As we watch Haiti slowly recover from the disastrous earthquake, there's no better time to start considering our own emergency preparedness. We all live in different climates with different natural disasters that are more likely to affect us. West coasters have earthquakes to worry about, South-easterners have hurricanes, and Mid-westerners have tornadoes -- not to mention the humongous snows that can bury the mid-Atlantic. As climate change alters our weather systems, some of these natural disasters are becoming more intense. So there's no time like the present to get ourselves prepared and that means packing an emergency bag.
Depending on where you live and what type of disaster is likely to affect you, your kit might be slightly different; however, there are some necessities we all have to have.
Your basic emergency kit should include:
Water: One gallon per person per day if recommended but you might not be able to stock that much at once. Be sure to have water filters and purification tablets included in your kit so when you refill your water, you're sure it's clean.
Food: Go for protein bars and other ready-to-eat, highly nutritious foods. Check out camping stores and see what dehydrated foods they have that require minimal water to prepare. Make sure that if the foods have an expiration date, you note on the calendar when to take them out of the pack and replace them. If there is room in your pack, a small camping mess kit that includes a pot, cup, plate and utensils is handy as well.
First Aid: Not only is a comprehensive kit important, but also instructions for how to treat different types of injuries. Don't forget emergency heat and ice packs, survival blankets, whistles, dust masks, and ponchos.
Documentation: Keep a copy (perhaps on a flash drive) of important pieces of information, such as your drivers' license information; phone numbers, addresses and photos of loved ones, and your medical information.
Change of Clothes: socks and underwear are a must, and if there is room in your pack, include a change of clothes such as jeans, a shirt, mittens, beenie and a sweater.
Tools: Heavy work gloves, a Swiss Army knife or Leatherman, a crow bar, plastic tarp, rope and/or bungee cords, a flash light, a radio, batteries, and duct tape. It's smart to include a spare wind-up and/or solar powered flashlight and radio should your batteries run out. Extra emergency candles and waterproof lighter and matches are a must.
Toiletries: Soap, a toothbrush with toothpaste, anti-bacterial wipes or gel, toilet paper, and feminine hygiene supplies
The Extras: It's smart to have a small supply of cash packed away. Also, little things can help distract from the situation, so be sure to include a deck of playing cards, an activity book with crayons, and other small items that would make the situation less intense.
If you have a pet: Be sure to include extra food, vet information, and extra first aid supplies for them.
This list certainly isn't extensive. There are a lot of items that can't be included in a backpack that you might want to have stashed away for an emergency where you're stuck in your home. Here's one excellent list of what to include in a 72-hour kit. Also, if you're looking for specific information for different types of kits, here's a great website that shows you just what to pack for any type of person - from families to seniors - and even for pets. It also walks you through how to make a plan of action for when disaster strikes - where you meet, what to have with you, and how to contact loved ones.
Get Smart With Your Kit
You can start your emergency bag from scratch or buy one that is pre-packed. However, I recently went through my own emergency kit that was pre-packed for me and saw quite a few changes I wanted to make. It's a great idea to really sit and think about what you're putting in there, what it will be useful for, what its downsides are, and how you can improve the contents of your kit. Plus, you may have items that expire or break over the years. Make sure that you check your kit annually to ensure everything is in working order.
Make sure your kit is thorough, but not over-packed. Remember, you may have to carry this with you during an evacuation. Be sure you've loaded it up in a sturdy pack that is easy to carry, and store it in an accessible spot like the floor of a closet.
Buying Green Supplies
The best time to be green during an emergency is before it happens. From the backpack itself to the type of soap you include, your choices can make a minimal impact now, and during an emergency. When planning your kit, use the most eco-friendly products you can find while still being practical.