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NOTES TO SELF: Looking back on the Fire (and Quakes, and Flood…)

Takeaways? My family and I were not preparedenough for the enormity, or duration of the fire, evacuations, and recovery.But— we DID have emergency plans in place. And because we did, we —and ouranimals and property— came through OK. Friends and neighbors, I’d been naggingalso told me later that their newly created phone trees and pet go-bags savedlives and helped them ride things out in much better shape than had they notmade these preparations.

Are we doing it better? You bet!

Compared with where we were in 2017, we’ve comea long way. We’ve learned a new vocabulary. We’re bouncing between sharingfire stories and COVID experiences. Our homes now have shelves stocked withmasks for smoke and masks for biosafety, exam gloves, cleaning products wenever knew we needed, and overnight bags for our PPE. And many more people are including their animalsin their disaster prep and planning.

As neighborhoods and communities, we’ve surviveda lot! We are more connected by our shared experiences, and ourrecognition that we need each other. COPEs, CERTs, Neighborhood Call lists, andFireSAFE and FireWise Councils are popping up like mushrooms after rain.  

 A new social event model has emerged,where we gather, virtually or in person, to learn about home hardening, whichtech-y gadgets can help us stay informed, how to keep our pets, kids,grandparents, and selves comfy and calm during catastrophes.

We’ve become more inclusive in ways that aremeaningful. We have embraced the value of reaching out to our workers,neighbors, and tourists, to make sure they’re prepared, too.

A lot has changes for both individuals andcommunities. Based on our collective experiences, we know we mustcontinually upgrade our Plan A, and have Plans B & C, too. 

Do we spend all our time worrying and planningfor “the next time”? Sometimes it feels like that. But I believe wholeheartedlythat preparing is empowering, and soothing. Thinking about the “what ifs”and planning to ride them out safely makes it possible to enjoy the timesbetween the mega-events.

After the relatively minor 2014 quake, I wasshocked by the immediate inaccessibility of my home and environs. It was aneye-popping “Aha! Moment”. Ditto for receiving atsunami alert, and the recent Early Earthquake Alert.

The North Bay fires of 2017, 2019 and 2020 hammeredhome awareness of our vulnerability, and lack of control over vast reaches ofthe landscape we chose to live in. Spending 7 weeks helping with the animals atthe Dixie Fire in 2021 reinforced the realization that we need to stock up oncritical supplies like medications and special pet food, and the importance ofknowing the evacuation zones wherever you might be or be traveling in.

Each incident, whether “ours” or someone else’s,brings new insights and additions to my checklists and stay-crates. I’m muchmore aware of the need for awareness.

Understandably, we’ve become obsessively focusedon fire. But recent shakers and flash floods remind us that we need rock-solidand watertight shelter-in-place plans. The pandemic and escalating supply-chainissues have provided ample opportunity for us to refine our ideas about our“must-have” emergency supplies.

Many of my “Dear Diary” entries were about thefirefighters and their families, the local sheriff deputies and CHPs, and howhard it must have been for them to watch their community devoured, and itsresidents scattered. Knowing they were looking out for our home places, whiletheir own may have been lost, finding lost and injured animals, seeingbeloved places disappear. Those thoughts filled my head many cold nights.

Since then, new programs have developed thatsupport first responders. The cascading events have spot lit the strain ofcaring for communities when you’re outnumbered and overwhelmed because ofunderfunded services, staffing challenges, and hazard and stress-relatedillness. 

Several diary entries asked, “How did we all notrealize how dangerous all these trees are?” Well, ignorance is bliss andeducation are empowering. Awareness is definitely a stress-inducer but knowinghow to make the fixes is calming.

Now, many more people are pulling together tomake neighborhoods safer. The concepts of hardening and defensible space are nolonger infographics. We experienced their value, and the consequences ofignoring them, first-hand. Now, the human-made landscape is changing. Lifein our urban interface is full of risks, and we’ve become more aware of thevalue of well-supported and respected responders.  

Through it all, and often, because of them, ouranimals provide us with comfort. Our concern for their safety is a frequentmotivator for us to step up our preparedness, reach out to neighbors, join agroup, learn how to use new technology.

One of my last diary “Notes To Self”,(highlighted in neon pink) says, “I’m so grateful we knew what to do”. And now,we know how to do it better, and know the road to readiness is endless, but haslots of comfort stops along the way.

And I’m grateful to be making the trip with somany others. These are among mystrongest takeaways and reflections in the mirror of much of the last decade.

It’s not how I imagined my golden years, but I’mglad I have the stamina and mental ability to act and participate in meaningfulways. I’m glad I’m not in this alone.