With only minutes left before they had to evacuate their home and flee the Black Forest fire, Holly packed her precious photos. “I had our photo albums in my arms and ready to load in the car when my thoughts interrupted me; I’d better bring some food with us so we won’t be such a burden when we arrive. I set down the photo albums and grabbed a large pot of rice from the refrigerator. I put the rice in the car and left the photo albums. Then the police ordered us to go and I didn’t have time to go back inside. I still feel guilty for leaving our family photos.”

When you’re in an extremely stressful situation, like an emergency or evacuation, you may not be able to think straight. The fight or flight response blocks rational thinking and causes your body to tremble. And when you’re shaking, sweating, and stressing, it’s difficult to type, write, or even key in a phone number.

This article will help you help plan ahead to protect your finances, your loved ones and your belongings for an emergency that we hope never happens.

Learn more about how stress affects people during evacuations in Fire of Hope: Finding Treasure in the Rubble.


Make a To Go List


Prepare Your To-Go List ahead of time and put it in an accessible place.

Even if you think these items are obvious and you won’t forget them, put them on the list anyway. Print out your list and tape it to the back of a cupboard door or another very accessible spot. Having a paper copy of your list will be very helpful in a panic; it will be easy to read and you will be able to check off each item as you pack it.

I always keep a copy of my To-Go List with me in the notes feature on my phone as well as on my computer and tablet.

Items for Your To-Go List

  • The Three P’s: Important papers, prescriptions, pets
    • Papers: Social Security cards, birth certificates, death certificates, marriage license, passports, financial / professional portfolios, wills, trusts, deeds, insurance policies, tax records
  • Keep Your Important Documents in a File Box Near an Exit
    • I now have a file box with a handle that I can easily grab in an emergency. Inside the box are important papers, flash drives of photos/documents, and a few precious items. If our neighborhood needs to evacuate and I’m not home, my neighbors have a key to our house and will retrieve our file box for us.
    • Prescriptions: paper prescriptions, medicines/vitamins, birth control pills
    • Pets: leashes, kennel, water bowl, food
  • Photo Albums and Photos: Don’t forget those photos hanging on the wall or in boxes, especially those without negatives.
  • Computer and hard drive backups: I now keep a flash drive in my purse with digital copies of my important documents. I backup important documents by emailing them to myself and storing them online. Research and activate the best backup program for you.
  • Children’s comfort items: Add these to the list so you don’t accidentally forget important items, such as special blankets, stuffed animals, pajamas, favorite toys. Holly still regrets not grabbing her youngest child’s favorite stuffed animal. Her little girl cried for years after the fire because she missed her bear. Her daughter’s great sadness broke Holly’s heart.
  • Take a walk around your home and ask yourself what you would want to take with you that could not be replaced. During our evacuation, I almost forgot to pack the journal books I wrote for my kids to capture their childhoods. I almost left the love letters my deceased grandparents wrote to each other during WWII. Select a few precious items and write them on your To-Go List.
  • Irreplaceable Items: family heirlooms, art, letters, jewelry.
  • Add at least 1 comfort item for each family member: a favorite pair of shoes, a sweatshirt, favorite jeans, and pillow.

 If danger is imminent, for your safety and the safety of the first responders who vowed to protect you, leave and follow their directions.




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