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Safe Living in Sonoma

Staying prepared in the era of the mega-event

By Julie Atwood

Recently, stories have inundated media platforms about predictions of a “megaflood” that would devastate much of Sonoma County.

Stories vying for our attention include nonstop media coverage of megafires, megawinds, and megastorms threatening us, and multitudes of other regions as well. A whole new vocabulary has entered our lives, with terms like “atmospheric river” and “arctic vortex” peppering our conversations and daily reading.

Enough already? Well, yes — and no. These scary natural disasters are real. Meteorologists have a constantly expanding arsenal of tools that help them make more accurate forecasts over a longer range. These predictions help us in all kinds of ways: planning for vacations, family outings, backyard parties, ski or camping trips, going to the store, walking the dog. In short, just about everything we do, every day, including planning to keep ourselves, our loved ones (of all species), and neighbors safe during and after a disaster.

Additionally, North Bay residents live with the constant possibility, and increasing probability, of “mega” things that happen with little or no warning: earthquakes and tsunamis. It’s hard not to feel like Henny Penny. With so many worrisome possibilities lurking, how can we prepare to keep our families and animals safe and not lose our grip doing it?

The answer lies in a basic concept that most of us deploy all the time: Simply take things one step at a time. Do a little bit every day, whether it’s restocking your ready kit, rotating food and water in your stay crates, changing flashlight batteries. As with most tasks, big tasks are easier when you break things down into small, bite-sized to-do lists. It’s like spring cleaning, but in small daily or weekly chunks.

Where to start? Assess the current state of your safety. What is most urgent? If you live in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), this might mean cleaning up outdoors around your home, barn, and animal pens. If you’re in good shape on the home and ranch hardening fronts, move onto evacuation prep for you and your animals. This is as important for flood or tsunami as it is for wildfire.

Assessing your risks means taking stock of your surroundings, learning about the history of weather events in the area, and knowing where the most vulnerable and the safest areas are near you.

Another task that can be tackled in small increments is refreshing your go-bags and stay-crate emergency supplies. For both people and animals, start with medications, food, and water. Animal needs also include prescription diet food and parasite control, which can be hard to get during disasters or in current supply chain conditions.

While big floods are currently a big local topic, more pressing is our current lack of water. You can add huge value to your emergency prep by adding water storage and supplies for keeping water safe for drinking.

Another great way to help you breathe easier is to update your emergency contacts, including the numbers for animal hotlines and your neighborhood emergency buddies or phone tree.

How about an evacuation practice evening? Nighttime is a good time to work with your pets, equines, and backyard farm animals on crate, car, and trailer loading. Call a neighbor and take turns with each other’s animals. Practice using, and focusing, using your headlamp so you and your animals can see.

Here’s an easy one: Improve escape and responder access by practicing disabling your garage door, and register your gate code with Sonoma County sheriff.

“Know Your Zone” is an important phrase, and it applies to more than just where you live. Add “evac zones” to your contacts, and include the zones for all the places you, your animals, and family members might be.

Don’t forget visitors!! Sonoma County is a Mecca for tourists with pets in tow, trail riders, and horse campers. If you’re an Airbnb owner, or manage an inn or campground, boarding stable, or other facility, create a handbook for guests that provides the information they need to plan to stay safe.

Last, but definitely not least: Can you actually get all the great warnings, alerts, and other information you need to plan ahead? Update your emergency contacts (for people and animals), put them in an address book, on wallet cards, on your phone, and on a memory stick. Make sure you’re signed up for official local alerts, follow the National Weather Service on social media, and add a weather app.

Once you assess the risks you face, and your preparedness level for each, use a checklist to highlight the “must-do-now” and “do soon” items. No matter how much or how little you check off, you will be taking important steps toward eternal readiness for whatever may come your way.