Preparing for Disaster While Staying Present

Four days into the northern California fires in October, I listened to a press conference that included advice for anyone living in California: pack a bag that you can grab during a disaster if you only have a few minutes—not hours-- to evacuate your home. Suggestions included copies of all important documents, medications, a change of clothes, jewelry, photos, cell phones and chargers, credit cards, checkbooks, cash, and small, irreplaceable keepsakes.

My Emergency Backpack

I’ve lived in earthquake prone areas for the past 18 years and have never had such a bag.  I have a backpack with a first aid kit, a solar-powered radio and flashlight, water packets and a whistle that I acquired during my local public radio station pledge drive.  A few granola bars and additional bottled water in my garage are the extent of my preparedness.

At one point, I was on the disaster preparedness team in the small town where I lived.  After a few drills, I determined that disaster rarely plays out as rehearsed.  I struggled with how to stay in the present and not feed my inclination to worry about disasters large and small. I assumed that preparing for things that could go wrong in the future was antithetical to staying in the present.


But lately I’ve been rethinking that assumption. The stories of those who lost their homes and all their possessions in the recent fires have haunted me. Many of those interviewed expressed gratitude to the first responders and to the universe that enabled them to escape unharmed.  I’m looking at my evacuation bag in a new light.  Other than my health, what holds value for me in my present life and what would serve me well moving forward? I doubt my mother’s china or my espresso maker would fit, literally or figuratively, into that bag. 

Kindness and Compassion

Along with my phone charger, remembering to respond with kindness and compassion, letting go of what could or should have happened, accepting reality and feeling gratitude must go in my evacuation bag.

Hopefully, I’ll never need to leave my home with a moment’s notice but, perhaps, packing an evacuation bag is an important exercise in being mindful of what is truly important to survive.