6 Steps to an Emergency Evacuation

Halloween is tomorrow, but I got my fill on fear this Monday when we needed to evacuate our home in a fire emergency. The leaves have been super dry and crisp in Orange County, and with the dry air and high winds from the weekend, conditions were ripe for wildfire. 

Fire isn’t new to us in California, but this is the first time we’ve needed to evacuate because of one. Luckily, we were prepared and able to make some quick decisions to get out and on the crowded roads of our neighborhood. Thank goodness our car was filled with gas, because the lines to leave the development were long! 

We’re back at home now. Travis and I have been taking it easy after a stressful week—but looking back at our Emergency Plan, I’m so grateful we were prepped! I feel like I’ve gained a  glimpse into how our family operates under pressure, and I’m proud! Here are the 6 steps we took to make sure we were prepared to evacuate. 

1. Emergency Kit  

It’s best to start with the basics. Lucky for us, Travis is a former Eagle Scout, and had this part down! We Yokotas are planners by nature, and evacuation is definitely a moment where it pays dividends to be prepped in advance. Every second counts when you’re forced to collect all the most valuable items in your home to get out the door. 

All our emergency materials are in the garage, ready to load up. Our fully-stocked Emergency Kit includes:

  • a few cases of bottled water
  • nonperishable food 
  • first aid & tools
  • flashlight & extra batteries
  • blankets 
  • Bonus: radio / walkie-talkies

You can always buy a pre-assembled emergency bag online. But if you’re planning your own kit, you’ll find some of these items are already in-use around the house. Maintaining a single, contained emergency kit is definitely best-practice so you can load-and-go! But when that’s just not practical, you can reduce spin by keeping all your Emergency items in close proximity, so they’re accessible in one room or closet. 

If you don’t have a single, pre-packed kit, you can keep a printed list of your Emergency Kit’s contents for good measure. Tape it to the inside of the closet door, or a cabinet in the garage will help make sure you don’t miss anything on your way out! 

2. Secure the Home 

Where there’s fire, there’s smoke. Smoke can still do irreversible damage, even when your home is untouched by fire! The air quality was already terrible as we were preparing to leave, and only expected to get worse. While I was packing some of the big-ticket items, Travis made sure all windows, doors, & vents were totally shut, and as air-tight as possible. 

Apartment best-practices also include moving furnishings away from doors and windows to help slow the spread of fire through your building. Slowing down the fire is especially important in our neighborhood, where the houses are close together! 

3. Keep a ‘What & Where’ List

By having a master-plan ready for action, we can be flexible where it matters most. Once the emergency-basics are all ticked off, evacuation is a matter of packing your must-haves and collecting valuables. Of course, in the stress and panic of preparing to leave, it is REALLY easy to miss things. 

After doing it once, (though hopefully never again) I’ll definitely start keeping a list of what I need and where I keep it. This goes double for jewelry! I DIY so often that I am frequently without my wedding ring—and I have so many special ‘safe places’ that I end up hiding it from myself. I FINALLY found it, after a lot of stress. This ordeal taught me to always put it back in the same spot! 

4. Have Family Photos Pre-organized

The other priceless family items were much easier. We catalogued all our family photos and videos a few years ago, and I now have about 9 or 10 tupperwares organized chronologically. This was such a blessing! We have more family photos than we could take, but I knew immediately which timeframes were most precious to me, and I was able to make rapid-fire decisions for Travis to load up alongside the emergency gear. 

Having all our best memories pre-sorted for instant decision-making made ALL the difference. Otherwise, I easily would have spent all our evacuation time trying to locate the right photos! I still ran around a bit looking for passports, so I’ll probably take this to the next level and prepare a box for all our most important documents, too, including titles and deeds. 

5. Pack Practically

With the big-ticket items ready, I switched gears to think about packing. This was the HARDEST part because the logistics are so unclear. What clothes do you bring when you don’t know how long you’re going to be gone? Should I pack all my favorite moisturizers? And I know the hotel will have one… but I really love my own hairdryer! 

Ultimately, my strategy is practicality. I ended up bringing clothes that would layer, and skipped all the fancy stuff. In an emergency situation, when you don’t know what you’ll come back to, you want to be prepared with the things you’ll use everyday—otherwise you can feel stranded. 

Evacuation scenarios equate to a lot of rushed packing. We were moving so quickly that for a moment I was worried I might not have brought underwear! But thinking through my morning routine helped me grab the items I knew I’d need most: 

  • My favorite casual clothes: tees, leggings, jeans and sweaters. 
  • My basic beauty routine: moisturizer, spray toner, toothbrush, and makeup bag
  • And yeah, I totally grabbed my hairdryer & curling iron! 

Array of beauty products on a bath tray next to a vase of orange flowers

6. Don’t Skip Your Lifeline 

Having our emergency kit and all our photos squared away gave me the luxury to think about what I really wanted to have with me, not just what I needed. I had the assurance that my most important valuables were taken care of, so my brain was able to relax (a little) and survey our home with a clear head. 

The craziest thing I brought? My free weights! Since Covid, you CANNOT buy free weights. Not to mention shipping a new set is super expensive. So, I made Travis take the 10lb & 15lb weights, plus my yoga mat, core ball, and tension bands. The girls were so against it, and they definitely took up space, but I knew I’d be beside myself without the outlet. 

I reasoned that while we were away, I’d MOST want the things that would help me replicate my routine outside the home. Especially since we had no idea how long we’d be gone. I’m committed to doing my exercise sessions at the hotel! Maybe it seems silly, but I felt so much more at peace having access to these things. 

Maybe your “crazy item” isn’t workout equipment. But whatever it might be, don’t downplay the critical items that are going to help you find balance when your world is upside-down. What is your lifeline? What’s going to make you feel good and normal? TAKE IT. 

Count The Little Blessings, Too

Even though this experience was chaotic and messy, it solidified many of the core values I’ve been mulling over this last month. More than that, it made me beyond GRATEFUL for our family! In the whirlwind of evacuation, there were still sweet moments that brought levity and joy to the most stressful of circumstances. 

Our youngest, Natalie, was still in school when we were prepping the house, but our older girls were home and prepping alongside us. It was great to be able to rely on them, and delegate key tasks so we could get out the door. Emily packed on Natalie’s behalf, and hearing her show Nat that she had packed all her favorite things made my heart feel so full. It’s such a relief to know my girls are looking out for one another. 

We can say that material things aren’t important—but they are! Our homes are a spiritual space where we get to grow emotionally and create family bonds. We can take all that for granted… until our sacred space is threatened, and we see just how fragile our lives really are. But through it all, I can be confident that our family is prepared, can act as a team, and we’ll get through everything together.

Xo,

Anita

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