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How to prepare to evacuate before disaster strikes

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneAaron Ott shows contents of an evacuation go-bag Friday at the Medford fire department office.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneContents of an evacuation go-bag Friday at the Medford fire department office.
Packing a disaster kit with essential supplies is critical

Many Almeda fire survivors escaped with nothing but the clothes on their backs ― leaving behind family photos, identification, insurance documents, food, water, medication and other essentials.

Local disaster experts say now is the time to prepare to evacuate, before disaster strikes and you have just minutes to grab key items that will help you survive and rebuild your life.

“You’ll have a calmer head. In the middle of a disaster, it’s easy to forget things. It also takes time to pull things together. If you do it ahead of time, you have time to prepare,” said city of Medford Emergency Management Coordinator Aaron Ott.

Experts recommend creating a disaster supply kit to cover the needs of everyone in your household, including pets.

Many items can be packed in a go-bag. Experts recommend a backpack, duffel bag or rolling suitcase for portability. You can keep a go-bag in the trunk of your car or in an easy-to-reach place at home.

Other items can be packed in a grab-and-go plastic bin.

Prepare for at least three days on your own. That means packing at least one gallon of water for each day per family member, including dogs and cats.

For food, choose a variety of nonperishable foods like dried fruit, canned tuna fish and peanut butter. Be sure to include a can opener plus nonbreakable or disposable plates, cups and utensils.

Holly Powers, emergency manager for Jackson County, said people can stock up by buying a few extra items on each grocery store trip.

“We really eat a lot of chili in my family, so I’m going to get an extra can or two of chili and put that in my go-bag or my go area. I know that’s something we would actually eat,” she said.

Don’t forget pet food, an extra leash and collar, a crate if you have one and pet vaccination records, Powers said.

For sanitation, pack moist towelettes, washcloths and towels, garbage bags, feminine hygiene supplies, toothbrushes and toothpaste, deodorant and other personal care items.

Include changes of clothes for different weather conditions, hats, jackets, underwear, shoes, leather work gloves and blankets or sleeping bags.

Pack cash and credit and bank cards, but be aware credit cards and ATMs might not work during a power outage.

Powers recommends having cash in small bills like $1, $5 and $10 bills.

“You can’t break a $20 if no one has any change,” she said.

To keep cellphones and laptops working, pack chargers and cords. Some solar or car-powered chargers are available for when electricity isn’t available.

Pack extra medications, including prescriptions, and eyeglasses.

“Talk to your doctor about getting an extra 30-day supply of your medications,” Ott said.

If your insurance plan or drug type doesn’t allow you to have an extra supply of medication, take cellphone photos of your prescription bottle refill information or write it down to store with important copies of documents.

As many Almeda fire survivors discovered, getting replacement identification can be a nightmare if you don’t have social security cards, driver’s licenses, birth certificates, passports and other documents to prove who you are.

Store copies of those documents in your disaster kit or scan images to your cellphone or computer. You should also have copies and images of insurance policy information and property deeds and titles.

If your home is destroyed in a disaster, your insurance company may ask you to make a meticulously detailed list of all your belongings. To aid in the process, take photos of each room in your house, including storage areas like attics, sheds and garages, the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services advises.

Talk to your insurance agent to make sure you understand what your insurance covers and whether it’s enough to allow you to rebuild and replace belongings.

Printed photos can be irreplaceable, so scan in or photograph treasured photos from your albums and home to create digital back-ups.

Other disaster kit supplies should include N95 dust masks to help screen out asbestos or smoke, flashlights and batteries, local maps, paper and pencils, extra car keys, a whistle to signal for help, matches in a waterproof container and a first-aid kit.

Pack items for family members who have extra needs, such as diapers and formula for babies or extra hearing-aid batteries.

Don’t forget to include puzzles, books, a pack of cards and other items to help pass the time.

“You will definitely have down time when you’re at a shelter,” Powers said.

Decide on a location where household members will reunite should disaster strike, and designate a person who lives out of the area to be a contact person. Local phone lines may be down or overloaded during a disaster, and the distant person can serve as a relay for information.

Have names and contact information for people you can stay with temporarily, both locally and out of the area, plus people who can take care of your animals if needed.

If you haven’t memorized key phone numbers, write them down rather than relying on your cellphone’s contact list. Your cellphone could get lost or run out of power.

For more information on evacuation preparation and to view Jackson County’s Family Emergency Preparedness Handbook, visit jacksoncountyor.org/emergency/Preparedness/Personal-Family.

The Ashland Emergency Preparedness Guidebook is at ashland.or.us/SIB/files/FIRE/CERT/AIR_Guidebook_with_Links.pdf.

For preparedness tips, an evacuation checklist and more from the city of Medford, visit medfordoregon.gov/Government/Departments/Fire/Emergency-Management/Be-Prepared.

For residents of all Jackson County cities and rural areas, sign up for geographically specific Citizen Alert emergency notifications at jacksoncounty.org/alert. Notifications include evacuation warnings.

People can sign up to receive alerts for all areas of Jackson County by texting JACKSONEVACS to 888777.

Ashland residents can sign up for Citizen Alert notifications or notifications through the Nixle system at ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NAVID=17635.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.