Safety First: Disaster Planning 101


Northern California is no stranger to natural disasters. When you live at the foot of nature, you’re bound to get in its way a time or two. Evacuation orders have become so commonplace, it’s easy to get a bit complacent in the routine – especially when you typically return to find things just as you left them. Statistically speaking, the vast majority of fires, floods, and earthquakes happen to someone else. (Who knew numbers could be so comforting when calculating the potential for incalculable damage?) However, as wildfires rage in staggering size and scope and the San Andreas Fault ticks like a tectonic time bomb below your feet, it seems prudent to examine whatever disaster preparedness plan you might have in place.

If your “plan” is more or less, “slippers by the bed, La Croix in the fridge, and a flashlight somewhere, I think” – a remarkably popular plan better suited to midnight snacks than five-alarm fires or Richter scale-shattering quakes – you may be interested to learn that the average government response time to a major emergency is 72 hours. That means, for 72 hours, you’re essentially on your own. It might be time to flesh out that plan a bit.

We’ve put together customizable checklists for simple yet effective disaster planning, inspired by Raziel Ungar’s comprehensive Emergency Kit guide. One of the top realtors in Burlingame and the South Bay, Raziel has an unerring eye for detail, and we highly recommend him as a resource. Don’t be daunted if you feel woefully unprepared; just take it one step at a time. These recommendations are intended to empower you toward positive preparedness and peace of mind.


  • Select your “emergency buddies” – a small group of friends and loved ones you’ll meet up with in the event of an emergency. Decide on a public meeting spot like a park or major landmark.
  • Practice escape routes, evaluating each for ease of access.
  • Keep a flashlight next to your bed, along with rubber-soled slippers or a pair of shoes.


  • Locate your gas shut-off valve – you will want to act fast after an earthquake, so hang a wrench nearby if possible and make sure you know how to use it.
  • Secure large furniture, mirrors, and frames to the wall.
  • Learn about defensible space zones and implement them in your yard.


  • Closely examine your insurance paperwork to determine the full scope of coverage.


  • Join your Community Emergency Response Team to learn basic disaster response techniques and find out who amongst your neighbors is equipped to help.
  • Sign up for local emergency text alerts.
  • Visit for emergency preparedness education and real-time information, along with community skills and resources – you can pledge your own skills and resources here as well.

Disaster Planning



  • Food: Forego the granola bars in favor of something more lasting like freeze-dried food, canned items, or MREs (Meals Ready to Eat.) Tea and coffee are always a good idea – throw in some Dripkit Pour Over packets for a just-add-water caffeine buzz you’ll actually enjoy.
  • Kitchenware: Can opener, utensils (this is where sporks really shine), plates, bowls, dual-burner stove – anything you need to prepare and consume the food you packed.
  • Water: A case of Sparkletts won’t quite cut it if you’re stranded for a week. You’ll want at least a gallon per person per day, not including cooking or bathing. Food-safe water barrels hold up to 55-gallons and have a shelf life of five years. Pump out as much or as little as you need at a time and store it in a Dromedary bag.
  • First-Aid Kit: Think beyond band-aids and look for one equipped to stop bleeding and control serious trauma, like Adventure Medical’s Trauma Pak with QuikClot.
  • Clothing: Pack comfortable clothing for varying temperatures, sturdy shoes, a durable jacket, multiple pairs of socks, and underwear.
  • Hygiene: Stock up on wipes for hand cleaning and waterless showers. Duplicate your dopp kit basics, and don’t forget your toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss – the last thing you need after a life-altering event is a thinly-veiled lecture from your dentist. Other easy to miss essentials include deodorant, sunscreen, liquid and bar soap, feminine products, hair accessories, a nail file, and clippers.
  • Sanitation: You may find yourself without working plumbing. In lieu (pun intended) of crouching in the yard, invest in a portable toilet and toilet waste bags – and don’t forget the two-ply. Highly recommended extra: Bio-Blue Toilet Deodorant.
  • Sleep Stuff: At minimum, you’ll want a sleeping bag and plenty of blankets, but you may want to add a tent and air mattress, just in case. An eye mask and ear plugs may help the Zzzs come a bit quicker.
  • Technical Supplies: Work gloves, paracord (military spec rope), waterproof safety matches, gorilla tape, tarps, clear plastic sheeting, multi-tool pocket-knife – basically the suburban garage starter kit. Father really does know best.
  • Fire Extinguishers: Keep one near every room, if possible, along with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Search & Rescue Tools: A basic whistle can be a huge lifesaver. You should also keep recent photos of family members or housemates in sealed Ziploc bags in case anyone gets separated. Explore all-weather notebooks and pens to leave waterproof messages that won’t run or turn to mush. An ax and folding saw might seem a bit heavy-handed, but you’ll be glad to have them if you need to clear trees and debris or make a fire.
  • Lighting: You’ll likely need more than just the flashlight beside your bed – though that one’s very important. Put a couple more flashlights with rechargeable batteries in your kit along with a headlamp and emergency candles.
  • Communication: Long-range walkie-talkies are a great alternative when cell towers are down or overloaded – just make sure to charge their batteries somewhat regularly. For radio/emergency updates, use a solar hand crank digital radio.
  • Power: It’s stressful enough keeping your phone charged on a normal day. Fortunately, portable chargers have come a long way. For max power, select a solar or gas-powered generator – the latter can even keep a mini fridge running. Rechargeable AA and AAA batteries are good to have on-hand as well.
  • Personal Items: Remember your first overseas trip without your parents? Everything your mom put in your carry-on goes in this kit, or at least upload it to the Cloud – copies of your passport, birth certificate, insurance policies, medication information, proof-of-address, an extra set of keys, and at least one hundred dollars in cash. (ATMs might be out of commission for a while.)
  • Entertainment: Cards, board games, your childhood Gameboy, Mad Libs, coloring books, the Great American Novel – anything that can serve as a fun distraction from a very stressful reality. Perhaps you can finally finish Infinite Jest.
  • Storage: Stow your kit in a water-resistant plastic storage container, preferably in the yard outside your home in case the structure collapses. Include gallon size Ziploc bags and mesh storage sacks to keep loose items dry, organized, and easy to take on the go.


  • Food & Water: 6 flameless MREs and two gallons of water are the recommended minimum for two people. If you typically travel with more passengers, adjust the amount accordingly.
  • Mask: We’ve all become well-acquainted with these lately. For your emergency kit, look for an N95 or similar particulate respirator to prevent dust and debris from entering your lungs.
  • Survival Blanket: Mylar blankets help you retain your body heat, providing exceptional warmth – especially if you have to sleep in your car or outside overnight.
  • Technical Supplies: Keep an escape hammer and knife in your door pocket in case you need to break the window and/or cut your seatbelt. Basic supplies like a tarp, duct tape, and pocket-knife can go in the trunk with the rest of your kit.
  • First Aid Kit: You’ll want a well-organized first aid kit with supplies for a variety of injuries, such as bleeding, blisters, fractures, sprains, and open wounds.
  • Search & Rescue Tools: Light sticks are great for signaling and marking locations; throw in an emergency poncho in case you have to wait for assistance in the rain. All-weather tactical notebooks and pens let you leave waterproof messages that repel sweat, grease, and mud.

“Actual emergencies look more like people coming together than cities falling apart. SF72 is about prompting San Franciscans to get connected before an emergency so we can be that much better off when something happens.”

— Rob Dudgeon, Deputy Director, San Francisco DEM

August 27, 2020
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