Many community groups came together to present a Teen Fire Safety Awareness Survey and Essay Contest. Congratulations to all the entrants and the winners: Trenton Bilyeu, SRHS junior, first; Evan Dicker, SRHS junior, second; and Madison Ronchetto, SRHS senior, third. They received $300, $200, and $100, respectively. Special thanks to the San Diego County Credit Union for underwriting the cash prizes.

First Place

Don't Get Caught Unprepared

When most people think of being safe they often think about staying away from drugs and crime, however, having a family emergency plan and being prepared for a disaster is just as, if not more important. What if your gas, electricity, water, and phones were cut off? What if your parents were away from home? What if the freeway was shut down? Where would you meet? Or where would you go? The frightening thing is that a disaster could strike at any moment without notice. However, if you plan ahead and create a documented emergency plan, you could avoid the confusion and save time, property and most of all, lives.

It had never occurred to me before taking this survey how ill-prepared my family and I are if a disaster were to occur. My family always had the basic idea that we will stay together during an emergency and had planned out multiple ways to leave our house. But after the survey, I realized that if there was a real emergency and if I was not with my brother or mom, I would not know what to do and where to go. So last week I brought up this topic to my family and we had a conversation about what our plan really is. We went researching and discovered that there are three main priorities to emergency preparedness: an emergency kit, a plan, and staying informed.

The first step every family should take is having an emergency kit ready. We decided that we would create two kits, one for the car and one for the house. Each kit has essential items necessary to sustain us for three days. The kit starts off with water. Water is not only important for drinking, but also to prepare foods and for hygiene. Next, we added a three-day supply of dry nonperishable food such as canned food items, bread/crackers, and cereal/breakfast bars. We also packed a battery-powered radio, flashlights and extra batteries. And we included a first aid kit - including medications that are regularly used; anti-Inflammatory drugs, antibiotic cream, antacids, and a medicine dropper. One complete change of clothing, footwear and a sleeping bag for each person is also included in the kit. In addition to the necessities, we added helpful Items such as paper, pencil, matches, cash, needles, thread, and a whistle.

Once we created a kit, my family and I went on to develop our emergency plan. We first went over communication to make sure that we will be able to contact each other in the case that we become separated. We placed walkie-talkies in each kit and decided that we will meet at our house first and If not, at a local park. We then went to identify the hazards or emergencies that are common and what the early warning systems are for each one. For example, in Scripps Ranch, there is the possibility of wildfires, flooding, earthquakes, and pipe leaks. In 2003, San Diego was hit by the Cedar Fire that destroyed 300 homes and killed 15 people. [Editor’s note: there were no fatalities in Scripps Ranch.] For this reason, developing a plan to react to these emergencies is key to staying safe. Make sure to share your emergency plan with neighbors, friends, and relatives so they know how to contact you if the power goes out.

Lastly, survival during a disaster should not depend solely on individual action, but rather a collective commitment and planning by and for everyone. Our communities should come together and share our expertise to plan for future disasters. During a disaster, you should help out your fellow neighbors in need and assist others in getting out of danger to safety. Another way we prepare is to volunteer. Last year, my brother and I spent a day helping victims of the Cascade fire. While we were there, we saw firsthand the strategic planning of Cal Fire with maintaining containment and Red Cross working to help the people affected by the fire. I saw how they resolved conflicts by following their emergency plan.

So in the end, a disaster is something you never want to occur but must be prepared for. And while disasters may be unpredictable, important steps can be taken before a disaster occurs to minimize the threat of damage. Because disaster preparedness is everyone's responsibility.

Trenton Bilyeu, SRHS Junior

Second Place

Why is having a disaster emergency plan important to you and your family?

My sister and I used to climb up the towers of Evergreen trees in my grandparents' backyard. We would propel ourselves up with a three generation old rickety rocking chair and climb up the branches until we could see their neighbor's Jack Russell Terrier, Comet, barking and growling in his steel cage.

When the fires of 2007 struck California, the barking stopped.

The trees were scorched.

The rocking chair was burnt.

The backyard was blackened.

And my childhood, my sense of fun, my relationship with my sister.

Vanished.

As we watched on the television from an overcrowded hotel, my family and I saw the gruesome damage: burned homes, destroyed houses, tom-apart families. We felt so thankful that we had all met together without issue, but were also saddened by the grief others would feel. Some wouldn't be able to rejoice with their families. Others had become lost without contact with their families.

        

Few people died. More people grieved.

They would grieve for the family heirlooms which toasted uncontrollably under the roaring flames. They would grieve for the picture albums which preserved their closest memories.

Memories would be lost but relationships would be built; among neighbors, community members, cities.

Having an emergency plan is important to my family because we don't want to grieve again.

We've lost family members, pets, friends without any control. Their deaths were out of our hands. However, an emergency plan gives our family the ability to have control in our lives. We are able to react to the random by creating a plan. A plan that involves all family members in our immediate area (grandparents, us, aunts and uncles). Our plan is a means for all of us to get together if an emergency is to occur. If it is an earthquake, we meet at our house. I f it is a fire, we meet at the Community Park (only a stone's throw from our house). If it is a flood (though unlikely due to our "drought"), meet at a high point: Battle Mountain (the hill across the street from our house). All these rendezvous points have something in common: they contrast the grandest effects of the natural disaster.

My mother created a backup for this plan when one of her friend's cars was stolen: to have each member of the family download a "tracker" so that everyone knew where each person was at each time. While (slightly) invasive at first, we all came to terms with it and saw the benefits of the system. If a burglary at our house was to occur, someone could set off the alarm system, then hide somewhere away from the house. Then, the app would be used to find the missing person. This would also apply for if one of us were to be kidnapped: they would be easy to relocate.

The main purpose of all these plans is to give us a sense of control; something my grandparents didn't have when the fires burned down their house and forced them to relocate. Having a plan also forces us to be safe. We have a red bag filled with emergency supplies in the downstairs closet to grab right before we all leave the house. We have crank-powered radios and flashlights to give us communication and light if the power is to go out. And while all these plans and materials give us the sense of security we crave, they are not infallible. Sometimes, we have to rely on our instincts to act. It is human nature to freak out if a fire starts, or run for the hills if the ground begins to shake, so it is necessary for practice drills to be run, to drill what to do into our heads so we remember them when disaster occurs.

We strive to uphold these disaster plans in my family, and even though they are not of the highest priority, my father, my mother, my sister, and I all know what to do if a disaster is to happen. We have an emergency plan for this reason. To be safe. To be together. To be without grief. We manage our safety by relying on ourselves.

Evan Dicker, SRHS Junior

Third Place

It was not even five in the morning. A loud thump echoed through the house, and she begrudgingly left the warm bed to answer the door. They would have fifteen minutes to leave.

My best friend woke up her parents, her dog, her brother and grabbed as many photos, passports, and tax records as she could carry. The next day she would find out her house was the only one on the entire street that was burnt down.

After watching in horror as scenes of thousands of acres, thousands of homes, and thousands of lives being disrupted in Santa Barbara during the recent fire season inundated every media outlet, I cannot help but remember the unfortunate luck my friend had just over a decade earlier. Though I myself have been evacuated on several occasions, I can only imagine the adrenaline overwhelming given such little time or worse waking up to the heat of the flames.

Until the fire season of 2007, my family had very little conception of an emergency plan. With an hour to evacuate, we were able to photograph our interior for insurance purposes and find relatives to stay with until the threat was clear. As the only child old enough to understand, I was given the task of finding all the photographs in a future fire. For a while we considered that to be sufficient. Even in a climate that is naturally fire prone, it seems the most of us are complacent in emergency preparedness.

One year ago, Scripps Ranch experienced incredible rains, rains that overwhelmed storm drains and gave us the impression that the drought was finally over. But with these rains came high winds, and with these winds came fallen trees. I was home alone when the tree fell through my neighbor's home. The tree fell through the master bedroom and into what seemed like half the house. No one was home, no one was hurt, but I could not help but keep my eyes on the eucalyptus near my backyard, careening in the wind.

With a severe event within my personal line of concern, an emergency plan became more tactile and more necessary. When I was alone, I started keeping the landline with me and staying away from windows on stormy days. I texted my mother periodically not only to assure her that I was doing alright, but to establish an expectation that I would text so that an absence of texts would encourage her to check in, and I carried a note that listed all the important numbers I could call if my parents were unavailable.

Most importantly, however, were the steps we began to take to prepare for a fire, not just an evacuation. We finally got a fire alarm for the second floor, began to test them regularly, and got a fire ladder for the rooms upstairs. Emergency supplies, such as money, batteries, water, and first aid were packed in a small container by the door so that it could be easily taken given little notice to leave. Finally, our conversations about safety became prompted not by catastrophe, but by prevention. Though we have not practiced emergency drills as is often recommended, we are all familiar with operating the fire ladder, the locations of the emergency kit and fire extinguisher, and the safest places to evacuate. Now that my brother is old enough to be home alone, I have had the opportunity to share with him much of the wisdom I have learned through his and my own mistakes (such as ventilating smoke after forgetting to add water to the cooking pasta). Even our youngest is familiar with her role, which is beyond collecting the family photos.

Though it is unfortunate that the steps our family has taken to prepare for emergencies were engendered by the misfortunes of others following disasters, I am confident in the improvements that our family has taken in keeping ourselves safe in the future. Through your awareness survey, I have become aware of the gaps we have yet to fill in our disaster preparedness, such as finding safe evacuation routes and preparing without technology. With any level of preparation, emergencies can be devastating, but improving without the exigence of another disaster minimizes both the physical and emotional pains that emergency brings.

Madison Ronchetto, SRHS Senior

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