Monday, August 27, 2012

A FEMA Contractor's Hurricane & Disaster Evacuation Tips That Can Decrease Your Loss

Hello! For those who don't know me personally, I have been a disaster housing inspector, under contract to FEMA for the last 10+ years. I'm also a Licensed Practical Nurse. I've been in the homes of over 900 disaster victims and have observed first hand the devastating effects of hurricanes and tropical storms. I've also lived in Florida and experienced hurricanes from a resident's perspective as well.

As I write this I am on standby for deployment once Isaac makes landfall. It is from my past experiences that I have drawn some valuable information that I want to share. It is my hope that these tips will help decrease people's loss or assist in their recovery.

This post is intended for anyone in the path of a tropical storm, hurricane, forest fire, etc. If you are in an evacuation area, PLEASE consider taking with you any applicable items from the following list. A few are necessary if you must file an Insurance or FEMA claim. They are marked with an ***. The rest you will not want to lose if your home is heavily damaged or destroyed. Some will say that my list is over-kill. I disagree. I've based it on what I've observed from hundreds of people suffering loss.

The easiest thing to do is to keep a list taped inside the cupboard or closet door. Have a suitable tote designated as the evacuation tote and know where everything is. If you do have to evacuate, just go down the list, pack it into the tote and you're done. Planning  ahead alleviates a lot of last minute anxiety and decreases your chance of forgetting important items.

I have seen the unfortunate results of people who did not take these items with them. Obviously what you take depends on your method of evacuation and the amount of room you have when you're leaving. Remember though, a little discomfort from being cramped in the car is worth it compared to the pain of the loss of many of these items and the ability to recover more quickly because you have the documents required to apply for assistance. Please read down to the bottom for a few additional tips.

Important documents: 

  1. Birth certificates
  2. Marriage license
  3. Divorce decree
  4. Child custody/Child support papers
  5. Social Security cards
  6. Immunization records
  7. Passports (include your Yellow Fever Immunization document if applicable)
  8. Mortgage payment book***
  9. Copy of rental lease***
  10. Current Utility Bills***
  11. Homeowner's Insurance - full policy papers, not just your agent's card***
  12. Auto Insurance - full policy, not just your agent's card***
  13. Auto Registration documents***
  14. Health Insurance cards***
  15. Banking documents: checkbooks, Debit or Credit cards
  16. Tax Records, Payroll stubs, W-2 forms***
  17. Food Stamp or public assistance records
  18. Bankruptcy papers
  19. List of all creditors
  20. Student Loan paperwork
  21. Specialty License or Certification records (nursing license, real estate license, etc.)
  22. Safe Deposit Box key and info (Banks don't keep a spare copy of the depositor's key from what I have been told by my bank. If your key is destroyed you will have a very difficult time getting your items)
  23. Contact info for important people (family and friends)
  24. Your Journal
  25. List of family physicians & contact info
  26. List of prescription meds (If you can get a printout of your meds from your pharmacy or doctor to keep on hand it is even better. If your pharmacy and/or doctor's office is closed or destroyed you may need these to get refills. Not all pharmacy computers are linked, and a new pharmacist won't know which "little white pill for my pressure" you are supposed to be on.)
  27. Important school records (HS or college diploma, transcripts, acceptance letter, Homeschooling records, etc.)
  28. Tickets for upcoming events/travel that you would have a hard time replacing if they were destroyed (Season tickets, next spring's cruise, etc.)
  29. Pilot's flight hours log - Any pilot knows the importance of this logbook
  30. Aircraft maintenance log
  31. Other legal documents
  32. Copyright paperwork
  33. "Only Copies" of manuscripts, poetry, lyrics, artwork, original recorded music. It is heartbreaking when you have taken the time to create something and the only copy in existence is destroyed. 

Medical Items:

  1. All of your prescription meds currently in hand
  2. Extra prescription glasses & the written eyeglass prescription
  3. Medical equipment that you use regularly (glucometer, BP cuff, CPAP, etc)
  4. Feminine hygiene items
  5. Over-the-counter meds likely to be needed


  1. Cellphone and charger
  2. Laptops with powercord
  3. External drives
  4. eBook readers
  5. Tablets
  6. The CPU from your desktop if you can't afford to replace it and your data is not backed up in a remote location.
  7. Expensive software (Don't forget the Key Code)
  8. Digital Camera with SD cards
  9. Video camera
  10. The kids' Wii, Gameboy, Nintendo, etc
  11. GPS unit

Pet Items:

  1. Pet food
  2. Litter
  3. Water bowl
  4. Pet meds (heart worm meds, flea & tick stuff, etc)
  5. Veterinarian records - including vaccine records, contact info, etc

Miscellaneous Items:

  1. Family photos (at least digital copies) - When I serviced applicants in New Orleans after Katrina that was one of their big heartaches. Walking through their mold covered homes and seeing all of their family photos destroyed.
  2. Expensive jewelry - leave the costume stuff at home, but grab great-grandma's 1-carat engagement ring or your $10k necklace.
  3. A good flashlight and fresh batteries. Power may be off when you return to your home. Having a good flashlight will allow you to enter and assess for any damages.
  4. Toilet paper. Laugh if you want, but remember past news footage of traffic backups that lasted for hours? It's bad enough having to relieve yourself along I-10, but think of not having your Charmin there to ease the pain? :-)
  5. 3 days worth of clothing for each family member. Yes, you might be able to return the next day...but that's what some of the Katrina victims thought too. 
  6. You may leave in flip-flops, but pack comfortable closed-toe walking shoes. When you return you may have to walk through debris to get to your house. I have heard that many minor after-hurricane-related injuries are due to people wearing improper footwear when walking through storm debris.
  7. Your child's favorite toys or stuffed animals. If your house suffers heavy damage, "Fluffy" the rabbit, that scrungy security blanket or a Gameboy might bring extra comfort to your child.
  8. Extra batteries for any battery operated items.
  9. Your Bible, Torah, Quran, Book of Mormon or whatever other religious writing you hold sacred. 
  10. A good book to read
  11. Firearms (to prevent damage to them) - know your state laws about transporting firearms. Keep gun locks handy for transport. Keep them unloaded and ammo separate from the guns.
  12. Water (and water purification method like AquaMira, iodine tabs, filter, etc. if available)
  13. Cooler with food that may spoil in the fridge
  14. Snacks/food for the evacuation trip
  15. Sleeping bags/blankets & pillows
  16. Towel & washcloth
  17. Toiletries

Before Evacuation:

  • TAKE PICTURES of your home inside and out. Make sure the date and time are set correctly on your camera and turn the times stamp ON. Photograph any important or valuable items that you may need to file a claim on. Include serial numbers in the photo if possible.
  • Record Make, Model and Serial Number on any electronics, firearms, etc. 
  • ATMs and banking may very well be disabled. Have cash on hand for gasoline, etc.
  • Fill your gas tank IN ADVANCE of an evacuation call or landfall (even if you aren't evacuating). Stations may be closed due to power outages after the storm. 
  • Remember, dressers and tables will float and tip over in flooding, so if you are in a flood area, placing valuables on counter tops or on upper shelves will better protect from flood waters.
  • If there are things you can't take that could be damaged by water, try to waterproof them by sealing them in large Ziploc bags or garbage bags if possible.
  • In flooding areas, elevating items at least 12" off the floor can be the difference between losing all of your first floor furnishing and saving some of them. 
  • Move items like TVs, etc. away from windows that might be broken from blowing debris.

Upon Return:

  • TAKE PICTURES of an damage IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING the disaster. Make sure the date and time are set correctly on your camera and turn the times stamp ON. This will aid in filing insurance claims, etc. In a large-scale disaster, an adjuster may not be able to get to your home before clean-up is started or completed. 
  • Mold sets in quickly, don't wait to start cleanup. That's why pictures are so important.
  • Save receipts from items you purchase for cleanup, etc. There is no guarantee that you will be reimbursed for them, but No Receipt = No Reimbursement for sure in most cases.
  • If you have had FLOODING, when you clean up or tear out sheetrock, LEAVE A SPOT showing the HIGH WATER MARK. It can be in the closet, behind the bathroom door, or where ever, but it helps us tremendously when cleanup has already been started. As an inspector I have to measure the water line and record the height in order to spec out damage. 

Evacuation is costly. Officials have a tough call to make when they order an evacuation, and they are usually criticized no matter what the outcome is. If an area doesn't get hit hard people are upset and feel they wasted their time and money for nothing. There aren't any easy answers, but preparation will ease the frustration no matter what the storm (or other disaster) does.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

2012-02-05 10:30 local time. On our way from Entebbe to Jinja. It's a beautiful day. Blue skies. Not too hot yet. I feel like I'm at home. Not so much of wanting this to BE home, but rather that it has the familiarity and welcome feel of home.

There are 16 of us on this trip, not counting Pastor Rick. A good team full of people I have come to know and love over the last couple years. They are full of love for God and for people. They are genuine, and I like that.

Team members:
  1. Pastor Rick Sadler
  2. Mz Candy Sadler
  3. Mz Glasell Williamson
  4. Grace Moyer
  5. Christie Lipscomb
  6. Dennis Hansen
  7. Terri Hansen
  8. Dr. Jim Masloff
  9. Jeanne Masloff
  10. Rocky Stanley
  11. Pastor Jackie Carver
  12. Glynda Carver
  13. Pastor Todd Childers
  14. Dr John Cramer
  15. Terri Evans 
  16. Bonnie Bates 
  17. Sandi Bird

Saturday, February 4, 2012

2012-02-04 Journal Entry

We are less than an hour out from Entebbe. It's been a long flight...obviously...made seeming longer by the lack of sleep I had this past week. However, it has been fairly uneventful once we actually got assigned to a flight.

Our Air France/KLM flight was delayed on its way in to Dulles, so they were going to send us on Continental. After standing in line at Continental's desk, we were told that that flight was delayed as well.
...Back to KLM which finally sent our fearless leaders to Turkish Air. We thought they were going to route us through Istanbul, but a short time later they told us that wouldn't work either.

So then we were sent over to British Airways to take the 9pm flight. When we hit the BA counter it was about 17:15. The woman there states she can't put us on the 9pm flight, but that we had to get on the flight that was boarding "NOW". ...The gate closed at 17:55 and we still had to check 16 people's bags, get through security, and get to our departure terminal! A seemingly impossible task. I had a problem going through security.

I didn't take my money belt off because I've never had to before. We, with the body scanners you have to, OR you have to go through a "private security screening". They got pretty serious with me, even after I realized what they were seeing on the scanner. Get partly undressed and get patted down, have them fill out a report in the computer, & have the supervisor "clear" me.

I managed to convince them that I wasn't a terrorist, quickly redressed and headed toward the terminal with another straggling member of our group. "Somehow" (...God) we all made it on the plane, although our luggage was supposedly going to travel on the later flight to Heathrow...supposedly still arriving in time to make the Entebbe connection. We'll see! :-)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

On the road to family and adventure

2010-09-07 12:17pm

It's Day 1 of my 16-day adventure that will take me to New Jersey, Connecticut and Montreal, Quebec much of that by Greyhound. Okay, so maybe adventure is a little bit of a stretch for part of the trip, as I am going to NJ to work as a nurse taking care of my Aunt Rose while her daughter is on vacation. And the CT part of the trip is to take my aunt to see my mom (her sister)...well, that actually may be an adventure as putting the two of them in the same room for any length of time will at the least provide an interesting viewing experience for my cousin Sandy and I. Hopefully it will not escalate to a volatile situation as they are both old and set in their ways. LOL!

It's now 12:23pm and I am 1 hour and 12 minutes away from pulling into the NYC Greyhound Terminal. I have a 2:20 layover in there, and need to find WiFi to fix a PayPal link on the church website. I'm hoping I won't have to stray too far to find WiFi...

Thus far the bus ride has been uneventful. I've sleep much of the way as I started out at 1:45 a.m. from Roanoke.. I've only had one transfer so far, in Richmond, VA and will have the transfer in NYC as well. Then on to Easton, PA where my cousin Sandy will pick me up at the bus station. We're currently passing an Newark Airport on the left along with signs for the Holland Tunnel. That helps me to be a little more oriented as I was pretty clueless to location up until this point.

Going to hop off now to conserve battery life for the web stuff I need to do, but it's easier to remember thoughts if the3y are freshly laid on virtual paper as they take place. Frankie and LC are with me, my faithful traveling companions who have been to 4 continents with me. Til later....

2:44 pm On a smaller bus line's bus that is an affiliate of Greyhound. They got me on a bus 2 hours earlier than my originally scheduled bus, and there's free WiFi and electrical outlets, yay! 

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Just another Bird Family canoe trip

So Troy, Jed and Clint decide to go canoeing yesterday in the Roanoke River. Clint has no canoe experience, it's a two person canoe...and there are no life jackets. Well, the first time the canoe flipped, Jed's glasses got kicked off as Clint's foot creamed him in the face. Mind you, Jed's previously lost two other pairs of glasses. One in 2007 in the same river and one in 2007 in the Everglades in Blackwater Creek. He still hasn't learned to wear a sports strap on them when he's around water...

The canoe ended up flipping two more times. The third time they flipped it, everything went sailing out. Clint tried to retrieve my Nalgene that they'd borrowed, but he got into trouble when he stepped into a deep hole. For some reason he'd been carrying a coil of rope that he'd retrieved from the water. As he bobbed up and down yelling for help he tossed the coil of rope...down stream. Moments later he managed to make he managed to flounder to shore. That left Troy to retrieve the rope and the Nalgene which by this time had drifted out of the main current into an eddy.

Unfortunately there were some "over-the-head" spots between Troy and the eddy, but with paddle in hand he managed to swim over to the shallower area. But then there was the submerged tree...After grabbing the wayward rope, Troy took a step and his foot jammed in between some roots.

The current there was swifter and twisted him around, causing the leg to lodge in the roots. Then the rope got tangled around his arm and leg, and...still clutching the Nalgene and the paddle he got pulled under. At this point he was certain he was going to die. And it was a distinct possibility but for God.

Somehow he managed to free himself and by that time Jed and Clint had gotten the canoe upright and paddled down to Troy. Troy tossed everything into the canoe and hung on the back of it until they got it to a flat area along the walking trail. Once on shore they discovered that my Dry Bag hadn't kept Troy's phone dry...

A seriously bruised and bleeding Troy turned to Clint and said that it wasn't usually like that and hoped this trip hadn't scared him from going canoeing again. Clint sincerely and enthusiastically replied, "Heck no! I definitely wanna go canoeing with you guys again!" ...Just a normal Bird Family Adventure! Now if Jed would quit losing his glasses in the river!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Bird Family Christmas - Happy Birthday Jesus!

Wishing you all a joyous holiday season! We had a great Christmas. Probably the best one in recent years. For once we were all in the "holiday spirit"...which translates into putting up a Christmas tree and decorations. In recent years I just haven't felt like it. Even the house fire at Zip's house on Christmas Eve didn't dampen our spirits. If anything, it made us even more aware of the blessing of family...and more thankful for God's protection on us.

We all got together Christmas morning at the home that Troy, Rachael, Jed and I share. Zip and her children had spent the night so all 10 Birds were in the same place. I'd had great plans of making Christmas breakfast for everyone, but my 3 oldest grandchildren went across the alley to play with friends and my 2 youngest grandchildren went to spend the rest of the morning with their dad. I still cooked pancakes, but for a much smaller group than first planned.

Anyone who knows us knows that our Christmas giving is always low budget. Number one, we don't have a lot to spend. Number two, that's not what Christmas is all about. I'd told my kids not to get me anything...yeah, right.

I got a cool LED camp light and a camp toaster from Troy and Rach. Both very appropriate and appreciated gifts. My old camp light had died, and I used to have a camp toaster but had lost it years ago. The girls gave me a little wooden that I'd given them after one of my Uganda trips :-). Zip, A and Caspian gave me a beautiful plaque that they'd made with A and Caspian's picture on it.

I When I got to the present from Jed I unwrapped it. It was a cute little change purse. Now, I love change purses, zippered pouches, etc. so I was excited. It was something I knew I could use. I could feel something inside so I asked Jed if it was phone bill money. I was surprised to actually find a wad of bills inside. Again I asked if it was phone bill money. He told me to read the note.

I started to cry. This is what it said:

There was $200 in the change purse...a gift of love from my son to me toward me upcoming Uganda mission trip taking place in February. As I was crying and speechless Jed grinned and said, "Score!" Zip told me that it had had the desired made Mom bawl like a baby! They will honestly never know just how much that wonderful gift touched me. It let me know that my kids believe in me and in the call of God on my life to do missions. I have the best kids in the whole world!

I'd planned Christmas dinner for around 4pm. (I didn't know Zip would have to leave before then...) We had a couple friends coming over and one CouchSurfer I'd met online in one of the groups. We'd never met him before. He was a student from Egypt studying at Virginia Tech and didn't have anyone to spend the day with (although I don't think he would normally have celebrated Christmas anyway, being Muslim), so I'd invited him to join us as a part of our family.

What a treat! Amro was a hoot! He fit in with our motley crew perfectly and we all had a blast. Pete from Troy's band had joined us as well as Jean-Phillipe (an "adopted" son of mine). Amro blessed me with a cool set of statues of the pyramids and the Sphynx. We all laughed and talked for several hours. What a great chance to make a new friend! I appreciate the opportunity that the internet and various social networking sites affords to be able to meet new people and make new friends.

I hope everyone had a wonderful a day as we did. Wishing you all a relationship with the One for whom our celebrations are about! Jesus is the Reason for the Season.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Uganda 2010: Pre-mission trip journal


First pre-mission trip entry:

I'm in Charlottesville tonight. I attended the introductory meeting for the mission team with which I'm traveling to Uganda in February of 2010. It will be my 3rd trip to Uganda, and I'm totally psyched for it. This time I'm going with Mission Link International, headed up by Rick Sadler. He's been to Uganda approximately 40 times if I understood correctly. And he and his wife Cathy are preparing to move there in the not too distant future.

I was excited about meeting the team, which ranged in age from 17 to retirement age. Close to 30 people in all. The majority were veteran short-term missionaries, with many having been to Uganda 5+ times. Everyone was very friendly and outgoing. I felt at home with the group immediately. There was a group here from Smith Mountain Lake, and one of the ladies suggested that I meet them part way next time and ride up with them.

I'd heard a lot about Pastor Rick from Rocky, who's traveled with Mission Link before. The things that I was mainly impressed by were his passion for evangelism and discipleship and his willingness to sacrifice his own comfort to take the gospel to the nations. You can tell by listening to him speak that his heart is so full for the call God's placed on his and Cathy's lives.

One of our assignments was to start journaling right now, before we ever set foot on the plane. So I'm doing just that with this post.

As I was listening to Pastor Rick review the trip information, one of the first things that struck me was, “Wow! I'm not responsible for any of the logistics of the trip. I don't have to try to make sure everyone's on track with finances....I don't have to schedule planes, vans, housing or anything. Boy, that feels weird!

We're going to be based in Jinja, but the various teams will be going to different villages every day. We'll all have an opportunity to work on medical, construction, puppet ministry, evangelism, and prison ministry. I'm so excited that I don't know if I'll be able to sleep tonight. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the medical missions aspect, but the prospect of being able to go into the prisons and the streets to minister is absolutely fantastic! God is awesome!