This week’s blog is taken from our current issue. It’s written by Greg Gerber who also runs the Podcast for Workamper News.
As I sit here wondering what to share with you this week, I noticed Arkansas is under an enhanced weather risk today. That’s pretty normal for this time of year and we will never forget April 27, 2014. An EF-4 tornado ripped through a small town just 35 minutes from here and wreaked havoc. They have rebuilt and have moved on, just like all communities do here when a tornado rips lives apart. With the help of surrounding communities, towns come back better than ever.
An emergency situation can develop quickly that requires RVers to evacuate their vehicles or their campground. Preparing now can help avoid complications later. Every state is susceptible to some type of disaster. It might be a flood, hurricane, fire or tornado. A train could derail or a truck crash and emit toxic chemicals into the air. Many times, people have little or no warning, but must react quickly. In June 2010, at least 20 people were killed when flood waters rose quickly and wiped out a campground in Arkansas. In July 2014, two people were killed and 33 were injured when a small tornado ripped through a campground where 1,300 people were staying. In August 2018, 400 campers were forced to evacuate as a wildfire spread in California.
John and Kathy Huggins, founders of Living the RV Dream, traveled the country full-time for 13 years before settling in Florida. Experience taught them some important lessons, which they frequently share with others. In August 2004, the year before they started RVing full-time, Hurricane Charlie barreled through the Caribbean headed for Tampa, FL. Then it turned abruptly and made landfall 100 miles further south near the city of Punta Gorda around 8 a.m. Kathy said it caught everyone off guard. “We had about 15 minutes warning and most people just weren’t ready. They had nothing packed and no important papers with them,” she explained. “Fortunately, we had our car packed and ready to go.”
When they were traveling, the Huggins had developed a routine for checking into a new campground just to make sure they were ready for any emergency. The first thing they did was ask what county they were in and what counties were nearby. “When you’re listening to a weather alert, it is really important to know what county you’re in because the National Weather Service often issues warnings for specific counties,” John said. In order to get news and weather alerts, the Huggins recommend buying a battery-operated weather radio. For under $40, people can get a hand-cranked powered radio that also includes an LED flashlight and emergency beacon. The Huggins would also ask for the location of the nearest storm shelter. It may be on site, like the shower house or a storm cellar, or it could be at an off-site facility. “We were at a campground once where the shelter was across the street at a high school,” Kathy explained. After checking in, the Huggins would then walk or drive to the designated shelter just to make sure they could find the building and the entrance.
It’s also a good idea to install an over-the-air antenna in the RV that can pick up local TV stations simply for the ability to monitor storm threats. Satellite TV or cable stations may provide weather information from a national perspective, but local stations can generally push out emergency notifications more quickly and accurately.
While they were in the RV and even after coming off the road, the Huggins maintained what they call a “Go Bag.” It is a large backpack stocked with food, clothes and essential items they can grab and go at any time. The bag included copies of important documents like:
• Prescriptions or photos of pill container labels.
• Birth certificates, marriage certificates and military discharge documents.
• Recent eye glass or contact prescriptions.
• Driver’s licenses and passports.
• Car, RV, health, dental and life insurance policies.
• Names and phone numbers of key family members as well as doctors, dentists, accountants, insurance agents, lawyers and brokers.
• Pet information and a photo (in case they get separated) as well as vaccination records.
• Account numbers and contact information for checking, saving, credit cards and investments.
• Passwords for accessing accounts online. Be sure to password-protect that file.
“Technology has made it easy to keep photographs and scans of important documents on a flash drive,” John said. “We kept all of our material on a 4-gigabyte flash drive. Today, you can find a 32-gigabyte drive at Walmart for less than $10.” Because they were writers and maintained a very popular blog, the Huggins kept digital files of books, manuscripts and photos. Again, technology can help by storing all work essential files on cloud-based websites like Dropbox. A personal plan with 2 terabytes of storage costs about $120 per year. A Google Drive account is free up to 15 gigabytes, with annual plans starting at $20 per year for up to 100 gigabytes.
The couple also included these essential items in their Go Bag:
• Several days of medication.
• Cell phone with an electrical (AC) and automotive (DC) charger.
• A small LED flashlight with extra batteries.
• An extra set of keys for RV, car, compartments and other locks.
• Several bottles of water and a few protein bars for each person.
• A change of clothes suitable for the climate.
• Pet food, medications, leashes and toys.
• Something to keep kids occupied, too.
As gruesome as it sounds, people might also keep photos and fingerprints of children and adults to aid in identification, if necessary. If you work or run a business remotely, then having a laptop may be necessary. Just be sure to include a charger for that as well. The Huggins packed all their essential supplies in a backpack that was convenient to store and easy to carry. That’s especially important if parents need their hands free to hold on to or carry children when moving quickly. Kathy also encourages people to use national pharmacies to fill prescriptions on the road. Firms like Walmart and Walgreens can easily transfer a prescription from one location to another. She also encourages people to keep a 90-day supply of every medication. “We found that national pharmacies can easily send you a 90-day supply wherever you may be,” she explained.
Because information often changes from one year to the next, the Huggins recommend reviewing material in the Go Bag on a regular basis – at least annually. That’s also a good time to swap batteries and make sure the pet food and protein bars are fresh.
Once the order to evacuate is given, panicked people can clog roads quickly, especially interstate highways. One year, it took the Huggins 14 hours to travel 250 miles to escape an approaching hurricane. Since then, whenever they arrived at a new campground, John would always review a map to determine alternate routes away from the area. “I’d usually look for red roads on a map. Those were major state and U.S. highways, but not interstates,” he explained. “You may hit more stoplights, but traffic generally moves more quickly.” It takes a little time to set up a Go Bag the first time. But, once that work is done, updating the contents and information only takes a few minutes. “When the storm sirens are blaring, that’s the time to seek shelter, not to begin gathering belongings and important documents,” John said. John and Kathy Huggins, founders of Living the RV Dream, are also the authors of So You Want to be an RVer?: Celebrating the RV Lifestyle. The 372-page book is available in the Shop at Workamper.com.