How to Prepare Now for the Emergencies, Disasters You’ll Likely Be Facing Tomorrow

Still think it can’t happen here? After two months of wildfire, flash floods and mud, there’s no time like the present to get your survival kits and essentials in order.

A Montecito resident is helped to safety after flash flooding, mud and debris flows devastated the community on Jan. 9. Santa Barbara County officials are urging resident to prepare now for future emergencies, including natural disasters. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)[/caption]

By April Charlton, Noozhawk Contributing Writer

The recent Thomas Fire and subsequent Montecito flash flooding and mud flows serve as a stark reminder for residents across Santa Barbara County that individuals should prepare now for future emergencies, including natural disasters.

Having a personal plan for how to respond to a natural disaster or emergency situation is key to survival, according to county Office of Emergency Managementdirector Rob Lewin.

“People have to understand the environment they live in,” he told Noozhawk. “They have to be self-aware of where they live. If they live in high-risk areas, they need to get to high ground that’s nearby … and they have to know the roads and what roads to stay off.”

The Southern California Ready! Set! Go!wildfire preparedness and federal Ready.gov programs guide people to create disaster response plans of their own.

Ready! Set! Go! has three easy steps that can be used for disasters besides wildfires: prepare yourself, your family and property beforehand, be “set” by monitoring weather/fire activity and preparing to evacuate, and finally, evacuating early when directed to by public safety officials.

“If they are asked to leave, they need to leave,” Lewin said. “And they need to be prepared to leave quickly. Have their car ready and an evacuation plan in place.”

Lewin also said it’s important for residents to register for the county’s local emergency alert system, Aware & Prepare, which sends out weather updates, emergency alerts and evacuation orders/warnings during disaster situations.

Click here to register for Aware & Prepare alerts, and click here to register for Santa Barbara County Nixle alerts. Nixle alerts are available in English and Spanish.

Click here to sign up for Noozhawk’s free Breaking News text alerts to your cell phone.

Making an Emergency Supply Kit

Disaster response guides — including ones from Aware & Prepare, Ready.gov and the American Red Cross — have recommendations for what to include in emergency supply kits. The suggestions include everything from nonperishable food items, water and pet food to cash, medications, first-aid kits and extra batteries that people can use at home or take with them if they’re evacuated.

Officials recommend preparing kits for the home, for work and for vehicles.

Top priority items include:

» Water: one gallon per person, per day, with a three-day supply for evacuation and a two-week supply for the home

» Nonperishable food, with a three-day supply for evacuation and two-week supply for the home. Also pack a manual can opener.

» Week’s supply of prescription medications, a first-aid kit and nonprescription medications such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication and antacids

» Battery-powered or hand crank radio (like a NOAA weather radio), and extra batteries

» A flashlight, flares and multipurpose tool

» Sanitation and personal hygiene items like moist towelettes and garbage bags

» Have copies of important personal documents in a waterproof, portable container or saved electronically, including identification, medication lists and medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, bank account records, birth certificates and insurance policies

» Cellphone, charger and battery backup

» Family and emergency contact information

» Cash

» Local maps

Other recommended items are:

» Whistle to signal for help

» Dust mask to filter contaminated air, plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter in place

» Emergency blanket

» Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities

» Glasses and contact lens solution

» Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person

» Complete change of clothing appropriate for your climate, and sturdy shoes

» Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper to disinfect water

» Fire extinguisher

» Matches in a waterproof container

» Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items

» Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils

» Paper and pencil

» Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children

» Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream

» Pet food and extra water for your pet(s)

Click here for tips on building a disaster supplies kit.

Preparing for Long-Term Power, Utility Outages

Individuals should also plan for the likelihood of losing electrical power during an emergency, and that the loss could be for an extended period of time, said Mark Mesean, spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which provides power to the North County.

He stressed that the best way for someone to prepare and stay as comfortable as possible during a long-term outage is to have an emergency disaster kit ready and waiting, and to use it.

“You aren’t always going to have time to prepare (when a disaster hits),” Mesean added. “Disasters can happen at any time.”

The Thomas Fire caused an extensive, hours-long power blackout on the South Coast and in western Ventura County, and last month’s Montecito disaster knocked out utilities from Montecito to Carpinteria for days — weeks in some cases.

Many residents who did not evacuate those areas were stuck without electricity, gas, potable water, and Internet/cable/phone service.

To prepare for power outages, utility companies recommend people write down all important phone numbers and have flashlights ready in a convenient place. People should have back-up plans to maintain power to life-support equipment, and have a cell phone or hardwired telephone since cordless phones won’t work without electricity, according to PG&E.

Southern California Gas Co. advises residents to know where their natural gas meter is, but not to turn if off unless they smell natural gas, hear the sound of gas escaping, or see other signs of a leak. Even then, meters should only be turned off if it is safe to do so.

If someone turns off the gas, they should call the Gas Co. to turn it back on, the company said.

More utility-related emergency preparedness tips and information can be found here from PG&E, the Gas Co. and Southern California Edison.

For emergencies that could affect water service, individuals are advised to fill containers — jugs, bottles, pots, pans and even the bathtub — with water ahead of time, and the stored water can be used to flush the toilet and other sanitary tasks. People should also know how to shut off the main water valve to their homes.

Backup power sources, such as a generator or gas-powered portable stove, can be crucial during long-term power outages, but both can be dangerous if used incorrectly.

Southern California Edison offers the following tips for using a portable generator as a backup power source during an outage:

» Choose a generator with more power than you think is necessary and work with an electrician to help determine what type you should buy.

» Never run a generator indoors, in a home or garage, or connect to your home’s electrical wiring or electrical panel, which can lead to serious injury or electrocution.

» Use heavy-duty, outdoor extension cords to connect electrical equipment to the generator, which should be rated more than the sum of the loads of the connected appliances.

» Make sure the entire cord has no cuts and/or tears and that the plug has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin.

» Never try to power residential wiring by plugging a generator into a wall outlet. This can also lead to electrocution.

» Always operate outside in well-ventilated areas, away from a home’s windows, doors and air intakes.

Charcoal or gas grills can be used to cook or boil water during a blackout, but the grills should also never be used indoors, just as gas ovens should never be used as a heat source during a power outage.

Alternatively, fireplaces or wood stoves can be used for indoor cooking and heat sources, and fondue pots or a candle warmer can also serve as means for cooking inside, if nothing else is available, according to experts.

Staying in the Loop with Communications Backup Plan

The widespread electricity and Cox Communications outages after the Montecito mudslides made people rely on cell phones and radio for much of their news and information.

Battery-powered emergency radios are recommended in most emergency/disaster supply kits.

Federal Communications Commission tips for communicating during an emergency, can be found online here. The recommendations include having battery backups for cell phones and other devices, having a phone charger in vehicles at all times, and texting, when possible, instead of calling since networks can become overloaded during and after disasters.

Before severe weather, people should fully charge all electronic devices and, if the power goes out, preserve battery power by minimizing use and using low-power settings.

Having a landline telephone, satellite phone, two-way radio, citizens band (CB) radio, or amateur (HAM) radio are other options to communicate during an emergency when Internet access may be limited or nonexistent, according to experts.

— Noozhawk contributing writer April Charlton can be reached at news@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk@NoozhawkSociety@NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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