Red Cross volunteer Amanda Lamont has sat with people as they faced the heartbreaking reality that everything they once owned is now gone.
She's seen people further traumatised by the realisation they faced the recovery effort without their beloved dogs or horses by their side.
"We talk a lot about having a plan for pets, and that's really important because they are so close to people and they can provide so much comfort in the days afterwards," Ms Lamont said.
It's why she took the time to walk through her home in the fire-prone Dandenong Ranges, in Melbourne's outer-east, and identified everything that was important to her.
This included practical documents such as passports, licences and insurance papers, as well as treasured items such as a children's book with a handwritten note inside, given to her by her parents on her fifth birthday.
"Time and time again we find there's a real gap between what people love and value and cherish, and what actions they've actually taken to protect them," she said.
'They saved an iron'
In the lead-up to every emergency season Ms Lamont packs up her valuable items and moves them into a storage facility off the mountain where they will be safe from bushfires.
Her important documents are scanned and stored in the cloud where they can be accessed from anywhere.
Ms Lamont, who is also a volunteer firefighter, said she knew of people who fled their home in such a panic that one of the few items they saved was an iron.
"People just knew they had to grab something but they don't have the ability to think about what it is they need to take," she said.
"My key message is do some planning and thinking now, and include your family and neighbours, because we know that in stressful situations people aren't capable of always thinking well."
Survey finds most of us have experienced an emergency
Each September, the Australian Red Cross runs Disaster Preparedness Week, encouraging people to do one simple thing to prepare for a disaster.
Red Cross national resilience adviser John Richardson said 77 per cent of Australians had experienced an emergency such as a flood, cyclone, bushfire, earthquake or terror attack.
But he was surprised to learn from a survey released this week that fewer than half had thought about the risks emergencies posed to themselves, their families and their homes.
"We can all take simple steps to make it safer for our families and be ready for disasters," he said.
"We don't have to do it all at once. Each step we take makes emergencies less stressful and disruptive."
He suggested getting to know your neighbours or building an emergency kit was a good first step.
It's a message Ms Lamont echoed.
She said it was not enough to understand the danger; you had to actually do something to prepare.
"What is simple is not always aligned to what's most important.
"Look around your property, look at your pets and potentially your livestock, and think, 'What am I going to do with them if a disaster comes?'
"Look at the things that you treasure and take steps to save them."ABC