By Jacqueline Lloyd
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-resourced.
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.
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 even know.
Secondly, it was often the unexpected hurdles that caused the biggest headaches. How do I charge my cell 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, something those who grew up in “old Ramona” have always known; 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 eyewitness 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 is a Ramona resident.