- DISASTER 1
... downed wires ...
Talk about 2008 coming in with a bangon Friday, January 4, a powerful Pacific storm blew into Central California. Winds gusted at hurricane force and toppled an enormous Douglas Fir tree in our next door neighbors yard. Fortunately, it did not hit anyones house or car. Unfortunately, it did take out the power pole that carried our electricity, cable, phones and DSL internet service and entirely blocked our road. As it was full of live wires, we could not even cut the pole up to clear the road for vehicle traffic.
Close to 600 trees came down in the Santa Cruz Mountains alone and our local utility company pulled in repair crews from all over the Western states to deal with downed power lines. Since we live on a small private road and the utility company focused on getting the biggest blocks of customers up first, it was six days before a crew showed up to hook up electricity. However, that was the least of our problems as pretty much everyone here in the mountains has generators.
The main crisis was no road and the lackof phones and internet. Because of our relatively remote location, there is no cell phone service in our area so we were unable to make or receive ANY incoming or outgoing calls. It wasnt until Tuesday, January 15 in the late afternoon that phone and internet service was restored. That was 11-1/2 days without the ability to connect with the outside world!
Believe me, that is no way to try and run a business, especially since we are now almost a 100% internet/repeat customer based business. Coupled with being closed the week between Christmas and New Years and several major year-end business purchases, this put a serious crimp in our cash flow.
In our case, it was a major rainstorm accompanied by high winds that wreaked havoc, but it could just as well be an earthquake, burst dam, hurricane, tornado, ice storm, etc. Based on this experience, I have a couple of suggestions/comments in case you run into a similar situation.
- Be aware that if your area experiences a natural (or man-made) disaster, you may not be at the top of the priority list and may have to fend for yourself for sometime. Have disaster supplies on hand (extra water, food, medications, blankets, batteries, radio, gasoline, etc)
- If possible, have at least one month of readily available operational expense money on hand, with access to another two months through a line of credit, savings, etc. We did have this, but because of our voluntary one-week closure at the end of December and some major year-end expenses, we tapped our one-month ready cash reserve in less than two weeks. Having this reserve is especially important if you have employees who are depending on their paychecks to make ends meet.
- Designate someone outside your area as a key contact person. Way in advance of any disaster, let friends and family know who this person is. Contact that person as soon as the crisis has passed and ask them to contact your network to let them know you are okay. Call your key contact person periodically to pass on updates and get messages.
- Have a means of diverting phone calls to another location where you can periodically pick them up. Leave a message on that answering machine explaining your situation and assuring people you will get back to them ASAP.
- Go to someone elses house, log on to their computer and set up a Vacation alert with your internet service provider. This is one of those bounce back emails that typically say so-and-so is out of the office until a certain date. We set one up saying we were not able to respond immediately to emails due to the storm and would get back to people as soon as possible.
- Be aware that if you do online banking, this will not be possible during the crisis. This also applies to any credit card transactions you might try to process. We were dead in the water during this time. In the case of our Merchant card provider, even though we tried to call in and get voice approval, the transaction would not register in our bank account until we were able to put it through via our phone based terminal.
- Have business insurance! If ever there was a time for us to file a claim, this was it. However, we are still debating whether we will do this or not. The tree that fell belongs to neighbors who are very close friends and we think our insurance company may go after theirs to recoup losses. We have no desire to create friction with them and thanks to having enough funds on hand to weather the crisis; I think we will be okay without having to do this.
... smoke filled skies ...
Well, as if one natural disaster a year wasnt enough, Mother Nature (and a couple of human enablers) decided to test our mettle once again in mid-June. California is in the midst of one of its periodic droughts and aside from the one major winter storm described above, weve had two years of below average rainfall. As is typical in Mediterranean climates, we receive no rainfall from early May until late October.
On Wednesday, June 12th, I was in town running errands when I looked up to the thickly forested hills that ring our oceanside community and saw a huge black tower of smoke quickly filling the sky. It was a hot, dry, windy day and I immediately knew this was bad news. Worse yet, it looked to be coming from the exact area where our home and studio are located.
I called home and sure enough, my worst fears were confirmed. My husband, Ken, had sent all our weathervane makers home and was loading up our truck and trailer with important papers, completed but not yet shipped weathervanes, and all our animals. An out of control forest fire was raging less than a quarter mile from our home.
Roadblocks had been set up all around the perimeter of the fire zone and there was no way I would be allowed into the danger zone. So, even though I was less than 15 miles from home, I was stuck in town without a change of clothes or a plan about what to do next. Fortunately, my cousin lives in town and graciously offered me a place to stay. It turned out that I was to spend three
days with them while fire personnel battled the stubborn and dangerous blaze that threatened our home and livelihood.
Because the winds were favorable, the fire ended up heading towards a large track of open space rather than in the direction of any of the small neighborhoods that surrounded it. My husband was able to sign a release form saying he absolved the authorities of any personal danger he might face, and was allowed to stay.
This gave him time to go through our house and studio and evaluate what he should take and what would have to remain behind. Most of the residents who followed the mandatory evacuation order did not have this luxury and left their homes with less than 15 minutes warning. Those who were at work that day didnt have a chance to grab anything at all.
The fire ended up burning over 600 acres in our showcase Bonny Doon Ecological Preserve and 10 homes before it was brought under control. Fortunately, most of the small neighborhoods that ringed the fire zone were spared by a combination of favorable winds and a very determined group of professional and amateur firefighters. Our community was very lucky that no one was killed, although one resident was admitted to the hospital with a heart attack and several fire fighters were injured. Arson was determined to be the cause.
As with the storm in January, we learned several more valuable lessons the hard way. So you dont have to reinvent the wheel, I wanted to pass on our latest batch of tips for coping with a sudden and unanticipated disaster.
While it may be second nature to carry a cell phone with you, if you are unable to return home and recharge it, your cell phone will go dead and you wont be able to access any of the cntact information you may have stored in it. Buy a second charger and keep it in your purse or vehicle so you can stay in touch with family, medical personnel, and friends if you are forced from home for an extended period of time.
As further backup, keep a hardcopy slip of paper in your wallet with all your important contact information on it. Our neighbors scattered like quail when the fire started. None of us knew what happened to anyone else or if everyone was okay. It took us all by surprise that not one of us had a complete set of email info, cell phone numbers, etc. when we evacuated. Because we usually called each other at home, we did not have each others cell phone numbers. Now that we were all scattered, we had no way of contacting each other.
One of the worst things during a disaster like this is the waiting. Is your home OK, are your friends safe, what is happening? Each of us had pieces of the story but no one had a complete picture. Official information was inconsistent, slow to be released, and sometimes flat out wrong. Ask anyone whos been through something like this no matter how hard officialdom tries, there is never enough information available when it is your home on the line.
Because Ken had chosen to stay and try to protect our home, he had specific first hand experience about what was happening. However, even he lacked certain crucial information such as fire containment details, new evacuations, acreage burned etc. because our cable TV and electricity was down. Had we all been able to connect via cell phones, there would have been a lot less uncertainty and anxiety all the way around.
If you have animals, take a little time and scout out places in your community that will take in pets in the case of a disaster. Our neighbors have three dogs and a parrot. The only hotel/motel in town that took animals filled up immediately and they ended up having to buy a tent and camp for three days at a local park rather than be separated from their animals.
Keep a small bag in the trunk of your car with a change of clothes, nightwear and basic paraphernalia (toothbrush, comb, medications, flashlight, windup alarm clock, portable radio, etc). Even though you may only be minutes from home, a washed out bridge, fallen trees, etc. may prevent you from returning for days.
Keep your gas tank at least half-full. Had this been an earthquake, people might not have been able to get gas from the damaged tanks. If the damage is truly extensive and you need to vacate the disaster zone, and dont have enough gas to do so, you are in big trouble. Even those possessions or pets that you managed to save might have to be abandoned if you dont have the fuel necessary to get out.
continued on page 14