Posts Tagged ‘emergency preparedness’


by Charlene Burgi

High winds tore at the vegetation in Lassen and Modoc counties this past Tuesday. Clouds of dirt and dust were so thick you couldn’t see beyond them. Trees swayed over and were pushed to their limits. Then it happened. Somewhere along the miles of power lines coming through town and countryside, a tree gave way to the gusting winds and we lost our electricity. But I soon discovered it was more of a loss than that.

I was on the computer when the power went down. Our phones went dead as our phone system requires electricity. My cell phone was also dead from lack of use. My car was securely parked in the garage where the walls are filled with 12 inches of concrete to protect us from winter cold. No cell service could penetrate within even if I plugged the phone into the car jack; however, charging the cell phone in the car was an option.

heavy duty flashlight

Super light source

While the phone charged, the thought of losing all means of communication didn’t concern me. I moved on to pending projects not requiring electricity or communication. While working, I made mental notes of other options for freeing myself of electrical dependency in an emergency. One was to get the generator moved back into the garage and review the process of how it works. Jack was out of town, and I knew I couldn’t manage carting the generator from his shop to the house by myself, so that would have to wait.

Several hours later, and a few projects completed, our power was restored. However, I failed to check the access to the internet until the following night. No connection. With it being late, morning sounded like a better time for problem-solving. Equipped with positive thoughts and little knowledge, I tackled the job by disconnecting and reconnecting various cords but to no avail. The computer wouldn’t connect to the internet. Our internet representative made attempts over the phone to walk me through various exercises but with the same outcome I experienced. We came to the conclusion that my modem died in the storm. It would be late the next day before they could send someone out.

My mind reeled as I considered the options I had for getting the blog to you this week. Our closest neighbor doesn’t own a computer. However our new neighbors, living several miles away, are off grid and totally dependent on solar power, and they have internet service. Thanks to them, the blog would go through!

Dependency. This power outage made me realize how dependent we are on electricity. Jack and I are dependent on electricity to move water from the well to the house and horse troughs. We need electricity to water our garden, wash dishes and clothes, draw water for bathing, brush our teeth, and the list goes on.

portable generator

MMWD’s portable generators help keep water flowing in a power outage.

Losing electricity made me think of the power Marin Municipal Water District uses to move water to your homes also. Most people don’t realize that MMWD is one of Marin’s largest power consumers! I recalled the time many years ago that MMWD lost power and we used generators to keep emergency lighting on in our building. The district had a plan in place to continue providing reliable service to customers, so your water was never interrupted.

This week’s event gave me pause for thought and prompted me to come up with some questions for you:

  • Do you have an emergency preparedness plan? (If not, readymarin.org is a great resource.)
  • If you lost power, what would you sacrifice? What domino effect would it have on your life?
  • How dependent are you on your utilities? Could you live comfortably until all was restored?
  • Have you stored an emergency supply of water?
  • Can you use a barbecue to cook?
  • Are back-up batteries charged or candles at the ready?
  • Do you have a generator? And if so, do you have it filled with fuel and know how to use it?
  • Or, like our friends, would you be unaffected by the loss of power thanks to progressive thinking in using solar energy and storing water in a tank for such emergencies?

I hope I have convinced you to take a moment now, before an emergency arises, to ask yourself what are you dependent on and what is your “plan B” if that option fails. With this in mind, what will you do differently? Please let us know what plans you have in place to assist with overcoming these dependencies! I, for one, may consider courier pigeons for communication!

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by Charlene Burgi

Bald Mountain Fire

Bald Mountain Fire

The dense smoke finally lifted from the valley floor where we live here in Lassen. The hundreds of firefighters, trucks, and fire equipment have done their job well. The lightning fires are finally extinguished in this neck of California. While friends were evacuated from their homes—some moving their horses at two o’clock in the morning—firefighters worked diligently around the clock and saved homes from the wildland fires.

A recent ride to the tiny town of Day, where one of the many fires started, spoke to me of fire danger. While homes showed good fire clearance, the open unattended properties told a different story. “Ladder” fuel was thick: Dry grass and shrubs choked the pine forest floor along the one-and-only 10-mile road into town. Fortunately for those living there, the lightning struck on the hilltops and the wind carried the fire north, away from the town and homes nestled below.

Seeing the area brought me back several years to before my employment with MMWD. A portion of my work at that time was to educate homeowners about the danger of wildland fires in Marin, Sonoma, and Napa Counties and what people could do to mitigate that threat. The road into Day made me think of the one-way roads in Fairfax, Corte Madera, and Mill Valley where fire engines require special clearances just to get around the tight switchback roads leading to the top of many tree-studded hills. Creating clearances often required removing privacy trees and shrubs, as well as plants known to contain oils that feed fire. Some homeowners embraced that education while others resisted, thinking a fire could never happen where they live.

Horse grazing

Mission accomplished: Cash at work clearing weeds

Fire safety becomes critical in your thinking process when you live in “brush country” as the insurance companies label this area, otherwise known as SRA (State Responsibility Area). Our home and surrounding land is inspected annually by CalFire to make certain the ground is clear and trees are limbed up to at least 10 feet. It is an inspection that I welcome and appreciate. I can honestly thank the donkeys and horses for their work clearing the ground and Jack’s manpower and chainsaws for limbing up the trees. We designed the landscaped areas with trees and shrubs chosen for their low water use and high tolerance to fire. Plant choices are good, but maintenance—including removing dry vegetation—is imperative. Additional insurance is keeping the landscaping well-irrigated, which is a challenge during the drought we are experiencing.

What can you do to protect your home from fire? First, remove all dead and dying debris from your property. Remove tree limbs that are less than 10 feet from the ground or that overhang your home. Keep wood piles away from your home. Add a stone retaining wall if your home was built within a natural “chimney” such as a canyon or ravine. Create a large “green” zone around your home to make it difficult for ground fire to encroach. This area can include patios, stone walls, low-growing groundcovers as suggested by CalFire, swimming pools, and the like. For the next zone further away from the house, choose fire-resistant species and leave space between plants to prevent the spread of fire.

Lastly, have a list handy of all your important paperwork, pictures, and valuables. Friends here scanned pictures and paperwork and saved them to a cloud file before they were asked to evacuate.

Are you fire safe? This is a good weekend to investigate how you can protect your property better.

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by Charlene Burgi

Pansies in the snow

Pansies in the snow

Little did I realize, while writing the blog last week, that we would all be experiencing such long-lasting frigid temperatures. The newscasts, Facebook posts, phone calls and emails all carried the same message—BRRRR, it is freezing outside.

And, everyone was right. Friends and family as far away as Pennsylvania, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Kansas or as close as Nevada, Modoc, Sonoma, Marin and Lassen Counties described the biting cold they experienced, and each trumped the other with their recorded temperatures. I think Modoc County took the prize at minus 25 degrees one morning.

We bundled up as we broke out our long johns and winter coats, boots, knit hats and scarves, but did we prepare our gardens for the blasting cold? Did our pipes get wrapped with insulation? Did conifers get a good drink of water before the freeze or our citrus and other frost-tender plants have a tent constructed over them with an oven light placed within the tent for added warmth?

While driving through town, I noted someone attempted to protect their frost-tender plant by wrapping it tightly in plastic. A form-fitting girdle (does anyone wear those anymore?) would not have fit any tighter. I shook my head as I drove away and thought about how all the parts of that plant in contact with the plastic will be dead.

My friend in Sonoma posted that her pipes were unprotected, froze and broke. I commiserated with her as our heat lamp in the well house couldn’t keep up with the subzero drop in temperature, causing a break in the very thick schedule 80 pipe coming from the well. Despite the lack of water in our homes, we prided ourselves for storing extra water for such emergencies.

The temperatures are predicted to increase this week. I missed the opportunity to discuss how we must prepare for winter! Is it too late to do anything for your garden now? No.

You can still prepare for winter. Sprays such as Cloud Cover will hold the moisture in the plant and protect the foliage from freezing. Read the directions first as it cannot be applied when the temperature is too low. Water conifers before we experience the next cold snap so the needles won’t dry out. Wrap exposed water pipes with pipe insulation. You may have lucked out this time, but exposed pipe is subject to breakage. Purchase a blanket for your backflow device if you have this equipment at your home or business. Do not—and I stress this again—do not prune away frost-damaged portions of your plants. The dead leaves will act as a blanket for the growth underneath. As unsightly as it may seem, wait until the danger of frost is over before pruning. We have several more months of winter to wade through and that blanket could save your plant. Install a thick layer of mulch around the root area of your plants, remembering to hold the mulch away from the trunks and stems of trees and plants to avoid rot.

Dog playing in the snow

Frozen bird baths and Misty’s first snow experience

And lastly, if you are feeding birds, keep the feeders full, suet available, and provide water for them to drink. I noticed the birds flocking to the horses’ water trough that has a heater inside. It was the only body of water that wasn’t frozen solid. It was then that the old water dish with a built-in heater was pulled out of the barn. Our little feathered friends were grateful for the thought of something a bit more shallow for them to perch upon.

This is a busy time of year—a time when our gardens often take a back seat in our schedules. Give a moment to inspect any damage and see what can be done to circumvent additional problems in the future. We still have a lot of winter to go!

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by Charlene Burgi

orange skyWe live in a beautiful part of the world, surrounded by nature in many forms. Trees, snow-covered mountains, rolling hills, wildflowers and grasses, open meadows, wildlife and gentle streams are a few things that bring tranquility to my life. However, living close to nature also means managing those elements within my control for the safety of our home and its inhabitants.

This past week the thunder roared and lightning flashed. I first noticed the donkeys growing restless, then spotted a helicopter flying closer to their pasture. A similar alarm stirred within me. What was going on? Soon another chopper joined the first, carrying large containers of water. I didn’t see smoke but could only guess that a lightning strike had ignited vegetation close by. Not long after we saw the choppers, a CAL Fire truck pulled up to the house and the chief confirmed that a tree had been struck. He said the firefighters were putting out the resulting fire about a mile above our property. His words, “They have the fire under control,” filled me with thanks and relief.

These firefighters amaze me with their ability to squelch a fire during red flag days when the temperatures soar, humidity drops and winds whip a small spark into an inferno within short minutes. The close-to-home experience made me think about our responsibility to make their job easier and what helpful information I could share with you. Fires are a threat in our communities whether from lightning strikes or just a lawnmower blade striking a stone and creating a spark on a red flag day. It doesn’t take much.

First, in order to manage the threat, we must assess our property—especially the 30-foot perimeter around the house. Is it free of debris? Are there non-flammable, hardscape areas such as gravel paths or well-maintained, irrigated lawns within that space? Are the trees limbed up ten feet off of the ground? Have you chosen plants with slow burn rates, or are you sporting the latest craze of tall decorative grasses that can go up in smoke and add fuel to a wildfire? If your house is on a slope—where fire can travel faster than on level ground—did you include an additional 20 feet of defensible space as part of your assessment?

Don’t forget your house itself. Are the gutters clear of leaves, branches and needles? Have trees been trimmed back at least ten feet from chimneys and fire pits? Is there a non-flammable screen over your chimney, fire pit or any open flame area? Is the screen mesh small enough to arrest any errant sparks?

Second, assess the next 70 feet of the property. Are the trees spread out so they can’t easily create a treetop fire? Are grasses and ornamental plants growing far apart, reducing the chance of ground fire? Can stone or brick retaining walls be built to defend against fires racing uphill? Does your property abut to open space or any wildland interface managed by someone else?

And last but not least, can fire equipment easily get to your home? Are low branches inhibiting access to tall trucks? Is there room for trucks to turn around or move ahead if needed? Before working at Marin Municipal Water District, I worked with fire departments and CAL Fire assessing conditions for fire equipment access. It was made clear to me that the home with easiest access would be prioritized if two homes were in jeopardy. Make the decision easy for firefighters if the situation ever arises.

The information on this subject could fill a library. Check out the CAL Fire website, contact your local fire department for their recommendations, and abide by your local ordinances. We are in the heat of fire season. Do your part to help these firefighters.

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PrintWhere will you be when an emergency strikes? At the grocery store, at work in another county, driving home, or hiking on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed? If you are not near your landline or no longer have one, you’ll miss the critical call from the Office of Emergency Services with important instructions that could affect you and your family.

If you live, work or go to school in Marin County and are 18 and over, you can now register your cell phone and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone number on the secure self-registration portal, alertmarin.org, to receive emergency alerts by text, voice and email.

The cell phone self-registration portal is an important upgrade to Marin County’s Telephone Emergency Notification System (TENS). TENS is a high-speed communications system that can quickly notify members of the public by phone of critical emergency information in situations where property or human life is in danger. MMWD is partnering with the Marin County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services to spread the word about this expanded notification system.

Landline phone numbers are already included in the emergency notification system, but cell phone numbers are not in the system until you register them. You may register multiple street addresses for notification, such as home, work or your children’s school. However, each street address requires a separate registration with a unique primary email. You may list two cell numbers and one VoIP number per email address.

Don’t take chances. Visit the self-registration portal today.

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emergency water supplyOne of the easiest yet most essential steps you can take to prepare for an earthquake or other disaster is to set aside an emergency water supply. Every household should keep at least a 72-hour (three-day) emergency supply of water handy. Store one gallon per person per day, or a total of three gallons per person, for a 72-hour period. Store extra water for pets and family members with special needs.

Tap water from MMWD can be safely stored in well-sanitized, food-grade containers such as plastic soda bottles. Avoid used milk jugs and containers that will decompose or break. Seal tightly, then label and store in an easily accessible, dark, cool, dry area away from solvents and chemicals. Replace every six months. Don’t forget your other emergency supplies (find a list at ready.gov).

See our emergency preparedness brochure for additional steps you can take to be water-ready in an emergency.

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