Alerts and evacuation
Part four in our series calls for a family pow-wow. If you've done what you can to protect your home from a wildfire, it's time to make sure your family has a plan to protect themselves, too.
Ask these questions:
1. How will you receive an alert?
Sonoma County has set up a new emergency information website, socoemergency.org.
The county recommends signing up for as many ways to receive an alert as possible. However, just last month, the county tested the accuracy of its WEA and EAS (see below) alert systems and the Kenwood Press can attest that out of the four people in the office that day, two received a text message alert and two did not. So, at a minimum, it will work for some people. The county has reviewed the official results of their tests and identified the system's strengths and weaknesses.
The alerts that require you to opt-in to receive them are:
o SoCoAlert - Create a managed account to receive urgent notifications about local emergencies by phone and/or text message. www.SoCoAlert.com.
o Nixle - Text your zip code to 888777 to opt-in or sign up online to receive email, text or voice messages with alerts and advisories from local law enforcement.
Alerts that do not require subscriptions are:
o Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) - Evacuation orders and other important messages will be sent to compatible mobile devices based on your current location.
o Emergency Alert System (EAS) - Alerts will interrupt local radio broadcasts and Comcast television programming in the event of a large-scale emergency.
A neighborhood emergency alert does not necessarily mean evacuate.
If you are sheltering in place, local TV or radio can be good sources of information. In last year's fires KSVY 91.3 FM and KSRO 1350 AM were invaluable sources of information.
The county does not recommend relying on county email notification, road closure updates, Nextdoor or social media channels as your primary method of notification, due to potential delays in information.
Know thy neighbor
When cell service is spotty or the electricity is out - as was the case in many places when the 2017 Nuns fire broke out - phones may be more useful as paperweights than emergency alert centers. Many who were forced to evacuate on Oct. 8 last year were first alerted by a neighbor, not a phone. One year later, residents in some neighborhoods, like those in parts of Glen Ellen and Adobe Canyon Road in Kenwood, have taken to creating neighborhood phone trees. Even if it's just keeping a list of the names and all contact information for your two next door neighbors, in the event of an evacuation, you all have each other's backs. Create a buddy system to check on friends and neighbors to ensure everyone is safe.
2. How will you evacuate?
o Designate an emergency meeting location most likely to be outside a fire area. At the time of an emergency, your family may not be together. It is important to choose family meeting places. Remember that bridges and roads may be blocked by debris, so choose your meeting places carefully with access in mind.
o Have an evacuation plan A, B, and C - from your home, your neighborhood, and community. Practice these so everyone in your family is familiar in case of emergency. Take into account where each of you will likely be at different times and on different days. You should also allow for an evacuation scenario while at work. Know the evacuation plans for your kids' school.
o Have an evacuation plan for pets and large animals such as horses and other livestock. Glen Ellen-based HALTER Project (www.halterproject.org) has resources on this. In the next issue, we'll include tips on emergency kits for humans and pets.
o Ensure that your family knows where your gas, electric, and water main shut-off controls are located and how to safely shut them down in an emergency. Make sure your family knows how to open the garage door or gate and consider a battery backup.
3. How will you shelter in place?
o Look for a small room in your home that is close to the ground, far inside the building, and away from outside doors, windows and walls.
o Have fire extinguishers on hand and train your family how to use them (check expiration dates regularly).
o Assemble an Emergency Supply Kit for each person (more on this in the next issue, but you can check Ready.gov to get ahead of the game).
o Have a portable radio available so you can stay updated on the situation.