Disasters are man-made and natural and can occur in a second, but the ramifications of not being prepared can last a lifetime.
I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast before casinos – the shrimping and fishing industries were the kings back then. Storms came and went, the boats would move to the backbay and into safer waters.
Officials told you to evacuate, you evacuated. You learned early how to prepare. Now, it is a new generation and in Texas a different set of hazards if you live inland.
Texas has a rash of fires – almost every day in every county. Leaving your home means you may not see it again; it is a living nightmare that you cannot control. There are burn bans in all but three of the 254 counties, and I would expect that to change.
I recently went through my own fire in my back pasture; actually the pasture behind mine caught fire from an electric line snapping. The fire was raging on the other side of the highway from me – approximately 5,000 acres and 30 homes and structures. Some of the structures were businesses.
Livelihoods were ruined. While no lives were lost, many livestock were killed – which was revenue for many in the ranching and farming community.
While FEMA and state agencies can step into help in these situations, having basic documents stored securely and safely are critical to speeding up payments and emergency living expense checks.
The IRS stores returns for years but requesting the documents can seem like a lifetime when waiting for emergency disaster checks.
Basic identity information is normally kept at home, such as your Social Security card, title to your land or house or business, tax information, vehicle registration information, wills, leases, etc.
During the Dyer Mill Fire in Grimes County, Texas, I was so concerned with preserving livestock and life that I did not think to pack my Social Security card, my land and home mortgage contracts, my vehicle registration information (one truck and three trailers), my barn insurance contract. I packed my family photos, my medicine and that of my “furry children”, no clothes, nothing. In hindsight, inaction was not very smart on my part.
As I type this now, there are fires raging around my county and within my county. Leaving home each morning in Texas is a nightmare from which you do not wake.
Tonight, when I get home, the family photos, everything that is needed to restart life will be placed in the car and brought to the safety deposit box at the bank. I, too, had put it off.
Small businesses will want to think about packing copies of their financials, taking their computers or laptops, and if that is not feasible, back up your hard drive either onto a large flash drive or onto a for-pay online site that is encrypted firewall secure.
Whether evacuating a small business or your home, pre-identify an evacuation meeting place and have a route established. You need to have a recovery plan detailed.
Evacuation plans for businesses not only include gathering your documents, but your personnel as well. Ensure everyone has a secure location in which to meet.
My agency has routine fire drills and bad weather drills. Designate one coordinator and designate representatives for each office to ensure everyone exits safely and meets at one location.
Even during the practice drill you need to account for everyone. Time your evacuation. You need to be out in one minute or less.
Part of recovery and planning involves insurance. Business owners and home owners alike must have adequate insurance to rebuild. Many individuals only carry insurance on the original amount of the home or building; consider replacement cost insurance.
While replacement cost insurance is relatively expensive on the front end, in the case of disaster it will cover you at today’s market prices.
Fires are not the only natural disaster threat there are hurricanes and tornados, high winds and floods. Just recently the East Coast of the United States was battered; the Midwest was pummeled with high winds and tornados. Many were caught unprepared. Either as a business or homeowner, have a safety kit.
Create a “Disaster Survival Kit.” The kit should include a flashlight, a portable radio, extra batteries, first-aid supplies, non-perishable food, bottled water, a basic tool kit, plastic sheeting and garbage bags, cash, and a digital camera to take pictures of the property damage after the storm, fire or flood.
During hurricane season in Mississippi, mother would begin stocking the house with nonperishable, instant foods – nothing that had to be cooked.
One pantry contained our normal everyday foods for everyday living, but the second pantry contained canned tuna, canned meats that were precooked and could be eaten from the can, canned beans that could be eaten cold and a lot of plastic gallon jugs of water.
The vehicles were topped with gasoline, blankets, pillows and our pets’ supplies were also kept neatly packed and ready to go. Family pictures and our old irreplaceable Long Play albums (Elvis Presley, the Beetles, etc.) were also included in the evacuation along with pre-packed sensible clothing that also included underwear.
We had a regular battery-operated radio, but today there are all weather radios, which are ideal for disasters. During my young years on the Ms. Coast, we always had a battery-operated radio.
We also had sirens that went off along the coast; left over from the air raid days of the Cold War. Between the sirens and the battery-operated radios, we had contact with the outside world.
During hurricane season, we always had kerosene for the lanterns, a full tank of gasoline in the car and our important papers packed and ready to place in the car for the long trip inward, north away from the storm.
Instead of batteries and generators, we stocked utility candles and heavy duty matches. I still rely heavily on candles, matches and kerosene, versus gasoline for the generator (that I have in the barn) and a camp stove for heating, cooking.
I keep gallon jugs with fresh water for the entire hurricane season. Every three to four months, I pour that water into the water trough or dog bowls and restock with fresh water – this ensures no microorganisms invade drinking water.
Since I have 23 children to take care of, I ensure the water troughs are full every night, I have plenty of their dry food and all the kennels are put together during storm seasons – basically all year round in Texas.
I have their medicines and my medicines in a small suitcase on the kitchen table ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Back in the day, cell phones were not invented, so today, when I evacuate, I ensure my batteries are charged and my vehicle cell phone charger is in the truck. Cell phones are great for communicating to the outside world, but they still require electricity, and if electricity is cut off, so are you.
During the Father’s Day Dyer Mill Fire, the electric line behind my home snapped – it not only caused the pasture fire that sent my heart racing, but also resulted in loss of power.
Ironically, the smoke from the fire also blocked the satellite dish reception. I was without power for only a few hours but I was isolated without communication capabilities.
There are energy-draining features on cell phones that can be turned off and that will extend the battery life. There are also several styles and producers of emergency cell phone battery chargers that claim to charge batteries without use of lines; not sure if they work but something to think about.
More importantly, my experiences with disasters taught me common sense. If officials tell you to evacuate, evacuate. All else can be replaced, but not your life, the life of your loved ones or employees and certainly not that of the emergency crews risking their lives to save yours.