Monday, October 29, 2012

Emergency kits: no time like the past, but the present is better than nothing

For those in Hurricane Sandy's evacuation areas, please read Eli's post above.  Or better yet, don't read it.  Just leave, now.

For everyone else, regardless of where you live on the planet, get emergency kits.  People who will have to ride out Sandy in place won't benefit from this 2010 repost, but it's a reminder to the rest of us:

Easy-but-not-cheap 72-hour emergency kits for home, with purchase links

It's hardly responsive to the Haiti quake, but I've been meaning to write about the earthquake/emergency kits I put together for Christmas presents. At least it's a way to lessen the burden on emergency services should something similar happen here.

There are nine members of my wife's family in the Bay Area, and when I found out no one had the 72-hour emergency kits we're supposed to have, I put them together as presents (in-laws loved the kits, too). My emphases were making them easy for me to put together, easy for people with no camping experience to use, and ones that would last as many years as possible without needing replacement or maintenance. In return I was willing to pay more, be more bulky than the minimum possible, and have limited control over food selection.

72-Hour Home kits:
  • Water in plastic jugs, 3 gallons/person
  • Iodine water-purification pills in case water goes bad (after 6 months, assume it's bad), in case it's leaked away, or in case you need more water (UPDATE: chlorine tabs have been suggested as lasting longer in storage than iodine)
  • Mountain House 72-Hour Emergency Meal Kit, 1 per person
  • Mountain Oven Flameless Heating Kit: each kit can be used 5 times and can prepare 2 meals at a time. So 2 kits per two people in a household, but also 2 kits in a single-person household.
  • Plastic silverware
  • Emergency phone numbers/contact list
The above is the absolute minimum. Meals can be eaten in their pouches, so no dishes are needed. Flameless heating kits eliminate the need for cooking stoves (water has to be purified, though). Emergency meals also can be eaten with cold (purified) water although they taste bad. The food and flameless kits should be good for at least 3 or 4 years, and probably more than twice that long.

Your kit should be stored outside your home in case you can't get inside. So in your yard, your car, or somewhere else. The only maintenance this requires is to simply look every six months to see if the water's leaked through the seams of the plastic jugs - it happens fairly often.

Additional useful items:
  • Cheap flashlight/headlamp
  • Spare batteries in clear plastic bag so you can see if they've become corroded over time
  • Plastic tarp and cord as a rain shelter
  • Swiss Army knife
  • Emergency shelter, 1 per 2 people
  • Cheap or expensive first aid kit (I went with cheap kits from the local drugstore)
  • Cheap rain gear, spare shoes and clothes
Don't let the extras delay you from putting together the minimum.

I also made better-than-nothing emergency kits for everyone's car, in case you're stuck on the road:

Car kits:
  • Half-liter water bottle (enough to keep you hydrated for a few hours until you can find a water source. Keep more than one if you have kids.)
  • Iodine (can disinfect murky water from ditches, and you might need to) (or chlorine tabs)
  • Emergency shelter
  • Small amount of long-lasting food (I found tins of honey-roasted peanuts that were good for four years)
  • Cheap rain poncho (I didn't include this, but should have)
  • Emergency contact list
  • Shoes you can walk many miles in, if that's not what you normally wear
  • Cheap, tiny flashlight
You can do much better than this car kit, but it's something in case destroyed roads/bridges keep you from getting home for 12-24 hours.

Additional tricks for both kits: put the contact lists in their own ziplock plastic bags to reduce the chance that they'll mold/get wet over the years. I've also found that the metal caps on the iodine bottles tend to rust over a few years, so I bagged them in their own ziplock bags, and poured a little table salt in the bags to absorb humidity.

Hopefully this is all unnecessary.

UPDATE:  lots of great comments below, and a resource link at Making Light.

N.B.  I've altered the posting time so Eli's post is seen above this one.


Joel said...

Other useful items:

- Radio and batteries
- Headlamp and/or lantern: eating spam by torchlight is unnecessarily difficult.
- Variety of food: a week of spam is not a fun week

Source: I was hit front-on by Cyclone Yasi

EliRabett said...

Even better a hand cranked radio/light combination

willard said...

A towel has great practical value.

guthrie said...

I'd like to say that 'cheap' flashlight isn't necessarly a great idea.
LED torches nowadays are amazing, from small 1 AA battery ones to big lithium rechargeable ones that can light an entire room up or replace your car headlamp. Sure, they are more expensive than the cheap naff plastic LED lights that break as soon as you drop them, but one of mine has been dropped, spent 3 months outdoors in snow and ice and rain and still works fine.

In Scotland any car kit should have a blanket or two or three or sleeping bag, since sleeping in a cold car isn't fun.

I've been following Making LIght for years now, and they've lots of emergency prep posts. The most relevant for hurricanes are listed here, covering everything from emergency supplies to go bags. They'll provide more in depth information, whys and wherefores for anyone who is interest, than the post above does:

EliRabett said...

Eli loves the ones that sit on top of your forehead with an elastic band that holds them on. Great for bike riding and hiking.

Sou said...

Having been through a few fires and floods one suggestion is:

Fill up tubs, baths, jugs, rubbish bins and bottles with water beforehand or asap afterwards. Disasters can affect the tap water supply. It could just stop or become contaminated.

(Bought bottled water only goes so far.)

Hank Roberts said...

> Batteries

Energizer lithium primary cells won't leak, last for years in storage, and deliver power when cold.

Alkaline cells will corrode and leak; if you have a few dozen, you'll find corrosion on some before their sell-by date in the blister pack. They don't deliver much power when cold.

dbostrom said...

Better late than never department: Typical domestic hot water heater stores 50-80 gallons of potable water. There's a valve at the bottom that'll allow water to be drained from the tank. Before things go pear-shaped, turn off the water supply to the tank using the inlet valve so as to prevent contamination.

If you plan on using your DHW tank as a potable water reserve, turn off the electrical or gas supply to the heater.

Phillip said...

The handcrank flashlight/radio combos are great - but be sure to look for a model that has a USB port on it so that you can charge your cellphones during an emergency. Often, in a crisis, your cellphone is your only link to family, friends, and emergency services.