The day after evacuation: A natural disaster checklist

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The day after

It has been 24 hours. The adrenaline is still running in my veins. I left with my wife, son, and dog and we are now safely sitting in San Mateo.

Down here the world is relatively unaffected. There is smoke. The air quality is poor. People are compassionate. But the devastation is 2 hours north.

The morning after is a weird feeling. After evacuating urgently things seem off. There is an uncertainty.

When I left Monday morning I did not expect to be gone for a long time. I did not expect my home to be destroyed. One night max.

But here I am. Sitting in San Mateo. Having coffee. Trying to soak it in. No good and yet good all at the same time.

It does not soak in. It doesn't even simmer. I live in a state of detachment from the reality of what just happened. The magnitude of it. Not so much for me and my home, but for the community.

Thousands of structures gone. People dead. Countless more missing.

This is bad. What is going to happen to our community? What is going to happen to our hospital? My neighbors? Is my home even standing?


IMG 4296
The community near the hospital. Tragic.

I can't think about these things. Literally. I have to stop. It's no good to worry about the unchangeable. Now is time for action.

So I move. I start making phone calls and planning the next steps. I have never lived through a fire so I have no idea what those steps are…but I do it anyway.

Today I want to talk about what to consider within the first 24 hours. Even if there is not visual confirmation I recommend starting down the list. It's easier to pull back later if needed then to play catch up. 

Checklist: 24 hours after a disaster

  • Call your insurer
    • Tell them what is going on and that you are effected. They will know there is a disaster and you want to be in touch with them in the first day.
    • I called them on Monday and by Tuesday they had called and written me a check for basic necessities. Talk about getting a head start.
    • They also offered to find us an apartment and furnish it. We have “Loss of use/Additional living expenses” coverage which covers up to 1 year of loss (2 years because it was defined a emergency disaster).
    • I placed both a home and auto claim as my car was sitting in the driveway.

      IMG 4276
      The heat must have melted it. 
  • Call your utility companies
    • Call the solar company, electric/gas company, water company, trash company, alarm company, cable company, and other companies servicing your home.
    • It seems crazy that you have to call these people, but if you do not stop the service they will keep billing you.
    • I would add other things like gym memberships. At minimum contact them because chances are if you were effected, they were effected.
  • Set up a change of address to a PO box
    • I learned this the hard way. First I did a change of address to my father-in-laws house, then my new apartment, then to my other new apartment (don't ask…there was a mix up and it was frustrating.), then to a PO box. Luckily I had one already set up for this blog…so boom.
    • I did not change the address for my credit card companies or other utilities because I am waiting to see where I ended up more permanently. The 2 bedroom, 1 bath situation may be temporary.
  • Find housing
    • If you are considering rebuilding and moving back or in any way staying in the city then you need a place to live. I ran up from San Mateo to Santa Rosa on Tuesday (1 day after the evacuation) and went to 3 apartment complexes. Every apartment complex I went to had just rented out their last unit. I wanted a house but having a dog makes the rental search more difficult.
    • After signing the lease I was relieved because I knew we had a home and my commute to work would remain under 10 minutes.
    • Of note, the loss of use aspect of my insurance will pay for a rental equivalent to my home. I could rent a 3,000 square foot house for my family. Unfortunately there are none to find in Santa Rosa, particularly accepting of a dog.
  • Call your credit card companies
    • On the day after the evacuation I went to Old Navy and then Target in San Mateo and made large purchases. The credit card company declined my Target purchase as it was unusual spending. I agree. It is unusual spending. So we called them and explained the situation.
  • When shopping for clothes, mention that you were a fire victim.
    • There were many stores that gave us between 20 to 50% off items purchased. This was a huge help. People in the community care and are heartbroken for natural disaster victims. My friend even received a full cart of groceries.
  • Keep receipts of all purchases
    • You will be submitting these to your insurer later to pay back for both loss of use and any items/property you buy.
  • Excel sheet of items in your home
    • Our insurer told us to take the house, turn it upside down, and everything that falls out is a possession. This list should be as detailed as possible including brand, year purchased, and replacement cost.
    • Items will include such obscure things as the corn cob holders that are in the back of your kitchen drawer. Or the flashlight in your camping bin. Maybe even the ninja halloween costume you wore in 2012.
    • Another bit of good advice from the insurance company was go room to room. This way you can visualize what is in each space and write it down.
    • This list will take you time and can end up to be 80 pages long.
  • Make lists, lists, and more lists.
    • I have made so many lists. It is crazy. Shopping, to do lists, more to do lists, etc. I have a vitals records list (more on that later). I am tired of lists but they are helpful…so start making them.

There you have it. Things to do on day 1 post-evacuation. You will be exhausted but still running on an adrenaline high. The shock of the event won't have settled in completely.  That comes later, as does the exhaustion.

I am a week out and it feels like I have the flu. I am fine at home, but every time I go out for errands I come back exhausted. The emotions did not overwhelm me until a week later. Still we go day by day and will rebuild.

The last list of items to evacuate with has grown thanks to readers recommendations. I ask the same here. Is there anything you would add to the day after evacuation list?

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