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Here's What You Should Have in Your Emergency Bag

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A resident rushes to save his home as an out-of-control wildfire moves through the area on Oct. 9, 2017, in Glen Ellen. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Please note: we have a newer version of this 2017 guide that specifically discusses wildfire preparation during the COVID-19 pandemic, 'What to Pack in Your Emergency Bag — With COVID-19 in Mind.'

When flames are glowing in your window or someone yells down the street that a fire is coming and to get out quick, what should you grab?

“We spent like five minutes looking for keys,” said one caller on KQED’s Forum on Tuesday morning who helped neighbors evacuate from a fire in Redwood Valley in Mendocino County.

“It’s the little things you don’t think about,” the caller said.

We reached out to San Francisco’s Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) to get tips on what should be in your emergency "go bag":

Q: What should be in my go bag?

“Things you cannot live without,” said Capt. Erica Arteseros of San Francisco’s Fire Department. She is the training coordinator for the NERT team of volunteers. Here’s a list of things to get started: 

  • Medication
  • An extra set of keys
  • Eyeglasses or contact lenses
  • Hearing aids
  • A change of clothes
  • Some water and snack bars
  • Cash in small bills
  • A first-aid kit
  • Flashlight
  • A portable radio
  • Charging cables for your cellphone and a portable cellphone battery pack
  • A copy of your ID
  • respirator face mask

Q: But cell service has been down since Monday morning for many fire victims in the Napa and Sonoma wildfires and even beyond. What are we supposed to do when we can’t use our smartphones to connect with family and friends?

“We’ve become so reliant on smartphones. And when it fails us, there is that panic moment,” Arteseros said. “So, we always recommend to identify an out-of-state person to be a check-in contact.”  

Arteseros said you should send a text message to that out-of-state check-in person with the time and your location, even if you don’t have wireless service, because that text message will eventually get to that person. Phone calls will fail when cell towers are down for either you or your contact, but text messages work on a relay system between emergency beacons on cell towers, so they are more likely to reach people than voice messages and phone calls.

It's also a good idea to update your social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to let friends and family know your status, including where you are and when you will update your status again. This allows people to know when to expect information from you and will save cellphone battery, allowing you to go without cell service and Wi-Fi for a little while, if you must.

Remember, some smartphones allow you to change settings to make calls over Wi-Fi, and some apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp allow Wi-Fi phone calls.  

A burned home in Santa Rosa's Forest Grove neighborhood.
A burned home in Santa Rosa's Forest Grove neighborhood. (Lesley McClurg/KQED)

Q: You can’t take everything in an evacuation that’s important to you like precious items, so what can I do about those things?

Arteseros recommends building a special box that you can take with your go bag. Those items would include heirlooms, photos and scrapbooks -- anything that you consider special in your life that you would be devastated to lose but is not practical for the go bag.

Q: We’ve heard so many stories of people knocking on doors to alert them to evacuate. What should I do about my neighbors?

"Make a plan," Arteseros said. She said it's important to know who your neighbors are. You can help them make a go bag if they don't have one, and make sure they have a way to escape, especially if they don't have a car. (Keep your gas tank full.)

“We don’t want anyone waiting for a neighbor that just can’t get ready,” she said. “But it is important for everyone to look out for each other when something happens.”

Here is an emergency kit list from Cal Fire.


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