How to prepare and pack if you may need to evacuate

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If you receive an evacuation order, it’s time to go.

Parts of northern Santa Cruz County and southern San Mateo County received an evacuation warning this week as the Atmospheric River surged into the state, pouring rain on burn areas prone to flooding and mudslides. Part of the city of Watsonville was ordered to evacuate Tuesday night.

LA County said residents living near the Lake and Bobcat burning areas should be “ready” for possible evacuations beginning Wednesday afternoon.

Even if you’re not in a generally flood-prone area, “everyone should be prepared,” says Bryan La Sota, a coordinator for the LA County Department of Emergency Management. Years of drought and devastating wildfires have left many parts of the state susceptible to erosion and debris flows. The storm has already led to flooding, road closures and power outages across the state.

The more time you have to prepare and pack, the better off you’ll be if you get an evacuation order. Sign up for your city or county alert system to receive updates on potential and mandatory evacuations. In the city of LA that is Notify LA. For other areas of LA County, you can sign up for your municipality’s alert system here. Outside of LA County, search for “emergency alerts (your city or county).”

While the rain is coming down, it’s generally safest to stay home. But you must be ready to go when you are told to. Here’s how to prepare and what to pack if you need to evacuate.

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What is the difference between an evacuation warning and an evacuation order?

An evacuation alert means there is a potential threat to life and/or property and your area may be ordered to evacuate at some point. If you need extra time to evacuate — for example, if you have very young or old family members, or people using medical or mobility aids that take a long time to get out of a home and into a vehicle — you should consider evacuating under warning.

An evacuation order means that there is an immediate danger to life and/or property. It is a legal order requiring everyone to leave their home immediately.

What to pack for an evacuation

Your travel bag. Pack a backpack or other sturdy bag with the essentials for an emergency kit. Here’s a full list of what should be in your emergency kit. The short version: a first aid kit, flashlights and batteries, enough water and non-perishable food for a few days (and utensils and can openers if needed), chargers for your devices, clothes for several days, blankets and sleeping bags, a fire extinguisher, trash bags, toilet paper, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, face masks, a whistle to signal help is needed, items to pass the time (e.g. books and board games), and a paper map of your area in case you don’t have access to the GPS service or find an alternative route along closed roads.

In addition to your travel bag, you’ll want what emergency management professionals call the “6 Ps.”

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People and pets. Every living thing in your house.

Papers and phone numbers. “Papers” means essential identification documents such as your family’s birth certificates, social security cards, passports, vaccination cards and insurance information. You’ll also want to write down a list of important phone numbers in case your phone battery dies while you’re evacuating and you can’t access your contacts. That list should include family members, friends, a boss or co-worker, doctors, veterinarian, pediatrician, lawyer, insurance agent, landlord, or building manager, and the phone number of the destination you’re going to, such as a hotel or relative’s home.

Regulations. This is an abbreviation for any medical supplies you or a family member needs. That includes prescription medications, eyeglasses or contact lenses and contact solution, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and feminine hygiene products. If you are going to evacuate with someone wearing diapers, make sure you have plenty of them. You should also have a first aid kit in your travel bag that contains bandages and gauze, antibiotic cream, antacids, medical tape, antidiarrheal medications, antihistamines, and over-the-counter pain relievers.

Photos and personal items. Anything you couldn’t replace or lose you should take with you, as long as it fits in your car and doesn’t delay your evacuation. Photo albums, heirlooms, musical instruments, plants, jewelry, and video game consoles all fall into this category.

Personal computers. Make sure your laptop is charged and packed. If you’re using a desktop computer, consider making a copy of essential documents on a USB stick if you have time.

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Plastics. Your identification information, including IDs, credit and debit cards, and cash.

What to do if you are ordered to evacuate

Wear sturdy shoes. Don’t leave your house in slip-ons or slippers: dress as if you have to leave the car in bad weather. Your ankles should be safe and your toes should be covered.

Leave as soon as possible. By evacuating as quickly as possible, the roads remain clear for emergency responders.

Be aware of road closures and do not drive on flooded streets. “Turn around, don’t drown” is the guideline for swampy roads. Just 6 inches of water can cause stalling and loss of control in a passenger car, and just 2 inches of water can sweep vehicles off the road, including pickup trucks and SUVs. Stay safe and find an alternative route.

About Times Utility’s journalism team

This article comes from The Times’ Utility Journalism Team. Our mission is to be essential to the lives of Southern Californians by publishing information that solves problems, answers questions, and helps make decisions. We serve audiences in and around Los Angeles – including current Times subscribers and diverse communities who have historically not had their needs met by our coverage.

How can we be useful to you and your community? Email utility(at)latimes.com or one of our journalists: Matt Ballinger, Jon Healey, Ada Tseng, Jessica Roy, and Karen Garcia.