Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom – Disaster Preparedness


Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about decluttering your pantry, and one of the things I discussed was keeping food for emergencies. I commented that I live in an area that is not affected by many sudden disaster such as being snowed in, flood water, hurricanes, or tornadoes. Well God and nature decided to prove me wrong in short order. Here’s one I had not considered and has suddenly been the only topic of conversation in our town: wildfires.

Texas had its hottest summer ever and, in fact, was the hottest state in the United States this year. It also hasn’t rained more than a tiny bit in months and months. Suddenly fires broke out all around Austin. Did I think I was immune from disaster? Ha! My friends the Jacksons and the Fosters surely didn’t think so as they were evacuated out of their neighborhood, and neither did my friend Jennifer as she watched the Bastrop fire, so close to her house, but always moving away from her. Several of her friends were not so fortunate, and their homes burn to the ground.

We live extremely close to the largest park in the city of Austin, which is intersected by a creek surrounded by a wide, unkempt natural area called the Barton Creek Greenbelt. Because this greenbelt is park of a public park and is located virtually in the center of Austin, it attracts hundreds of visitors every day. Many of these people smoke and some, unfortunately, toss their butts into the dry vegetation. In addition, there are a handful of (illegal) homeless encampments on the greenbelt. These folks often have (illegal) cooking fires. In other words, the fires have acutely reminded us that 1) we’re sitting right next to a tinder box and 2) that its been so dry and windy that a fire that starts on the greenbelt won’t stay on the greenbelt. This 50 second video shows how fast the fire moved through Bastrop State Park.

When we learned that the Fosters and Jacksons had to leave their homes, Dan and I talked about what we would need to take in an evacuation. What does this have to do with decluttering, you may be asking yourself? One: You have to know what you need. Two: You have to be able to find it. Three: You have to be able to pack it. Four: Decluttering and organizing can help you with this.

One: You have to know what you need. This is my own list. It did not come from a Red Cross or other emergency management source. It’s what my family needs to take and what’s important to us.

  • All of Clara’s medications and diabetes paraphernalia, of which there is a lot. (The number one reason that evacuees return to their home is because they forgot medication.) In addition, I always have a month’s worth of supplies on hand. Without repeated daily injections of insulin, Clara will die. There’s no way I’d risk that by letting my supplies get too low. Ever.
  • The dogs on leashes and wearing their identification
  • The cats in their carrier and wearing their identification
  • The guinea pig in a box
  • All of our important papers in our fire proof safe. There is also $500 in small bills stored in here for emergencies. (And not for household-type “emergencies.” For real emergencies, such as an evacuation.) Our papers include passports, our marriage license and my divorce decree, and our wills. (While we obviously don’t need our martial or divorce papers while we’re fleeing a disaster, they are needed for lots of legal documents, and I certainly don’t want to have to come up with copies later.)
  • My laptop
  • My purse (with cell phone) and Dan’s wallet and cell phone
  • A working vehicle that is not left with an empty gas tank

If we have more time

  • Food and water for the animals
  • Food and water for people
  • Sleeping bags and pillows
  • Toiletries
  • Clothing

Two: You have to be able to find it.

Do you know where these important things are? Are your keys scattered around the house, not where they belong? Do you know where the cat carrier is? Are your animals properly tagged? You’ll be heartbroken if you get separated. What about those important papers? They really should be in one easily accessible place. The safe we have is a very small suitcase that’s fire proof, water proof, and portable. (Some people in Bastrop have been able to return to their charred homes, and there have been photos of people opening their fireproof safes. Nice to know that they work.)

Three: You have to be able to pack it.

Where are your suitcases or sturdy boxes? Can you access them? Some people were only given 15 minutes to get out of their homes. You don’t want to spend 10 minutes of your 15 digging through your storage shed looking for a suitcase. Clara’s medical supplies are kept in plastic storage drawers. I realized that a box would be the best way to carry these. I got a box from the garage and left it by her supply cabinet. I always keep one or two large moving boxes in my garage. I have room to store them, and they’re just too handy to get rid of.

Four: Decluttering and organizing can help you with this.

Obviously, if you don’t know where things are, if they’re heaped behind other things, if they’re dropped randomly around the house, valuable time will be lost.

You can check this link for a photolog of the drought in Texas and the fires that resulted from it.

If you feel motivated to make a charitable donation to help those affected by the fires, Lutheran Social Services, a wonderful non-profit where I worked for four years, has an active, on-the-ground response.

Today’s Declutter Item

Better known as hubby’s fat jeans they no longer fit because he has lost about 15kgs since Christmas. He got to that weight several months ago and has managed to maintain it without any problems. Mind you he is not allowed to ever gain it back because clothes are expensive. 😉

Jeans too big for my husband

Something I Am Grateful For Today

Once again it was a glorious day here yesterday. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and there was just enough breeze to dry my linen on the clothesline. I had coffee and a chat with a good friend of mine and then took a walk around my neighbourhood. What’s not be be grateful for in that. 

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  1. Yet more reasons to live in a decluttered ordered house Cindy and some really thought provoking points. We live in an area that doesn’t have such problems but i do remember watching a report on the tv about a family who’s house was destroyed by a falling tree then looking out my window at a such similar tree 🙁
    Good point about the animals too, too often they get forgoton when tradgedies happen.

    • The rehoming of the animals has been a huge to-do here. Bastrop is rural, so there were people moving cattle, goats, sheep and horses in addition to their domestic animals. Some people just wrote their phone number on their livestock and turned them lose when they could not longer move them. All the auction houses and show barns opened up to house displaced livestock. One auctioneer said the only good thing about the drought was that so many ranchers had already sold off big parts of their herds, there were fewer animals that needed moving. If the fire goes through a ranch, there won’t be any pasture land left (not that there was much grass to begin with) and most ranchers use wooden posts for fences. Those will be gone too. It’s really awful for those who make a living off the land.

      • Ugh, I didn’t even THINK of that. 🙁 Have they given out info about what can be done from a volunteer aspect? Stuff that may be needed? We’re low on cash and in Houston but I do know people that drive back and forth to Austin on an almost weekly basis. I’d like to do something. 🙁

  2. Well, that made me think. I have been assembling a pantry and making sure we knew where the emergency supplies are. That would work fine if we have a time when the barges don’t bring in food or if we lose power for a week. But if we had to evacuate, we would likely be leaving by plane. So whatever we could take would need to be what we could carry. The only other way out is by boat and I don’t see that being a fast option in an emergency. So maybe the serious evacuation kit is only one suitcase. Now what does that hold? Great food for thought.

    • Thanks. As you can tell, it made me think a lot too. I’m getting a good response from my friends on Facebook, too, who read my posts there but don’t come to the blog. It’s been on everyone’s mind but not everyone had thought through what they really needed and wanted or how to pack those items.

      I guess you live on an island? Just saying “island” makes it sound wonderful to me.

  3. Cindy,
    What a fright you must have had! I’m so glad you didn’t have to run for it. A question: rather than boxes, wouldn’t backpacks be a better way to carry your emergency supplies? What if your car was blocked by fire, or broke down, and you had to go on foot?
    Having said that, our biggest concern is probably being housebound with snow, or possibly an earthquake. On top of a hill near the coast, sitting near the “bottom” of the world, a sunami would be most unlikely to be high enough to be a problem. I keep a plastic container (large, wheeled) of emergency food and hygiene supplies, along with a lidded plastic bucket (and bags to line it – emergency toilet), and a smaller container of health supplies, including one month of all essential medications. Also several 3 litre containers of water. All stored in our garage beside the house.
    Well organised? Yes….. but I decided recently to look to “declutter” these – the medications were all time expired and some in fact had been changed. Many of the foods were time expired, and two, in plastic bags, although apparently alright, fell apart when I went to lift them. Potato flakes and plastic flakes don’t appeal as a meal, even in emergency.
    That was when I realised I had put the collection together in December 1999! Moral of the story: keep those supplies up-to-date!! What if we’d needed them. Just think of drinking 11 year old water, stored in plastic!
    Needless to say, it has been updated, shrunk to reality dimensions, and put back in the garage, with a written note on the top to recheck in two years (2013).

    • Oh my, 1999! Good for you for clearing it out and for making a plan for keeping up with it in the future.

      A backpack is a good idea, although I’m thinking that if the car broke down and we had to make a run for it, even the “needs” list would be pared down. We have a large backpack, though. I will keep this in mind.

  4. Cindy, this is a good reminder. Since moving here we have not reworked our emergency plan. With so much different we need to do it. Just the medications would be major. Thanks for reminding me that I need to get this done sooner than later.

    • Of course the likelihood is that only a very few of us will ever need our emergency kit, but won’t we be glad if it’s us and we’re prepared?

  5. Cindy, this must have been nerve-wracking for all of you. And you’ve just given me another “what if” to store in the back of my mind for motivation to get on more quickly with my decluttering and organizing. Great post. I hope you get some cooler weather and some good rains very soon.

    • Thanks Jo. I hope it rains too! The weather service has been running flash flood warnings. At first I laughed, but then I realized how right they are. When it starts to rain, the ground is so dry and hard that the rain isn’t going soak in. We’re going to be having flash floods all over the place. What a mess!

  6. The whole ‘disaster’ time is what got me reading decluttering blogs and forums – I’m not sure how exactly! So this does speak to me.

    However, I noticed whilst I read your list, that my (personal, rather than family’s) priorities wouldn’t include our animals. I know I’ll get flamed for that, but it made me realise how little a role they play in MY life. I’m sure Bailey (our dog) would be considered, but our two chickens seem to lack that emotional connection where I’d be carrying them to an emergency shelter or the like. I suppose this means when I move out, I’m not likely to be hankering to get pets!

    I really do want to get the family one of those fire/water-proof safes, but I think they’ll think I’m taking it too far. At least I’ve got the most important docs (birth, marriage & death certs) all in one place in the filing cabinet, so I could grab and go (I’ve told others, but I’m sure they’ll have forgotten, as this level of organisation/planning isn’t in their ‘norm’). I’ve recently started squirreling away $50 notes (which seem FAR more common and used in Aust then the US!) so that if for any reason (either types of emergencies) I have money.

    I recently read a book, which I highly recommend, about emergencies. I’ll find the exact details tonight. But one thing that I agreed with, when things go wrong, things we don’t consider is lack of electricity (which is particularly relevant for me, as I work for that company!) So that’s part of why I store cash (so if ATMs stop working for a day/week/when I might need cash). But we really are and would be lost without power, which our company knows. That’s why we sent people to QLD in the floods and cyclones to help get power restored. But without it, laptops, and cell/mobile phones can quickly become obsolete!

    • I don’t think anyone will flame you for not valuing your pets. Chickens are few people’s best friends, and it’s not like you said you’d leave the dog on her own. It does sound like you should probably be pet free when Bailey passes on.

      I was sharply reminded of how EVERYTHING uses electricity in the winter. The electricial grid here is very interconnected, and huge chunks of it were going down around the state. Many people didn’t have power for several days, or only periodic power. I could use my gas stove, but my gas water heater is ignited by electricity, as is my gas oven. Then, of course, there’s no cell, lights, etc. We have kept a land line (telephone hooked to the wall) in our house for this reason – and also for the safety of the children. We should probably get a portable radio that uses batteries, too. That we do not have.

      • Cindy, I also have a gas stove/oven and water heater which are ignited by electricity. However, a couple of years ago when I was wondering what we’d do if we lost power in a storm or tornado, I decided to experiment. I turned the gas knob on one of the stove burners and used a grill/candle lighter to ignite the flame. It worked!

  7. Great post! I work in Sydney, in the Southern CBD and I have a “go bag” at work, just in case I have to evacuate due to a disaster or an attack. Our Lord Mayor was the one who suggested this, and she got pooh-poohed for it, but I thought it was a great idea. I don’t fancy walking 10 kilometers home in the blazing summer sun with no water or sunscreen, or not knowing what’s happening because the cell phone network has gone down. My co-workers think I am slightly mad, but the scenes on TV from the aftermath in NYC in 2001 remind me of why it might matter a lot one day. More info on the contents of a go bag here:

    • I guess everyone has their own comfort level, but I certainly don’t think you’ve gone overboard. I carry car emergency stuff in my car that I’ve never used (first aid kit, rope, jumper cables, emergency flares) but I’ve replaced them when they distintegrated from lack of use. Someday I will need them, and I will be prepared.

  8. We live in Round Rock, and had some friends have to evacuate from the fires as well (luckily, their house is okay). Had no idea you lived in Austin– do you love it as much as we do? We’re planning on moving to a condo downtown to be closer to everything we love doing, as soon as our current house sells. Love your site, its helped us a lot! 🙂

    • I’ve lived in Austin for 30 years. I must love it, and frankly, I don’t know about anything else! Glad the blog has helped you in your goal to move downtown. I wonder, do you have kids? Its seems like condo life is mostly geared towards those without.

      • Yes, we have kids– 2 little ones. We realized a little while ago that we always seem to end up downtown (either at the Children’s Museum, Zilker Park, the farmer’s market, Alamo Drafthouse, Whole Foods, Book People, etc) and that its been killing us gas-wise. So, we said, why not just live in a condo within walking distance of parks, and then we don’t have to take care of a house and a yard, and drive 35 minutes every time we want to go anywhere? Also, looking forward to being able to take public transportation and biking instead of driving. We’re pretty excited about moving, just gotta sell our current house first!

        • Hi Nikki,
          I wish you all the luck with your move. It is exactly what my hubby and I plan on doing when we retire. We are fairly close to everything we need where we are at the moment but the stay here will be temporary. Having everything we need close at hand to cut back on environmental polluters is my idea of the way to live.

  9. Oh this is so amazing. I think the post and comments are full of great suggestions and not anything to laugh at (that means they’re good ideas).

    I’ve got to get all our important documents scanned and saved as appropriate (sigh, not excited about that one, gotta motivate myself!!). Speaking of ‘saved as appropriate’, does any one have some advice on WHERE to save personal scanned documents??? I know there are some web sites available for stuff like this. How safe is that option? I’ve thought about saving onto one of those tiny things that can be carried w/ me, but how likely am I to ‘grab’ that in an emergency? I’d grab husband/kids/emergency kit…I guess that little fob thing could be tucked away inside the emergency ‘kit’…??? Help!!!

    • Scanned is a good idea, too. You could put them on a thumb drive and tuck the thumb drive in your emergency kit. There’s also cloud computing, where your information is stored on a server elsewhere. I’m sure they all promise a high level of security. Also, you could copy it onto disks or a thumb drive and store it on someone else’s computer in addition to your own. Someone like a parent or sibling who doesn’t live near you (and won’t be subjected to the same emergency) but someone whom you will never lose touch with.

  10. I’ve got my mini missions for the rest of the week. My fridge is in good order, so I was looking around for other things to do. Now I know what they will be. We have some emergency kits, but this post offers a whole bunch of other ideas. Thanks!

  11. Cindy, this was an excellent post! People need to be prepared–for lots of things–and so many aren’t.

    I live in Vermont, and it seems like we’ve been flooded here a LOT this year, while those of you in Texas haven’t received a drop of rain. 🙁

    PS Colleen, you are a brave woman getting rid of your dh’s too-big jeans. We did that once–my dh lost a large amount of weight, so we took loads of his clothes to the thrift shop. A few months later, he had regained the weight, and we had to go out and replace all the clothes we had gotten rid of.

    • If there were just a great big stirring spoon in the sky, you could have some of my dry and I could have some of your rain….

    • Hi Becky,
      my hubby’s weight has fluctuated before too but this time instead of dieting he has changed his lifestyle when it comes to food. He hasn’t found it challenging or felt deprived of anything so the likelihood of him falling back into bad habits is far less than with previous attempts. He is so pleased with the whole situation that I am sure it will last.

      Being as I supply most of his food and have a large aversion to wasting money he is just going to have to behave himself or he will have me to answer to. 😆

  12. I am late posting on this but I really liked what you wrote, Cindy. Since we live in both earthquake and wildfire territories, this is important for us. We are working on three different emergency kits: 1) the car kit with blankets, water, cell phone charger, etc. 2) sheltering in home emergency with water, food, fuel, and 3) ‘bug out’ kit for evacuation.

    We put original copies of our marriage license, diplomas, birth certificates, college transcripts, car title, etc, in a safety deposit box at our local bank. But we keep photocopies at the house.

    Reading over your list helped remind me what I still need to assemble. Thanks, Cindy!

    • Smart Willow to have different emergency kits – car, home, and get on out of here. It’s best to take the time now and think it through and then be done with it for a year or two, when you’ll need to check over your supplies again.

    • Willow, the only consideration with the safety deposit box at the bank, is that if there’s civil unrest/long term issues, banks might not be available if/when you need to access that. But I tend to think copies would be suffice in a disaster – better than all those people who might not have anything in that way.

      • Hi Snosie,
        I think there is such a thing as being over-prepared to the point of being paranoid. Then it can become a quality of life issue now not just a maybe something could happen in the future thing.

  13. Sorry I am so late responding to your post Cindy but Wednesday’s are a busy day for me. It is my thrift store day and the only day I usually get the car so I am not home much.
    Just about all of my life has spent in some sort of possible disaster zone, from bush fires to floods and cyclones to volcano and earthquake and back to floods/storms, not to mention living on military bases that should war break out we would be in the firing line. And yet I don’t think I have every had more of a disaster plan than just knowing where everything is that I would want to grab.
    And you know what, that will probably never change.
    There would be enough food and liquids in the pantry to get by on for a while, Our important papers are at hand if needed, we have a tiny (large memory) external harddrive with all our computer backup. Our purses/wallets, cell phones and keys are all located near the garage door. We have no medications to worry about or pets to round up. And to top it off my husband has done survival training.
    All your points are very good ones though. Maybe for me this has just been a fact of life that I have always been aware of and unconsciously prepared for. Nevertheless it would be devastating for anyone to go through and my heart goes out to the people of Texas at this time. Australia suffers from the same problem every year and in Feb 2009 we lost 174 people in the Victorian Bushfires. It all happened so fast and conditions changed so suddenly that it was too late for people to escape. No amount of preparation could help those people unfortunately.


    I came across this page a couple of months ago and totally forgot about it until now… I love it. Its representing the essentials of what people think is important to them…

    • Hi Lena,
      thanks for that link, I had a look in was most amused by some of the things that people find important. The first one I saw I thought belonged to a twelve year old but the women was 23. A young 23 obviously.