In the event of an evacuation, it's best to be prepared

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Dana Carey, emergency manager for Yolo County, gave a presentation on general disaster preparedness and the county’s new system for evacuation protocol at the Winters Fire Department on Wednesday, May 8.

Carey went through the steps the county recommends residents take in order to be prepared in the event of a large scale emergency. In Winters the most common event that could trigger an evacuation is wildfires, which have hit in the summer for the last five years.

Carey described evacuation as, “a necessary evil.” She wants people to know that if they’re asking you to evacuate, it’s for a reason.

The county is in the process of rolling out a new evacuation system that breaks Yolo County up into multiple evacuation zones. These zones were designed with the help of local city government and law enforcement and indicate the recommended evacuation route for any address. To find your evacuation zone, go to www.evacuate.yolocounty.org and type your address into the search box.

All addresses within the Winters city limits are in Evacuation Zone 59. The primary evacuation routes for Zone 59 are Highway 128 and County Road 89.

The evacuation zones also include rally points, which are locations where people without transportation can meet to be evacuated by the county. In the event of an evacuation, Yolobuses will be rerouted to these rally points.

Winter has two rally points. One is at 613 Railroad Ave., near the Railroad Express Car Wash. The other rally point is at St. Anthony Church on 511 Main St.

There are many ways to be prepared for an emergency event. At the presentation Carey went through the ways Yolo County suggests residents prepare themselves.

Communication 

The county encourages all residents to sign up for the Yolo Alert emergency notification system at www.yolo-alert.org. It is especially important to sign up for this alert system if you have a cell phone, as the county cannot access your cell phone number without your permission.

When necessary, evacuation information will be sent out by phone, text, email, TTY/TTD, wireless emergency alerts, national weather service radios, PA systems or door-to-door.

Currently text messages are the best way to communicate in the event of an emergency. Large disasters can lead to the loss of communication systems. During the Camp Fire multiple cell phone towers were destroyed, preventing emergency warning calls from going through.

In the event of an emergency that damages communication infrastructure, text messages will be transmitted more often than phone calls. As part of their preparedness guidelines, the county suggests that everyone have a handy list of the numbers you may need to call in the event of an evacuation. Those numbers can include school and childcare services, medical services, veterinarians, utility companies, insurance carriers and anyone you rely on for transportation.

If you don’t know how to send a text message, the county suggests that you ask someone to help you learn. It will be the most likely way for communication to get through in the event of a large scale emergency.

In the event the county has to call to spread information about an evacuation, the call will come from the number 999-999-9999. It will be a robocall, and the voice on the other end of the line may be a robot’s. In order to not miss the call, the county suggests that you program the phone number into your contact list so that you recognize it.

It can be helpful to have the seven digit number for 911 in Yolo County programed into your phone. That number is 530-666-6612. Calls made to 911 will be rerouted to this number.  Residents in Yolo County can also text 911 to communicate with an emergency dispatcher.

Medical Needs

Prepare for any medical needs before the need to evacuate arises. Medical needs can mean anything from prescription reading glasses to dialysis treatment. If you have to travel to an evacuation center, they will be able to connect you with a pharmacy that can meet your medical needs.

For those with several prescriptions, Carey suggests keeping outdated prescription bottles on hand. This way the evacuation center will be able to address your prescription needs exactly. The shelter staff in charge of this are usually employed by the Health and Human Services Agency.

Transportation

Carey suggested residents never let the gas in their cars drop below a quarter tank. She pointed to the people who had to evacuate under the threat of the Oroville Dam collapsing, who had to drive in bumper-to-bumper traffic for hours.

For people living in high density areas like mobile home parks, emergency professionals suggest backing into parking spaces. In the event of an emergency evacuation, being able to pull straight out of a parking space will save time.

Some people will have complications that slow down evacuation. This could mean needing to call a friend for a ride, arranging to pick someone up or loading livestock into trailers. Making arrangements for these things can slow down evacuation times. The county suggests people who know they will have complications leave as early as possible.

People without cars will be transported from Winters’ two rally points.

What next?

After evacuating, most people go to evacuation points, shelters, hotels or to stay with friends and family.

At this point it is very important to contact people who may be looking for you. Many people who are reported missing after evacuations are safe, they have just scattered and forgotten to tell their family where they are. Searching for these “missing” people can take up resources that could be better used elsewhere.

Returning home

Sometimes regions that are evacuated are protected by law enforcement until the neighborhood is officially repopulated. This is to prevent looting during the evacuation. In this situation it will be important to have a document that shows your full name paired with your address. This could be something like a driver’s license or a utility bill. Until the protections are lifted this could be the only way to get back to your home.

After a major disaster the county will set up local assistance centers. These centers bring local, state and federal resources that can help people recover from disasters to one place. There will be help for anything from printing food assistance cards to learning how to replace important documents like birth or marriage licenses.

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