Thomas Fire Prompts Needed Evacuation / Disaster Preparedness Plans

Thomas Fire Prompts Needed Evacuation and Disaster Preparedness Plans

They are just so unpredictable. Natural disasters come at us out of nowhere, often with very little warning. Recently, 27 residents from Oak Cottage of Santa Barbara, a secured residential memory care community, arrived with caregivers, family, and staff members by bus and car to The Village at Sydney Creek Memory Care in San Luis Obispo. All were evacuees from the Thomas Fire who require specialized care; they arrived with medications, emergency documents, clothing, even a pet cat in a basket.

Mobilizing every member of her staff, Sydney Creek Administrator Kellie Gallegly, was notified in time to coordinate with Long-Term Care Ombudsman Karen Jones who arranged to have enough cots for the emergency arrivals.

“Our Director of Wellness, Kahlua Sievert, was the first to receive the call for help,” said Gallegly. “She notified staff members, including Medical Advisor Dr. Kevin Parzych and his wife. Since then, the team effort has been incredible; not one person has complained about the extra hours; it has been a very smooth process.”

As this blog post is being written it is unclear how long the evacuees will be staying at Sydney Creek but it might be as long as a week or even a month. “The whole community has stepped up to help,” said Gallegly, crediting SLO Health and Fire Departments among many others, for their support. Even nearby hotels offered reduced rates for family members.

All of which is a jarring reminder of the value of being prepared. Many seniors do not live in well-run communities. And some have discovered the hard way that having an emergency plan in place for evacuation is important—even life-saving. So a group of smart seniors living in Rochester, New York, wrote a comprehensive handbook called Disaster Preparedness for Seniors by Seniors. This comprehensive and immensely valuable 20-page booklet can be found (and printed out) at the  Here are some highlights:

Three Steps to Preparedness:             1. Get a Kit

  1. Make a Plan
  2. Be Informed
  3. The Kit: The disaster supplies kit should be packed and ready, and stored in one place where everyone knows where to find it. It should have enough supplies (food, water, batteries and the like) to last at least three days. Complete list found on the site. For extra ease, the kit could be a container that has wheels. And please, label everything – especially walkers, wheelchairs, canes, etc. Don’t forget to include important documents (copies will do), like your medications and allergies list, deed to house, birth certificates, insurance policies, etc.
  4. The Plan: Meet with friends, family, and neighbors to construct a plan that everyone agrees to. Arrange for someone to check you on at the time of a disaster. Think about what personal disabilities or limitations that might affect your response to a disaster. Practice the planned actions regularly to make sure it works–the site suggests every six months. You may want to choose an out-of-town contact person as well. Include such things as escape routes and meeting places, a copy of your community’s evacuation procedures, and a review of the safe places within your home in case you are told to shelter in place.
  5. The Information: Post emergency phone numbers at every phone in your house. Plan for your pets and service animals, and be aware they are not allowed in emergency public shelters for health reasons. Consider where to keep vital family records, hearing aids, and other assistive devices so that they will be less likely to be damaged during an earthquake or flood. Think about the kinds of hazards that could threaten your neck of the woods, both natural and human-caused. Find out how your community warning system works. And know how to reach your local Neighborhood Emergency Team, CERT (Community Emergency Response Team), or community block association.

These three steps are by no means exhaustive so please visit the Red Cross website for the complete handbook. It’s the best gift you can give yourself and those you love this season, because whether it’s fire, flood, or a tragic train derailment – there’s no predicting them. But we CAN prepare for them.  # # #