, I set up a rally point south of the city for a friend to come and pick us up should such an event occur.
  11. Bring sensible shoes.  Ladies, no matter how nice we look in heels, fleeing for your life in them doesn’t sound like much fun to me. In the movie, my daughter and I both cringed thinking about how awful it would be to have to climb out of debris in general and how doubly awful it would be to have to do it in non-sensible footwear. If you have to wear heels, at least have something sensible in your bag.
  12. Gather supplies whenever you see them. While everyone else is panicking, if you have your wits about you, you’ll be able to gather up supplies that will help you survive. Look for things like bottled water, communication devices, first aid supplies, tools, knives, lighters, and food.

Have you seen the movie yet? What did you think? Do you have any survival lessons to add?

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Prepping for a Hurricane

When you’re thinking about how to prepare for an event like a massive hurricane, it’s best to look back in history at what went wrong.  The good news is, there is nearly always a warning of several days. That means there will be time to place some orders or purchase some items if you find that you are missing vital preps. While it isn’t recommended to wait until the last minute, here are the things you need to do RIGHT NOW if you are in the path of the storm and prepping for a hurricane. Click the links for more in-depth information on each topic.

1.) Evacuate early

If you have a nice beachfront property, this is not the weekend to spend time there. Make plans now to evacuate inland if this is your full-time residence. For the love of all things cute and fluffy, don’t plan on evacuating just as the storm hits. You want to leave before a mandatory evacuation is called for.  The East Coast, especially as you go north, is highly populated, and you do NOT want to be stuck in traffic when the wrath of the storm strikes. Leave early.

Fill your vehicle with gas prior to the storm. If you had planned to hunker down but your house suffers damage that makes that impossible, you may have difficulty acquiring fuel in the midst or aftermath of the storm. Have important documents and bug out supplies ready to go. When you leave your home during a natural disaster, there is always the horrible chance that you could come back to nothing but rubble. Figure out the things that are most dear to you, and have them packed up. (This article is about a wildfire evacuation, but the list of things to pack are valid for any disaster.)

2.) Secure your property

If you live in the danger zone, take some steps to secure your property. Fit windows with plywood covers, stow outdoor furniture in the garage, and scan your yard for anything that might become a projectile if high winds occur. If you don’t have a garage, bring things inside or secure them to a tree. (This article has great advice about securing your home.)

Not only do you have mother nature to worry about, but also the hoodlums that take advantage of disasters. During the dark days after Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, looters ran amok. After 72 hours without power, New York City was in a state of utter chaos. Be prepared to protect your home and family should it become necessary.

3.) Be prepared for an extended power outage

During the last megastorm to hit the East Coast, power was out for weeks. Sewer systems overflowed and backed up into people’s homes. Residents of high-rise buildings defecated in the hallways. Food rotted in refrigerators. New York City was pitch black for days.

Fill coolers with ice while you’re waiting to see whether the power goes out so that you can extend the longevity of the food in your fridge and freezer. Have on hand some emergency food buckets that require only boiling water to serve up a tasty, comforting, hot meal. (Don’t get the ones loaded with MSG and genetically modified foods – check out these buckets for healthier options.)

Prep with light sources, an off-grid cooking method, food that doesn’t require cooking, hygiene items that don’t rely on running water, and a way to use the bathroom should the sewer system be affected like it was the last time.

Make sure you have a heat source

It’s usually pretty cold in the aftermath of a storm like this, and if the power goes out, you want to be sure you stay cozy and warm. If you have no off-grid heat source like a fireplace or woodstove, consider picking up a propane heater that is safe for indoor use. We have a Mr. Buddy heater for this purpose.

Use this as a starting point

If your master survival plan is to wait for the government to feed and care for you, you’re going to get awfully hungry. The ball was dropped in response to Hurricane Katrina to the extent that it took four long days for any assistance to arrive. Who can forget the video of the hysterical woman after Superstorm Sandy, begging for help? (In case you did forget, here it is:)

If you aren’t a prepper, hopefully, this will be enough to open your eyes to the need for some emergency planning. There’s nothing worse than feeling powerless in the midst of a crisis. By preparing, you are ensuring the safety and peace of mind of your loved ones.

  • Grab Survival Mom: How to Prepare Your Family for Everyday Disasters and Worst-Case Scenarios
    – it’s a great book for making an overall preparedness plan.
  • Grab  The Pantry Primer and start building a pantry to help you through any crisis.
  • Grab the Prepper’s Water Survival Guide and learn about water preparedness. It’s incredibly vital and costs far less than you might think.

It’s far better to have your supplies in place before the storm is on its way. While you can always do a rushed stock-up at the last minute, you risk missing out on important supplies as you battle everyone else who has the same idea. It doesn’t take long for store shelves to be emptied of bottled water, batteries,  and shelf stable items.

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The King Fire Chronicles: Life on the Edge of a Natural Disaster

For eleven days now, forest fires have raged around us. Worsened by the drought on the West Coast, a seemingly unquenchable inferno is eating up the trees, the brush, and anything that gets in its way. It’s like the fire is a living thing, one that wants to get free and consume everything.

I’m rarely forthcoming about even our general location, for the obvious privacy reasons, but I want to share what it’s like for a real family – mine – to live on the brink of disaster for an extended period of time.

For the past week and a half, we’ve wondered on a daily basis if THIS will be the day that our home burns to the ground, consumed by wildfire. We’ve wondered constantly if we will have to evacuate in the midst of cooking dinner, if someone will pound on the door in the middle of the night, or if the fire will jump the creek at the bottom of the next canyon over.

Natural barriers have allowed us a modicum safety, but we’ve been very watchful. This isn’t the usual article about prepping. It doesn’t contain a checklist with all of the things you need to pack. There are plenty of those out there. This is a diary of what it’s like to live in an area that has been declared a disaster zone, and to be able to see the flames from your porch. It’s about the state of being ready for action, but not being able to take it…and instead…just waiting.

It has always been my plan to bug in, but sometimes Mother Nature says otherwise. In situations like this, the most important preparedness skill you can have is adaptability. You have to roll with what comes your way immediately, and resist the urge to grimly stick with Plan A.

On the first day of the fire, I had gone through our BOBs and the safe with our documents. There was a distance between us and the fire, and although I was aware that evacuation was a possibility, it seemed rather unlikely.  Nonetheless, I made certain that all of the necessary items were there…the identification documents, the necessary personal items, the insurance paperwork.  My daughter had gone away for the weekend with a friend’s family, and I worried vaguely about what would happen if I was forced to leave home before she returned. I sent her a message and gave her instructions that if for any reason she was not able to return to our home in the mountains, that she was to be dropped off at a family friend’s place that was further down in the foothills, and less likely to be affected.

I was even more relieved than I had expected to be when she arrived home. We sat down to watch a movie and pushed the fire to the back of our minds for the evening.

pville fire

This photo was taken downtown at sunset on the 3rd night of the fire

Over the next few days, the fire spread dramatically, but to our guilty relief it was spreading in the opposite direction. It occupied our thoughts, though, because the huge ominous cloud of smoke was visible, literally, from everywhere we went.  The drive to school and back each day was filled with shock about the shape of the cloud, the texture, the color, the massive size.

Imagine living next door to a vicious dog, one trained to rip intruders apart, who snarled a warning to everyone who passed.  You’d give the fence wide berth, keep a watchful eye on the beast, and hope and pray it never escaped from that chainlink fence and came barreling into your yard, bearing down on you with grim hunger. That was the fire – a ravenous beast, watching and lunging but kept safely behind a barrier…for now.

I registered my phone with the county’s reverse 911 service so that I could immediately receive important alerts, instead of waiting for a knock at the door by officials.


The next day, on the way home from school, we saw a cloud formation that was unlike anything we’d seen before. Thick, particularly dense smoke spewed out the top of the fire. Rosie immediately compared it to the mushroom cloud in the series, Jericho.


Rosie took this photo of the pyrocumulus cloud from the next town over.

It turns out, she was right. The formation was a pyrocumulus cloud, which “is produced by the intense heating of the air from the surface. The intense heat induces convection, which causes the air mass to rise to a point of stability, usually in the presence of moisture. Phenomena such as volcanic eruptionsforest fires, and occasionally industrial activities can induce formation of this cloud. The detonation of a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere will also produce a pyrocumulus, in the form of a mushroom cloud, which is made by the same mechanism.” (source)

The eerie cloud lingered over us for another day, hovering like the physical manifestation of a bad omen.

I went to bed on Thursday night feeling as though we were out of danger. I spoke with friends and family from far away and assured them that things were better. Sure, it was a bit smokey, but the area to the Northeast was the danger zone.

I woke up in the night coughing. I got up and closed the windows. I checked the fire website to be certain there was no imminent danger and went back to sleep, sealing the smoke outside our house.

A few hours later, I awoke to the dog pacing anxiously. The smell of burning wood lingered heavy in the air, despite the fact that the windows were tightly closed.

It was around 5:30 am, and I got up to let the dog go outside and do her business. The smoke was so thick it hit me like a physical blow. I quickly shut the door and booted up my laptop.  Thank goodness for the internet, I thought to myself as I logged on to Facebook and the local page with fire updates. Simultaneously I pulled up the state’s fire website.

The wind, it seemed, had changed. And with it, our ephemeral previous relief that we were safe. I wondered, will this be the day that the SHTF for us?

According to the fire website, we were safe for the time being. The smoke burned our eyes and made us cough – even the dog was not immune. The thick oppressive fog from any scary movie you’ve ever seen had nothing on the smoke hovering dense in our yard. I pushed the recirculation button in the car to keep us free of at least some of the smoky air.

After dropping the kids off at school, I knew that the time had come to pack up for real, If conditions remained the same, this might be the last day in our little home.

I hurried from the vehicle back into the house, unconsciously holding my breath, consciously covering my face with my sleeve. I got inside and let it out with a whoosh. And it was time to pack.

When you have a warning and an ample amount of time to get ready, evacuating isn’t nearly as panic-inducing.

Even though the professionals hadn’t yet rung the warning bell, the fire was just down at the bottom of the next canyon over. A slight change in conditions could mean the fire was in our front yard.

Some people questioned my decision to wait it out at this point. Our firemen had fought valiantly, protecting homes in the area. 80,000 acres gone and not a life lost. I trusted that we’d have some warning.  The process thus far was a voluntary evacuation notice, followed by a mandatory notice. I earmarked some spots on the map and decided that if the voluntary evacuations reached those points, we would leave ahead of our own evacuation notice.  This, I hoped, would allow us to beat the road congestion. I mapped out 3 routes to our secondary location, which was a friend’s home about 10 miles away.

Then, I looked around my home and thought, what would I be devastated to lose?

We had long since packed our important documents and  a few days worth of clothing and supplies. All of those vital things you must have with you when bugging out were sitting at the door. But when you think about losing every single thing you can’t fit into your vehicle…that’s simply overwhelming.

I keep my vehicle very well-supplied year round, courtesy of a few big Rubbermaid tubs. I decided in this circumstance, we’d benefit more from bringing other things, so I removed some of the less vital supplies from my SUV to free up space.

I grabbed some empty tubs I had recently purchased for stowing pantry supplies.

First, I packed up those irreplaceable things that every mother loves. Our photo albums, the baby books, and a few special framed pictures that just melt my heart.  The framed pictures of my mom and dad, taken right after their wedding.A journal that had belonged to my father, in which we “finished” his story, sweet hours spent together, shortly before he died.  My grandmother’s wedding ring, in two pieces because I’d never gotten around to having it fixed. A packet of flower seeds given to me long ago by someone I had loved, because he knew I’d rather have the seeds than the cut flowers. My first thesaurus and a leather bound book of Shakespeare. 19 years of birthday cards from my girls, starting out with fingerprints in pink and purple ink, followed by wobbly printing, maturing to creative artistic endeavors. Love letters tied with ribbons. A strangely charming bowl shaped like a dinosaur, made by my daughter. Rocks and sand and geological oddities we’d picked up on various vacations in various places.

Of course, I packed items of monetary value too – my wedding ring, some gold jewelry, some small antiques, and some silver coins. But the truly priceless items were in that first box of memories so strong that just touching the items was like reliving my life by osmosis.

It was a half day of school so my daughter was finished in just a couple of hours. Despite the reassuring reports online, I was too nervous to leave our pets at the house.  I corralled two angry cats into carriers and put them in the back of the SUV, along with our 3-day bags and my box of memories.  The dog, always happy to go for a ride, jumped in and looked hopeful that she’d be allowed to ride shotgun. (As usual, she was banished to the back.)

We made a quick pick-up, dropped off my daughter’s carpool buddy, and got home. The dog is always amiable and loves getting home just as much as she loves leaving it in the first place. The cats were less than pleased, and we released the disgruntled felines into the house.  They shook themselves, glared at us, and began to groom their ruffled coats after their vehicular ordeal.

I explained to Rosie that she needed to gather up her most precious belongings.  Like me, she grabbed photos, but she also carefully packed some things that had belonged to her dad, who had suddenly passed away a few years ago. The things that were dear to her was his letterman’s jacket from high school, studded with bars and patches boasting of his athletic ability. She brought a hoodie that had been her dad’s, gigantic on her with the sleeves going far past the tips of her fingers. She packed a jewelry box full of precious bits and pieces – gifts that had earned their way into the box by virtue of either the giver or the monetary value or just because they caught her eye and made her happy. She has moved many times, and notes and photos from distant friends also made the cut.

Once these vital items had been ensconced in the vehicle, we packed some more clothing – a full two weeks’ worth of everything from socks to undies to dress clothes to casual attire. Those suitcases went into the vehicle atop the boxes that contained our memories.

And then, we waited.

Time takes on a different feel when you are waiting for disaster to strike. It crawls, pausing to explore horrific scenarios. It wanders and climbs, picking its way through imagined pitfalls. We found ourselves either wanting news that a miraculous rain had fallen from the sky, extinguishing the giant inferno, or the call to evacuate with no further ado. While we’d prefer the former, the latter would suffice because waiting…is…excruciating.

I repeatedly found myself refreshing the fire information websites, even though I had signed up for the local reverse 911 system in order to be alerted immediately should the need arise to evacuate. Finally, I began watching a movie on Netflix and promptly fell asleep, only to dream strange, horrible nightmares that, oddly, had nothing to do with a stealthily approaching fire creeping up the side of the canyon while we slept.

king fire 50

Calfire photo taken 6 miles from our home

We made it through the night unscathed, and the next.  Two more alerts arrived that our area could potentially be faced with evacuation, as the wind picked up and embers flew. Storms circled overhead, but instead of blessing us with rain, we only got lightning – terrifying under these conditions, because it could set off a whole new fire. Sixteen cloud-to-ground strikes, according to the radars, the last thing we needed.

The alerts that the fire was licking at our side of the canyon now failed to trigger even the slightest surge of adrenaline. It was like every bit of it had been drained from my body. It felt like I had exhausted any potential for worry. I thought, “Whatever. I can’t get any more ready than I already am,” and went to sleep with my phone next to my ear, in case the call came that night.

We were hesitant to go too far from home, in the event that the flames got past the firemen.  We wanted to be home and ready to load up our family pets. We didn’t want to carry all of our important belongings around in the vehicle, because the looting had already begun. Disaster always brings out the dregs of society, who feed on fear and prey upon those who have lost the most. Vultures were pillaging from evacuated homes and breaking into loaded vehicles at homes that were pending evacuation. Our belongings remained with us indoors, and looters, aided and abetted by the wildfire, became another threat to watch for.

Nine days after the fire began, the inferno still raged. Photos that looked like vacation pictures from hell popped up all over Facebook and local websites. Everyone tried to continue with life as normal, but when there is an 87,000 acre threat 3 miles from your door, you’re just going through the motions of your everyday routine.

We kept everything packed and neatly stacked by the door.  Stress was a low-level hum throughout my body. Have you ever spent the night in the room with a mosquito? The annoying buzz is constant – not loud, not even audible if there are enough other things going on, like music or the television. But the moment things become still and dark, and there’s no other stimuli, it’s the only thing you can hear and  you begin to seriously consider whether that tiny little bug making that tiny little sound could actually drive you insane.

That’s what it feels like to spend more than a week on the edge of a massive disaster zone – constant, quiet stress that you might at any moment be called into action in order to save your family, your pets, your neighbors.

And then the fire jumped the canyon.

I got up that morning, and to my delight, it was crisp, clear and didn’t smell as potently of disaster as it had on previous mornings. I dove into my work with renewed energy, until I heard helicopters and planes circling overhead. I looked outside and at one point saw 7 vehicles in the air from my front porch. It reminded me of the invasion scene from Red Dawn, but I knew the invader was fire, and that these pilots were flying overhead to defend us. A pillar of smoke – a new one – looked much closer to us, billowing up like one of those attention-getting balloons that advertise a sale on used cars or new sofas, dancing maniacally as the wind picked up.

Fire trucks barreled down our road, sirens singing a warning. Still, we waited, as dozens of engines were dispatched to make a final stand between our charming little town and the fire which engulfed everything we could see beyond the next ridge. They won this battle, but the war continued.


On day 11, someone asked me the very reasonable question of why we waited. Why, she wondered, didn’t we just evacuate?  Wouldn’t it be less worrisome to watch from afar, in a place where our safety was cushioned by miles?

Not really.

First, when you’re away from home, you constantly wonder what’s going on AT home. While I am well aware there’s nothing we could do if the wildfire escaped its barriers and bore down on our home, until that point, I saw no reason to leave. I trusted that the firefighters would warn us as soon as we were at risk and that they’d err on the side of caution.  The fire was now 93,000 acres, bigger than the city of Atlanta, and not one human life had been lost.

Secondly, we have several pets. If we needed to evacuate, we had a place to go. Dear friends had invited us and all of our animals to come and stay with them. We didn’t want to impose like that unless we had no choice.

Third – and this is something many people don’t think about – evacuation is expensive. Best case scenario, like us, you have friends or family with whom you can stay. But in many cases, people stay at shelters or hotels.  Insurance may or may not reimburse you for your expenses, but either way, you have to put out the money first. Costs like hotel bills, laundry expenses, and dining out can add up very quickly, and if you don’t have a healthy emergency fund, it can cause serious financial hardship.


The previous night had brought billowing smoke, so strong I awoke from the smell of it through closed windows. I went out on the porch in my pajamas and I could see the soft orange of fire, glowing in the distance. The firefighters had evacuated people somewhat closer to our house and were spending the night doing a controlled “backburn”.


Calfire photo of back-burn operation

They do this in order to clear out anything the fire could use as fuel. So around the perimeter of the fire, they light other fires, carefully controlled, to rid the area of brush and trees. This is how they contain a fire as huge and out of control as this one – they create an area around it with nothing to feed it, thus limiting its ability to spread. This is usually done at night, since nighttime air generally has more humidity and is cooler. The weather conditions have to be right, and there has to be enough distance between the wildfire and homes, for this to work.  There is a high risk to this, because there is potential for the small deliberate fire to ally itself with the monster fire. We were told that this is usually a last stand, undertaken when other efforts have failed and there is little more to lose.

After a restless sleep, we awoke to the incredible news that the fire was now 38% contained, a giant leap over the previous day’s report of 10%. The backburn had worked, and the containment line held strong.


As long as 92,000 acres are on fire, we can’t consider ourselves safe, regardless of containment percentages and firelines. However, we seem to be out of imminent danger.

Our bags will remain packed and waiting at the door. We’ll continue to be vigilant until the fire is completely extinguished, but today, we can breathe a small sigh of relief. This week on the edge of a disaster reinforced why we prepare: because one random act can have far-reaching consequences, and preparation is the key to a calm, effective, and potentially life-saving response.


7,691 men and women from all over the country have put their lives on the line to battle this fire – a fire that began with a single act of arson by a jilted lover.

Without these first responders, our homes would most certainly be gone and the fire, unchecked, would have consumed even more than it already has. I’m rarely speechless, but there are no words grand enough to express our gratitude. I’m humbled by what these people willingly do, knowing far better than we do the risks of volunteering to enter an inferno.

Thank you.


Calfire heroes defending a home and outbuildings.

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Shock Videos from California: Wildfire Evacuation as a Small Town Burns to the Ground

However prepared you think you are for an emergency wildfire evacuation, when it looks like you’re driving through the outer edges of Hell, it’s going to be a scary ride.

Wildfires are a real threat every year in California, but this season seems to be especially dramatic and uncontrollable. Chalk it up to the severe drought that has caused the grass and trees to become well-seasoned fuel for the fires.

Valley Fire Map

One particular fire rages out of control in Lake County, just north of the famous Napa Valley, putting thousands of acres of vineyards on the outskirts of the inferno.

That is far from the worst of it, though. Over the weekend, the tiny burg of Middletown, California was burned off the map.  The flames moved so quickly that there was barely time to notify the families of the town that they had to evacuate.

middletown fire

When the fire hit the gas stations on the edge of town, the fuel tanks exploded, worsening the blaze. The fire traveled to the down and destroyed virtually every single building More than 1000 homes and businesses burned to the ground. Pay close attention at 1:30.

Residents literally only had minutes to evacuate as the flames approached. This was not a calm, orderly evacuation. This was families fleeing for their lives.

Do you think you are prepped to evacuate? What if you had to literally drive through a wildfire? Here’s a dose of reality. This video was shot as one family left their home for what is most likely the last time. (Some very understandable harsh language).

I know what you’re thinking: That guy waited way too long to bug out.

The thing is, this fire moved so incredibly quickly that people who bugged out within minutes of notification had a scene exactly like this. They had a soundtrack of approaching flames roaring in their ears. One minute, the fire was a plume of smoke on the horizon, and the next minute it was in their backyards.

News reports say that more than a thousand homes and businesses have been lost, and that one civilian has died in the fire. Four firefighters had to deploy their survival shelters and allow the fire to “burn over” them when they could not escape the blaze. Miraculously, they only suffered second-degree burns and are recovering in the hospital.

This is how quickly a disaster can strike. No matter how well-prepped you thought you were for a potential evacuation, if your vehicle wasn’t already loaded, you’d only have time to grab what was closest to the door in a situation like this. Some residents didn’t even have time to put on their shoes before leaving. This particular fire was fueled by drought-dried brush and pushed by 20 MPH winds, making it engulf territory faster than veteran firefighters had ever seen a blaze move. Embers propelled by the wind sparked new fires that joined the original blaze, causing even more rapid expansion.A report in the Press Democrat described the exponential growth of the fire.

Hundreds of firefighters streamed into the area to battle the blaze, which grew from 50 acres to more than 10,000 acres in the span of five hours Saturday. It doubled in size again over the next four hours, swelling to 25,000 acres by 10:25 p.m.

And this is the horrifying aftermath. An entire town, left like this.

This is not the only wildfire in California. In the Fresno area is the Rough Fire, and the Butte Fire blazes about 100 miles away in Amador and Calaveras County.

Prepping for a Wildfire Evacuation

In the event of a rapid evacuation, here are a few tips.

  • Have your bug-out bags ready at all times. You may not have any warning, particularly if you live near the origin of the fire. Conditions could change rapidly, putting you in harm’s way. Always, always, have a bug-out bag ready.
  • Keep swimming goggles and N95 masks in your vehicle for all family members.  Swimming goggles will keep you from being blinded by dense smoke and the masks will filter the air somewhat so that you aren’t overcome by inhalation. I recommend these goggles and these masks – the kind with the valves offer you the most protection.
  • Keep your vehicle full of fuel. A dire bug-out scenario is not the time to run out of gas, and you can bet that the filling stations won’t be open for business in such an event.
  • If there’s time, grab the dirty clothes hamper. For the price of a trip to the laundromat, you’ll have some complete outfits, including undies.

There may not be time to grab anything. During the fire above, people left in their pajamas to escape the rapidly moving fire.


Take steps now to be calm and prepared later.

I want you to think about disasters. While it’s certainly not a pleasant thought, but considering these things now – when there’s no fire bearing down on you, no hurricane heading your way, no chemical spill poisoning your water, no pandemic in the next town over – allows you to think more clearly and make a definitive plan of action.


  • Check your bug out bags.
  • Organize your most precious belongings.
  • Discuss the plan with your family so that everyone knows what to expect.

Make these decisions now so that when – and it’s always “when” not “if” – disaster knocks at your door, you’re prepared to respond immediately. Learn about what to expect from others in order to keep your family safe and on-plan. Human nature isn’t as much of a variable when you can predict their behavior.

Surviving a Wildfire

Surviving a wildfire begins well before the first spark. No matter where you live, a forest fire or large blaze can be a threat. Oftentimes, fires occur on the heels of another epic disaster.

As with any type of disaster, by being prepared ahead of time, you will handle a terrifying emergency in a much calmer fashion than those who have never considered the possibility of such an event.


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* Replacing Documents After a Disaster

We often talk about having a bug-out bag that includes a folder with important documents, but despite your preparations and efforts to protect them, sometimes disaster strikes quickly and unexpectedly, and those documents are lost.

For example, the fires last week in Northern California moved so rapidly that some people fled from their homes without even a moment to put on their shoes.

Although it’s not always the first thing people think of, in the event of a fire, flood, tornado, or other natural disaster, important documents can be lost or damaged beyond recognition.

The loss of vital documents can make it difficult to function in today’s society. Replacing documents is one of the first steps you’ll need to take. After a disaster, you’ll need identification, proof of citizenship, and proof of ownership before you can begin to rebuild your life.

Be Proactive Before a Disaster

Many of the major stressors after a disaster can be lessened by taking these vital steps before anything bad actually occurs.

1.) Photograph all important documents and store them securely in the cloud. (This report from Boston University provides tips on how to do so.)

2.) Keep photocopies of documents in a secure location away from your property. Consider procuring a safety deposit box for this purpose. (I have copies of all of our information at the home of a family member in another state.)

3.) Scan documents and save them on a password protected USB drive that you keep in a different location. This one is particularly secure and has an automatic cloud back-up.

Protect Important Documents

There are some steps you can take to protect documents from fire and flood damage, but these are not foolproof.

Invest in a good quality fire-proof safe. However, keep in mind that fire-proof isn’t going to necessarily hold up to an inferno like the ones we’ve seen in California recently. The safe I recommend here has excellent reviews, but note the manufacturer’s classifications:

Advance fire-protection- UL Classified for fire endurance ( 1 hour at 1700 f/927 C )

ETL verified for 1 hour fire protection of CD’s, DVD’s, memory sticks and USB drives

ETL verified water resistance up to 8 inches for 24 hours

You can add an extra layer of protection by placing papers in fire-resistant document bags or case.

What to do if your documents are damaged or destroyed

Vital documents must be replaced quickly and efficiently. Keep track of any fees you incur to replace these documents. Your homeowners or renters policy will most likely cover the cost. Below you’ll find the steps you need to take to replace a variety of documents. Links to helpful websites and documents are underlined and bolded.

Birth Certificate

The first thing you’ll want to replace is your birth certificate. You will need this to get your other documentation.  Visit your county records office and explain the situation for an expedited copy of a notarized birth certificate.

Driver License and Auto Registration

Contact your local DMV to talk with them about your situation. They’ll let you know what their requirements are for getting your documents replaced. You may have to wait until you have your birth certificate in hand to get a new license. Some DMVs will issue a temporary license while you’re waiting.

Social Security Card

You’ll have to apply for this in person at your nearest Social Security Administration office. This web page will tell you what documents you need for both children and adults before your appointment.


You can apply online for a lost passport.  The information can be found at the US State Department’s website.

Military Records

Go to any office of the Veterans Administration, American Legion, VFW, a service recruiter, or Red Cross.  You’ll need Standard Form 180 (SF-180).  If you have access to a printer, you can download the form HERE.  If you’re a veteran, you’ll need these records for medical treatment from the VA and for your benefits.

Insurance Policies

Your insurance company will be able to help you quickly and efficiently by replacing your homeowner’s or rental insurance policy, life insurance policy, and automobile policy. As well, they’ll be able to point you in the right direction for the next steps you should take. Many policies will provide a stipend to meet your immediate needs for shelter, food, and clothing, and they’ll explain what you need to do to file a claim for your losses.

Tax Records

If you use an accountant, they should be able to provide copies of all of your tax records. If you do your taxes yourself, contact the nearest IRS office (find it HERE) or call 1-800-829-3646. (Often the 800 number has very long wait times to speak to a representative.)  You can download Form 4506 online at THIS WEBPAGE.

Firearms Records and Permits

If you have lost firearms that are registered to you, you must report the loss to your local law enforcement and the ATF. If the guns were not actually destroyed but were taken by someone scavenging through the rubble of your home, there could be ramifications if they commit a crime using your guns. (And let’s face it, anyone scavenging through the remains of someone’s destroyed home has questionable morals to start with.)

The ATF will have you fill out THIS FORM.

Contact the issuing sheriff’s department for replacement of your CCW permit.

Credit Cards

Your first step should be to go to your local branch and get your debit card replaced. It may take up to a week for your replacement to arrive. The difficulty here lies in whether or not you have a relationship with your bank. If they know you, you may be able to do this without ID. Otherwise, this may have to wait until you have a copy of you birth certificate.

These are the phone numbers for major credit card companies. You’ll need to call and speak with a representative.  Explain your situation and ask for an emergency replacement to be expedited to you to meet your immediate needs. You’ll be able to pay this off when you receive your insurance money.

  • MasterCard: 1-800-622-7747
  • Visa: 1-800-847-2911
  • American Express: 1-800-528-4800
  • Discover: 1-800-347-2683

Property Deeds

Visit your county records office to get a copy of the deed to your property.

Marriage or Divorce Records

Marriage records are available from the county clerk’s office in which the licenses were issued. Divorce records are available from the Superior Court that granted the decree.

Immigration Documents and Green Cards

Contact the US Citizenship and Immigration Service if you need documents to verify citizenship, immigration, permanent resident card (green card), employment authorization, or a re-entry permit.


FEMA offers the following advice for replacing money that was damaged in the disaster.

Handle burned money as little as possible. Try to place each bill or part of a bill in plastic wrap to help preserve it. If money is partly burned—if half or more is still ok—you can take the part that is left to your regional Federal Reserve Bank to get it replaced.

Ask your bank for the one nearest you, or you can take the burned or torn money to the Post Office and mail it by “registered mail, return receipt requested” to:

Department of the Treasury

Bureau of Engraving and Printing Office of Currency Standards

P.O. Box 37048

Washington, DC 20013

Damaged or melted coins may be taken to your regional Federal Reserve Bank or mailed by “registered mail, return receipt requested” to:


U.S. Mint

P.O. Box 400

Philadelphia, PA 19105

To replace U.S. Savings Bonds that are destroyed or mutilated, get the Department of Treasury Form PD F 1048 (I) from your bank or at and mail to:

Department of the Treasury

Bureau of the Public Debt Savings Bonds Operations

P.O. Box 1328

Parkersburg, WV 26106-1328

Don’t be too proud to accept help

If you’ve lost everything in a disaster, don’t be afraid to accept help. Those of us who witness the loss want to assist you while you get back on your feet. While you do see the worst in people, like looters and scavengers, disasters can also bring out the best in your neighbors.

On the same venue, when disaster strikes, see what you can do to help. If you have extra clothing, bedding, furniture, or food, it can be of great help and comfort to someone who needs a hand up.  Assistance need not always be limited to the practical. Items like toys or books can provide a big psychological boost to a family who has lost everything. Be generous, for some day, it could be you in that situation.

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Prepping for a Blizzard: A Practical Survival Guide

Few can deny the common sense behind preparing for something that is definitely going to happen, yet every year, an impending winter storm sends people rushing out to the store at the last minute, prepping for a blizzard that is due to hit in mere hours. Every winter, if you live in certain climates, blizzards are going to occur. Usually, at least one storm will hit that will cause you to be snowed in. Often, those storms mean you will also lose power. There is the inevitable rush to the store for milk and bread, during which people battle it out for the last supplies left on the shelves.

But you can avoid all that. You don’t have to be a bunker-dwelling, MRE-chomping, camo-clad prepper to see the logic behind keeping some extra food and other supplies on hand for something that happens every single year.

This year, avoid the last minute panic and the discomfort of being unprepared. This article is full of links to previous articles that will help you in prepping for a blizzard. Put together a at least the bare minimum kit for riding out the storm.  (Camo is optional.)


Everyone knows that clean drinking water is something you can’t live without. In the event of a blizzard and power outage, the water may not run from the taps.  The pipes could freeze, or, in the event of grid failure, an electrically driven pump will not work.

“I’ll just eat snow.” No, this is a horrible idea. First of all, snow is mostly air, and you’d have to eat 20 quarts of it to equal 2 quarts of water. Secondly, if you eat that much snow you will lower your core temperature and put yourself at risk for hypothermia. If you already don’t have water, you have enough problems. You don’t need hypothermia. For a small amount of money, you can have a 5-gallon jug of water sitting in your closet, instead of melting snow, crouched beside a fire in the backyard, watching the pot.  You aren’t in the wilderness fending off bears. This really is not a good plan. First of all, the snow picks up all sorts of pollution as it falls through the atmosphere. The impurities can potentially make you sick. If you really get yourself in a poorly thought-out situation in which snow is your only hope for survival, boil it for 10 minutes before drinking it. Then, when the crisis is over, please store some water so you never have to do this again.

Each family should store a two week supply of water. The rule of thumb for drinking water is 1 gallon per day, per person.  Don’t forget to stock water for your pets, also.

You can create your water supply very inexpensively.  Many people use clean 2-liter soda pop bottles to store tap water.  Others fill the large 5-gallon jugs with filtered water from the grocery store.  Consider a gravity fed water filtration device and water purification tablets as well. Other filtration options are the small personal filters like the Sawyer mini.

Shopping lists

Bare Minimum

  • Sawyer mini
  • 5-gallon jug of water (Ideally one per family member)


Food and a way to prepare it

Enough with the milk and bread already. Do you even consume milk and bread on a regular basis? This is really not the food you want to propel you through shoveling a driveway 17 times until the plow goes past, at which point you shovel it again.

There are two schools of thought regarding food during a power outage.  One: you need a cooking method that does not require the grid to be functioning.  Two: you can store food that doesn’t require cooking. This is a good idea if you don’t have an emergency stove or wood heat.

If you opt for a secondary cooking method, be sure that you have enough fuel for two weeks.  Store foods that do not require long cooking times – for example, dried beans would use a great deal of fuel, but canned beans could be warmed up, or even eaten cold.

Shopping Lists:

Bare Minimum



Freezing to death in your own home would be a terrible way to go, wouldn’t it? It’s pretty anticlimactic. There’s no grand story of adventure. You just basically didn’t have enough blankets and common sense to stay warm in a house. Don’t be that person.

During the first 24 hours after a power outage, you can stay fairly warm if you block off one room of the house for everyone to group together in.  Keep the door closed and keep a towel or blanket folded along the bottom of the door to conserve warmth.  You can safely burn a couple of candles also, and in the enclosed space, your body heat will keep it relatively warm.  As well, dress in layers and keep everything covered – wear a hat, gloves (fingerless ones allow you to still function), and a scarf.

However, after about 48 hours, that’s not going to be enough in very cold weather. You will require back-up heat at this point. If you are lucky enough to have a source of heat like a fireplace or woodstove, you’ll be just fine as long as you have a supply of dry, seasoned firewood.

Consider a portable propane heater (and propane) or an oil heater.  You have to be very careful what type of backup heat you plan on using, as many of them can cause carbon monoxide poisoning if used in a poorly ventilated area. If you plan to use off-grid heat methods, pick up a carbon monoxide alarm with a battery back-up. The gas has no smell, and often people who die from inhaling it simply drift off to sleep, never to awaken.

Shopping Lists

Bare Minimum


Sanitation needs

A common cause of illness, and even death, during a down-grid scenario is the lack of sanitation.  We’ve discussed the importance of clean drinking water, but you won’t want to use your drinking water to keep things clean or to flush the toilet.  If the pipes are frozen or you have no running water for other reasons during a winter storm, you’ll need to consider sanitation needs.

For cleaning, reduce your need to wash things. Stock up on paper plates, paper towels, and disposable cups and flatware.  Keep some disinfecting cleaning wipes and sprays (I don’t recommend using antibacterial products on a regular basis, however in the event of an emergency they can help to keep you healthy.)  Use hand sanitizer after using the bathroom and before handling food or beverages – there may be a lot more germs afoot in a disaster.

Look at your options for bathroom sanitation.  Does your toilet still flush when the electricity is out?  Many people discovered the hard way that the toilets didn’t work  when the sewage backed up in the highrises in New York City in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  At our old cabin, the toilet wouldn’t flush without power because the pump was electric.

If you are on a septic system, with no risk of the toilet backing up into the house, simply store some water for flushing in the bathroom. At the first sign of a storm, fill the bathtub for this purpose.  Add the water to the tank so that you can flush.

If this is not an option, another solution is to stock up on extremely heavy duty garbage bags (like the kind that contractors use at construction sites) and kitty litter.  Place a bag either in your drained toilet or in a bucket.  Sprinkle some kitty litter in the bottom of the bag.  Each time someone uses the bathroom, add another handful of litter. Be very careful that the bag doesn’t get too heavy for you to handle it.  Tie it up very securely and store it outside until services are restored. (Here are the complete instructions.)

Shopping Lists

Bare Minimum



Lighting is absolutely vital, especially if there are children in the house.  Nothing is more frightening than being completely in the dark during a stressful situation. Fortunately, it’s one of the easiest things to plan for, as well as one of the least expensive.

Candles are the first things that most people think of in the event of an emergency. While they can be a great solution, they do increase the risk of house fires. Be sure to use them safely and keep them away from children and pets.

Shopping Lists

Bare Minimum


  • Garden stake solar lights
  • Oil lamps and extra oil
  • Hand crank lantern
  • Solar lantern

Other tools and supplies

Some basic items will make your life much easier during an emergency. The good thing is, most folks already have the supplies on the “bare minimum” list. All you need to do is collect them and put them in one easily accessible container.

Shopping Lists

Bare Minimum

  • Lighter/waterproof matches
  • Batteries in various sizes
  • Manual can opener
  • Basic tools: Pliers, screwdriver, wrench, hammer
  • Duct tape
  • Crazy glue


  • Survival Knife
  • Multi-tool
  • Bungee cords
  • Magnesium firestarter
  • Sewing supplies
  • If you’d like to expand on the basic supplies, a more detailed list of tools and hardware can be found HERE.

First Aid kit

You probably won’t need a field trauma kit that allows you to amputate limbs or remove a bullet, but you definitely want to have a few things on hand. It’s important to have a basic first aid kit on hand at all times, but particularly in the event of an emergency.  Your kit should include basic wound care items and over-the-counter medications.

Shopping Lists

Bare Minimum

  • Bandages
  • Antibiotic ointments
  • Disinfecting sprays
  • Pain relief capsules
  • Cold medicine
  • Cough syrup
  • Anti-nausea pills
  • Allergy medication
  • Anti-diarrheal medications
  • First aid book


Special needs

This is something that will be unique to every family. Consider the things that are needed on a daily basis in your household. It might be prescription medications, diapers, or special foods.  If you have pets, you’ll need supplies for them too.  The best way to figure out what you need is to jot things down as you use them over the course of a week or so.

Prepping for a blizzard is just common sense

Don’t feel like you are crossing over to the tinfoil hat side by preparing for all eventualities during a winter storm.  This doesn’t mean you’re loading up on gas masks and decontamination suits. It doesn’t mean your house is stacked to the rafters with ammo and body armor. It’s just plain old-fashioned common sense to keep a naturally occurring event from becoming a crisis.

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