Lessons From the Fires
By: Mindy Fletcher
As the Southern California wildfires swept through San Diego a few weeks ago, I decided
to start packing. With the evacuation area moving closer and closer to my home, I figured
it was better to get ready while I had the luxury of time, rather than rushing to get what
I needed with the firemen frantically banging on my door.
There is something very sobering about walking through your house and deciding what is
important enough to take, and what can simply be replaced. You realize just how little of
the stuff you accumulate is truly important enough to save. I didn’t pack that much: financial
and important documents; some family jewelry; older photos and mementos. And that was it.
It also was a great lesson in protecting things that mean the most to me. What if I hadn’t
had time to pack? What if I was forced to leave my house quickly? Would I have been prepared?
In some cases I was ready, but there were things I hadn’t thought about. Here are some
fire-tested steps you can take to prepare yourself for a potential disaster or emergency in
1. Use a Fire Safe
Pick one up at your local home improvement store or office supply store. They run anywhere
from $30.00 to $200.00 depending on size and features. Make sure it is designed to protect its
contents from fire and water.
Put all of your important documents in the safe and keep them there when you aren’t using them.
In the fire safe should be items such as:
- Documents: Birth certificates, marriage license, passports, social security cards, homeowner’s insurance, etc…
- Safe deposit box keys
- Computer hard drive – more on this below
- Valuable jewelry
- Photos that cannot be reproduced or scanned
2. Protect Photos
There are many innovative and simple ways to protect them.
Scan any older photos you want saved into a computer file. This creates an electronic copy and makes
it easier for you to protect them. Your local Kinko’s or other graphics or copy center should
have a scanner service you can use.
There are several online locations like www.Kodakgallery.com and www.Shutterfly.com where you can
go to store your photos as well. If they are stored outside your home, they are protected if something
happens at your home.
3. Use an External Hard Drive
If you have a computer in your home that holds information and documents that you do not want to
lose, get an external hard drive. Any computer or electronics store will have them. Use this drive
to back up all of your computer files (documents, photos, etc.) and do it once a week to make sure
you have the latest version of the documents.
Then store the hard drive in your fire safe. It might take a little bit bigger fire safe to
accommodate the hard drive, but it is worth it to know that your files are protected.
4. Create a Disaster Kit
Whether it is for a fire, earthquake, or terrorist attack, in your house and in your car, you should
have an emergency kit. Include in it the basics such as water, food for pets, prescriptions,
flashlights, batteries, etc.
There are several excellent websites that can help you design and build a personalized disaster kit
such as the American Red Cross.
5. Make a List
Write down everything you need to take in an emergency and keep it handy. Some recent fire victims
said they made a list after the terrible fires in 2003, but in 2007 they couldn’t remember where they put it.
The bottom line is to be prepared. Don’t wait till it’s too late. Can you set aside a few hours
this week to make sure you are ready?