Helping Give Away Psychological Science/Fire emergency -- Preparation and coping

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Woolsey Fire, 2018

This page brings together information and resources for dealing with emergency fires. We are thinking especially of wildfires that threaten homes and people, as have been happening in Australia, California and several other states. The information can be re-used quickly in response to other situations. The organization of the page is based on what we have done in response to hurricanes and flooding, such as we recently updated for Hurricane Dorian. This page was curated by Helping Give Away Psychological Science, a non-profit focused on dissemination and connecting people to resources from which they could greatly benefit.


A quick guide on how to prepare for a wildfire, stay safe during it, and what to do after.

Before the Fire: Preparing for Fire Season[edit]

Government Resources[edit]

These are two Federal sites that organize a lot of tips and recommendations.

Prepping Your Home (to mitigate potential damage)[edit]

Preparing your phone for a natural disaster

Organization, Communication, and Insurance[edit]

  1. Get important papers ready in case you need to evacuate. Store them in watertight bags, you can also place them in your dishwasher during a storm.
  2. Back up computers
  3. Preparing your Smartphone
    • Bookmark the main information page for state emergency management or the department of public safety, and download any apps they have
    • Make sure emergency alerts are enabled in your phone's settings
    • Download maps for your area through the Google Maps App
    • Consider communication apps like Firechat, a messaging app which works without a signal, and Glympse, a real-time location sharing app.
  4. Make sure all devices are fully charged & use plastic bags to protect cell phones
  5. Get pictures, DVDs, etc in plastic containers
  6. Download apps
    • FEMA Receive real-time alerts, learn emergency safety tips, locate emergency shelters in your area
    • MyRadar (iphone) (Android) will allow you to track storm cells in real time
    • WhatsApp (often the best group communication app post hurricane, so long as there is WiFi or cell service).
    • FireChat is a newer chat app that uses Mesh networking, so it will talk to other devices with FireChat peer to peer (via Bluetooth or peer WiFi) even when there is no cell service or Internet connection. Mesh networks get stronger and faster as more devices use them.
    • Glympse is an app that can share your exact location with others, helping find each other, and helping rescue teams find people.
  7. Tell someone not in the storm’s path where you will be riding out the storm
  8. Take photos of your home and important belongings for insurance purposes
  9. Have insurance information ready in case you need to file a claim post storm; if you don’t file right away you may be looking at months of waiting
    • Note that homeowner’s insurance does NOT cover flooding
    • Need separate flood insurance policy
  10. College Students & Insurance
    • “...if a college student is under 26 years old, enrolled in classes and living in on-campus housing, the student may be covered under his or her parents’ homeowners or renters insurance policy.”

Making an Evacuation To-Go Kit[edit]

Assembling a disaster supplies kit
  • Water
  • Non-perishable food
  • First Aid Kit
  • Spare change of clothes (e.g., long-sleeved shirt, jacket, long pants, close-toed shoes)
  • Wallet with cash and credit cards
  • Medication
  • Whistle
  • Glasses
  • Pet supplies (pet food, carriers, medications, records)
  • Gloves (preferably leather to protect your hands from any hot objects)
  • A mask to prevent you from breathing in the smoke
  • Portable cell phone charger
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Comfort kit for kids - gather together a few of your kids' comfort items (e.g., stuffed animals, a security blanket, a deck of playing cards, their favorite toy)
  • Valuable items and mementos (e.g., family photos, a jewelry locket)
  • Hard drive with PDFs of important documents and pictures (e.g., driver's license, passport, other forms of ID, birth certificate, social security card, pictures of valuable items throughout the home)
  • Personalized map of your local area with multiple highlighted routes to take in case of evacuation
  • American Sign Language (ASL) Videos:

Making a Family Plan

Plan Evacuation Routes and Places to Stay [edit]

  • Contact friends or family who live outside of your local area and ask if you can stay with them in the case of a fire outbreak. Create an emergency contact list of those who agree.
  • Identify multiple evacuation routes in different directions in case roads are blocked.
  • If you plan to evacuate by car, make sure your gas tank is filled and that you car is in good condition.
  • Keep emergency supplies in the trunk as well as a spare change of clothes and closed-toed shoes.
  • If you plan to go to a shelter, use this American Red Cross website to find a shelter near you or text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 4FEMA (43362).

During: How to Stay Safe[edit]

Evacuation Actions to Take When Time Permits[edit]

  • Turn on lights both inside and outside of the house to make it more visible to firefighters.
  • Close windows, vents, and doors to prevent smoke from entering the home.
  • Move flammable furniture/items to the center of each room. Remove flammable curtains from windows.
  • Fill tubs and sinks with water.
  • If you think you may be evacuated:
    • Fill up your gas tank
    • Take out cash from an ATM
    • Refill medications to have supply on hand

When Driving Away From the Fire[edit]

  • Roll up all windows and keep air vents closed to prevent smoke from entering the car.
  • Turn on headlights and drive with extreme caution.
  • Look out for pedestrians, fleeing animals, and other cars.

Tracking Wildfires and Air Quality[edit]

  • Fires can cause unsafe air conditions, track the air quality in your area (AirNow Web)(iphone)

Coping During the Fire[edit]

  • National Child Traumatic Stress Network resource
    • Simple Activities for Children and Adolescents Without Power or Playing Outside is Limited

Tips for helping children with special needs

After: How to Recover[edit]

Filing insurance claims[edit]

  • Know your rights: Insurance often will cover fire damage. A recent law change in California now makes it illegal for a company to drop your coverage right after a fire. (***Add external link to pdf from Dr. Lee)
  • If you have damage, as soon as you’re safe fill out an insurance claim (can usually do this online or by phone). If possible take photos of the damage.

What To Do After the Wildfire[edit]

  1. Helpful Tips, Including:
    • How to stay safe right after the fire
    • What to do once you return home
    • How to report claims to your insurance company

Psychological First Aid and Coping for All Ages[edit]

  1. National Child Traumatic Stress Network resources
    1. Simple activities for kids in a lighted area (like the shelter)
    2. Simple activities for kids without power, or when playing outside is limited
    • Trinka and Sam The Rainy Windy Day: E-book to help children and their families begin to talk about feelings and worries they may have after they have experienced a hurricane
  2. The Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology resources
    1. about fear, worry, and anxiety
    2. about post-traumatic stress disorder, if still very upset 6 weeks or more later
  3. American Psychological Association resources

Sensitive/At-Risk Groups[edit]

Elderly[edit]

Children[edit]

  • National Child Traumatic Stress Network resources
    • Help Kids Cope is a mobile app (iPhone and Android versions available) to assist families cope with wildfires. Download the free app today for Apple and Android devices. The app has helpful guidance how to prepare for the fire, how to support your family during the fire, and things to do if your family needs additional support after the fire.

People with Disabilities[edit]

Individuals with Disabilities come in all forms and therefore there is no single way to effectively prepare for a disaster, each individual much play to their abilities. Individuals with disabilities are able to add registries to help emergency responders easily identify and locate them.

See these additional Sites to Help you prepare if you or someone you love is an individual with disabilities

Wildfire Relief Efforts/Fire Education[edit]

Red Cross Relief and Volunteering[edit]

The Red Cross provides aid to those affected by wildfires. One of the best ways to help is to register as a volunteer with them and join up with their efforts. Here's the link to fill out the application, which asks for contact information and permission to do a background check: https://www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer.html

Find your local red cross here, apps are also available to download. (iphone and android)

Fire Education[edit]

To learn more about fires, their positive and negative effects on the environment, fire fighters and fire safety education see these sites:


Region Specific Resources[edit]

This section organizes resources by region, including information about insurance and local details. Some of the same information may be woven through earlier sections. Having this separate section may make it easier for local experts to suggest new content.

Australia[edit]

Emergency tracking system (including brush fires) for:

Other Resources:

USA[edit]

California[edit]