|This article was published May 2010 in the Ramona Sentinel.
I'm sharing with a wider audience in hopes people can benefit
from our experiences- although it was written about fires, the
same truths apply to any natural disaster...
Did you catch the news today?
I’m reading warnings about all sorts of dire scenarios: the next pandemic, an economic collapse that turns
the dollar into confetti, the possibility of a terrorist detonating a nuclear suitcase bomb in an American city –
and I’m sitting here, wondering if our leaders and political parties will stop bickering long enough to come up
with a solid plan for any of it. Unfortunately, I really don’t think so.
Now what? Well, we Ramona residents actually do have some hard earned wisdom that applies here.
What did we learn from the Cedar and Witch Fires?
People died because they were out of the loop - critical information flowed too little too late. 911 was called
and for the most part, no help came. Firestorms moved impossibly hot and fast, wiping out homes and
entire neighborhoods in the blink of an eye, and with no warning. CDF and paramedics did everything they
could, but they were overwhelmed by the disaster because they were (and still are) understaffed and under
In the aftermath, those who did not evacuate dealt with scarce resources, power outages, water outages,
and the stark reality of being truly on our own. My family and I stayed for both fires. Everyone I speak with
about the choice to stay or leave says, “Next time, we’re not leaving.” Since disasters come in many
different forms, I wanted to share the highlights of what I learned. Who knows? It may come in handy.
First of all, the losses would have been far greater in both fires if it weren’t for the unsung heroes in our
town. Wearing bandanas or cloth masks, they drove around to check on homes and property, feeding
animals left behind, putting out spot fires, clearing brush, and saving homes belonging to people they didn’t
Secondly, it was often the unexpected hurdles that caused the biggest headaches. How do I charge my cel
phone with no power? What do we do with our young daughter while we (literally) put out fires? Where in
the world could I get a hot shower? Our generator just broke, who do we know who might have stayed that
can fix it? Are there looters in our neighborhood? Is there any gas to be had in town? What about extra
hay? Who has a tractor? Who has water? Are we going to run out of toilet paper?
Back then, I learned one of the most important lessons in my life: solutions are found in the form of other
people. Some folks we already knew, some we met during the disaster. People shared news, know how,
tools, and creative problem solving to beat the odds. We all cooperated without expectation of payment or
profit, because it was the only way to survive. During Cedar and Witch, the only thing we could count on
was each other (and don’t get me started about FEMA). This simple act of turning to others for help even
made a difference for frantic residents prevented from returning home by police barricades – our
impromptu network was able to give news of family and friends, and eye witness reports on what was
actually left of their lives.
The chaos of Witch and Cedar occurred while the rest of the country was pretty much business as usual.
What would happen if there was a regional or nationwide disaster? A pandemic quarantine, for example,
can last weeks, even months. What then? Would there be any aid from the outside world at all? How long
would we be isolated?
With Ramona barricaded by the National Guard during Witch, school, jobs, almost everything about life was
put on hold for a week. It was actually monotony that became one of our biggest problems. Our daughter’s
delight at school being closed quickly gave way to boredom, irritating our already badly frayed nerves. We
decided to get together for a communal meal with friends. While children found comfort in each other and
the normalcy of play, we adults sat around and drank a few beers, swapped food and stories, and
unplugged from the stress. We found a sense of humor and perspective about the sheer insanity we had
just lived through – and this allowed me to begin finding peace and acceptance around the fact that much
of our beloved town was once again barren as the moon - and just about as quiet and desolate.
So, based on what I know, I’ve decided to start creating my family’s Disaster Plan B. I’m talking to friends,
neighbors, building a network now, a list of those who want to cooperate and pool resources and
knowledge in case of disaster. Often, I talk to a friend who immediately thinks of another who may be
interested. Our Plan B network is growing. And what if others around town built their own networks,
networks that then were able to contact each other and work together if the worst does happen?
Maybe the next time you watch the news, you’ll think, “What’s my Plan B?”
Jacqueline Lloyd can be reached at JacquelineLloyd@aol.com
P.S. During the Cedar Fire, 911 told us to stay put, that we were safe, that the fire was nowhere near the
house we had evacuated to- and it burned down less than an hour later. If we had not had a police/fire
scanner that allowed us to listen to fire crews being dispatched to various locations, we would have all died.
Those of you who have a BlackBerry, you may want to check out an app called BBScanner that allows you
to listen to law enforcement and disaster responses, and even global feeds and other emergency broadcasts.
And if you don't have a Blackberry, invest in a scanner. It could very well save your life- the number one issue
in disasters is that info flows too little too late. The television news is always very delayed and out of touch with
reality- NOT a reliable source at all...