Post-Disaster Lessons for Resilient Investors

My family and I survived the Northern California firestorm of 2017. We were incredibly fortunate; unlike many our friends and residents in our area, we did not lose our home or livelihood. At the peak moment of fear, the fire came within 3,400 feet of our home. I spent hours wetting the roof, talking with panicked neighbors, and gauging the wind and the smoke. We got ready to evacuate by packing the car, letting our chickens loose, and making peace with the thought of starting over. Thankfully, some can-do neighbors with tractors plowed down the fire front, and we were spared.

Months later, our lives returned to normal. But as a planner, I am surprised at how unprepared we were when disaster arrived. We had planned for this. We’d held meetings with family and neighbors, checked on each other’s stores of water, food, and supplies, and located the water and gas shut-off valves for each home. We had back-up phone numbers of relatives, battery packs for our phones, and emergency radios. But still, we were missing critical elements. I share these insights now, with the hope that they will encourage others to prepare well in advance of fire season.

Consider for a moment our definition of resilient investing:

Resilience helps us to thrive by:

  • Anticipating and preparing for disturbance
  • Improving the capacity to withstand shocks
  • Rebuilding as necessary
  • Adapting and evolving when possible

Each requires some investment of time, money, and attention. The few items that follow are small   investments with huge potential returns—that’s a phrase no compliance officer should ever utter, but in this case to say that signing up for a text message alert system could save your life is both accurate and  warranted.

Create an Evacuation Checklist. As Californians, we’re got enough water and fuel to shelter in place for a month after an earthquake or disaster. But we were unprepared to flee the house on ten minutes notice. When an actual disaster hits, your brain turns to pudding. Running back and forth to pack the car as the fire approached, it was embarrassing to see what got packed first. For us, it wasn’t our computers but two cases of refried beans. Others packed their bowling balls first. Like I said, pudding brain. Make a short list, in order of importance, of what you should grab if you have to run, and keep it handy with your Go Bag (see below). Tailor the list for your situation, but at the least prepare the “Seven Ps”: people, pets, prescriptions, papers, photos, personal computers, and plastic (credit cards, cash, etc). At the top of the list: securing elderly relatives or young children in your care. Then pets. There are tragic stories of folks running around packing a car, only to find their cats or dogs missing as they’re heading out the door to leave. Scan your photos now or have a service do it for you. Recognizing pudding brain, Atul Gawande in The Checklist Manifesto suggests keeping a list like this concise, directive, and printed in a large font so it’ll be easy to read. It’s a form of cheap insurance that could save you.

Create a Go Binder. Buy a three-ring binder with clear plastic page protectors for important financial, personal, medical documents, and cash. Store it in a fireproof safe in case you’re not home to grab it at the time of the emergency. Scan everything in the binder, and store it in Dropbox or a similar cloud-based online. Even better: keep the originals in a bank safety deposit box and keep the copies.

Pack a Better Go Bag. Figure out how “zombie ready” you want to be. Some useful extras: phone charging cables, sleeping masks, ear plugs, and something to read in case you end up in a shelter. Maybe throw in War and Peace; this might be your opportunity.

Go to Nixle.com to sign up to be notified in event of disaster. Find your emergency radio stations for unbiased factual reporting.

If you have an automatic garage opener, consider if you can get the car out of the garage if the power’s down. Some folks fled on foot because their cars were trapped in their garage!

Christopher Peck

Christopher Peck

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