As I watched the billowing clouds of smoke from my home office and thought about what to do, I realized that a small shift in the wind would have enveloped our neighborhood in dense smoke making it difficult to breathe. The winds were so strong that firefighters could not do much; neither planes nor helicopters could fly.
So I started packing but very inefficiently! I wandered around looking at things for ideas about what to take. At first, I could only see billowing clouds of smoke from my office window, but then I started to see large flames. Our kids were very frightened and on the verge of hysterical. We kept telling them it was nothing to worry about but it had no effect; they could see the flames and smoke themselves!
We spent a few hours packing computers, documents, clothing, food, toys, etc., but in this environment, it was very hard to think straight about what to bring with us. Had I been given just 10 minutes to pack instead, I would have been at a complete loss for what to take or where to find whatever I decided upon. A little anxiety and pressure change everything.
The fire started a couple miles away from our house but after a couple of hours reached the mountains right in front of our house. In the end, we didn’t have to decide whether to evacuate or not because there was a mandatory evacuation order. It became a moot point anyway because our girls were too frightened to stay, period.
So we evacuated, but as we were driving away, we saw that the orange glow from the fire was very close to our neighborhood. We turned around and went back to gather more clothing. During the night, the wind dropped to 10 to 20 mph and switched to a more favorable direction. Firefighters controlled the fire and our neighborhood emerged unscathed.
This experience just reminds me how ineffective I am when completely unprepared. Whether it’s a phone call, a meeting, an interview, a vacation or an emergency, preparation makes all the difference! Even though a fire like this is very unlikely to happen again in the next 50 years, I’ll prepare an evacuation list. I keep a list of things to bring on vacation and business travel, so why not an evacuation list?
The funny thing is, the preparation never really takes much effort or time. For me anyway, all the battle is in remembering to prepare. For that, I often use sticky notes placed in appropriate places. For example, there’s one on my monitor with the reminders ‘Prepared?’, ‘Specific enough?’ and ‘Documented?’.