The day after evacuation: A natural disaster checklist

The day after

It has been 24 hours. The adrenaline is still running in my veins. I left with my wife, son, and dog and we are now safely sitting in San Mateo.

Down here the world is relatively unaffected. There is smoke. The air quality is poor. People are compassionate. But the devastation is 2 hours north.

The morning after is a weird feeling. After evacuating urgently things seem off. There is an uncertainty.

When I left Monday morning I did not expect to be gone for a long time. I did not expect my home to be destroyed. One night max.

But here I am. Sitting in San Mateo. Having coffee. Trying to soak it in. No good and yet good all at the same time.

It does not soak in. It doesn’t even simmer. I live in a state of detachment from the reality of what just happened. The magnitude of it. Not so much for me and my home, but for the community.

Thousands of structures gone. People dead. Countless more missing.

This is bad. What is going to happen to our community? What is going to happen to our hospital? My neighbors? Is my home even standing?


The community near the hospital. Tragic.

I can’t think about these things. Literally. I have to stop. It’s no good to worry about the unchangeable. Now is time for action.

So I move. I start making phone calls and planning the next steps. I have never lived through a fire so I have no idea what those steps are…but I do it anyway.

Today I want to talk about what to consider within the first 24 hours. Even if there is not visual confirmation I recommend starting down the list. It’s easier to pull back later if needed then to play catch up. 

Checklist: 24 hours after a disaster

  • Call your insurer
    • Tell them what is going on and that you are effected. They will know there is a disaster and you want to be in touch with them in the first day.
    • I called them on Monday and by Tuesday they had called and written me a check for basic necessities. Talk about getting a head start.
    • They also offered to find us an apartment and furnish it. We have “Loss of use/Additional living expenses” coverage which covers up to 1 year of loss (2 years because it was defined a emergency disaster).
    • I placed both a home and auto claim as my car was sitting in the driveway.

      The heat must have melted it. 
  • Call your utility companies
    • Call the solar company, electric/gas company, water company, trash company, alarm company, cable company, and other companies servicing your home.
    • It seems crazy that you have to call these people, but if you do not stop the service they will keep billing you.
    • I would add other things like gym memberships. At minimum contact them because chances are if you were effected, they were effected.
  • Set up a change of address to a PO box
    • I learned this the hard way. First I did a change of address to my father-in-laws house, then my new apartment, then to my other new apartment (don’t ask…there was a mix up and it was frustrating.), then to a PO box. Luckily I had one already set up for this blog…so boom.
    • I did not change the address for my credit card companies or other utilities because I am waiting to see where I ended up more permanently. The 2 bedroom, 1 bath situation may be temporary.
  • Find housing
    • If you are considering rebuilding and moving back or in any way staying in the city then you need a place to live. I ran up from San Mateo to Santa Rosa on Tuesday (1 day after the evacuation) and went to 3 apartment complexes. Every apartment complex I went to had just rented out their last unit. I wanted a house but having a dog makes the rental search more difficult.
    • After signing the lease I was relieved because I knew we had a home and my commute to work would remain under 10 minutes.
    • Of note, the loss of use aspect of my insurance will pay for a rental equivalent to my home. I could rent a 3,000 square foot house for my family. Unfortunately there are none to find in Santa Rosa, particularly accepting of a dog.
  • Call your credit card companies
    • On the day after the evacuation I went to Old Navy and then Target in San Mateo and made large purchases. The credit card company declined my Target purchase as it was unusual spending. I agree. It is unusual spending. So we called them and explained the situation.
  • When shopping for clothes, mention that you were a fire victim.
    • There were many stores that gave us between 20 to 50% off items purchased. This was a huge help. People in the community care and are heartbroken for natural disaster victims. My friend even received a full cart of groceries.
  • Keep receipts of all purchases
    • You will be submitting these to your insurer later to pay back for both loss of use and any items/property you buy.
  • Excel sheet of items in your home
    • Our insurer told us to take the house, turn it upside down, and everything that falls out is a possession. This list should be as detailed as possible including brand, year purchased, and replacement cost.
    • Items will include such obscure things as the corn cob holders that are in the back of your kitchen drawer. Or the flashlight in your camping bin. Maybe even the ninja halloween costume you wore in 2012.
    • Another bit of good advice from the insurance company was go room to room. This way you can visualize what is in each space and write it down.
    • This list will take you time and can end up to be 80 pages long.
  • Make lists, lists, and more lists.
    • I have made so many lists. It is crazy. Shopping, to do lists, more to do lists, etc. I have a vitals records list (more on that later). I am tired of lists but they are helpful…so start making them.

There you have it. Things to do on day 1 post-evacuation. You will be exhausted but still running on an adrenaline high. The shock of the event won’t have settled in completely.  That comes later, as does the exhaustion.

I am a week out and it feels like I have the flu. I am fine at home, but every time I go out for errands I come back exhausted. The emotions did not overwhelm me until a week later. Still we go day by day and will rebuild.

The last list of items to evacuate with has grown thanks to readers recommendations. I ask the same here. Is there anything you would add to the day after evacuation list?

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I am a Dad and Doctor trying to make sure I am living life in the best way possible. Whether it is having my finances together, being a great parent, or balancing my home life with work, I am here to kick a$$ and help you do the same.

18 thoughts on “The day after evacuation: A natural disaster checklist

  • October 20, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    Can you share more about what type of insurance you got? In terms of coverage, cost and all that kind of stuff and whether we homeowners need to specifically ask for this type of insurance? Thank you.

    I’m really glad you found a place within 10 minutes drive of work.

    What is your master plans for rebuilding and homeownership? Is it possible for you to not rebuild on your land and just keep the insurance check and use the money to rent a house or buy a new house somewhere else?



    • October 20, 2017 at 9:27 pm

      I will defer on this for now. I am not sure if it will effect my eventual settlement, etc. and therefore will keep mums on coverage amounts.

      The key is to have enough to cover rebuilding and possessions. The policies are typically not that expensive.

      As for not rebuilding and just selling the land, it is possible but not financially sound for me to do so. For others it may be, but I was only in the home for 11 months not allowing much time for appreciation.

  • October 19, 2017 at 8:07 pm

    I am in awe of you right now, especially how you are handling this situation and that you are continuing to post despite the difficult times you are dealing with. I feel like the path to FI is full of planning: a plan for making money, a plan for getting rid of debt, a plan for investing, a plan for retirement, etc. But some things you can never plan for. Thank you for sharing your story and helping people to better prepare for sudden, unexpected changes of plan.

    • October 20, 2017 at 5:14 am

      Thanks Mrs. Wow. The interesting thing is that through all of this we may end up better financially. For instance there is reimbursement for possessions lost. There is also money to build a new home. So at minimum I will end up with the same mortgage but a brand new home which will likely be worth more than the old one. Weird to think about, but true.

      • October 20, 2017 at 5:46 pm

        How long does the insurance cover loss of use? In other words, if it takes you two years to rebuild your house, does insurance pay for your rent for two years? Thanks

        • October 20, 2017 at 9:28 pm

          Typically they cover 12 months, but as this was declared a disaster by the federal government, they will cover 24 months or until the home is built, whichever is shorter.

  • October 19, 2017 at 5:35 am

    I am so heartbroken for you. I can’t even imagine the hell you’re going through right now. It makes me smile to see that people in the community are being so generous. It’s also good to hear that your insurer is on top of their game. I have friends in Houston dealing with Hurricane Harvey flooding who were less fortunate with their insurance process. Ugh.

    I hope everything goes smoothly; thank you for sharing your experience. We’re here for you. <3

    • October 19, 2017 at 6:20 am

      Flood victims have it harder for sure. Insurance is less forgiving to them. I hope your friends are able to rebuild and restart.

  • October 19, 2017 at 4:47 am

    I cannot imagine the life you’re being forced to live at this very moment. Hang in there, you have a lot of friends concerned about you, and you’ll get through this.

    That picture of the “neighborhood” by the hospital says it all. Complete devastation. I sincerely cannot imagine. It sounds like you’re doing the right things, just keep your head down and plod forward. What an amazing and awful experience. Thinking of you.

    • October 19, 2017 at 6:18 am

      Thanks Fritz. The community has a lot of building to do and the stories are all similar to mine. It is amazing how neighbors pulled together to get each other out.

  • October 18, 2017 at 7:39 pm

    Tonight I told my wife about your story because I wanted to discuss what steps we can take toward emergency preparedness. I read out loud your experience from the last post and this post. It’s a lot to think about, and something that isn’t normally in the front of our minds. I know it doesn’t mean much, but I am very sorry that you and your family had to go through this. Your descriptions have encouraged discussion, and I very much appreciate you taking the time to write your thoughts down.

    • October 18, 2017 at 8:16 pm

      Thank you for your kind words. If it helps others than it has made an impact. We are safe and rebuilding. The stress waxes and wanes but we persevere.

  • October 18, 2017 at 10:59 am


    You’ve had incredible presence of mind to be so on top of logistics given the surreal experience. When you are done with the checklist of aggravations (insurers, utilities, replacing essential items) consider taking a moment for the spiritual inventory – it can definitely wait (may take weeks as you focus on daily crises), but it’s easy to overlook when there is so much else to do. I think this post will be a huge resource for others going forward, appreciate your putting it out when you are already stretched so thin.


    • October 18, 2017 at 11:15 am

      Thank you. The spiritual healing will come. Honestly to date, emotions have been pushed back…but as time goes I expect to pull them out again.

  • October 18, 2017 at 3:38 am

    Incredible! As we’ve discussed before, I have family in the area. Luckily, their home and possessions haven’t been destroyed but the stories have been harrowing all the same. Glad that you and your family are safe. It’s not nearly the same as what you’re going through but in law school I lived in an apartment building that burned down to the ground. I know how crazy it is to be sleeping in your bed one night and then homeless the next with no possessions.

    • October 18, 2017 at 5:53 am

      Glad to hear your family is safe. A fire is a fire and the loss can be pretty complete…the crazy thinly about this fire is how many people it effected.

  • October 18, 2017 at 2:43 am

    Thanks for sharing this list, thank goodness you have insurance. I wouldn’t have thought to do a lot of the things on this list. I have a dog too and it is hard finding rentals for dogs. Were you having to go to work after the fire or were you able to have your patients rebooked etc?

    • October 18, 2017 at 5:52 am

      The clinics were closed for 1 week but I have been back since Monday, working half days. Patients have started trickling in but it has not been too busy.


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