When we think about someone losing their home to a tornado or to a fire, most of us picture a middle class family in the middle of Kansas, with a few small children, staring blankly at the spot where their home once stood. Toys are strewn on the front lawn and the parents pick through the wreckage to find family photos or a piece of cherished crystal.
But disasters know no bounds and happen just as frequently to the country’s most exclusive neighborhoods – for example the Malibu and Santa Barbara wildfires, or hurricanes that swept through beach front resorts with multimillion dollar mansions. Last year Oprah was nearly in tears on her show, as she spoke to people about the Tea fire, too close for comfort to her own Santa Barbara home. Disaster is disaster and making sure that you, your family and your home are prepared, just in case, is important whether you live on Duluth or in Holmby Hills.
Case in point. On July 29th, just as the edition of Oprah’s “O Magazine”, featuring art patron Peggy Cooper Cafritz’ incredible DC home hit the newsstands, the house and along with it – her beloved art collection – burned to the ground.
The home, in an older, stately neighborhood of Washington DC is in an area known for its lower water pressure. Speculation is, that the pressure in the fire hydrants wasn’t as strong as it should be and wasn’t enough to save her home or other homes that have caught fire in that area and have met similar fates.
You should definitely read the story about this beautiful home and fascinating woman in this month’s O Magazine. Cathleen Medwick puts it, “Cafritz has not only served on Ellington’s board of directors but over the years taken in teenagers-as many as eight at one time-and re-purposed basement space as bedrooms. She has helped jump-start artistic careers, even as she chaired the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, headed the D.C. Board of Education, and served as an arts critic on an Emmy-winning program.”
She dedicated her life to the arts, as well as her home and now, the home and the art within is just a memory. What we need to see out of this horrible tragedy is that thinking about disaster planning, or at least what you would do if something like this suddenly occurred, is vital. Of course her beloved art was insured, but it doesn’t replace the art itself. And then there are the memories that must have surrounded her every time she entered her home. Her clothes, the irreplaceable photos of the people she’d met and all of the reminders of the people that she loves.
This is where something as simple as a handwritten evacuation plan can really come in handy. Of course Ms. Cooper-Cafritz wouldn’t have been able to save all of her works of art – but depending on who was there when the fire began and how much time she had, she might have been able to save a few favorites, if they’d been placed strategically near the front door. Or as we advise our customers, she might have been able to scan and upload favorite photos to a personal web site or online file system, or quickly snatch them and her vital information and documents that had been placed on a portable grab and go hard drive.
Loss is difficult no matter how many resources you have. And as we see in this tragic case, even the best neighborhood, tools and security systems, won’t necessarily keep your home and the things that mean the most to you, safe. The secret is taking the time to ask yourself the difficult questions.
If a firefighter knocked on your door right now, and told you that you have ten minutes to evacuate – with the possibility that you won’t be able to get back into your home for days or even weeks, what would you need? What are the things that you can’t live without, or aren’t willing to live without? What vital documents do you need? Names and numbers, financial information would you need to survive for days or weeks without being able to re-enter your home? What would your spouse or children need? What if you have to temporarily relocate, as in the case of the Katrina survivors? What would you need to prove your identity, the fact that you own your home, your vehicles, to enroll your children in a new school or begin a temporary job?
What things do you want to take with? Photos, your grandmother’s china, your vital files on a portable hard drive?
If you don’t have Emergency Action Forms to capture your lists and plans, you can put together your own basic form in Word. Even a handwritten plan that you can easily locate and use when you need it, is better than nothing. And if you’re serious about doing a comprehensive action plan for your family, you can find them on our web site. The point is, it’s much easier to take the time to make a plan now, than trying to remember everything you need to take while running around your house grabbing anything you can, with a firefighter “encouraging” you to move faster than humanly possible. Just remember, like doesn’t come with a pause button. Schedule some time with yourself, and your spouse to get this on paper this week. Then you can put it away, knowing that if you ever need it, you’ll have it.
We wish Ms. Cooper-Cafritz all the best as she begins to put her life back together and hope that she is able to put an even more amazing art collection together in the coming years.