Lessons from Oroville Dam Evacuation

Here is one of the more comprehensive news articles on the problem: Oroville Dam Spillway Failure: Nearly 190,000 Ordered to Evacuate. What can this evacuation and impending disaster teach us?

“We both were kind of shocked. Nothing like this has ever happened,” said Dennis, 30, a chef from Yuba City, who recalled the moment he and his wife found out they had to leave. “We just grabbed what we could.”

The evacuation was sudden. Residents were given little notice. Most non-preppers can’t bug-out in an orderly manner in a short amount of time. Everything you’ve read in the past about bugging out applies here. Have a bug-out bad for each family member. Keep supplies in a vehicle also. Have a plan on where to go and how to get there. Have a backup plan. Most evacuees had none of the aforementioned preparations. Grabbing whatever you think of on a moment’s notice is far from ideal.

“Nothing like this has ever happened.” Exactly. Prepare for the unthinkable. Prepare for events that have never happened before in your lifetime. Don’t assume that the near future will be just like the recent past.

Cars quickly piled up at gas stations and on routes out of the evacuation zone after the order was given Sunday. “What was usually a 20-minute drive took two hours,” said Heather Sutton, 22, a Yuba Community College student. “It was bumper to bumper. … You can almost see the panic happening.”

Make sure all your vehicles have at least half a tank of gas at all times. And when it’s time to bug-out, immediately send someone out to get gas, before the lines form. Don’t wait for the formal evacuation order. Usually, the news story hits first, and the government takes some time to issue the evacuation order. Get out before the order.

When bugging out, earlier is better. The faster you get out the door, the less time you spend on the road. If you get caught in traffic, and the disaster strikes, you might be worse off than if you remained in your home. But there is no real solution if you are trapped in traffic. Bring water and food. Maybe have some forms of entertainment. Then pray you don’t get caught on the road when the disaster strikes.

A Red Cross spokeswoman said more than 500 people showed up at an evacuation center in Chico. The shelter had run out of blankets and cots, and a tractor-trailer with 1,000 more cots was stuck in the gridlock of traffic Sunday night, Red Cross shelter manager Pam Deditch said.

It’s great that shelters are available for evacuees. But you would be better off having your own plan. I suggest fleeing beyond the area where evacuees are taking shelter. But that takes advance planning.

“the 770-foot-tall dam was full to the brim and its main spillway was damaged by heavy rain last week. It could also breach the network of levees along the way and cause problems as far away as Sacramento. Several state water and government officials told NBC News that 1 million acre-feet of water could be released, overwhelming the Feather River and flooding communities in Butte County, Yuba City and Marysville.”

A million acre-feet of water is over 325 billion gallons. It’s a cube of water 1.2 kilometers on all sides. That much water weighs 1.35 billion tons. If the dam spillway fails, it could collapse one levee after another, in a terrifying domino effect, that would submerge one town after another. The financial damage would be in the billions. The area might not be able to rebuild.

And so, evacuees might never be able to return. Whatever they took with them, will be all they have. And that is one often overlooked principle of bugging out. You might never return. Take everything you can’t live without.

More rain is coming to Northern California. And when the winter snows melt, that will be another stressor on the dam. If they don’t fix this problem real quick, a major disaster could result.

– Thoreau

2 Responses to Lessons from Oroville Dam Evacuation

  1. Folks need to be situationally aware.
    1. Live in a flood zone, at the start of the potential flood season raise your preparedness level – pack evac gear (or at least check to see it is current) and re-evaluate your plans in the event of an evacuation.
    2. The moment word was received of the damage to the main spillway, preparedness levels should have jumped to a higher stage. Full gas tank, preloading vehicles, preparing for animals, last minute purchases. final verification of evacuation route(s) to avoid the parking lots the main roads turned out to be. contact who you would be staying with ,etc.
    3. When word was received that inspite of state assurances water started over the emergency/aux spillway, everything should be loaded up and confirm everyone’s schedule and rally points.
    4. Then when the evac order was given you would be already packed and ready to go and go you should.

  2. This was not known by the citizens who were the potential victims but it was reported that it was well known to government officials 12 years ago who chose not to anything about it. Placing their own private agendas and priorities over those of the people. If I lived in the affected area, I would make sure that I was compensated for the duress and discomfort that was forced upon me as well as recall all those who were in charge of the dam and demand criminal action (such as reckless endangerment) against them.