Trailer Evacuation and Retrospective

Crystal River Spills into Campground Lake

Crystal River Spills into Campground Lake

It was a normal Monday afternoon.  We were both working on our computers when I glanced out the trailer window and suddenly saw water had covered the ground.  Water from the nearby Crystal River was rapidly spilling into our campground and overtaking the small lake on the property.  We previously walked the campground at lunch and determined there was no way the rising river water could ever reach the area where we were parked.  Wrong!

We know it’s dangerous to drive through standing water, and even more dangerous to tow a trailer through standing water.  While others around us panicked, disassembled their lawn furniture, and tried to hookup and move vehicles in standing water, we made the smart decision to evacuate with only the truck.  We didn’t know if the roads in town would be worse but we knew we needed to get out of the campground.  We disconnected power (our wonderful surge protector is weather proof but the water was rising to the connection level), waded in 8 inches of unclean water to the truck, and drove to safety.

Dock Submerged by Flooded Crystal River

Dock Submerged by Flooded Crystal River

We didn’t know what we’d come back to the next day.  I prepared myself for all the possible scenarios.  (The trailer got picked up by rushing water, it was mangled by nearby trees, it was submerged in the lake, it hit or was hit by someone else’s trailer, etc.)

We were so lucky.  We came back to a disheveled campground, but an in-tact trailer.  The water level came close, but never reached the floor.

In the software world, each time you deploy code, you review what went well and what you could do better next time. It’s called a “retrospective” or a “post-mortem.” We did a retrospective on this event and these are the results.

What We Did Well

  • We quickly got the truck to higher ground.
  • We didn’t try to hookup the trailer in standing water, which would have been dangerous.
  • We got ourselves, the cat, and the laptops out of harm’s way.
  • We moved to an inland hotel (rather than the closest hotel.)
  • We took pictures before we left and after we returned, in case they were needed for insurance.
  • The cat’s “go bag” was well prepared.
  • We had more than a 1/4 tank gas.  (We try to never let it get lower than that or lower than 1/2 a tank when towing.)
  • We had flood insurance.  Ironically, I checked to make sure we had this coverage a week earlier.
  • Unlike most of the neighbors, we didn’t get into any arguments or let stress impact our decisions.
  • We made the best decision based on the available information.
  • We contacted our families as soon as we were in a safe place.
  • I grabbed our one page location print-out from the bulletin board.  (I compile information for each place we visit.  Among other information is the name of the county we’re staying in.  Weather alerts often cite the county, not the town or city.)

What We Should Have Done Better

  • We didn’t get much warning or understand how Tropical Storm Colin would impact us.  Our layman’s “flooding potential” assessment was inaccurate.
  • I didn’t remember what was in the car’s “go bag”, so I filled another bag, mostly with things I didn’t actually need.  (Ex: I packed a can opener but had no canned food!)
  • I was prepped for the wrong type of emergency.  (“Go bag” items should support 1-2 nights in the truck or in a hotel, not the zombie apocalypse.)
  • The truck was full of equipment from our kayaking trip the day before.  All that extra stuff just got in the way.
  • We should have closed the trailer up more before we left.  Ex:  We left the slides out.  We left a bike lock chained to the stairs.  These things would make it difficult for a tow truck to pull us.

BIGGEST TAKEAWAY: We should have prepared for movement when we first saw unexpected water.  We could have packed up, and hooked up, so we could pull away if needed.  Assuming nothing would happen left us with fewer options.

What We’ve Changed

  • In Case of Emergency Sign

    In Case of Emergency Sign

    I created an “in case of emergency” sign and put it in the trailer window.   (Gram Weenie is paranoid about privacy, so we setup a Google Voice phone number to forward calls to our real mobile number, and a Gmail Email address to forward messages to our real email account.)

  • Better weather monitoring.  The weather radio taking up space in the truck is now in the trailer where we can actually use it.  I check alerts.weather.gov every few days.  I’m investigating better phone apps.  (The weather alert app I had running didn’t send any alerts.)  I added “check weather forecast” to our route planning checklist.
  • We also added “lookup pet friendly hotels” to our checklist.  (Scrambling to find a hotel via mobile browser was no fun.)
  • I reworked my “go bag” strategy.  I divided one bag into two and replaced expired items.  The bag kept in the car is specifically for situations like: driving to a hotel, sheltering in the truck, or if we can’t get back to the trailer.  The bag kept in the trailer contains items for: evacuating on foot (possibly walking a long distance), if we’re separated (one person is out with the truck), or if we can’t get to the truck.
  • We set a meeting point.  If we get separated, we’ll meet at the nearest (or second nearest) police station.
  • I compiled a list of the absolute minimum things we need to do to hook the trailer to the truck.  This is a slimmed down version of our normal “roll out” checklist.
  • I compiled a list of  last-minute items to grab in an emergency. (Things that can’t go in the “go bag”.)  Ex: Purse, keys, phone, medication, etc.

You can’t plan for every disaster, but some minimal preparation goes a long way.  Would you be able to quickly evacuate?  This 3 minute video from the Insurance Information Institute shows the difference being prepared makes.

What things have you done to prepare for an emergency while on the road?

9 thoughts on “Trailer Evacuation and Retrospective

  1. Wow, very interesting and informative article. And you can never be safe enough in a water event. West Virginia just went through horrific flooding. I spent awhile tying to check on the safety of three friend’s families. Thank God they were okay, but many didn’t fare as well. Thanks for the reminder to be more organized on this end. Be safe!

  2. All la Quinta inns are pet friendly with no extra fee. All mariott (and mariott brands) with take pets with a $100 per stay fee.

    • Thanks Amber. I didn’t know about Marriott’s pet policy. We ended up at a Holiday Inn Express. When they heard what we went through, they didn’t charge me for having the cat and listed him as a “service animal.” How nice!

  3. Great article, well written too! We lived in South Florida for 20-something years so I know about preparation. Lots of good tips. We are in year 3 and need to implement much of what you guys do. Thanks for this one.

  4. We are leaving as full-timers in a month. With all the preparations for that, I hadn’t even considered emergency planning! *DOH! Thanks for the ideas and reminder!!!

  5. Great tips. The other thing that we do after that horrible storm in the RV park in Arkansas a few years ago where several families weren’t so lucky, due to drowning, we actually carry life jackets in the rig. Call me crazy, but I like the slogan “be prepared.” Thank goodness we haven’t needed them. We have had to evacuate to an underground shelter in a football stadium once in LA during a tornado. We made sure our go bags were ready for both ourselves and our three pets, including all their special medications.

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