Disaster Preparedness

"It will never happen"
"It could happen"
"It might happen"

Oops!!  Disasters escalate as time marches forward.  The Bible makes it pretty clear that we will live in physically hard times before the coming of Jesus Christ: "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains." Mark 13:8.

And although it is our SPIRITUAL selves that need to be prepared for that last great time of trouble, there are some very practical things for EVERY home to consider physically.

HAVE A PLAN in place that EVERY member of your family knows.

When my kids were young, we occasionally talked to them about "what if" situations.

What if a stranger offers you something to eat or asks you for directions? Do not take the food, and do not approach them if Mommy or Daddy are not beside you.  
What if we have a house fire? Get out and go to the neighbor's porch.  
What if you're lost? Stop. Hold still until we come get you, because we WILL come back to find you.  
What if there is an earthquake?  We had a plan in place when the kids were younger, but times and thinking have changed on the exact response people are supposed to have.

So, WHAT IF?  What if there is a disaster in Napa Valley?  Ha!!  

A 6.1-magnitude quake struck Napa on August 24, 2014, with several plump aftershocks.  Businesses and homes in Napa itself were rocked back and forth -- a "new fault" split upvalley. It was one of the rolling kind, where solid foundations were pretty secure though your stuff might be knocked over. It all depended on which wall your things were piled or situated -- did the rolling quake knock your stuff from side to side or front to back?

Also, if you live in a mobile home, this quake really took you for a ride and was pretty destructive, knocking stuff off foundations. We have a shed that is up on blocks, and all that stored stuff in there is piled in the middle of the shed now.  

Still, "they say" that this was not the "big one" and that we need to be braced for a larger earthquake, one that will pretty much destroy entire neighborhoods, roadways, waterways and more in seconds.  The earthquake from August 2014 displaced some wells -- and water is scarce in California these days.

The October 2017 fires took a heavy toll in Napa Valley and the surrounding communities. Some fled in the middle of the night, barely escaping with their lives. Others never knew to flee.  Forty-four people died, nearly 200 were hospitalized. Over 90,000 people were evacuated. 8,600 structures (over 7,000 homes) were destroyed.

So, again, WHAT IF?? Are we prepared?  Probably not.  Is your china cabinet bolted to the wall and do you have 72 hours of clean water to drink?  Flush the toilet? Do you have a wrench to turn off the gas and waterlines? Do you have a "grab bag" that you can locate instantaneously in the dark that contains necessary medications?

  • During the 2017 Fires, I posted this on Facebook:

We lost our home to a house fire in 2001. Here are some things I’ve gleaned and compiled from that and other experiences.

Thing to do when you lose your home

First, I’m so sorry. I am SO, SO sorry that you have to go through this. You’ll feel an incredible gamut of emotions as you imagine the worst when you’re away from what is left of your singed, sooty, stinking belongings. You will not be allowed to go in to the site till okayed by authorities for several reasons – first, is it safe? Secondly, fire sites need to be inspected for potential arson and they don’t want anyone messing with evidence.

Hopefully you previously took an inventory video of your home and that video is safely stored somewhere in cyber space. What? No? Okay, next steps.

Offsite, begin to record either in writing or on a recorder (smartphones have voice memos) every little thing you can think of that was in the place where the fire happened. This will be for insurance purposes and replacing these items. In your mind, open drawers and closets. Be systematic -- go through each room, moving from one corner to the next. Ask others to try and remember.

When you are allowed into your home, take photos and videos of everything. Later, you can start to unravel what was there either onsite or with the images. Our house had 12 inches or more of ashes and muck to go through, so we used rubber boots to walk around and kick things. I found some precious things! It was a “total loss,” however, we kept some blackened mementos that held meaning.

Contact your insurance company immediately. Others will be calling theirs also, so be the first in line. They will send an adjuster out ASAP and meet you at your home.

Watch out!! There will be people who come to “help” you for a % of what you recuperate. They will offer to walk you through this bleak time with THEM doing the inventory. I suggest you tell them NO. They will take up to 50% of what the insurance pays out.

You will still have to pay your mortgage payments. You will need a place to live. Find a rental immediately!! Even if you have friends and family who have taken you in, you will want your own place soon. If you owned your home and have typical insurance, your coverage will provide up to 12 months of housing for you and your family. It will take much longer to rebuild the house.

GET A NOTEBOOK or use a computer. You must write down everything you want to claim for loss in the fire and they will ask you for the original cost and the age of the item, as well as the current cost of replacement if you decide to do that (with receipts if you replace).

Clean or Toss?? Your insurance company may want to clean up some of your stuff by sending it away to a professional company. Strongly resist this if you can. Our friends lost so much in a fire, only to have the insurance company “clean” their items. Because regrouping a lost home and life takes a couple of years, they didn’t examine the items returned to them till too late – much of it was no longer useable due to damage, and the insurance wouldn’t help them because too much time had passed.

Expect to wrestle with the insurance company. They are not your enemy, but they ARE in business and can’t afford to be taken advantage of which happens all the time. Be CALM with them. Do NOT threaten them. Keep them as your ally at all costs. If you want to yell, kick and defame them, do it to your pillow in private. They will work with you. Write kind letters. Thank them. I am not kidding about this point. They are braced for a fight. If they cancel your insurance, kindly write and petition for reinstatement. Someone who has been cancelled has an incredibly difficult time getting insurance by anyone else even at a large cost.

The irreplaceable things in your life are so sad. Gramma’s box. Letters. Old photos you forgot to scan. After our fire, people began to send us photos of our children we’d given them. THAT WAS GOLD. We also began at that point to scan every photo and store them on Shutterfly, a free site.

I have much more to say on this subject, dear Napa Valley and Santa Rosa Friends. I know some of you already know your home is gone, and others are waiting to know. There are also some who know that their homes are miraculously safe!! The firefighters are doing their very best with these scarce crews. God, bless them, please. Save our animals. Save our homes. Especially save our people.

Notes for Friends Who Want to Help When a House is Destroyed

We were overwhelmed with so much to do and think about when our place was burned down. Knowing what to do next did not come naturally. Others took some of the reins and “thought” for us, for which we were and ARE still so grateful.

Help them know they need to let friends and family know of their safety and updates Facebook has a great way for people to connect in that way. Suggest that someone be a “point” person and remind them to keep that person especially informed, so they can let other family and friends know updates, at first on a daily basis.

If your friends have endured loss, message, text or email your love and concern. Understanding that others know what’s going on and that they care is wonderful. Since so many are going through similar losses in our current fires, it might be hard to get the listening ear that’s needed. Keep your message simple: “I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m so glad you are alive.” There really isn’t much else to say. Don’t go into the possibility that “things could have been worse.” And listen to their story, even if you’ve heard it two other times. It needs to be told.

Listen. Everyone is going to have a unique response to this terrible event. Some will need to talk, others would like to keep their pain more internal at first or within a tight group. Don’t force the issue but don’t NOT ask because you’re afraid to invade their space.

Send a check or cash or gift certificate or necessities This is one of the most helpful things you can do. Your friends are going to be spending money to replace everything from toothpicks and pencils to a new bed. Our insurance handed us a huge check right away to “get started” with the kids clothing, etc. BUT it was also a crazy time to be shopping, when there was so much to think about, so many phone calls to make, so much MUCK to wade through at the house. I was pretty numb and acquiring anything by shopping was difficult to do for several weeks. I did gratefully send others out to gather things at times.

Give clothes or home items. Be really thoughtful here. If they were insured, your friends will be provided money to repurchase household basics. They will also be offered tons (!) of stuff, new AND used, from people who want to help. You can HELP THEM SORT! If they have a place where they can pile things up, your assistance in sorting sizes, etc., would be an amazing advantage. This might be best done at a place such as at a church or a school gym.

My hairdresser brought over a large laundry basket with new shampoo, a hairdryer, and personal hygiene needs. It was an amazing gift that makes me teary-eyed to this day. Some of our friends made beautiful table linens and some brought baskets brimming with household goodies. All of these things were overwhelming AND welcome.

My neighbors shopped for underclothes and a coat for me. My same-sized friend gave me several articles of clothing she was happy to part with, and I was happy to wear (for years, some of it!). More people gave us stuff they’d previously destined for the Goodwill, but diverted to us instead. People who were helping sort thought that some of the clothes should have gone to a rag bag instead. I didn’t mind it, however. Honestly, the torn or stained stuff was okay for like a week but we tossed soon. Don’t give people things you wouldn’t wear yourself is a good rule of thumb, though they MIGHT like some “rags” to wear while they sort their wreck of a home.

Make a meal or bring groceries. Your friends are probably exhausted and struggling on many levels. Even if they are staying with people temporarily, this could help out. Try to bring items in dishes that don’t need to be returned, OR if you want a dish back, clearly mark it and suggest they put it out on their porch for you to pick up later.

If you’re local, run a needed errand.

Focus on the children. Bring a toy, not just shoes. A police officer gave our 11 year old son a stuffed monkey. He named it “Jonathan” after the kind officer, and that monkey is still one of his prized childhood possessions – he has very little from his childhood, of course.

Prayer matters. When your friends cross your mind during the day, whisper a prayer on their behalf. We walked around in a three month daze, but were for the most part filled with an unusual peace. I attribute this to all of our praying friends and family who did not cease to lift us up for weeks following our disaster. There is something amazing about knowing that God is directed to you several times each day because people are asking Him to take care of you.

Find out if the home and contents were covered by insurance Seriously, it’s like $20 a month. If you don’t have it, get it now. A house rebuild takes a good TWO YEARS, while the typical insurance will pay for ONE year of rent somewhere. You can change your policy to be two. If your friend’s home was NOT covered, they are going to need thousands of dollars worth of items to set back up. Time to give away things you aren’t using anymore! Always give with the assurance that if they cannot use this, just pass it along. If you want something back, unless it’s huge like furniture, don’t give it to them. Returning items after a year or two is hard

Offer to organize documents or photos We had several “Creative Memories” photo albums and a binder with all of our legal documents. Everything was SOAKED with the chemical wash used to put out the fire. Friends took the books apart, dried the photos, and returned them to us ready to go. Many were ruined, many were still useable. An attorney friend took all of our legal documents, dried them out, then purchased an accordion file to organize them. I still use it after 16 years.

Show up at the burned out house with your rubber boots, gloves, plastic bags and maybe a shovel Bring a notebook and pens to start helping with inventory. Keep your friend moving through the process. Pull out bottles of water or juice occasionally. Let them cry when they come upon a scrap of a favorite quilt, a singed photo, the remnants of a rocking chair. Keep some of the remnants in a plastic bag where the ever-growing smell of burn can be confined. A clear bag is best so they can view what’s inside later without opening it. Write, write, write, and keep them focused while listening to their stories generated by a rubble heap of memories. Let them keep what they want to. If they hesitate about an item, remind them they can always toss it later.

Stuff that helped -- People brought these items: New undergarments Used clothing Blow dryer and brushes Nail care items Gift cards Receipts with their gifts Paper, pencil, backpack Food already prepared or ready to heat up. Paper goods to eat on A toy for the kids Organizers – notebook, files