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Safe Living in Sonoma

Planning your emergency supplies for the “other three seasons”

By Julie Atwood

Autumn has arrived here in the North Bay, and it’s postcard perfect! Smoke-free skies, rainwashed landscapes, and water in streams and reservoirs. Since the late October storms, there’s been a collective exhalation throughout our region. Fire season is essentially over. Are you set for other types of emergencies?

November is when we turn our clocks back, and a good annual reminder to change batteries in smoke alarms and flashlights (don’t forget those in your barns), and to refresh go-bags and emergency supplies for ourselves and our animals.

We’re frequently asked, “What’s the difference between a go-bag and general emergency supplies?” and “How much stuff should I have in them?”

The answers have changed over the last few years, and the quantities recommended for critical necessities such as clean water, medications, food, and sanitation supplies have increased quite a bit. Current pandemic shortages emphasize the need for even more thoughtful planning and precautions.

In the sidebar, we’ve provided a checklist of the most important items and minimum recommended quantities, along with some good resources.

In the north Sonoma Valley, residents live in suburban communities, on ranches in floodplains, and in remote, rugged mountains and canyons. As many of us know from experience, the ability to get out of, or into, these areas in emergencies and disasters can be severely limited, dangerous, or impossible for weeks or months.

Your emergency supplies should support your family and all your animals for at least four to six weeks, and preferably longer if you have the space to store items safely. You should have enough medications for at least two months. What you need more of depends on your personal needs and the needs of your animal(s). Clean, safe drinking water is a top priority, as are medications, parasite prevention, special-diet foods, and sanitation supplies.

We’ve been understandably fire-focused for what feels like a lifetime. But remember when winter and spring meant worries about long power outages and roads blocked by mud and trees? It still does!

We also live in earthquake country, where even small tremors can result in road closures until engineering inspections can assure safety of bridges, culverts, and freeway overpasses. Ongoing COVID-related shortages, and delays that impact prescriptions, can become catastrophic when further impacted by a disaster. The simple answer to “How much do I need?” is: “As much as you can afford and can safely store.”

Your go-bag (or ready kit) is part of your “stay” gear. Go-bags are intended to get you through the first few days of an evacuation, but should always include enough animal medications for at least a month, preferably longer.

Your go-bags are also where you know you can grab a headlamp, gloves, radio, and other personal protective equipment (PPE). Your stay crate and emergency supplies support you and your animals for many days, weeks, or longer.

What do you need and how much? Ask yourself, “What’s a worst-case scenario?” In our area, a large earthquake could mean we are on our own for several weeks, or longer, without power, clean tap water, sanitation, and access to veterinary services and prescription refills.

Medical supplies? Most items in your own first aid kit work for pets, too. Make sure you have enough, and add, or build, a separate kit with the things you’ll need for your pets. Be sure to separate human and animal medications (clearly labeled ziplock bags or colored pouches are a good idea).

If you have equines and/or other large animals, or backyard poultry, you probably have a first-aid kit. Talk to your vet about adding critical and comfort care supplies. Keep first-aid handbooks with your go-bags for all the species in your family. If you can find time, take an animal first-aid class every year.

While considering scary possibilities often feels overwhelming, preparing for them can be calming and empowering, and it’s a wonderful group activity. Collective purchasing, planning, and storage makes sense for neighborhoods, residential communities, and groups. An added benefit is the team-building that develops when neighbors work together, as our COPE and neighborhood safety groups are finding. Round up a bunch of animal owners and create some emergency safety sheds.

Yes, these actions do require organization and management to be sustainable. You may live in a rural area, far away from neighbors, and must be set up for self-reliance success. Preparedness takes work. Resilience includes reaching out to others for help. Do what you can, and spend time on thoughtful, thorough preparation.