Emergency evacuations – are you ready?
For most of us, our home is our sanctuary – a safe place where we can escape the craziness of the outside world. But what happens when your home itself is in danger?
Over the past few months, the West Coast and other parts of the United States have experienced devastating emergency situations, putting people and their homes at risk, and have resulted in mass evacuations.
Sitting at 770 feet high, Northern California’s Oroville Dam is the tallest dam in United States. The dam holds 1.1 trillion gallons of water, but potential weaknesses have become a serious threat to the area and its inhabitants. Following the recent period of heavy winter rain, the reservoir was at 151 percent of normal capacity, and concerns grew that the emergency spillway could fail and flood the hundred of thousands of homes downstream.
While there was no sign that the dam itself would collapse, the situation was serious enough that state officials ordered an emergency response, evacuating 188,000 people.
A few days later the situation had stabilized and residents could return. However, a threat still remains, as the aged dam has suffered serious erosion. Additional heavy rain could present a danger once again.
Not long after the Oroville Dam incident, another disaster struck. Following heavy rains, San Jose’s Coyote Creek overflowed, sending waist-high water into neighborhoods, flooding homes, and temporarily shutting down a major portion of the freeway.
In some of the worst flooding to hit San Jose in 20 years, 14,000 people were ordered to evacuate. Days after the flooding had receded, about two-thirds of the evacuated residents were permitted to return home, while thousands of evacuees were forced to remain in emergency shelters due to extensive damage to their homes.
It’s not just the West Coast that’s been affected by devastating events in recent months. In November 2016, wildfires ravaged the city of Gatlinburg in Tennessee, forcing 14,000 people to flee their homes. Drought conditions and high winds helped the fire spread through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, forcing thousands to evacuate from the area.
The fires killed 14 people, and damaged or destroyed 2,400 homes and businesses. In the days following the blaze, residents only had limited access to their homes, and weren’t allowed to return fully for several days.
What do these events mean for us?
These events have a huge impact on residents in the affected areas, and are a major wake up call for all of us. Not only do they highlight the fragility of some of our country’s infrastructure, they also remind us of the power of Mother Nature. Conditions can change in an instant, which means that we must be prepared to act fast.
In each instance, thousands of people were forced to flee their homes, leaving behind their possessions, uncertain when they could return or what would still be standing. Most had to leave their homes at a moment’s notice, with little time to pack or prepare.
Hearing these evacuation stories is distressing, but they are a timely reminder to think about our own emergency plans. How would our own families deal with an evacuation - whether it’s the result of a fire, flood, unforeseen disaster or earthquake?
What can you do to prepare?
First, ask yourself – could you leave your house at a moment’s notice and survive for several days (or possibly weeks) without access to your home and possessions?
Your family will need a clear, well-understood evacuation plan in place to be ready to move quickly in an evacuation. Where should you go? Decide on a safe meet-up spot, but you'll also want to agree on an alternative in case your primary meet-up isn't accessible .
You'll need a well-equipped, portable emergency kit – something that you can easily pick up and leave with. Carefully think through what supplies your family will need if forced out of your home for several days. Key items include food and water, a flashlight and radio (ideally hand-crank or solar-powered), first aid, hygiene items, a change of clothes, comfortable shoes, medications and personal documents.
2017 has already given us too many stories of people being forced from their homes, and we need to make sure our families can survive if we find ourselves in the same situation. We can't predict when and where the disaster will occur, our best defense is to be prepared and be ready to face whatever may come.