In Case of Emergency: Follow The Plan
The fall of 2017 seems to be the season of natural disasters. Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, the Mexico earthquakes and now record-breaking fires across California. While Mr. RtR and I have been left wondering, “Why?” and focusing our efforts on sending financial support where we can, the disasters didn’t really hit home until this weekend.
On early Saturday morning, fellow finance blogger, Dads Dollars Debts, shared a harrowing story about his family’s quick evacuation of their home in the middle of the night before losing it to the California fires. As I read it, I felt he and his wife’s panic as they hurried to collect a few crucial belongings before getting out. I was beyond relieved that they made it to safety, but gut wrenched to imagine what it must feel like to lose your home and all your possessions.
It also made me realize that if anything like this ever happened to Mr. RtR and me, we would have no plan. For the first time, I woke up to the fact that no matter how unlikely disaster seems, it costs us nothing to be prepared.
Our History With Natural Disasters
When I showed Mr. RtR the story from DDD and told him we needed to make a plan, his first response was, “But what natural disaster could we face here?” Living in the Northeast, in a town with its own power system that hasn’t seen an outage of more than an hour or two in decades, we’ve gotten comfortable. It didn’t take much thought, however, to remember that while we’ve never faced a disaster like DDD’s family, we have seen the power of nature up close.
Hurricane Irene – 2011
During Hurricane Irene in 2011, Mr. RtR was the first mate of a 100′ yacht based in New York Harbor. After much discussion with the captain and owner, they decided to take the boat up river to wait out the storm. (The other options usually involve sailing out of the way of the storm or pulling the boat out of the water – an expensive proposition with a yacht of that size.)
They docked the boat up river and took shifts through the night making sure the boat crush the dock – or vice versa. Standing outside in raging winds and rain, Mr. RtR worked to keep the ship safe without becoming hurt himself. It was one of the most exhausting and scary nights of his life.
When Hurricane Sandy came a year later, Mr. RtR was the captain of another boat. For that storm, he insisted that never again would he put himself, or others, at such risk.
Halloween Nor’easter – 2011
In October of 2011, I went home to Connecticut from New York City to attend a Halloween party at a friend’s house. I saw the forecast of snow, but everyone thought it would be just a few inches. The next morning, we woke to no power, no cell service, and almost three feet of snow. Trees, which hadn’t had the chance to prepare for cold winter weather and the weight of snow, had toppled.Trudging to the end of my friend’s apartment complex to check road conditions, we found one way plowed by the other a mess of fallen trees and power lines. It would be days before that side of the road would open up.
Trudging to the end of my friend’s apartment complex to check road conditions, we found one way plowed but the other a mess of fallen trees and power lines. It would be days before that side of the road would open up.
We ended up walking to the nearest grocery store as we weren’t sure what roads would be open with all the tree damage. The store was remarkably open despite only having generator power, and we bought buy bread, peanut butter, and jelly. What was intended to be a quick weekend away turned into a 5-day trip. It took that long for trains to reopen and roads to be clear enough to get me back to NYC and work. My friend wouldn’t have power again for three more days after I left.
Hurricane Sandy – 2012
Hurricane Sandy is by far the most memorable natural disaster for Mr. RtR and me. I like to refer to that period of our lives as the “awkward months.” We were roommates and inseparable but had yet to start dating or even hold hands.
After Mr. RtR spoke with the owner of his boat, deciding to leave it in the water through the storm, we had to choose where to go. Our apartment was one block from the Hudson River and definitely in a flood zone. Did we want to hunker down at home (we were on the 18th floor) or go to his parents’ house inland?
We got water and batteries from Costco, then went home to discuss. As we are talking about the risks, our less-than-intelligent roommate came in with his girlfriend. Carrying pumpkins. When we asked them what they were doing for the storm, they said, “What? Do you think it is going to be bad?” Decision made. The four of us weren’t going to spend several days confined to an apartment together. Mr. RtR and I were going to his parents. For my very first visit.
Hurricane with the future in-laws
Mr. RtR’s parents live in an adorable one-bedroom house in the woods. They had a generator, fully stocked woodbox, and plenty of supplies. When we arrived, Mr. RtR’s dad had a full pot of stew on the stove and homemade bread. They were very friendly, though I think we were all a little uncomfortable. (Mr. RtR’s sister has told us that their father called her during our stay to ask if she knew what was going on with Mr. RtR and me! #awkwardmonths)
We spent four days at their home. Watching movies, playing cribbage, and Mr. RtR and I going for entirely unsafe walks in the woods, during the storm, when we got a little too stir crazy. After the storm, we went with Mr. RtR’s dad to help a neighbor cut down and pull a tree off their roof. I think I earned some major points with Mr. RtR’s dad by pulling my fair share of logs and branches away from the house!
By the time we made it back to our apartment, our unit had power again, and things had fared pretty well. My car had been parked on the second floor of the garage and remained dry. The boat Mr. RtR was working on at the time was undamaged at the marina. Our apartment didn’t have any window or balcony damage.
It would be a couple of weeks before the street lights working in our town again. It would be a few days before all our Manhattan friends had power back. Dozens of boats that had been pulled out of the water for safety were strewn across the park surrounding the marina; the storm surge had lifted them off their chocks and floated them away. But overall, we were lucky.
[If you’re wondering, our roommate’s car was flooded in the storm. He thought moving it one more block up from our apartment was enough. Then he destroyed the engine while trying to start the car while the tailpipe was still under water. Also, when we got home, he and his girlfriend had gone out and left a burner on the stove on… We aren’t sure how they survived to their mid-20s.]
[Oh, and Mr. RtR and I ended our awkward phase and started dating just a few weeks after the storm!]
Let’s make a plan!
Thinking back on our near misses, we agreed that you just never know what could happen. We have emergency plans and supplies if we ever got stuck in our home in a snowstorm, but no plan at all if we ever had to evacuate quickly. We had never talked about what we would do in a fire. (Frankly, of all possibilities, this seems most likely and frightens me the most.) We had never talked about where we would meet or what to do if a terrorist attack or shooting meant I couldn’t get out of the city where I work. It was time to get on the same page.
In Case of Emergency: Follow the Plan
When you’re walking out of your school or office buildings in orderly lines to simulate a fire, it seems ridiculous. But we don’t just do it to waste everyone’s time. Research shows that practice builds muscle memory. While not everyone will be able to remember every step of the plan in crisis, most will revert to what they know. I encourage everyone to discuss an emergency plan with your family and practice it.
Our initial plan and some resources we used to create it are below. Figure out what will work for your family today!
Creating a Go Bag
The essential things that we would want out of our house in an emergency are currently scattered all across our home. This week, Mr. RtR will be packing up our go-bags. One of these bags will live on a shelf in the coat closet by the front door and one in the basement, ready to go at the drop of a hat. (If there is a fire at the front door, I don’t want to lose access to our bag.)
- 2 shirts, 1 pair of pants, 2 underpants, and socks for each family member.
- We will add checking the go-bag to our quarterly investment discussions. Baby Maple grows like a weed, so what fits today likely won’t fit in the future.
- Basic toiletries
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, face wipes.
- Checkbook, credit card, and cash.
- Our emergency fund sits at an online bank, and we don’t have a debit card for it. We want to make sure we have some cash on hand!
- First aid kit.
- Cell phone chargers.
- A spare of Baby Maple’s favorite blanket.
- A small bag of dog food.
- Copy of Fire Pup’s most recent vaccination records
Our go bag is relatively small because of how many things we have backed up online or already stored in other places. Here are some other things to consider.
- Food and water.
- Diapers and wipes for babies/toddlers.
- We keep Baby Maple’s diaper bag in the car with diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, and some snack pouches at all times. It also has some books and toys he likes.
- Computer backup drive.
- We back everything up to the cloud using Google Photos and Google Drive. We also have an external hard drive that lives on my desk. I would grab it if I had time, but everything crucial is on the cloud.
- Dog collar and leash.
- A set of these also lives in the car.
Once the go bag is ready, the next step is determining who does what in an emergency. I don’t want to be running into Mr. RtR; both headed for Baby Maple and no one grabbing Fire Pup or our carefully packed bag. So, here is our plan:
- If it is the middle of the night, Mr. and Mrs. RtR get dressed as quickly as possible.
- Then, Mrs. RtR grabs Baby Maple and picks up his shoes and her wallet on the way out the door to the car. Get Baby Maple buckled into his car seat. Mr. RtR grabs the go-bag, his wallet, and Fire Pup.
- If there is time, Mr. RtR heads back in to grab our fire-proof document safe. I can make a game-time call if I want to run in for a laptop or stay with Baby Maple and Fire Pup. If we can’t grab the document safe, it isn’t a big concern. Originals make things easier, but I have all our account information and scans of Passports, birth certificates, insurance cards, etc. saved in LastPass.
Creating an emergency plan
Do you know what your family would do in a fire, quick evacuation, or another emergency? What if you were stuck at home for several days without power? If you haven’t thought about it before, now is the time!
- Plan Ahead for Disasters by Ready.gov – a government emergency preparedness site
- How to Prepare for Emergencies by The Red Cross
- Home Evacuation Checklist by House Logic
The Personal Finance Emergency Preparedness Chain Gang
After Dads Dollars Debt published his story, the personal finance blogger community once again showed its strength. At the urging of Chief Mom Officer, we’ve decided to build a chain of blogging articles on the importance of being prepared. If you are curious about how others around the country prepare for emergencies, check out this awesome chain of articles!
- Anchor: DadsDollarsDebt – Tubb’s Fire – A Sudden Evacuation
- Anchor #2: Chief Mom Officer – A Harrowing Escape Inspires The Personal Finance Community – Beyond the Emergency Fund
- #1: OthalaFehu – Cool As A Cucumber
- #2: The Retirement Manifesto – Am I A Prepper?
- #3: Retire to Roots – In Case of Emergency: Follow the Plan (this post)
- #4: Lady In Black – Ready for Not-Quite Everything: The Lady’s Emergency Preparedness
- #5: The Green Swan – Preparing for the Worst: My Emergency Story
- #6: Minafin – Minimal Hurricane Preparation
- #7: a gai shau life – Earthquake and Disaster Preparedness
What is your family’s emergency plan? If you have ever faced a natural or man-made crisis, what did you wish you knew? Share your tips in the comments!