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The Most Important Prep


Tessa Bertoldi

Features additional text added after evacuating in the

Northern California Atlas Fire, October 2017

Published by Tessa Bertoldi

Smashwords Second Edition

Copyright 2017 Tessa Bertoldi

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You Are the Most Important Prep for Your Survival!

By A Woman Living in Earthquake & Wildfire Land

I'm close to sixty and consider myself to be in good shape, mentally and physically. I recently tested my physical readiness as part of my get fit resolution. My employer scheduled me for our annual disaster training drill with the Coast Guard and the Department of Fish & Game. The drill would end earlier than my normal work schedule. I'm in a car pool and I would be stranded in place and needed to plan on how to use what turned out to be an extra thirty minutes. It wasn't enough time to catch a ride back to my office and start working. I had the idea to "test" my physical limits without training specifically for it. I should be able to knock out the mile plus distance to meet up with my car pool, no problem!

I called my carpool driver and let her know that I was walking to her so she wouldn't drive by me. I already had my laptop with me in a backpack with good straps. I added several bottles of water to make up a weight of about 40 pounds. The pack wasn't much in the preparedness world but, enough for this experiment. I had on sturdy shoes with excellent support and a pair of cotton/wool blend hand knitted socks from Hooked on Fiber. The weather was misty earlier in the morning and cool and clear in the afternoon when I started out. I pulled on my black wool coat, backpack, purse and grabbed a travel mug full of coffee. What did I learn from my experiment?

Lesson One: Secure the Load!

It's not a good idea to have your hands full or have anything hanging off your arm. Coffee dehydrates and is not a good beverage for bugging out or even hiking. You will stay thirsty if you walk and drink coffee. Free up your hands and stop periodically and properly hydrate along the way. I also started out with loose backpack straps. The wool coat protected me from chafing, but my back quickly became fatigued from the constant shifting of the heavy pack. Muscle strain can sideline you quickly. I stopped and stowed my travel mug and tightened up my straps, straightened up my posture and began again. My back felt better after approximately 100' of concentrating on my body alignment and placement of my steps.

Lesson Two: Eyes on Path!

The surface I walked on to get to my car pool location was extremely uneven. This was something I was not prepared for. I expected a city street to be even with few obstacles. What I experienced was a long hazardous stretch with gravel the size of a child's fist as well as smaller grit in other places. The road pavement was a good 6 to 8 inches above grade with no walking shoulder. There was mud and puddles and a narrow bridge to cross. A turned ankle, slip or fall would negate all my positive efforts and planning.

Lesson Three: 360 Awareness!

In addition to “eyes on path”, constantly scan the area around you for hidden hazards and path selection. You don't want to waste time back tracking or face an injury that could have been avoided. Portions of my travel included hazardous areas: loose gravel, inclined walking services and even high vehicle traffic. The less traveled roadway had areas where someone could easily catch me unaware from a hidden advantage point. I also observed a hidden food source under an unsafe abandoned bridge as I walked down a dead-end road in an older industrial area. Surprise, there were juicy ripe blackberries, four months out of season! That meant the local game knew it was there as well. My path departed from the established roadway in places. Looking ahead as well as behind became key to my safety and a successful trek.

Lesson Four: Weather Ready!

Fail on this one as I did not plan for the weather. My good wool coat kept me plenty warm, but I had no head gear and rapidly lost body warmth. The very misty rain didn't bother me; but my hair was wet, which also quickly wicks away body heat. The lack of head gear was not critical on this day because the ambient temperature was within tolerable limits, but five degrees lower and I would have been in trouble. I now keep a light weight cap in the pocket of that coat and a pair of stretchy gloves. They won’t help in severe weather, but in the Bay Area we don’t see much of that.

Lesson Five: Get in Shape!

Going to the gym three times a week is not the same as walking with a pack out-of-doors. I felt the two mile walk in my core muscles and lungs immediately after the walk and the next day. The muscles from my waist down seemed to hold up as expected, no complaints. An actual disaster situation (like in the training class I had just finished) would require me to carry more gear in addition to my laptop, phone and water. I would need to carry food or snacks to last until the logistics team was called out and a supply chain was established (two additional pounds). I would also need to carry my USGS ICS guidebook, several notepads, various forms of identification (TWIC, employee badge, driver's license, possibly my passport), pens, pencils, highlighters and flip chart markers, a set of printed ICS forms, and some cash (3-4 pounds). That is an estimated extra 6 pounds, if someone else is providing me with water and meals.

My beloved was often heard to advise that if you can't haul your own water fifty feet on any day, you will be dead in a year. I used to think it meant the ability to get yourself somewhere. Hauling your own water means getting there as well as the one gallon per day you will need. That's an additional 8 lbs. per gallon per day. I was only carrying four 16 oz. bottles of water at an additional four pounds, half of my daily water requirement. If this was a real response situation and not a drill, my pack would be at least 60 pounds. That is still only one gallon of water, minimal food, a change of socks, appropriate weather gear, sun block, a head covering, sunglasses, battery backup, 50' of multipurpose paracord, any personal protective gear required and the lightest weight personal tarp in case shelter or a wind break is required.

I challenge you to conduct your own experiment with your BOB, grab-and-go or similar prep. We talk about being ready in a worst-case scenario, but this was a best-case scenario in which I found multiple areas for improvement. Remember, the number one item to include in your preps is you, make sure all your preps are in good shape!


Post Atlas Fire, Northern California, October 2017

I left work at noon to pack up and "bug-out". These are not words used in everyday conversation. The Atlas Fire was coming, it had already roared through Santa Rosa leaving a wide path of destruction. My friend Claudia's home burned to the ground six minutes after she evacuated. Stories were coming out that they had no time, no one expected the intensity or the swiftness of the fire. When the advisory came, I decided to go home and prepare. I have a 23-foot travel trailer that remains fully stocked in case of unexpected visitors, spur of the moment vacay or in case we must "bug-out". Those were just words to me before October 2017. Those "preppers" are a bit extreme, don't you think. No, I don't think they are extreme. I think all my planning ahead didn't help a whole lot.

What was the missing piece: practice, just like the drills I go through every year at work. I had the basic knowledge, but the sheer size of the task you need to accomplish is overwhelming and the temptation to give in to panic is stronger than one would ever imagine. No one was coming to help, they were packing up their own homes. A surprising number of people chose to ignore the Evacuation Advisory and were planning on "riding it out". How do you "ride out" an out-of-control uncontained fire? I was on my own and needed to get as much done as I could. Being a burden in times of disaster and peril is not o.k.

What Did I Do Right?

Three years ago, I could not have lifted the amount of weight I did. Nor could I have sustained the pace for as long as needed to pack and leave. The weight loss and fitness regime made all the difference for me. I was stressed to the max, but no huffing and puffing and my knees did just fine.

The trailer was already well stocked with food and water, Gatorade, lots of tea and coffee, dry goods, canned goods, advanced first aid, and sleeping for five. I also had a few board games, coloring supplies, music, and movies. I may not be eating like royalty, but I would have plenty of nutrition for at least a week.

A small Weber barbeque was loaded, but no fuel. I didn't really need to barbeque since my best friend's house was where I ended up. That may not always be the case.

Charging cables and battery backups as well as an external hard drive were easy to load. The documents in the file cabinet stayed put since I already had electronic versions on the external hard drive. I strongly recommend using an external method to backup up your important documents and day to day paperwork such as bank statements and spending records. I also have my passport, driver's license and health records scanned. I'm still a little old school, I don't quite trust the security in the cloud yet, but my daughter and son-in-law routinely utilize the cloud.

I had cash in the safe! There was a long line at the bank ATM as we drove by. The banks didn't fail, so I'm not sure why the rush. I did verify I had my credit card, debit card and my checkbook in addition to taking $300 cash out of the safe. It wasn't a lot of money, but it would certainly make the difference if the power was down before I could relocate.

In addition to packing for myself, I was able to pack a few extra items that might come in handy to someone who was not as prepared. Plan to "love thy neighbor" a little. I had enough time to pack all my grandmother’s handmade quilts. While I was grabbing them, I also grabbed a few generic quilts and blankets that I could give away along with a hot cup of cocoa or tea. It's almost soup season so I grabbed all the stock and soup base I had purchased on sale

The gas tanks in the truck and my SUV were almost full. I am notorious for draining my tank before I fill up. This was a fluke, for both of them to be full, I think God was watching out for me.

What Did I Do Wrong?

I took me way too much time to get out the door. The trailer was behind a gate that was difficult to manage. The gate had to have two boards taken off in order to get the trailer out. It also swung in. The gate needed to swing out so it would be a faster, sleeker operation

One of the cupboards in the trailer came open in transit and spilled the Corel dishes onto the floor. They shattered into tiny pieces. I swept the floor carefully, several times. I still ended up cutting my foot going from the bed to the bathroom in the night. The cuts were small but I had to get assistance from someone with first aid training to remove the extremely small glass shard. The shards were difficult to spot on the textured flooring. I finally resorted to the tried and true standby, Duck Tape™, to get the remaining shards off the floor. I had to get down on my knees and tape over every inch of the floor. Luckily, I had a large roll of Duck Tape™ and each piece was reusable. I couldn’t see the shards, but I could feel them through the tape.

The first aid kit was well stocked with popular bandages, but not with large format bandages or a professional set of tweezers. The larger first aid kit was still at home hanging on the wall of the garage with ace bandages and large format wound supplies. The tweezers I did have were wholly inadequate for the job. If I had sustained a larger cut, or an injury that required plenty of gauze and a compression bandage, I would be improvising. Duck Tape™ again?

It took me almost a full hour to photograph my house. My insurance agent (shameless plug for AAA here!) called me and told me what not to take. She carefully explained what was insured and could be replaced. I didn't have receipts for most of my belongings (who would want to drag that paper around anyway). According to my AAA agent, a photo or video recording of your home contents works as well as receipts. Proof of ownership is needed. The video must clearly identify the item, try to capture the make as well as the model. The unsolicited phone call from my agent did a lot to calm my anxiety level. Thank you, Heike!

I realized I had secure traveling cases, but no trigger locks for my handguns and opted to take the chance and leave them in the safe. I'm a major proponent for gun control, to hit what you aim at and nothing else. Having an unsecured weapon is not acceptable in my household, especially if you allow children, teens or anyone beside yourself inside your home. You can't control others, you can only control yourself. I knew I was going to a secure location, this may not always be the case. Epic fail here with weapon security for transit!

I have misplaced four items in the evacuation and move back. A duplicate set of trailer keys, my prescription, the dongle for my FitBit, and a quilt project I was working on. I can have a duplicate set of keys cut and the prescription refilled, but the dongle can’t be replaced and the quilt fries me as it was a gift and almost done! The time it has taken me to put the house back in order is much more than my frantic ransacking took. It will be weeks before I finish. I’m still working full time and not willing to give any more of my personal life to this fire.

Path Forward — Plan for the Future

I have already called a carpenter to rework the gate, he is tardy in getting back to me and I have not followed up on it. Get on it Tessa!

Scan more documents! The legal documents that have the county recorders seal on them (like the deed to the house) are not scanned, yet.

I purchased large format wound care supplies today to pack separately in the trailer. It is redundant to the household kit, but is it also one less thing to think about in an emergency.

Question the clutter! If an item wasn't important enough to give it a fleeting thought, should I be giving it prime real estate? I plan on going through the boxes of paperwork, book cases and the file cabinets and take back my real estate. I have a problem with paper clutter, I’m working on it.

Take the time to photo each room after everything is put back to rights and I have purged un-necessary items. Save those photos or videos on my external hard drive.

Say thank you to everyone who provided physical support, emotional support and cared enough to reach out to me during the difficult time of evacuation. The kids came over and hooked up the trailer while I was packing. I could have hooked it up, but it would have taken me a lot more time to complete the task!

Finally, I plan on taking some time to contemplate and prioritize material items. I use a risk matrix at work and I also have a personal risk matrix for cyber security and passwords. I plan to use those skills for my material goods. Each room will get a visit from me and some serious thought about the contents: keep or purge or prioritize on a list in case I ever evacuate again. It is time to downsize those items that no longer fit into my lifestyle. I plan on being much more prepared in the future. How prepared are you? It may not be a fire, flood, hurricane or earthquake that prompts an evacuation. Consider civil unrest and a simple gas main leak, if you cannot pack and lift your own suitcase or have made accommodations for a handicap, you are not prepared. Preparations ranked by order of importance: first is your physical body, then your mind, nutrition and water, clothing and shelter, and last of all is “stuff”.

May God Bless and keep you, may all your preps be used for practice.



This booklet is dedicated to the people who always believed in me: My Lord Jesus, my Father, my Beloved and my beautiful brainy daughter.

If you have read this far, I might add to this little ditty as I learn more in my quest to be healthier and live a more sustainable lifestyle. So check back later!

About Tessa Bertoldi

Tessa Bertoldi has been in love with reading and writing her entire life. She is currently employed as a Technical Writer, translating Engineer speak into plain English. Tessa's previous assignments include composing technical documents to keep employees safe; while working with explosives. She has a background in Risk Management and investigating claims fraud. Her published work includes corporate documents, policies and procedures, Memories and Milestones (a commemorative book on the refinery and its employees) and poetry in the anthology, Inspire Joy. Two short stories "No Loving Men" and "Perfect Love Brings Change" will be published in an anthology, Inspire Love late 2017. She is passionate about writing and is a staff volunteer for the San Francisco Writers Conference, Writing for Change and is the Solano County Municipal Liaison for the National Novel Writing Month. Tessa's current projects include two science fiction novels, a "rescue yourself' romance and an educational guide that attempts to fill in the holes for her adult foster children.

Tessa enjoys organic gardening, beekeeping, and cooking clean hoping to avoid the laundry list of medical issues that has plagued her family. She is a chronic sleepwalker finally getting some sleep, but wishes she was a sleepwriter instead! A sense of balance and humor are important in her daily life.

Favorite Tessa at Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/TessaBertoldi

Blog: https://tessabertoldi.wordpress.com/

Thanks for reading!

Teeny Tiny Post Script: Getting a prescription refilled before it is time is not an easy thing to do, even if it is non-narcotic!

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