Healdsburg is trying to better prepare its seniors for the next emergency.
The Healdsburg Senior Center held an emergency preparedness talk for seniors at Recreation Park on Sept. 15 and distributed large print evacuation zone maps with information on what to pack in a go bag, and what to bring if you have to leave immediately.
At a recent meeting, the Healdsburg Senior Citizen Advisory Commission advised for and expressed the need for seniors to have some sort of emergency guide that could be easy to navigate and read.
“Our senior citizen advisory commission has made a goal for this year to ensure that our older adults can feel as prepared as possible for an impending emergency, whether that be a fire, a flood, a zombie apocalypse, whatever comes next,” said Anna Grant, the active adult and senior services supervisor for the city of Healdsburg.
After extensive outreach and public engagement with residents and individuals who were evacuated during the Walbridge Fire, the senior center took their tips and ideas and created a hardcopy, large print paper with evacuation zone and emergency prep information for senior citizens to use.
With this tool, older adults can more easily spot their evacuation zone on the map and they can learn about what to bring if they have several hours to evacuate, one hour to evacuate or if they have to leave immediately.
On the back of the map, there is also a basic list of items that should be included in an emergency go bag — your go bag should already be packed prior to an emergency.
It also lists important phone numbers such as the Healdsburg Police Department, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and 9-1-1.
“They can put it on their fridge, their kitchen cabinet, in their pantry and it is easy to see. An evacuation timeline on the back gives you an idea of what you need to pack if you need to leave immediately or if you have one hour, or a little bit more time,” Grant said.
The back of the sheet also details how you can enroll in emergency alert programs such as Nixle or SoCoAlert.
“Another big concern of our senior citizens was, ‘I don’t have a smartphone, I don’t use the internet.’ That is not a barrier (to getting emergency alerts). There are ways to enroll in these programs that Nixle will call your landline telephone and send you the same alerts that people are receiving on their cellular devices,” Grant said.
During an emergency residents may also be notified of an evacuation by first responders going door to door and or the hi-low siren.
The large print map/evacuation information guide is available for free at the Healdsburg Senior Center and at the community center and they are available in English and Spanish.
During the Wednesday preparedness talk, Healdsburg Police Chief Matt Jenkins and Healdsburg Fire Chief Jason Boaz were on hand to answer questions and talk about the evacuation zone map.
“This really started with the Kincade Fire. If you remember how the evacuation for Kincade started to roll out, there were large swaths being evacuated with descriptions and people really didn’t know, ‘Am I in this area or not?’” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said at the incident command post for the fire there was a large map that crews were drawing on in the middle of the night where they thought the fire was going to go and where they needed to evacuate. Essentially, crews were creating evacuation zones on the fly.
Eventually, the entire city of Healdsburg was evacuated.
“What became even more challenging during Kincade was repopulation. When the fire threat was mitigated by the fire department, there were areas that were still burned and areas that couldn’t be repopulated, so zones that were created at 2 a.m. that worked well for getting people out, didn’t work well for getting people back in. They had to take these large zones that were created and make them smaller. It made it really challenging for the citizens and the community to know if they could go home safely,” Jenkins said.
After the Kincade Fire, the sheriff’s department, other law enforcement agencies in the county and the Sonoma County Department of Emergency Management came together and created predesignated evacuation zones.
Jenkins said they wanted to create an evacuation zone map that could be used for any disaster, whether it be flood or fire.
Jenkins said if you are on the edge of a zone and are unsure about evacuating, do what feels most safe for you.
Boaz reiterated Jenkins’ point. “If you feel unsafe or if you see fire, you should evacuate.”
Boaz said the maps are helpful because first responders can be more specific when it comes to determining which zones should be evacuated.
“In the event of a fire, we can be very specific about what we want to evacuate. I would then relay that to our dispatch center and they would contact Healdsburg PD and our police department would be coordinating the evacuations and doing the alerts,” Boaz said.
Boaz reiterated that these zones won’t be used just for fires.
“We’re trying to plan for every type of emergency. Just so you know, we are not prepared at the fire department for a zombie apocalypse. We are going to be leaning really heavily on the police department for that one, but we’ll do everything we can should that happen,” Boaz said.
One resident asked where they should go if there is an evacuation. Boaz said it is a good idea to pre-plan and identify various locations you know that you can go to in the event of an evacuation.
Jenkins said where you go and what evacuation route you take can also depend on the emergency and where it is occurring. For instance if the threat is north, you would want to go south and vice versa. He said it is good to know multiple ways to get out of town.
“Generally, if you are on the north end of town you may want to either go up to Lytton to get on the freeway or use Dry Creek. If the situation is happening up there, you want to know how to get on at Central Healdsburg or at the south end down by Giorgio’s,” Jenkins said.