Disaster Preparedness in San Diego County
Disaster preparedness is a topic of great importance in Southern California. We live in an area of many active faults as well as being prone to wildfires. As anyone who was in either the 2003 or 2007 fires can attest, having your ducks in a row ahead of time can make the difference between a minor inconvenience or massive panic.
Maybe disaster preparedness is a small misnomer. We prefer “continuity of service” to plan for events that may befall us. The West coast is blessed with mild weather, so we don’t worry about yearly tornados, hurricanes, or ice storms to keep us on our toes. But when a wildfire or earthquake strikes, it is an instantaneous event. No three day mapping or alerts. No time to run out to stock up for supplies. We are stuck with what we have on hand. A little effort ahead of time lends you to have everything on hand you need to keep safe and comfortable.
Photo by Brant Ward
The above picture was from the Northridge Earthquake, illustrating how easily our transportation grid can be disrupted. Goods can’t come in and people can’t get out. This could also happen to our water aqueducts, power lines, natural gas pipelines, fuel pipelines: leaving us high and dry as far as services and supplies are concerned. You might be asking, what does a plan or kit look like?
The 2014 Cocos Fire struck very close to home in San Marcos, then veered into Escondido. Fires burned in Carlsbad, Fallbrook, Rancho Bernardo, and Camp Pendleton that week as well. In San Marcos, it was caused by an arsonist in an exceptionally hot Santa Ana condition, in the middle of the day. Within an hour it had engulfed hundreds of acres, and was aimed at an entire section of the city.
Those who had a plan for themselves, children and pets simply went into action. Those with no plans were in a panic. The basics to consider in an emergency:
- How imminent is the danger? Seconds, minutes, hours?
- Egress: is a clear path available to drive out? If not, can you shelter in place?
- Family: who is in need of being evacuated? Children and pets? Carriers for pets?
- Medications: do you have extra available? Can they be stored off-site?
- Paperwork: is important paperwork in a single location?
- Comfort: change of clothing/toiletries for 3 days per person, pet supplies for 3 days.
Traffic in San Marcos attempting to leave after an evacuation warning. It was a 2 hour wait to go 1/2 mile.
Once your family has developed a plan, preparations can be made ahead of time. Having a few backpacks set up with supplies, and getting your household in order can pay dividends. Keeping all insurance paperwork in one spot means you can readily access it on the go. If you have a total loss, having your property well inventoried and documented means less haggling and wait time by your insurance company.
We won’t bore you with a list of items, they have been well documented in many arenas. It will also be personal. The important part is to be prepared! In a fire, a total loss will leave you out of home for up to a year. The rebuild process can be slow at times, as we have witnessed in 2003 and 2007.
Another point of interest, which is a newer phenomenon: complete road closures. Effectively 45% of San Marcos was closed to traffic. Meaning thousands of people could not get home to evacuate their own indoor pets. We sheltered in place, having been exposed to risk assessments and training related to wildfires. It proved useful: we were able to be a resource for neighbors who could not get home. Having good connections with your neighbors means you can make calls and ask favors of those who feel comfortable staying behind.
If you have a disaster plan, practice it at least once a quarter and check on perishable supplies.
If you don’t have a disaster plan, it is better late than never to start. Some sites to get you started:
City of San Marcos Fire Preparedness
City of San Marcos Disaster Preparedness
County of San Diego Disaster Preparedness
San Diego County Emergency: Active emergency information
California Office of Emergency Services
FEMA Community Emergency Response Team
Recap of Cocos Fire.
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