Make safety your top priority: What to do if disaster strikesclose to home

Courtesy of Ann Hepenstal
Carolyn Dupuis, second from left, briefs Block Action Team, Community Emergency Response Team and ham radio emergency preparedness volunteers during an October 2017 neighborhood drill.

Living in California, we’re all aware that emergency events can occur at any time. An earthquake, flood, wildfire or other natural disaster may impact the local community. Or a more localized event may affect a neighborhood or require an evacuation.

Do you need help preparing your family and home to deal with the aftermath of such an emergency?

Take a few moments to consider the safety of your family, pets and neighbors in the event of disaster.

Following are four quick steps you can take today to be better prepared.

• Make sure that you can exit your home safely. Ensure that every family member has a pair of shoes and a working flashlight next to their bed. This will help everyone get out of the house quickly when it’s dark or there’s broken glass on the floor. Remove or secure wall hangings and furniture located above the sleeping space of each family member and pet.

• Make sure that you can reach each other. Create or update your family communication plan, including: an out-of-state contact person your family members know to call to check in with if you can’t reach each other locally; a designated meeting space or a way to connect if phones don’t work, and if you have children in school; and someone authorized to pick up the kids from school if you can’t (and remind that person and your children who that emergency contact is). For a communication template, visit

• Be ready to go. As we learned from last year’s North Bay fires, disasters can happen at any time and may escalate rapidly. Be prepared to leave your home quickly and map a couple of evacuation routes to get to safety. Make or update a "Go Bag" filled with basic supplies, important papers and communication devices. For a list of what to include, visit

• Store some supplies. If a disaster should occur, each household must be prepared with enough supplies to remain self-sufficient for at least 72 hours. Make or update an emergency kit for your home - including items for your pets. The next time you go to the store, buy a couple of extra gallons of drinking water to get started. For emergency preparation tips, visit


Los Altos residents benefit from the hard work of emergency preparedness volunteers, city staff and the Santa Clara County Fire Department. The Los Altos PREPARES program organizes several emergency preparedness training classes throughout the year and coordinates efforts between the city and the volunteers. Volunteer Block Action Team (BAT) leaders help their neighborhoods prepare. To learn whether your neighborhood has a BAT, view the map at

With a few quick actions, you can get started on improving your family’s emergency preparedness and ensuring their safety.

For more information on emergency preparedness in Los Altos, visit It's for Los Altos Hills resident and for Mountain View residents.

Ann Hepenstal is community emergency preparedness coordinator for the city of Los Altos. l

Emergency preparedness resources

Los Altos has volunteers, information and training available to help residents prepare for and respond to disasters. Following is a list of local resources.

• Personal Emergency Preparedness class. The free three-hour PEP class teaches individuals and families how to prepare to be self-reliant in the wake of a major disaster, including building an emergency supply kit. For a list of upcoming classes, visit

• Amateur Radio Emergency Service. Local ham radio operators provide emergency communications links during disasters. Licensed hams can join the Amateur Radio Emergency Service for Los Altos or Los Altos Hills. For more information, email Jim Clark at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit

• Community Emergency Response Team. CERT members learn skills that enable them to help their neighbors during a major disaster, when first responders may not be immediately available. For a list of upcoming CERT classes offered by the Santa Clara County Fire Department, visit

• Block Action Teams. Through BATs, neighbors learn how to care for each other during emergencies, share in crime prevention efforts and build community via block parties and other casual social events. To sign up for training and for more information, visit

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