Advance Evacuation Preparation Tips

I hate fires. I hate everything about them. After our second *winter* wildfire scare here in Colorado, I re-evaluated our evacuation plan yet again and thought I’d write down a few suggestions of things to do *well in advance* of any evacuation. Take a weekend. Do the things.

  1. Get a grab-bag (preferably a water and fireproof one) of important documents / flat things. We have something like this. We keep it in an easy-to-describe location so that we both know where it is, and we can describe it to a friend or neighbor if they’re helping us evacuate. In it we have:
    * important documents (passports, birth certificates, social security cards, car registration, insurance cards, car title, copy of lease, animal vaccination / microchip records)
    * financial support (spare debit card, backup credit card, cash, check book)
    * hard (or annoying)-to-replace documents (diplomas, signed certificates, college admission letters, a couple photos)
  2. Fill *one reasonably sized* storage box (extra points if it is plastic, or something that won’t degrade over time / can be stacked) full of your most important sentimental items. Yes, this might mean separating out that one stuffed animal from the rest, or a special t-shirt from all your other clothes. But, it also means that if you only have 5 minutes to grab one box, you know which one to grab. Bonus points if you leave a little bit of space on the top to throw a couple more things in that you don’t want to keep boxed away. For example, I’ve left room in mine for a few more t-shirts and some of the pictures I have hanging on our walls.
  3. Scan literally anything that can be scanned. This includes old photos, journals, report cards, drawings. It’s fine to hold onto them after they’ve been scanned, but at least you have some documentation of them. I’ve been enjoying the free Genius Scan app (on iPhone) because it converts everything into a pdf for you. I have 10+ years of journals (all of elementary, middle, high school, and college) and they’d take up the entire backseat of our car if I wanted to evacuate with them. Having them in a digital form makes me feel much better about leaving them behind. Yes, scanning them is taking a while, but it is worth it. Similarly, the only paper we’ll need to grab is in our grab-bag. Everything else is scanned.
  4. On that note, *have a non-local backup* of *at least* your important files. I keep everything “in the cloud” (DropBox, AWS, iCloud, etc.). I also keep a backup disk (that I backup my computer to weekly) near our grab-bag. If I were to lose my computer, I wouldn’t lose any of my information.
  5. Spend an hour or two and do a walkthrough of each room in your house on video. If you lose it all, you’ll need to submit itemized lists of everything you owned. If you don’t have receipts, you’ll sometimes need to show proof that you owned it. Do a walkthrough, open every closet, drawer, etc. and describe what you see. For anything that is expensive (up to you to define what expensive means), pick it up and describe it in detail (when you bought it, for how much, any model number, etc.). Then, save the videos somewhere non-locally … see above :).
  6. Make a *detailed* itemized list of everything you’d want to grab in an emergency. Sort it in order of importance. Keep the list by your grab-bag. Really spend time thinking about this. For example, it is relatively easy to think about the obvious stuff (animals, supplies for them, favorite stuffed animal, etc.) but it is more difficult to go one layer down. What if you have 3 hours to pack the car? That’s long enough to really pack it well. If we had 3 hours (such as we did during the December 2021 fire in CO), I’d want to bring a few plant cuttings. I’d also want my favorite sweatshirt, dress, and knitting project. Some granola bars might be nice too. None of these things are necessities, and I wouldn’t grab them if I only had 5 minutes to evacuate, but I feel better knowing that I’ve thought through what I’d bring if I had more time.
  7. Have someone who can serve as your “day-of-emergency-coordinator.” This is the person you call when you’re evacuating who gets on the internet and sends you the important updates so you can focus on evacuating. Ideally, they’re located far away from you so they aren’t also trying to evacuate. Realize that cell coverage during an emergency will quickly deteriorate, so don’t count on being able to get to google maps, or open up webpages on your phone. Having one person who is in the loop and can help with evacuation routes, securing a hotel for the night, and is also letting you know how bad things are is crucial when you can’t access Facebook, Twitter, or the internet and can only get sporadic texts and calls out.
  8. Finally, and this is the most difficult one … practice. Actually take a look at what you’ve amassed. Does it fit in whatever vehicle or method you’re using to evacuate? Also important — is there room for more? And, when you’re putting everything away after your test round, is there a place that you can put a subset of the stuff such that it is easier to grab in the future? We now have a bin that has been clearly labeled as “grab in emergency” that contains a lot of the smaller things we’d want but don’t use on a regular basis.

I hope this was helpful in some way. We put off doing many of these things until we were forced to. We were incredibly lucky that we were able to come back home to our house this past December. While we got the chance at a “test run” and learned where we could improve, many others did not. Please learn from our mistakes and prepare in advance.