I was up until nearly 1:30am today watching the Tsunami in Japan live online. Terrible for the psyche and hard on the heart, I simply couldn’t stop watching it unfold. It’s utterly terrifying to imagine the devastation and separation that catastrophic events like this cause for people. In the face of this terrible news, there is much we can do as parents. In addition to donating to relief organizations, we can prepare our families. We have incredible strength and insight as the proud providers and nurturers of our children. Now, today, is the time to utilize this reminder for good and harness your concerns into preparedness.
On the news last night, reporters kept repeating that every home in Japan had an emergency kit…that every family had a plan for an earthquake. They detailed how children knew at a very young age what to do when an earthquake began and families had communication plans to re-unite.
Today is a day to begin to create the same for your family. Emulate the universal emergency plans of families in Japan. I trust these kits and plans have saved many lives in the past 12 hours and lessened the worry of the millions of parents reuniting with their children as I type.
Last year, I made a disaster kit and blogged about the experience. Today, in the wake the Japan Tsunami, please consider doing the same. I’m re-posting some of the content here.
I’m gonna be honest, making a disaster kit completely stressed me out. I hope my experience will make it better for you. I guarantee with each step you take, you’ll feel an incredible sense of relief as you ready your family. I’m no expert at this but have learned a lot along the way. And there is no question, I feel so much better with my family prepared and my preparedness tidied.
As The Economist said last year when discussing Iceland’s volcano, “Disasters are about people and planning, not nature’s pomp.”
I believe in the 3 tiered approach you see everywhere:
- Make a Kit (detailed below and in my video)
- Make a Plan (how to communicate and find your family)
- Stay Informed (what disasters are likely to happen, where to find info)
If you watched the video, you know that Dr Suzan Mazor and I were totally overwhelmed by the task. Do your best to buddy up; having a partner was the best move I made. Hopefully she’d agree. Thanks again, Suzan. Please continue to be my friend despite me filming a video while sitting under a desk and having you help edit it at 11:30pm on a Friday night.
The good news: You’ll feel better with each step you take and everything you do to prepare your family.
The bad news: This is gonna cost you some cash. And some time. I spent somewhere between $300-$350 getting my home and family prepared. And, well over 15 hours, too.
Double ouch, I know.
First, don’t try to re-invent a list. People make these emergency lists for a living and are very good at it. After reviewing multiple websites, I really liked the Red Cross list the best. Both for its details for a homemade kit but also its list on communication plans. It’s long and overwhelming but do your best to pick through it.
You’re not going to be able to do this in one day. I’m not entirely done and I’ve been working on this for a month. You’ll need a trip to the grocery store, the hardware store, the bank, the pharmacy and possibly the doctor’s office, and then lots of conversations with those in your family so you are all clear about a communication plan. You really want to have a plan to reunite your family in the case of an emergency.
After the water, I think the communication plan is what is most important for your family.
This is a long post. Think of it as vitamins for today but ones that can save your family, keep you warm and get you to the other side of a big disaster.
Mama Doc’s To Do, Today:
- Go buy two, 20 gallon plastic or Rubbermaid type containers with lids. Once you have those, you’ll have a place to organize your emergency gear.
- Make some REFRESH cards. That is, keep a list on top of your emergency kit of what items need to be replenished and when. I never read about doing this but with the realities of our busy working-parent-lunatic lives, one of the things we need to do if remind ourselves. Tape an index card to the top of your 20 gallon tub. This is going to be your reminder card for things in the kit that are going to expire. For example, the water I bought expires in 2013. The food, mostly in 2013 but some in 2012. They are on my list. Put a reminder in your ipod, g-calendar, or blackberry that alarms and reminds you to go to your kit to see your REFRESH card and replace items.
- If you can afford a pre-made family 3-Day Emergency kit buy it online today. Then add additional items below (like clothes for kids, wrenches, fire extinguishers, medications, documents, etc). My only complaint about the pre-made kit we bought is it included water and I really think you can buy that yourself. Furthermore, the water in the kit expired in 2011 and the water from the grocery didn’t expire until 2013. But if you can afford the premade kit, it will save you hours.
- Talk with the other adults in your home and make a plan for where to store your kit. Ideally in a garage or lower level near a door. Outside is not a great place to store a kit with food.
- If your home has natural gas, go and find the area where gas enters your home. Learn how to turn off the gas. Buy a 12 inch crescent wrench or pliers that allows you to turns it off and LEAVE it at the site of the valve on the outside of your house.
It’s okay if you don’t finish the list below immediately. Calm down and do this over the next few months…Plan for a few shopping trips: one to the grocery, one to the hardware, one to the bank, one to the computer…
Mama Doc’s Grocery Store Tips:
- Water: 3 gallons per person or animal. That’s a gallon a day for 3 days for everyone. This is the most important thing you have in your kit. You’ll need a little more for breast-feeding mothers. Pay attention to expiration dates! It’s true that water expires. Just let go of the controversy and believe the experts. If you make your own bottled water, you need to replace those every 6 months.
- Food: Buy canned, high-calorie foods that will feed your family for 3 days like chili, tuna, veggies, soup, peanut butter, crackers, snacks. And some comfort foods like chocolate or candy. Buy foods with the similar expiration dates to make it easier to refresh your kit. Formula for babies. Storable milk for toddlers.
- Medications: First aid kits don’t include these! Specifically, they don’t have children’s medications. My advice is to include Children’s or Infant Tylenol and 1 container of Sunscreen (50 SPF or higher). Also, write down your infant or young child’s dose of Tylenol because often the bottle doesn’t include it. In a stressed situation, you may forget. Ideally you should have a 7 day supply of any prescription medication you or your child is taking. This is seemingly impractical with the way that insurance companies allow prescription refills (ie they only give you your month supply). If your child is on an important daily med, ask your pediatrician for a 1 week supply prescription. Remember to add the expiration date of meds to your REFRESH card.
- First Aid Kit: I recommend buying this online. They usually retail for around $25 for a basic kit. Ensure there are a couple pairs of gloves, gauze, tape, & antibiotic ointment.
- Tools: 2 tools stand out as most important to me: One, a wrench for turning off your gas line (if you have it) and two, a can opener. Because, I mean, how peeved would you be if your had your kit, the earthquakes hits, you’re chilling with your family and you couldn’t eat the chili. Also, Flashlights, batteries, battery or hand-crank operated radio, utility knife, waterproof matches, fire extinguisher—one for each floor of your home, non-electric can opener (as mentioned), whistles with lanyards for everyone in your home.
- Sanitation supplies: Bottle of bleach, hand sanitizer, diapers & wipes, garbage bags.
Mama Doc’s At Home Tasks:
- Clothing: A complete change of clothing and shoes for each family member. Hats and gloves. Remember to change this out as your kids grow. Put that on your REFRESH card!
- Documents: Copies of important family documents in a waterproof bag. This one totally stressed me out. Do your best.
- Entertainment: Age appropriate items like a deck of cards, coloring books, stuffed animals. Maybe old games could live in your kit for a bit?
Overwhelmed? I was. But this is surmountable and will only provide you comfort. Hang on, buddy up, and save some money in advance for your kit. You’ll never be sorry you did this. Promise.
SOME GOOD LINKS:
American Red Cross–Seattle Chapter links with info on lists, communication plans, etc
American Red Cross Store– I went crazy here. I bought a 3-day kit, a hand-crank radio, an emergency escape ladder for our home and a first aid kit for my car. I didn’t expedite shipping and all the goods arrived in less than 48 hours. Phew!
3 Days, 3 Ways
Meme Fehmers says
Thanks for sharing these tips on disaster kits. It’s one of those things so easy to put off but so important. My heart goes out to all those affected by the tsunami.
My husband is super into emergency preparedness, so we are pretty set. I remember when he put it together, I was shocked by the time, energy, and money that went into it, but it was worth it. It does give me a little extra sense of security knowing we are prepared for an unexpected event. We even have mini kits in each of our cars in case disaster ever strikes while we are away from home. Now I just hope and pray that none of us ever need it.
Sobering, isn’t it. Personaly, I don’t think 3 days is nearly enough. When you look at the the length of time it has taken help to arrive in these situations, not to mention the time to repair and rebuild, a months supply seems necessary to me at home.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Thanks, Heather. I tend to agree except, 3 days is better than nothing. So I tend to think of it as a “great start.”
Especially getting the water. Most everyone can get that done in a quick stop at the grocery. Today!
I’m wondering how the kit in the home would be used: Why add things like clothes and batteries that are readily available in the house? A
Is it intended to be portable?
Hi Wendy Sue, it’s Sophia, your fellow colleague at TEC MSVL! Been hearing great things about your blog & have started following along. Being one who also spends a great deal of time talking about prevention with families, I’m a little embarrassed that we do not have our own emergency kit yet at home. However, your post was great motivation & I have sent my hubby out with a list of items to get including some $$ from the ATM (we’ll see if it makes it back!) & a spare crescent wrench. 🙂
@ Carolyn: Yes, the emergency kit is intended to be portable as evacuations might be necessary and you might not have a lot of notice. Also, some people might not have batteries, etc., already on hand. This way, you have a stock that is always there in the case of emergency (and we have a rule in our house that we don’t. touch. the. emergency. kit – seems obvious, but it has been tempting to grab something from there when we are completely out at home). The overall intention of the emergency kit is that you and your family will be completely self-sufficient for three days (and as Heather points out, it very well could be longer before you receive assistance), whether at your home, on the road, or in an emergency shelter. So with that in mind, your own emergency kit might look slightly different to meet your own needs, but this is a great list to get you started. My husband is a bit of an addict when it comes to emergency preparedness, so we a month’s supply of canned goods and water (those things we do rotate out), diapers, toilet paper, and basic medications and home, plus a kit very similar to Dr. Swanson’s, plus additional, portable kits for each car. To be honest, I don’t think I am thankful enough to him for all of the hard work he has done, but it helps me sleep a bit better at night knowing that we are as “ready” as we can be an emergency situation.
Yukie at therapy pool says
Thank you for sharing these tips. I just packed up the disaster kit for our house hold.
I have been having horrible 2 days to see my destroyed country through TV and Internet.
I am sure that Japan is a well prepared country for unexpected event.
I remember many city goverments have given away a disaster kit to every house hold since Kobe earth quake and we have earth quake drill very often at schools and work places.
I am proud of my people remaining calm without getting panicked in this crazy situation.
Keeping Japan and people there in my thought and prayers,
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Oh Yukie. I’ve been thinking about your comment since I approved it. I am so overwhelmed with the ongoing tragedy. I loved hearing your pride and trust in your friends, family, and people in Japan.
I, like nearly everyone connected to information on the globe, am constantly thinking about the people and culture of Japan that is so exquisitely disrupted right now. Wish there was a way to help. Right now it feels best that I work to get people prepared here.
Please share ways you think we can help outside of donations to red cross or other relief organizations.
Thanks for your advice on preparing a sensible emergency kit. We’ve heard little about the effects of radiation emanating from the Tokyo nuclear plant. I’ve read that iodine and calcium could help protect from the effects of radiation. Do you have any insights into this? Is that an urban legend? Should we add iodine and calcium tablets to our kit? How do you determine appropriate doses for kids and adults? When should we start taking them? Thanks!
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Nathalie, thanks for your comment. I’m working on a response/post to your question today. Will keep you posted. Want to do some more review/research and talk with a few other docs prior. This is new info for me….so steep learning curve.
There’s never enough clean water. Consider purchasing a small, portable water purifier, either battery powered or solar. SteriPEN makes purifiers that clean 99.9% of bacteria and viruses in 2,000 gallons.
Add to kit: WORK GLOVES, for each adult and a SECOND SET of BATTERIES for each gadget.
When REFRESHING the emergency kit, change out old batteries for new. A windup flashlight is a necessity, not a luxury item.
If possible, store camping gear–sleeping bags & mats, tent, cook stoves & gas–near your emergency kits and water jugs.
I’m interested in your thoughts on potassium iodide too. We know people who have already started giving it to their child in advance of the anticipated arrival of radiation from Japan. Could it hurt? Or better to have the protection? Thank you for sharing your expertise!
By a freaky weird television satellite DVR coincidence I have just watched the movie “Ponyo.” The house on the cliff is prepared, with rechargeable battery lights and a propane tank for the stove. There is even a generator for lights, except it is in a small room. The same type of room that creates CO.
Well it is a fantasy film.
Just a word of caution about the dangers of carbon monoxide.