We returned on Sunday afternoon and found our property the way we left it. Well not entirely, everything is covered with a layer of ashes. In this email, I would like to share some tips about what we learned from this experience.
This is not a complete emergency plan for food, water and “survival”. Here are the links to the products and websites I am mentioning:
Radio and TV and “News Websites” are useless!
Twitter turned out to be very helpful, once we found the right organizations and people to follow. I suggest looking up and following your local county and city Twitter feeds. Almost instant updates were provided by some HAM radio amateurs who are monitoring the firefighters and air traffic control with their scanners and then transcribed the info on their Twitter feeds. This often proved to be precious information keeping us informed well ahead of the official channels. Avoid old messages by disabling the “Show the best Tweets first” in the app settings.
Here the current the list that I am subscribed to for the Thomas Fire:
I regretted taking with us the network equipment, therewith disabling our security cameras. Leave your network and security cameras up and running (use the UPC battery backup!) and point one or more cameras to the outside, where the fire or other danger might be coming from. It might be a long time before you can return to your home and chances are your cameras will give some peace of mind while being away from your home.
Internet / Cellphone service:
In our case, we had some outages but nothing too dramatic. In the beginning, you should quickly inform relatives about your status with a text message rather than making phone calls. Avoid sending pictures or videos to conserve bandwidth. Don’t upload videos to other websites with lots of “content” that requires a fast internet connection (eg. Facebook!)
Put them under this year’s Christmas tree! These things are very handy when checking the property and neighborhood, packing up your belongings and traveling with multiple vehicles. Cellphones are too slow and cumbersome and the network might not be available. At one point you might be spending a lot of time on the phone trying to find a hotel and make other arrangements. Being able to quickly communicate and relay information with your peers via your own Walkie Talkie is invaluable.
The power was frequently interrupted. Short outages (brownouts) are damaging for sensitive electronics. A surge protector doesn’t protect you from this! Laptops are fine, but desktops and other sensitive electronics need to be protected with a UPS battery power backup. You might want to instal the biggest available UPS on your cable modem and wifi router. This will provide you a couple more hours internet service when the power goes out. Since you will be heavily relying on your iPhone, you should have some additional batteries to keep them charged. A fast charging wall and car USB charger will be able to quickly charge your devices and batteries when there is power available.
Buy your own radio scanner so you can hear what is going on first hand even when the internet is down. Become a Licensed Radio Amateur for much broader communication abilities plus great skills and knowledge about what drives all our modern communications (novice license is easy!)
The smoke and rain of ashes are still heavy and will remain until we have rain and strong winds. In the meantime, it's highly recommended to wear a mask when outside. Indoors you need to run the HVAC system to circulate the air through the HEPA filters in the furnace. You might want to have air filter(s) for bedrooms and other spaces where you spend a lot of time. All these items will be out of stock for a while and packages will not be delivered. Stock up on ultra-fine particle filters for your furnace and face-masks. To make wearing a face-mask a little bit more comfortable I highly recommend a model with an exhale valve to avoid overheating and moisture buildup.
There was only one gas station that had a generator and was selling gasoline in Ojai/Oak View. The others had to shut down when the power went out. Apparently, people did not have enough gas in their tank to travel the 15 - 30 miles to the coast, given the long lines and chaos at the gas station. Keep your tank at least half full so you can get out, even while sitting in traffic for hours.
The water pressure will drop when firefighters draw a lot of water or pipes are broken. This low pressure might cause unsafe water to be sucked back into the water system making it unsafe to drink. Likely the water company will send out an advisory to boil the water. Your whole house water filter will not stop the bacteria, and the last thing you need is to get sick. Boiling water is a chore and might not be possible. It's best to keep some water purification tablets in stock.
We had no worries about our data. All critical information is stored in our 1Password vaults, which also holds scans of all important documents like insurance policies and medical information. Most of our data is stored in the cloud using iCloud, Dropbox and Google Drive. All other data was on the external hard drives we use for storage and back-up.
We had 2 hours to pack before the fire became so close that we needed to evacuate. This was ample of time for us to pack more than we needed and if the house had burned down, we would have had all our good clothes, valuables, and the most important memorabilia. Upon our return, this prompted us into yet an other purging of redundant “stuff” and opportunity to declutter as we look to put 2017 behind us. :)