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Disaster Preparedness | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother
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Keeping College Students Safe in a Big Bad World

I would hate to be working in campus security this week. This is the hard part of being a mother of a college student in uncertain times.

The following universities were threatened by bomb scares this week:

  • September 14 – University of Texas at Austin
  • September 14 – North Dakota State University
  • September 14 – Hiram College in Ohio
  • September 17 – Louisiana State University (Boston man arrested in connection with it)
  • September 18 – Arkansas State University
  • September 20 – Southern Illinois University
  • September 21 – North Michigan University (person of interest has been identified in this and 4 other non-university threats)

Yes, there may be copy cats.  We do not know who or what is making these threats. What to do?

Listen and watch:

For every  college student in America….now is the time for college students to be vigilant. Look for circumstances, objects, and more that seem off. Listen for threats online or in person. If you see something suspicious, say something to campus security.

Listen to your gut instincts. Gut instincts can warn you of bad situations before the details are fully identified. If your gut tells you something is off, protect yourself and say something to campus security.


There are all sorts of disaster preparedness guides and more. Make sure you are aware of safety and evacuation procedures for your campus and your dorm. Protect yourself.

We all learned on September 11 many years ago that terrorists would do whatever it took to bring us down and would do the unimaginable.

Well, guess what. It’s still a big bad world out there. A few bad guys in that world still want to do us harm. We have no idea what they will do or when.

Remember the Lessons of Flight 93 on September 11. When the passengers on that plane realized what was about to happen, they took history into their own hands and changed it. Armed with nothing but scalding water, a rolling cart, and determination not to surrender to terrorists – they stopped the bad guys, at the cost of their own lives.

There will come a day when something unexpected happens again. The time or the opportunity may come when you have to fight for survival – your own, those you love, or maybe even complete strangers.

My prayer is we all remember the heroes of Flight 93 and God forbid, if we have to, pay their heroism forward.


How to Find Tri-State Weather Updates

Masters of Disasters

Area spotters, forecasters, and emergency personnel meet to discuss ways to serve the Evansville, IN/Henderson, KY & southern Illinois area better.

Storm season is upon us. Though it may seem we’ve already been overwhelmed with tornadoes this year, the highest risk for tornadoes is about to begin. Are you prepared?

If bad weather hits the Tri-State area, Twitter adds another layer of information sharing to help us stay safe. At this week’s first ever meeting of weather forecasters, weather spotters, and emergency personnel for our area, those with boots on the ground worked to find ways to improve how information is shared and spread quickly.

Twitter does not take the place of weather sirens, TV forecasts, or weather radios. It does add another layer of protection and source of information.

#TriStateWX – clicking on this link is the fastest way for you to quickly get Twitter updates on local weather.

In an early morning storm siren this spring, when I crawled out of bed and was groggy, a phone alert rang but it was from the wrong station and wasn’t the person who usually alerted me. Our weather radio for some reason didn’t work. I grabbed my phone and glanced at Twitter. There was a #Tristatewx tweet that a tornado was headed to Evansville and to take cover immediately. Immediately after reading that tweet, I screamed at my family and told them to get to the basement NOW. Yes, teens can get out of bed quickly. When their mother uses “the Voice.” Fortunately, that storm missed us. Had it hit, Twitter would have been what saved my family.

The beauty of #TristateWX is that I can tweet with it when a tree limb crashes onto my car during a windstorm, just as anyone else can report weather information. Last week, when dime-sized hail was reported in downtown Evansville and my daughter was walking to a class, only a 3 minute drive from me, I was able to drive and meet her to ensure she wasn’t stuck outside during a hail storm.

So those who use it can glean from weather professionals and also see real time weather changes.

To use #Tristatewx in Twitter, simply click in the search area and type: #Tristatewx.

NEW – #TriStateWX List = Earlier this week, weather pros, spotters, volunteers, and other groups met for the first time to discuss how to better serve our area and work together and spread weather information via social media channels. I’m not quite sure what the name of the group will be – two possible names floated were Disaster League of Evansville or Masters of Disaster.

A new way to find weather information quickly was proposed and has been put in place. The Evansville Red Cross (@EvvRedCross) has now created a list, #TriStateWX. If you use Twitter, you can subscribe to this @EvvRedCross list – #TriStateWX. Area weather professionals, spotters, and others have been included in it.

What does the new list do? If you use Hootsuite or Tweetdeck and subscribe to the @EvvRedCross link, you can now include a Twitter feed that posts tweets from those who tweet weather and other emergencies. When severe weather hits, if you have #TriStateWX list already set up as a stream, it can be a more efficient way to quickly see storm alerts and weather updates.

The new #TristateWX list is not intended to replace the #TriStateWX hashtag. It is intended to provide one more tool in the arsenal of weather preparedness and information sharing.

Weather forecasters from varied stations are included on this list, as are storm spotters from Illinois, Kentucky, and Indiana. Some work with weather professionally, and others share their knowledge out of a passion for keeping our area informed of pending weather situations.

Things like #TriStateWX are just one more reason why I love living in the heart of the Mid-West, in the Evansville/Henderson Tri-State area. Those involved know and work under a fundamental principle:

Saving lives matters more than protecting turf.

How to Help Harrisburg Illinois Tornado Victims

Harrisburg IL devastated after an EF4 tornado. Photo by Jordan Vandenberg

FEMA again denied private assistance to victims of the EF4 tornado that flattened Harrisburg, Illinois, and killed 7 people.

For years, many local churches have ventured across the country to help victims of other disasters. Now, there’s one in our own backyard, only a 2 hour drive from Evansville, Indiana. For those private homeowners who lacked insurance, their only recourse now is help through private charities or to quality and obtain low interest SBA loans.

Complicating Harrisburg’s recovery from their disaster is the unexpected illness of their mayor, Eric Gregg, who has been pivotal in their rebuilding. He was hospitalized in Evansville and had emergency surgery last week.

When he returns to Harrisburg, I hope Evansville good will and help goes with him. My challenge to you personally, to your community, to your church, and to your family: find a way to help Harrisburg, Illinois. Here are contact that can get you connected:


  • S.T.O.R.M. – Social Services, Temporary Housing, One Stop Center, Rehab of  Houses, Matching Resources – matches tornado victims without resources to volunteer groups and agencies who can help them. To volunteer or donate, call (618) 294-9600.


  • The Harrisburg Disaster Relief Fund accepts online donations that are tax deductible. Partnered with the Southern Illinoisan newspaper, these funds are collected by the Southern Illinois Community Foundation.
  • 50 Days for 50 Grand – Ike Honda and Black Diamond Harley Davidson are selling $20 raffle tickets (5 for $50) to benefit the Southern Illinois Hog Chapter’s disaster relief efforts. On May 12, they will draw winners to win a new Harley Davidson and Honda Civic.
  • The Athletic Department of Murphysboro High School is collecting financial donations to help Harrisburg students who lost everything. Funds collected will be given directly to the Athletic Director of Harrisburg High School.

Ways Others Are Helping:

Disasters are personal to me. Eleven years ago, our family’s home and business burned. Through the generosity of our friends and strangers, we muddled through 1 of the most traumatic periods of our lives.

So on a personal note, please do what you can to help these tornado victims. Frankly, I think our local help can be more effective – in terms of time and cost – than what FEMA could have offered. Let’s take care of our own neighbors in our own back yard.

If you find other ways we can help those in the Harrisburg area, comment below, and I will share them.

Please help Harrisburg Illinois Appeal FEMA’s Denial of Disaster Funding

Harrisburg IL devastated after an EF4 tornado. Photo by Jordan Vandenberge

Caveat with this blog: tonight, I’m one angry writing mother.

Why? FEMA denied disaster aid to Harrisburg, Illinois.

Disclaimer: I was born in Carbondale, Illinois and grew up in southern Illinois. The part of Harrisburg, Illinois that was flattened last week by an EF4 tornado is in the part of town where I spent my teen years cruising up and down the street with my friends, hoping we might meet a car full of cute guys.

In a 3 day period when our area was inundated with tornados, Harrisburg got the brunt of early storms. 7 people died. The people and homes in the tornado’s path didn’t stand a chance as it flattened their town.

Does a tornado have to flatten a bigger community to be considered for FEMA aid? Should Harrisburg have been located next to Chicago, home of our sitting president to get aid instead of being in a forgotten corner of the state that’s ravaged by a state economic crisis?

Though I am now a happy Hoosier, my heart breaks for my southern Illinois friends. If you know ways anyone can help them appeal this FEMA ruling and get disaster aid that’s desperately needed, please comment below.

This haunting photo, taken in the tornado aftermath, haunts me on multiple levels. A replica of Mickey Mouse leans against a storm-damaged home. It looks like Mickey is searching for the American dream.

Aftermath of tornado devastation in Harrisburg IL. Photo by Jordan Vandenberge

When I was a girl growing up in southern Illinois, the big picture book on our coffee table was the story of Walt Disney, and that same image of Mickey was in 3-D relief on the book’s cover. I often looked at the picture of Mickey and saw in it Walt’s quest for the American dream. That dream is a little harder to grab for some in southern Illinois. They have hearts as big as the Midwestern prairie and are willing to work hard, but the sad state of the Illinois economy makes it harder for them to capture just a corner of the American dream. And now, after an EF-4 tornado, without FEMA help or help from somebody, their recovery is going to be a lot tougher.

My question to the FEMA bureaucrats who approved disaster aid in other areas ravaged by last week’s storms and apparently didn’t think this corner of the damage mattered, I can only quote George Bailey about those who will suffer as a result:

“They do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?”

If you know other ways we, as individuals can help this community that apparently isn’t big enough to matter to FEMA, please share them.

Follow up blog: How to Help Harrisburg, Illinois.

Why We Help With Disaster Recovery

A news story tonight, of how people rallied to rebuild a home for a Harrisburg, Illinois, single mother who lost everything in tornado and had another baby this week, made me cry. The mother said she didn’t know how, but she said, “One day I will do something like this for another family.” I knew part of what she felt and thought back to my own reasons for helping with disasters.

Losing everything changes your whole world.  At those darkest moments – in our case, as we wore borrowed clothes in church the morning after our home and business burned 11 years ago, we had no idea where we would go or what we would do. And we had 2 young children.

Friends, some we knew well and some we didn’t, all helped us in incredible ways. Several put their own lives on hold to help us when we need it the most. I don’t know what we would have done without them.

Though I describe it in more detail in my book, He Uses It For Good, there are some ways people helped I will never forget:

  • When we had 15 minutes to clear our home and office after the fire, friends helped us carry and drag our business equipment up what had been basement stairs to save what we could of our business.
  • Later that night, as I sat at a pharmacy waiting to pick up a prescription, in my smoked clothes, I burst into tears. A woman sitting beside me, who didn’t know us, handed me a $20 bill and told me we needed it more than she did.
  • Friends helped us with housing and childcare in the months that we rebuilt.
  • Friends worked with our church and helped set us up in a temporary apartment and collected enough dishes and groceries to set up temporary housekeeping.

I honestly do not know what we would have done without the help of friends, family, and strangers. There is no way I can ever repay those who helped us. All we can do is pay it forward. Maybe we can’t save everyone or end world suffering. But if we each help how we can, great things will happen.

I helped what I could when others suffered loss. In my heart, I knew when my kids were grown I would do more.

That day hasn’t yet arrived, but I’ve started preparing to volunteer with the Red Cross. They do an excellent job of training disaster volunteers in advance so they are prepared when disasters happen.

If something horrific happens in our area, if you want to find me, I’ll be at the Red Cross helping where needed.

Helping with a disaster isn’t glamorous. It may involve:

  • setting up cots in a shelter
  • delivering water to a shelter
  • answering telephones
  • responding to queries.

As I’ve met other volunteers, I’ve met some with stories like mine, who are paying forward help we were once given.

In my case, when that call for help comes, I feel like a rush like I’m one of the stormchasers in the movie Twister.  As I look for some way to help, I hear the voice of Mordecai in the Old Testament story of Esther, when he tells Esther her life has been preparation for such a time as this. I know my own life experiences prepared me to help others in such as time as disasters.

I can now do this for other families when needed.


Quickstart to Disaster Readiness

Life or death issues are sometimes made during disasters. The more you know and the better prepared you are, the smarter decisions you will make.  Different disasters require different knowledge sets.

Thanks to Greg Waite of Evansville’s American Red Cross for providing info for this blog. Thanks also to Dwayne Caldwell of the Vanderburgh County Health Department, who gave a survival workshop for Vanderburgh 4-H members, when I first learned of chemical threats and how to react.

Disaster Kits: have a 3 day food/disaster supply you can grab and go and have a 2-week supply if you stay in place.

  • Red Cross – How to Build a Disaster Kit
  • Ready.gov – Disaster Kit Checklist
  • Note on lists items besides food & water – include cash and prescription copies.

Disaster Plans:

Stay Informed:

  • Keep a weather radio good to go.
  • If you live in Vanderburgh County, Indiana, know your sirens. The Friday noon siren is the tone for severe weather. If you hear an undulating siren instead, going up and down, that is an alert for a chemical/biological disaster. Know the difference and how to respond. The responses for severe storms or chemical threats are in many ways opposite. If you choose the wrong response, the result could be fatal. If you live in another area, ask them how they broadcast chemical alerts.
  • Follow #Tristatewx on Twitter.

See specific disaster preparedness links below:

Evansville Red Cross site download links:

Vanderburgh County Health Department Emergency Links:

Ready.Gov Links: (be sure to read the chemical threat and shelter in place sheets):

  • Biological Threat
  • Chemical Threat
  • Shelter in Place during a Chemical Threat
  • Winter Storms and Extreme Cold

The good news is we have information on how to respond to different scenarios. Knowledge is power.

When you prepare and plan, it’s easier to respond appropriately.

Steps to Prepare for & Survive an Ice Storm

Two years ago, we survived an ice storm, spending 2 days in our home without power, with a tree limb crashed through my daughter’s ceiling. Our power was restored 2 days later. When an ice storm was forecast for later this week, I went through what I had learned and what would help us prepare if God forbid we had to manage that again:

Before the storm:

  • Fuel: Fill your car tanks, your propane tanks, and your kerosene heaters. Make sure you have batteries for your weather radio.
  • Charge: Charge all phones and laptops.
  • Gather: Get candles and flashlights together in a convenient location, along with backup batteries.
  • Clean: Wash all dishes, finish all laundry, and clear clutter from living areas.
  • Stock: have ready to eat food items plus staples. Shelf stable is good. So is variety. You will want bread and milk.
  • Review: safety procedures for any indoor heat or cooking sources. Carbon monoxide kills. Print safety guidelines if needed.

If you lose power:

When we lost power, tree limbs covered our yard, our roof, and our street. There was no way to drive in or out of our street the first day. Plus a tree limb went through our roof, our attic, and our daughter’s bedroom.  Here are steps we took to survive:

  • Simplify: We rearranged our living room as our living quarters with sleeping space for all. Our goal was to conserve heat in one room.
  • Insulate: We gathered every blanket, throw, comforter, sleeping bag, and large towel from our entire house. We covered every window with towels, closed all doors in the house and the basement, closed all blinds, and covered both doorways to the living room with makeshift blankets.
  • Heat: We do not have a fireplace or wood-burning stove. However, we did have a kerosene heater in our disaster plan. We placed it in the kitchen, next to the living room, and used it for brief periods of time in the daytime when all were awake. We ventilated the kitchen to ensure against carbon monoxide. When the kerosene heater was running, I kept a pan of water on it to humidify the air – moister air feels warmer.  We followed the same procedure with a mini propane stove, only keeping it on long enough to heat and eat food.
  • Refrigerate: We opened the refrigerator door once and put food we would need into a cooler which we kept outside the kitchen door.  We did not open freezer doors, managing on canned convenience foods and sandwiches.
  • Illuminate: candles can provide some heat, but do not leave them on overnight. Though the bathroom doors were closed, we kept a flashlight in there.
  • Entertain: once we had done what we could to survive, we read books aloud. In late evenings in the dark, we watched DVD movies on laptops on battery. I knit a scarf during that ice storm.
  • Communicate: if you can, talk with the outside world. We were grateful we still had a landline phone so we could conserve our cell phone batteries.
  • Evacuate: if you have a way out and your home is a risk, leave. When our house fell below 40 degrees, we left until power was restored.

My memories of our survival hang with me such that warnings of an ice storm give me chills. But we got over the chills and begin the business of caring for ourselves and those we love.

Insurance Claims After a Disaster

This is a column I wrote 5 years ago after Hurricane Katrina to help victims.  Perhaps Nashville friends can use it now.

This Too Will Pass
It does get better. Four years ago, our home burned, and the following are things I learned which might help.

Safety first: Loved ones matter more than things. Don’t risk yourself for any belonging. Make sure tetanus shots are updated. If/when you work on your house, wear pants with knees in them.

Secure the perimeter: If you can, put temporary patches on holes in roofs or windows. It might help prevent further damage.

Educate yourself: What are insurance laws in your state? How long do you have to file a claim? Who is your state’s insurance commissioner, and how do you contact him if your insurance company stalls you? Do you have replacement insurance coverage or actual insurance coverage? If you have replacement insurance coverage, how does it work and what must you do (how are receipts handled, etc.)? How is your insurance organized? Ours was divided into 3 categories: temporary housing (save receipts from meals); content replacement; and rebuilding our home. How much coverage do you have? If your house is older, do you have code insurance? In our city, older homes must be rebuilt to current code. Without code insurance, this is out of the homeowner’s pocket. With our company, the actual value of a lost item was calculated with a formula they had which calculated the difference between replacement cost and the age of the item. That ten-year-old couch you had when you first got married isn’t worth much.

Simplify your life: If you have suffered a major loss, you have just inherited an intense, temporary part-time job that will seem to be full time. The better you organize it and the harder you work, the faster and more fully your family will recover from the disaster.

Delegate: Who in your family has which strengths, talents, and time? I get excited at the prospect of putting together a binder, so I inherited the claim. My husband is stronger at finishing tasks, and his job the last year of the claim was pushing me so I wouldn’t quit, which I wanted to do on several occasions. Teams accomplish more than solo acts.

A Quick Guide to Organization

You will need to have a portable, packable office, so buy the following first so you can organize better as you go.

File bucket (with handle) to be packed with the following:

Top compartment:
post-it notes
cheap calculator
paper clips
binder clips
section or envelope for business cards

Bottom compartment:
Baby wipes
Latex gloves
Trash bags
Ziploc bags
Multi-subject notebook
Anti-bacterial hand wash which doesn’t need water
Pocket folders
Camera with extra film rolls (or batteries)
Paper towels

Cooler: Buy water bottles and ready to eat snacks. A large hard cooler can also become a chair.

First, organize the notebook, with a bright, gaudy, easy-to-find cover. I wrote any phone numbers I might need on the back of the notebook. One section of the notebook became to-do lists. Another section was for claim items. A third section was for prices for replacement items and rebuilding. A fourth section was to list items dumped during pack-out (explained below). As you sign papers and get receipts, you can quickly throw them into the bucket to organize later. Choose a bucket with the brightest, gaudiest lid you can find so you will spot it more quickly.

Fireproof cash box. At the end of each evening working on the claim, I moved receipts/valuable papers from the file box to the cash box.

Photocopier: If you don’t have a small one, find the fastest place you can make copies because you’ll be busy making lots of them.

Febreze in bulk: (If you have a fire) We found generic giant-size bottles of Febreze worked well. We used a lot of it and also dryer sheets in removing odors.

Getting to work on the claim: Learning to use certain computer programs is essential. I used Access and Excel and recreated our insurance company’s forms. The following features were the ones I used the most: filters, find, queries, sorts, and reports. Over two years, my database/spreadsheet probably saved me over 100 hours of time on our content claim. If I hadn’t used those programs, we wouldn’t have completed our claim so thoroughly and wouldn’t have recovered as many of our belongings. Our first claim was 60 pages long.

Our insurance company re-entered the claim into their system and resorted all items. If this happens to you, doublecheck items. Our company made minor mistakes on the original claim which, when tallied together, amounted to several hundred dollars in our favor.

Itemize, itemize, itemize: Mentally go through every room of your house. I took the notebook with the content subject area and wrote a room at the top of a page. Then I mentally went through that room and listed what was in it. Go through every cabinet, drawer, and closet. Count every extension cord, socket, etc. What was hiding on the top drawer of the guest closet? If you keep the file box with you, you can note things as you think of them. If you purchase items from a specialty shop, contact them and ask if they still have records of purchases. Stores gave us records of Thomas the Train toy purchases we made for our son along with duplicate receipts of custom framing jobs I had ordered.

In order to receive the difference between actual and replacement value, we had to purchase replacement items and submit receipts. I numbered receipts and kept photocopies in a folder.

The Rebuilding Steps

Our home wasn’t completely destroyed. The rebuilding happened in 3 steps.

Pack-out: House contents are sorted between those which are salvageable and those which must be dumped. A clean-up crew pulled belongings from the house and told me whether items went in their truck or to the dumpster. For items to go into the dumpster, I noted them in my notebook section and also took photographs of them in sets, in case I needed more reference later. For the photos, try to take pictures of brand labels, etc. Be as specific as possible. If a shelf held 10 cups, 8 plates, and 4 bowls, list them exactly like that. Brand names and age will help too.

During this pack-out stage, you will probably already have to begin to make purchasing decisions for the rebuilding phase. Four days after our fire, we chose replacement kitchen cabinets because we were told they would take the longest to arrive. As we shopped for items, we deliberately made choices which were not special order. At the same time, don’t rush too quickly. We lost all of the blinds in our home and happened to still know the people from whom we purchased the house. They confirmed the old blinds were custom made, and as a consequence, we replaced the blinds with new custom treatments. Get ready to make several choices quickly — in our case, our biggest choices included doors, blinds, paint colors & types, floors, light fixtures, ceiling tiles, faucets, sinks, cabinets, wallpaper, borders, furniture, window treatments, and appliances.

Demolition: After pack-out, areas that must be rebuilt are demolished.

Rebuilding: The demolished areas are rebuilt. Try to be present as much as possible during this step.

Return items caution: After rebuilding, items which were taken out to be cleaned/salvaged were returned. Pay close attention during this step. Some things which may have been taken to be cleaned may not return in the same condition in which they left. My son had 6-month-old bedroom furniture which returned with smoke stains. We were told if we let the movers carry items into our home, we were accepting their condition. Richard and I both went through all furniture and large items to check them and refused some items.

What Helped the Most

We were luckier than most because we were able to return to our home three months after it burned. Our crew was on the job almost every single day after the fire. We made it our business to be there, with them, as much as possible. The following are some things that helped us the most.

Help from friends: We couldn’t have survived without the help from friends. One friend, an engineer, went through our home after the fire to evaluate the condition of ceilings and walls which our contractor originally said didn’t need to be replaced. The engineer said a bedroom ceiling had been warped with water damage. A brother-in-law who is a gas lineman helped us push for safer replacement gas lines in our home. We argued both items, which were decided in our favor. When they demolished the ceiling of the bedroom in question, they discovered mold growing. We’re more than grateful we pushed for its destruction instead of going with their first opinion.

Hospitality: We chose to view the fire as an opportunity to welcome workers. Every day we had workers at our home, we provided a cooler of iced water bottles and soft drinks for them to drink. The workers appreciated the gesture. We wanted them to feel welcome and respected in our home. Our hospitality inspired them to work harder and help us find ways to rebuild our home better.

Witness: I collect crosses and crucifixes that are mounted throughout our home. During the fire, the walls behind those crosses didn’t have smoke stains. For weeks after the fire, every room had at least one light-colored cross on a wall. Almost every worker who came into our home commented at least once that we went to church, and we had some great conversations with them.

Negotiation: We didn’t rebuild to match exactly what we had had before. Rooms switched purposes, so when we returned we would think of the house as a new beginning. An old storage room was converted into a larger office for Richard. We added extra insulation wherever possible, upgraded light fixtures, and put new ceilings into part of our basement.

At the same time, we tried to remodel as simply as possible so we could return home faster. Our insurance company gave us some wiggle room. For example, our upstairs carpet was ruined and removed, and we discovered oak floors beneath them. We negotiated with insurance that instead of their replacing our upstairs flooring, Richard refinished our oak floors himself at our expense, and we purchased flooring for our basement on the insurance claim instead.

Replace Slowly: If your state insurance laws and insurance company will let you, replace non-essential items slowly. This time, you can buy exactly what you want. We used a card table and then a loaned kitchen table for over a year before we finally found the table we wanted. If the kids had had a preschool card game set, we replaced it with an older grade level set instead.

What to Do with Kids: Our kids were 5 and 7 when our home burned. We homeschool and had gotten two weeks into our school year when the fire began. Their schoolbooks, my husband’s business, and our clothes are all that we salvaged. The first weeks, when everything was most dangerous, friends kept the kids. After that, we tried to involve them as much as possible. We let both kids make the choices (within reason) for their new bedrooms. They learned several new vocabulary words: receipt, claim, toxic, demolition, and more. For two months, their formal school day began at 6:30AM and ended around 9:00AM so I could go to our home and monitor reconstruction.

The best thing both kids learned from the fire was to work quickly and efficiently. That skill is one they still have, four years later.

Don’t look back: You will make mistakes, lose things, and forget others. One mistake we made was miscommunicating paint colors. I asked about one color for our upstairs, and Richard thought I only wanted it for our bedroom instead of our entire first floor. (He happened to hate that shade of white but thought he could stand it in one room.)

Some losses will be harder than others. Richard’s hardest loss was his portfolio. He’s an artist who lost 30 years of artwork. During our pack-out, I grew numb and tired one morning and paid little attention to a metal box that was thrown into a dumpster. That night, I realized it was a keepsake box with every memento of a lost baby. Richard offered to dumpster dive until he found it, but I refused. His safety was more important than memories. We had to let the dead bury the dead and move forward. The next morning, as I arrived at the house with our kids, a driver was hauling the loaded dumpster to our landfill.

Have fun: Somehow, some way, find ways to add humor or fun to a difficult process. After that dumpster was removed, another one replaced it. While it was still empty, before our work crew arrived, the kids and I made a target practice game inside the fifteen-foot dumpster. We found some plastic items ready to be tossed. The three of us went into the empty dumpster and threw them — 10 points for the back wall and 5 points for the sides. It helped vent all our frustration and defuse a rough morning for me.

We have a large fenced backyard, and the kids enjoyed playing outside a lot during reconstruction.

Life continues: It’s four years later now. The closets are full again, and you could never tell there was a fire. The kids rarely speak of the minor disaster that consumed our lives for almost two years. It’s still a watershed, and we measure time in terms of “before the fire” and “after the fire.”

We thank God for the many friends who prayed, helped, and carried us through the storm of trouble so we could rebuild our home and begin again.