Last Saturday afternoon while thinking up new article ideas I realized something that would be really handy for me and other parents is a disaster prep how-to for San Francisco! We have a unique mix of potential issues here in the Bay Area, from tsunamis to wildfires to the biggie in everyone’s mind: earthquakes. We all knew one was coming even if we didn't know when, so later that night when the shaking started, once I knew we were all safe I immediately started writing (meanwhile my husband fell right back to sleep and the baby never woke up at all)!
Before moving to San Francisco we lived in Washington D.C., and I worked for the American Red Cross, traveling across the country and around the world to disaster locations. I spent a lot of time talking with communities about preparing in advance for potential problems. I saw first hand how even a little bit of preparation can go a long way in how families and communities bounce back after disasters. There are a few common threads that make it easier to survive whatever Mother Nature throws your way.
TALK ABOUT IT
This is a really important first step for the adults in your house to do together. It doesn't have to take a lot of time but everyone needs to have some buy-in. A plan won't work if only one person knows what it is! I know its scary and in the grand scheme of everything we have to do it can be really low on the to-do list, but being prepared will feel so much better. You don't have to go all doomsday-prepper either. Just a bit of planning can make a difference. Start by discussing the potential risks in your area. In the Bay Area that’s definitely earthquakes, maybe wildfires, possibly tsunamis.
GATHER YOUR DETAILS
It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security with a smart phone. With a mini computer in your hand you may think you don't need to compile contact info, but anything can happen to your phone, so I recommend using good old paper. Fill out an emergency contact form and print out several copies. Keep one with your emergency kit, one in your car, one at work, etc.
This should include finding a non-local point contact. If things get crazy around here phone service could be impacted but calling out of the region may work when local calls can’t get through (on a regular day cell service in SF can suck—imagine a major disaster with everyone using their phones at once). Pick someone far enough away that they won't be impacted by the same crisis you are and can be a point of contact for your inner circle. For us it’s my in-laws on the East Coast. Our family can call them to get updates on us even if they can't reach us directly.
BUILD AN EMERGENCY KIT
This is a biggie, especially where kids come in because you need stuff for you AND them. There are a ton of pre-packed kits you can buy that are a great start, but you should also add to it to take care of the specific needs for your family. Ideally your kit has enough stuff to sustain everyone in your family for three days. Our kit is a mess, but we're working on it! You can get a million things and spend a ton of money, so plan what you need before you get started to make it easier. The Red Cross has a great list of the basics, and reminders of extras you should add based on the people (and babies) in your home.
PLAN YOUR EXIT
If you live in SF there’s a good chance you live in a multi-unit building. We're in a three unit building and don't have a fire escape, so we invested in an emergency ladder. If we really need to get out of here (you should have two ways to exit in case one is blocked) we’re all set.
You probably have the occasional fire drill at your office, and while you don't have to ring an annoying alarm at home, it's a good idea to at least look at what it would take to get out of your home in a hurry as well. Make sure you have a meeting place away from your home if the adults are in different places and can't get home. Are you a stay at home parent while your partner is at work? If things are nuts and someone can’t get there, have a place where you can both get to (but not so far that if you had to walk it would be impossible). Make sure your nanny/babysitter/caregiver knows this information as well.
This is a lot of info, but its really just a start. Now is also a great time to get to know your neighbors so you can look out for each other if necessary. My hope is that its enough to get you and your family going on the path to preparedness. I've compiled some additional links below—if you know of others please leave in the comments below!