Whether it’s making plans for your pets, ensuring you have all your medications, or clearing flammable vegetation around your home, the time for disaster preparation is now and not when you see smoke, as one speaker put it at a discussion last week in Weaverville.
A group of emergency services personnel in Trinity County spoke May 29 at the Weaverville Fire Hall during the Disaster Preparedness Discussion organized by District 2 County Sup. Judy Morris. The meeting was open to the public and it was publicized, but it was lightly attended.
The point all of the speakers tried to drive home was the need to do as much as possible in advance.
As insurance agent Jennifer Aho put it, “When you get evacuated your mind absolutely leaves your body. You don’t remember any of this stuff,” she said. “So be prepared ahead of time.”
“We’re heading into fire season so that’s what we’re all thinking about,” Sup. Morris said, but the tips can apply to other situations as well such as winter storm emergencies.
Three big things to plan for in the event of an evacuation are communications, pets and medication, said Amanda Braxton from Trinity County Public Health and the Office of Emergency Services.
Power outages can affect communications, she noted.
“Have a communication plan,” she said. “Maybe one person outside the area that everyone can call and check in.”
Braxton also suggests grouping car keys, cell phone and computer before you go to bed at night.
“I’ve heard stories of people being ready to go and then they don’t know where their keys are or their cell phone,” she said.
And -- lessons learned from the Camp fire –- several speakers reminded the audience to keep a good amount of gas in your vehicle in case of evacuation.
Where would you go if you were evacuated? If it’s a friend’s house, speakers recommended talking to that friend in advance. Braxton noted that unless there is a medical need by the owner, the American Red Cross shelters house only people, not pets.
“Don’t wait ‘til you see the smoke,” Trinity County Sheriff Tim Saxon said, adding that often people will end up at an evacuation center without food, medication or other needed items.
Know your neighbors
“Get to know your neighbors,” said Weaverville Fire Chief Todd Corbett.
There may be people who need help.
Corbett shared that the worse thing he’s had to do in 20 years of firefighting is sift through the rubble of homes in Paradise looking for bodies after the Camp fire swept through.
“Let’s not let that happen in this town,” Corbett said.
Animal Control Officer Christina Merritt seconded this suggestion.
“What if you’re not home?” she asked “We saw that in Lewiston last year” during the Carr fire.
“Form relationships with your neighbors so on the way out maybe they can stop and pick up your animals,” she said.
Planning for pets
The Trinity County Animal Shelter does accept pets during an evacuation, Merritt said, but “we run out of room fast.”
Pet owners will need a go-bag for their pet as well as themselves.
“You’ll want leashes, harnesses or collars, carriers,” Merritt said, and food, water, bowls, medications, current photos of the pet, care instructions. Microchipping is more affordable now, she said.
For cats, she said, “in a pinch there’s always a pillow case.”
“During an emergency try to get out your difficult to move livestock,” Merritt said. “It’s very difficult to move them at night usually … Don’t wait for ‘Go.’”
The fuels are getting dry enough to burn in Trinity County, said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Andy Reiling, and “there’s too many tons per acre of vegetation that can burn, especially around communities.”
“Every community within Trinity County should be thinking about working on zones around the community,” Reiling said. “If you can’t walk through the forest or through the brush field, it’s probably too thick.”
Weaverville Fire Chief Todd Corbett said help is available for property owners.
“I know it can be an overwhelming task for people to do,” he said, adding that people may retire to the area and buy a lot of land, then realize they can’t keep up with it.
The department’s Hazard Reduction Program can assist, and Corbett asked that people “tell your neighbors, tell your friends.”
Weed abatement work is provided at little or no cost, to elderly, disabled and low-income people in the Weaverville, Lewiston, Douglas City and Junction City areas.
From Cal Fire, Reiling stressed the importance of addressing and signage. In a major incident, he noted that firefighters may be coming from far away.
“You call 911 and say, ‘I’m caught in my house and give an address it might not be Todd (Corbett) looking for you … It might be someone coming from Redding.”
In fact, earlier the day of the meeting, firefighters responded to an escaped controlled burn in Weaverville at a road that wasn’t signed and had to get directions. “All that stuff takes time,” Reiling said.
Trinity County OES Manager Ed Prestley noted that during the Carr fire he met a firefighter from New Zealand who came over to help.
“Do you think that guy from New Zealand has any idea what’s going on in Trinity County?” he asked. “We can’t assume these people know our backyards.”
Plan for power outages
The community will also need to be prepared for public safety power outages when fire danger is high.
People with medical equipment that relies on power such as oxygen need to keep that in mind, Chief Corbett said. “This is going to be the first year this happens and many, many years after this.”
Asked if a generator is recommended for power outages when there is no evacuation, several speakers said they have generators themselves.
Reiling advised to make sure it’s hooked up properly outside and that you have a carbon monoxide detector in your house in case fumes enter.
The Sheriff’s Office and OES reported improvements in the emergency alert systems. However, no system is perfect.
“I would say if you think you’re in danger, don’t wait for a phone call, don’t wait for somebody to get to your place,” said Aho, the insurance agent.
From OES, Prestley urged everyone to sign up for CodeRED, the county’s emergency notification system.
If you do get a notification through the CodeRED system, “listen to the message,” Prestley said. “Just because you get a phone call it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re evacuating.”
Sometimes the message is to be prepared, and people outside an evacuation area may receive the message as well.
Recently, the Integrated Public Alert Warning System was added to the CodeRED system in Trinity County so that persons traveling through the area can get an alert via their cell phone if there is an emergency here.
“This doesn’t take the place of the Sheriff’s Office coming down and knocking on doors,” Prestley said, or warnings from Cal Fire. “It’s a supplement.”
Depending on the situation, information can be put out over CodeRED as to what evacuation route to use.
Prestley said, “The one thing we do like to stress here is cell phone coverage in the county is a little spotty … So a landline helps.”
Prestley said a big concern is the reluctance of people to believe they’re in danger and evacuate.
“If law enforcement is telling you that, it’s for a real reason,” he said. “They are trying to save your life.”
To sign up for CodeRED online go to www.trinitycounty.org/oes/codered.
Prestley will also sign residents up over the phone and can be reached at 623-1116.
Sheriff Saxon noted that historically there hasn’t been standardized terminology for different types of evacuation notices. In March, state fire officials, law enforcement and the Office of Emergency Services got together and agreed on the following terms:
Shelter in place: The lowest level of notice. Be prepared.
Evacuation warning: There is a potential threat to life and property. Prepare to leave, and go now if you require additional time.
Evacuation order: Immediate threat to life. Leave.
Saxon said, “We can’t make you leave your house. All we can do is stress that this is not the place to be and if you choose to stay you’re on your own.”
That said, Saxon added that a system is being worked on to keep track of the people who decide to remain.
Saxon said every effort will be made to keep the public aware of the status of an evacuated area. He noted that the presence of emergency personnel on narrow roads is a consideration.
From Cal Fire, Reiling asked that people who have to stop to let their neighbor by on their road think about how it would be with fire engines and other large firefighting equipment in the area.