Guest view: Preparation is everything in an emergency

By Carol Holzgrafe

Luck—sheer luck—brought me safely through November’s horrific Camp Fire in Paradise. Preparation eased life afterward.

Before moving to that forest of 100-foot trees, I lived in Morgan Hill, reporting for The Times. Once, I was assigned to the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) course offered—for free—by the city. This eight-week class addresses ways to protect you, your family and neighbors during and after earthquakes, floods or fire. One class concentrated on disaster preparation. I took notes.

This is what I learned: to have water, food, blankets, an emergency radio, first aid, etc., always in my car; to have a supply of same secure at home; to keep vehicles charged or at least half full of gas; and to make an evacuation list.

Morgan Hill firefighters taught me what black smoke means, so when I saw such a cloud at 8am that day, I did not delay. Many other residents had no warning at all until they saw the wall of fire.

I grabbed our cat, woke my husband, backed the cars out of the garage before the power went off, and started collecting. My list is in order of time available (five minutes? an hour?) and of importance, arranged by room.

Then I packed the cat’s go-bag and ours, with legal and financial papers, account numbers, contacts for family and friends, computers, cell phones, chargers, wallets, keys, medication, family photos, clothes—all packed in suitcases and a crate. It took half an hour to load everything, a luxury so many did not have. In a crisis situation where you don’t have time to think, lists are crucial.

It took me more than four hours to reach safety in Chico, but my husband, Jim, who went off to find gas, took 23 hours to reappear, causing worry among family and friends. He spent those hours in his gasless, waterless, foodless car, watching the flames come closer and closer before a safe route opened up. He promises to mend his ways.

We have now been out of our house for five weeks, but have pretty much everything we need for daily life. Thank you, CERT! And, yes, our house and neighborhood survived, being just north of the fire line. Thank you, firefighters! What life will be like when we return home is anybody’s guess, but we know it will be sad. Forty-five of my friends in Paradise and Magalia lost their homes.

Morgan Hill residents, please use our experience as a wake-up call. Check and make your own evacuation list. Stock your car, plan with your family, check and (CERT is on Facebook, too) for the schedule of two-hour or eight-week disaster preparation classes and ideas; learn how the city will communicate with you. Sign up for Code Red; Paradise’s reverse 911 did not work. Code Red kept some of us aware.

Your safety and your family’s safety are at stake because one thing is certain: eventually a disaster will happen here.

Carol Holzgrafe lived in Morgan Hill for 18 years, and was the city reporter for the Morgan Hill Times for five years. She now lives in Magalia, a “suburb” of Paradise, but returns to Morgan Hill frequently to visit her many good friends, including many in the local AAUW chapter. She can be reached by email at [email protected]

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