odds and ends from a life under construction

31 Days, Day 9: How to pack an emergency kit

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I love disaster movies. The cheesier, the better. I could probably quote every single line of “The Day After Tomorrow,” and if I haven’t gotten to that point with “2012” it’s only because my husband has forbidden me from watching it more than twice a week. We don’t watch parades or fireworks on the 4th of July; we watch “Independence Day.”

But if a true emergency were to strike, we would be woefully unprepared. The extent of my emergency planning to date has been pinning this on Pinterest:

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Pretty cool, right? A bathtub-sized bag of potable water! But how would I know to fill it before an emergency? We don’t exactly have a spare bathtub we can leave filled with a giant water balloon at all times. And even if I did manage to fill it before the inevitable contamination of our water supply by nuclear waste or zombie feces – man cannot survive on water alone, nor can woman, nor can a two-year old who loves him morning milk. So, a more formal emergency plan is called for (I mean, who knows what’s going to happen if we don’t raise the debt ceiling!). Step one: create an emergency kit.

FEMA, the government experts in emergencies, has a handy guide to building a kit of disaster supplies. They recommend having enough supplies to last at least 72 hours, but if you have the room  – why not go all Mormon on your kit and plan for the long haul?

The following is FEMA’s list of basic disaster supplies:

  • One gallon of water per person, per day. Water is cheap. This is for drinking AND cleaning, so if I were going to “splurge” on my kit, this is the place I’d do it. I wonder how long it would take Jason to build water jug shelves in our crawlspace.
  • Food. Non-perishable, so this is not the time to hoard cheese and unsalted meats. Canned goods are an obvious choice; just make sure you also pack a can opener.
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both. Extra batteries are just a good idea all around, for everything. Start stocking up now. And some battery packs for your cell phones wouldn’t hurt either; even if you have no cell service, you can still pass the hours until your rescue or death playing Candy Crush.
  • Flashlight and extra batteries. See what I mean about the batteries? And battery packs, for that matter? I don’t know about you, but my cell phone is a flashlight I always have on me.
  • First aid kit. We’ve had one of these, unopened and unused, rolling around in our trunk for almost a decade. I’d take it out of the car and put it in our emergency kit, but I know as soon as I did that we’d be in a car accident where we’re trapped in a ravine and have to treat our own wounds. So, time to buy another first aid kit.
  • Whistle to signal for help. In a pinch, we can use Evan’s recorder. I wonder if he’d be willing to take it out of his toy box and give it up to the cause.
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter in place. We actually might have all of these things in our garage left over from painting and other house projects. They’ll get a second life after all!
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation. Baby wipes count, right? We have the garbage bags, but the plastic ties might require a purchase.
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities. This is something I would not have thought of. Then again, I might have just had Jason put the entire toolbox in the kit; better safe than sorry. Carpentry might be required when we rebuild civilization, after all.
  • Manual can opener for food. Beat you to it, FEMA.
  • Local maps. Maybe even regional. We might have to travel a distance on foot, a la “The Stand” or “The Walking Dead” or “Revolution.” Come to think of it, no one seems to shelter in place on TV or in the movies.
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger. Covered there too, FEMA. But a couple solar chargers might be good to have too.

FEMA also has some more specific items on the list that you can choose to include or exclude based on your specific circumstances. For instance, we’ll definitely be stashing some cat food, because the last thing we want zombies eating is cat brains (they’re GENIUSES). We’ll also need diapers, lotion for Evan’s eczema, cash, clothes, feminine hygiene products, games and books for entertainment, a fire extinguisher, and all the stuff we’d normally take camping. Camping really is kind of like an opt-in emergency, isn’t it? Also, I should have additional copies of all our important documents made, in case FEMA is able to rescue us and needs to verify our identity.

The Ready.gov FEMA site also has info about where to stash your kit, how to shelter in place, how to turn off your utilities… basically, it’s worth saving an offline copy of those pages to have as needed.

And because I’m nothing if not prone to paranoia and taking things to extremes, I find this infographic from State Farm particularly appealing – how to build a safe room in your home:

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For more info on assembling an emergency kit (and planning for emergencies in general), visit the Red Cross or 72hours.org. Be safe out there.

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