Hellscape 2020

So Your Area Has to Evacuate?

We talked with an insurance agent about what to bring—and what to leave behind.

By Julia Silverman September 10, 2020

What to pack if you have to evacuate.

It’s bad out there, Oregonand most of us only have to look out the window at the hazy hellscape to know it.  

If you live in Clackamas County, you’re already on high alert. (If you haven’t already signed up for alerts, stop reading right now, and do so via texting your Clackamas County zip code to 888-777, or find your county and sign up here. 

We’re in this now for real—the National Weather Service says smoke and air quality issues will continue this week, though there’s a most welcome chance of rain on the horizon for early next week. 

Maybe you’re thinking about preparing for any possible evacuation—smart move. We talked with Sara Davis, an insurance agent from Salem who has decades of handling property loss for State Farm under her belt, about what to grab when it is time to go.   

First and foremost, says Davis, heed the call. Don’t hang around thinking you can save your property. It’s much more important to save yourself, your kids, and your pets.  

Next (and this is just a good general adulting tip), back up any technology—computers, phones, hard drives, chargers—and bring them along. Your whole life is on there—financial information, all your phone contacts, your health care and insurance forms.  

Over the years, Davis says, people tend to have the most regret about family photos lost in disasters. So bring photo albums, or family photos that you can’t replace and that haven’t been digitized. Kid artwork, too.  

Remember, if you do have to leave home, you might be living out of a suitcase for a bit. You’ll be disoriented, exhausted, and stressed, Davis says, and the last thing you’ll want is to wander around a Walgreens. So bring your toothbrush and other toiletries, some changes of clothes, and any prescriptions—whatever you’d take if you were going on vacation.  

The other thing you won't want to worry about, in Davis’s opinion? Having to get a new passport, or will, or marriage license. So bring all that paperwork you have on hand, but never think to look at—birth certificates, visas, immigration paperwork 

She also advises bringing any money/cash you can find. (Your home insurance policy probably won’t reimburse much for this.) Even the coin jar and kid piggybanks are worth tossing in.  

Finally, before you leave, take a video or a photo of every corner of your house. It will help later if you need to document what’s been lost for insurance purposes. 

The rest? It can be replaced, Davis says, and insurance will cover it, though it might take a while until they’re able to assess damaged property, given the scale of fires up and down the West Coast, hurricane damage in the South, and more. 

“I’ve watched people go through this, watched them struggle with the aftermath of ‘how do I inventory my life,’” Davis says. “Photos are by far the biggest thing. But if you take [these essentials], the rest of it is just stuff.” 

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