For years, I’ve promised myself that I would start taking emergency preparedness seriously. I have experienced enough mishaps – days of no electricity, earthquakes, white outs and blizzards – to warrant having extra food on hand, flashlights, first aid kits, etc… but never have I really combined everything into an emergency kit. Sure, I could just buy a kit and it would work in a pinch. But if there really was a disaster, that kit wouldn’t be customized for me. It might not have what I need or want for my family.
So how do you determine what you want in your emergency kit? The first step is to have a plan. Ready.gov and 72hrs.org are 2 great websites to checkout for tips and ideas on what you might need. Also, consider attending an emergency preparedness class or becoming a CERT member. Almost all cities/counties offer these for free and you may learn more about what disasters/situations might be more pertinent for you to be aware of. To find out more about becoming a CERT member, read my blog post on my experience. Most cities/counties also have emergency alert systems in place. If you live in Santa Clara County, you can join Alert SCC. They will text, email, or call you with emergency information pertinent to where you live.
By making your own plan, GO Kits, and Emergency Kit you can decide what is important for you to bring/pack. For us, I was most concerned about food and first aid. When a disaster strikes, your body becomes more prone to illness and disease: your stressed out, you don’t eat well, sleep well, and have other things to worry about. Having quality food and first aid is essential to boosting your immune system and preventing disease. Unfortunately, during most emergencies – first aid and food are the hot commodity. Many MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) are full of additives and chemicals and, while they give you the essentials to survive, do nothing to help boost your immune system. We eat very little processed foods and I am concerned that it would be a huge jolt to our system to suddenly go through an emergency and have to eat foods full of additives and chemicals. It was vital to me to plan and make our own kits to ensure we would have the proper nutrients needed during an emergency.
So, what is the plan? Talk to your family and see what works for you. If something happens, you and your family will need a safe place to go to – where you all can meet up. Most neighborhoods, towns, cities, etc. have emergency shelter locations throughout the area. These are established safe houses that already have an emergency plan in place (and often supplies, etc). For us, its a local middle school that’s within walking distance. If there is an emergency and our house is not safe – that’s where we are to go or meet up.
Establish point persons out of state, if possible, that you can text. In cases of emergency, phone lines will be down or tied up for emergency personnel use and texting will be the easiest form of communicating. Also, communications out of the immediate, emergency area tend to be less effected. There are often comments about how people were able to talk to Aunt Susie who lives across the country, but couldn’t reach their sister down the street. If you are separated from loved ones, it’s important to have a contact person, out of the area, who can relay messages or information.
Have escape routes. One of the best pieces of advice my dad ever gave me when I was a teenager was to always know the back way out of anywhere I was. Of course, at the time, he was referring to high school and college parties… but it’s been great advice that I still live by. Almost everywhere I am, I scope out where the exit door is or how I’d leave if the front door wasn’t an option. The same is true for where you live. If something happens at 2am and the front door is inaccessible – how would you get out? If you have kids – would they be able to get out? What about pets? Where’s your emergency gear? Do you have a go kit? What would you do?
Before I became an official CERT member last fall, I underestimated the time you really had when disaster falls. Say, it’s the middle of the night and you hear the smoke alarm start to ring. There’s a fire in the kitchen – it’s too big to put out with a kitchen fire extinguisher (if it’s bigger than a small wastebasket fire – it’s too big), but you’ve called 911 and it seems small enough that it won’t escape the kitchen. Surely you have time to put on pants and shoes…right? WRONG! It can take less than 1 minute for a fire to get out of control and less than 3 minutes for you to become trapped. You need to get out IMMEDIATELY!
So you run out of your house immediately and watch it become inhabitable in front of your eyes. You literally have the pajamas you’re wearing and that’s it. If you’re lucky, you might have the shoes you crammed on as you ran out the door…but no socks…
This is why a GO Kit is the most important piece of equipment you could have during an emergency. If a disaster strikes your area and you are forced to evacuate immediately, personnel will not allow you time to gather belongings, but if you tell them you just want to grab your GO Kit – it’s allowed. Why is that? Because a GO Kit is already packed, is somewhere easy to access and full of all your emergency items.
What does a GO Kit consist of? This is NOT your emergency kit. This is a smaller, more condensed version with items you may need for 1-2 days. It should fit in something easy for you to travel with, like a backpack, and be in an easy to reach location. We chose to keep our main GO Kit in our car. You notice I say main GO Kit. This is because we do have provisions bedside, just in case. But I don’t have glasses or other items that I might want to grab bedside (major considerations when deciding where to store a GO Kit). We did put some special LED stick on lights around the house (in case of emergency/power outage), plus have a few essentials near the bed. Even if you choose to locate your GO Kit bedside, near your front door, etc.; it’s vital to also have a few emergency essentials in your car. Shoes, flashlight, blanket, and some extra clothes are vital. Imagine having something happen and only having flip flops to wear and then having to walk through glass and debris for miles?
You don’t need to buy fancy items to fill your GO Kit or emergency kit. I used an old Hello Kitty backpack I had lying around the house. I have 2 young kids, so my GO Kit is their GO kit. Inside our kit, we have the basics: flashlight, small first aid kit (band aids, antiseptic wipes, acetaminophen, safety pins, and medical gloves), a face mask, leather gloves for me, and enough food and water for a day (mostly nuts, dried fruit, and energy bars), a windup radio/flashlight, shoes for all of us, a spare outfit (light long sleeve t-shirt, pants, socks, and underwear), and a plastic rain poncho.
If you have kids, pets, or other dependents, it is vital that you plan for them also. Because I have kids, I added a couple of comic books and a small toy for each kid (a zip baggie full of legos and a small doll). The clothes and shoes I packed for them are all hand me downs and about 1 size bigger than what they wear now, so I won’t have to keep updating them. My daughter is potty learning right now, so I also added a few diapers in our kit, as well. Plus, she’s small enough that she will have a hard time walking long distances, so I have a long scarf/wrap in my bag that I can wrap like a Moby Wrap. Since it’s just a long piece of fabric, we can also use it as a wrap, blanket, or I can tear it up into bandages if necessary. It’s important to decide what additional items would be essential for you to bring that will be of assistance to you in a disaster.
If you are on medication, need glasses, or other items – it’s vital that you remember to pack a spare in your GO Kit. Even if it’s your old glasses, it’s still better than not having any glasses at all!
It may sound like a lot of items. But I was able to fit all of them in my GO Kit. I used a travel space saver bag to store all the clothes in. Not only does this help to keep our clothes safe from getting wet, but it made it much easier to store. The comic books and toys took very little space. In fact, it was the water that took the most space. I chose to get boxed 5 yr water. It’s like juice boxes, but water and they have a shelf life of 5 years. If you choose to use bottled water, please note that clear bottles will last up to 1 year without direct sunlight and opaque/filmy plastic bottles will last up to 6 months without direct sunlight.
I also tried to make certain items easy access. The first aid items are in the small pocket in the front of the backpack. The flashlight, gloves, and masks are all on the top, so when I unzip the bag they’re easiest to find.
The biggest difference between a GO Kit and an emergency kit is that an emergency kit should last you a minimum of 3 days, if not longer. Therefore, an emergency kit is bigger and has more items/quantity in them.
We chose to store our kit in a spot on the side of our house (which is gated and not easily accessible to others), in the shade and out of the elements. Your emergency kit should not be in the house or garage. What if something happens and your house/garage became inaccessible? It should also be located somewhere easy access to move in a hurry. We bought a big bin with a water tight lid, that has padlocks, and wheels. The padlocks are for safety (these are still our personal items) and the wheels were essential for us – we didn’t want to have to carry something that heavy a long distance. There are 4 of us – water, food, and essentials for a week weigh a lot. But you can use any weatherproof storage container that you want. A great idea, especially if you want to store a lot of items, is to use a garbage can that has wheels. Just make sure whatever you use (and store in it) can withstand the weather in your area.
In our emergency kit, I have similar items to our GO Kit – but they are more extensive or longer lasting. I have a larger hand crank flashlight/radio, a face mask, leather gloves for Marc and me, shoes for all of us, a spare outfit for each of us (light long sleeve t-shirt, pants, socks, and underwear), a plastic rain poncho and enough food and water for my family for a week. Our food consists of organic nuts, dried fruit, dried veggies, broth powder, pre-made dried soup mixes, and a few dried camping food packs. In our first aid kit, I included a standard store bought kit, a natural hand sanitizer, and added essential oils that we commonly use: lavender, tea tree, peppermint, eucalyptus, and Thieves. I commonly use essential oils to aid us in a variety of medical complaints from upset stomach, fever, antiseptic, cold, and cough. The Mothering webpage on natural first aid remedies is a great guide to common herbs, oils, and homeopathic remedies that help.
I also added items necessary for long term disasters: such as towels, blankets, and boots. My boots are steel toe work boots (A requirement for CERT members). There is also a small emergency stove (it has special pellets that will burn for about 30 min-1 hr and heat 1 pot/pan), a camping cookware kit (bought at a garage sale), utensils, water filtration kit, and cleaning/toiletry supplies. Though I tried not to pack anything that needs batteries, I still added some to our kit. Also, you must be able to store all garbage/waste in a contained unit – so as not to contaminate any clean water, soil, etc. So you’ll need to keep extra garbage bags, zip baggies, etc in your kit. You should also consider storing some cash and vital information in your kit, as well. Scan copies of insurance policies, clear photos of loved ones, identification, and other vital records on a disk, flash drive, or store a paper copy. This might expedite any aid that you might need for medical attention, restoring your home or car, or to help you find a loved one. I have one friend who also has a flash drive full of important files and pictures.
Since we have kids, I also stored 2 extra flashlights for them and extra toys. I chose a Tangram set because it’s good for all ages. There will be times when we will want to have something we can do. Plus, we have a puzzle, stuffed animal, play dough, and bubbles.
In order to save room, I used space saver bags for big items. I was able to use a jumbo sized bag and store a large queen size blanket, 2 smaller blankets (for the kids to use), 2 towels, and 2 dishcloths in the fraction of space it would have taken otherwise. I used another space saver bag to store all of our clothes. Plus, the bags keep them water proof and safe from dirt, bugs, etc. I also vacuumed sealed any foods that needed it. I’d bought some dried foods in bulk and split them among family members for their kits, so I vacuum sealed those to keep them dry. Also, some foods will last a long time, as long as they stay dry or air tight. Many store bought packages are fine, but in some cases – I just wanted the added protection. Its better to be safe than sorry later. In many cases, just storing store bought packages in zip bags is enough.
This is what our kit looks packed and ready to go. I tried to pack it with the 1st items I might need on top. Our work gloves, boots, flashlight/radio, first aid, and food are easily accessible. I also put like items in bags – preferably clear zip bags if they fit, so it would be easier to find.
All GO and Emergency Kits should be considered a work in progress. I add and remove items when needed. Recently, I got a bunch of small samples of soaps, cleaning liquids (like dishwashing, laundry, etc) and added those to our kit. Depending on how you pack your kits, you should review them at least every year, if not every 6 months. You need to make sure the food, water, and/or clothes, prescriptions, etc have stored are still good. For us, I also have to make sure that the clothes and shoes for my kids stay current enough, too. If you have pets or others you must care for, please remember to pack accordingly for them also!
GO and Emergency Kits are essential for peace of mind. In case of emergency, the last thing you need is to be scared or concerned that you don’t have the essentials to survive. It was amazing how many essentials I grabbed from spare items we had around the house. It seemed daunting at first, but it didn’t take long to get everything together once I got my bin and just did it. I highly encourage everyone to make their kits now. You never know when you might need it!