Thursday, January 7, 2010

4: Immediate Escape...

when there is time to run.

"If only" are two of the saddest words I know. If only I had checked the batteries in the smoke alarm. If only we had actually practiced our fire drill. If only I had spent the few dollars for a safe deposit box. If only...

Fortunately there are just a few things that can drive us from our homes in a panic and leave us forever changed and filled with regret. Unfortunately, too often we think of them as things that happen to other people. I have been one of those 'other' people and believe me, there is no comfort there. You know the drill; you learned it in grade school. And, if you're reading this, you're probably looking for something beyond smoke detectors and fire drills, so read on...

Most of what I know about surviving, I learned the hard way, in a tent on a Colorado mountain top. The rest came from squeezing every drop of life possible from 15 glorious years in Alaska. But, Alaska is a different story. For now, I will share the lessons learned from losing every single thing my children and I owned to a house fire...and at a time when we had no insurance, no back up plan, not even a job to sustain us.

Being prepared requires that we slip into "what if" mode. First, think about where you live and where you sleep. Are you on a ground floor or higher up? What is your proximity to your children? Do you have an ESCAPE LADDER and an escape plan and so you practice it at least twice a year? Now, consider that your home is gone and you are sitting in a motel room with friends and family coming to your aid. What are your needs beyond a shoulder to cry on? Clothing and toiletries, of course. Contact with your insurance agency. Cash. Credit card. Temporary housing. You still need to go to work and the children still need to go to school but somehow all those practical thoughts play tug-of-war with the emotion of losing irreplaceable, personal items. The doll you've had since childhood. Your son's baseball trophies. The mind is a very strange thing but so is life and it is life that forces us to face reality and begin recovery.

Fortunately, there are a few things that can make survival and recovery a little more certain, a little quicker and a little easier. One is a gift of the computer age:

Flash Drive-Thumb Drive. The FLASH DRIVE or the THUMB DRIVE is step one toward piece of mind...if it is updated periodically. The flash drive has incredible storage capacity, can hold scanned digital copies of every photograph, all important documents, user anmes and passwords, account numbers, business contact information, copies of driver's licenses and the family's social security cards, all credit card information, complete address book, even years of tax records. With all that important information, it needs to be protected from loss or theft. A safe deposit box is exactly that, safe. Giving one to a trusted family member or burying one in the yard might also be considered but there are downsides to both. The thumb drive can hold and protect your entire computer set up and systems.

Insurance. Some of us believe that what we own doesn't amount to much...until we try living without it or replacing it. Insuring our belongings is one of the nicest things we can do for ourselves and our families. Whether a renter or home owner, loss of the dwelling is only half the story. No dishes, not even a can opener, no toothbrush or underwear, no winter coat, no toys for the children. Replacement of 'things' is a really, really big deal. Investigate insurance. It's not as expensive as one might think and it is available at different levels like the depreciated value of your items or the full replacement value. Also, homeowners should remember that Mortgage Insurance will not rebuild the house. It only pays off the debt. Not only will there be no home but the cost and responsibility of clearing the land falls directly on the homeowner. If at all possible, invest in Homeowner's Insurance or Renter's Insurance and if you already have it, take an hour or so to review your policy to make certain what you think is covered really is covered.

Safe Deposit Box. There was a time when I thought only rich people with investment portfolios had safe deposit boxes. How silly. They can cost as little as $10-$20 a year and are exactly what the name implies - a box that is safe in the vault of a bank. It is a good place to keep the flash drive containing all of the important family records as well as the cherished hard copies of Marriage Licenses, Birth Certificates with tiny foot prints and critical documents like the dd214 for members of the military.

A Woman's Purse. I had my purse stolen a few years ago so I am very careful about what it contains when I am out and about but it always contains my car keys, basic identification, insurance information, etc. and my cell phone. The thought of losing everything contained on a flash drive or a thumb drive makes me break into a sweat so I don't recommend carrying valuable or important things in a purse or brief case as you go about your daily business. However, I am like many women who instinctively grab their purse even when in a hurry so I add to it each evening. I keep a flash drive with only immediately critical contact information, a safe deposit box key, 3 days worth of family medications and some cash in a small cosmetics bag. Each night, the cosmetics bag goes into the purse which spends the night beside my bed. If the smoke alarm goes off, it's the first thing in my hands. Each morning, the cosmetics bag comes out of the purse and is safely hidden away. Should there be an emergency in the night, I I have a head start on recovery just because my purse is in my hand.

"Grab n' Go". Some years back, I developed an idea for a thing I called a "Grab n' Go" and encouraged each of my children to put one together. The initial concept was sealed 5-gallon bucket containing the most necessary items should an immediate disaster strike. The general idea was for it to contain $100 cash, a single, low limit credit card, an ID card for each member of the family, a photo of each family member with a physical description on the back, a few bottles of water, several MRE's, socks and underwear, handi-wipes, a roll of DUCT TAPE, granola bars, STERNO, candles and matches, 3 days worth of necessary medications, a space blanket, hand warmers, a flashlight, small radio, extra batteries, etc. It made a compact, emergency escape kit that could be kept in the garage or camouflaged with a cover, to convert it into a foot stool positioned near the door most likely to be used in case of fire. I will post a separate entry detailing my "Grab n' Go" along with its later evolutions. In the meantime, something like it is worth pondering.

The car. Alaska can be a dangerous place to live and an easy place to die. We learn quickly to keep survival supplies in our vehicles, a habit I am glad to maintain. A box or bin or sports bag can contain items much like the ones in the "Grab n' Go" above. Consider adding a change of clothing and extra shoes and eliminating security items like cash, credit cards and keys. It won't take up much room and if it's ever needed, will more than compensate for any inconvenience of having it in the car.

Suitcase. A friend has a husband who travels extensively, sometimes with little notice. Always there are two suitcases, one in use and one either in preparation or ready to go at a moments notice. Having two, avoids the rush to do laundry or replenish toiletries or pack. I adopted this idea, not that I am constantly on the go but because I once got an emergency call to a hospital half a day away and trying to pack thoughtfully while under emotional pressure is something I hope to avoid in the future. Now, a travel bag is packed and just inside my closet. Should there be a fire or any other emergency, with a few minutes to make an exit, I am ready to go.

If you have other suggestions to consider when making an immediate escape, please share them with your comments (below). Thank you.

1 comment:

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