While not even close to being a dramatic story, this is really the ultimate hero story.

By Steve Moran

Paradise, California — the town that mostly burned to the ground on November 8, 2018 — was the place I grew up. Both houses I lived in were lost, as were the homes of most of my childhood friends. The church I grew up in, was baptized in, is nothing but ashes and some concrete buttresses.  

I know about a dozen people who lost their homes, none of them real close, and yet . . . that horrible day, I was so riveted to the moment-by-moment coverage that I hardly got any work done. The stories and video of people who just barely escaped with flames all around them made for mesmerizing viewing and reading.  

I had tears in my eyes most of the day.

I knew Atria Senior Living had a community in Paradise and I wondered why I saw nothing about their community or their harrowing evacuation story.

Then I Got to Thinking

While the drive from Paradise to safety took many people hours and was terrifying, there were other people who packed up their stuff, their pets, got in the car and drove to safety facing no traffic congestion at all. They didn’t get stuck in traffic. They found a room to rent. While they may have lost most of their possessions, they were able to take with them the things that were most important and meaningful to them.

But these are boring stories — the stories of smart, well-prepared people. Those stories are never told.

Atria’s Story

I reached out to Atria to ask how their community faired, if they evacuated and, if yes, how it went. Some background, I had been to their Home Office a few months ago, and one of the things we talked about was how serious they are about disaster preparedness.

The short version of this story is that they were prepared to evacuate and as soon as the evacuation order came, they loaded into vehicles and got everyone out of the building safely and efficiently.  

So . . . no dramatic story about what they did . . . but, for the industry, it is really the most important story of all!   

Getting Ready for the Terrible

Not every community is located in areas that have a real potential for a catastrophic disaster: fire, flood, and earthquakes. But many are. Some areas like California have the real potential for more than one. Recognizing that, Atria has taken extraordinary precautions to make sure they are ready. Given the size of their national footprint it was almost a certainty that, at some point, a major disaster would happen to some community.   

In the case of Paradise, they had transportation prearranged and contracted for. Hotel rooms were prearranged and contracted for. They had disaster evacuations plans that they put together and practiced with staff and residents. At Atria Paradise, each resident even had a “Go Bag” that contained that resident’s essentials . . . just in case.

The Day Paradise was not Paradise

Atria knew Paradise was a high-risk area. They also knew the fire danger was high. The day before the fire (November 7), they received a wind advisory from the local utility warning that power might be shut off the next day because of the winds.  

This triggered the activation of Atria’s Risk Management team that led to a bunch of conference calls to make sure a power outage would not disrupt local operations and to begin preparing for a possible evacuation — including updating each of the approximately 80 resident’s Go Bags.  

On November 8 —  the day of the fire — power was shut off to the building and it was clear the fire was rapidly spreading. They got ready to go. This meant that purchasing hotel rooms and transportation in case an evacuation was ordered.

At 9:45 AM they received an evacuation order. They pulled the trigger on the transportation and, in a short period of time, both residents and team members were on the way out of Paradise, significantly ahead of the fire.

They had regular communication throughout the process with families using a hotline, email, phone, and social media.  

Residents and staff initially went to other Atria communities in the Sacramento area with Paradise team members. Other Atria team members went to the hotel to get ready to receive and serve the residents. When they were ready to go, residents were transferred to the hotel where they were cared for and given as close to normal a resident experience as possible under the circumstances.

The Team

40 team members lost their homes and contents in the fire. Atria — through their “Atria Cares” not-for-profit foundation — provided financial resources to impacted team members (and continues to do so). 

Some Additional Details

  • By the time they moved residents to the hotel, a number of them had been picked up by family.

  • Today all residents are in another Atria community, with family, or in another setting.

  • Atria Cares has provided significant financial and other kinds of assistance to team members and their families.

  • It is still too early for Atria to determine the next steps for the building/site since the town of Paradise is only functioning at maybe a 2% level.  

  • If your heart is touched by the needs of these dedicated team members you can make a donation at here: ATRIA CARES

While not even close to being a dramatic story, it is really the ultimate hero story.