Is it on that ever-present, ever-too-long to-do list of life? Can you bring it up in the queue?
This week I did a segment (above) where I showed my actual emergency kit and talked about ways to start making your plan. But really, this isn’t just about the kit. It’s about preparing your family for unexpected events. Fortunately, terrible-nesses like Katrina, the Japan Tsunami, large earthquakes, volcanoes erupting, and tornadoes are rare. But prepping your family for unexpected large events may really help in prepping for smaller ones like a family illness, accident, or power outage. Knowing what your risks are specifically (what is the biggest risk on your block–a flood, transportation issues/bridges/tall trees/earthquake) is also a great start.
In prepping, I bet you’ll never be sorry you got to know your neighbors (I hope), stashed water and emergency medications, put aside clothing and a first aid kit, and put in place a plan for how you’ll reunite with your family during a moment of chaos.
Watch 6 minutes for a 3-day kit. Although I admit it will take you far longer than a few minutes to make a plan and a kit (I’d set aside 10-15 hours to get it done top to bottom)…
Start today with buying water and a embarking on a communication plan.
Make An Emergency Communication Plan For Your Family:
- Teach your children age 4 and up a contact cell phone number for Mom or Dad. Once they master those, try for additional contacts like Grandma or neighbors. Try it out with your precocious 3-year-olds in school, as well!
- Designate a location, outside of your home, that you will meet if your home isn’t a safe place (local park, fire station, community center, school). Inform all family members, babysitters, nannies, and relatives where you’ve selected.
- Make a card for your wallet, your child’s back pack, your partner’s wallet, and your daycare and/or school with your out of state contact number (the MIL or a favorite trusted friend). Call your friend (or MIL!) and review with them their role in case of an emergency.
- Remind everyone in your communication plan to try to use text messaging if cell phone use is difficult. Text messages don’t use as much bandwidth and may go through when a call doesn’t.
- Remind everyone that often in times of natural catastrophic emergency, 911 is not always able to respond immediately. Having a good plan for your family can be a great start to put you all at ease and keep you safe. Practice your plan; quiz your kids!
- In the next week, get to know 5 new people on your block if you don’t already know every one. Even Boo Radley…. Tell them you’re creating a kit and plan. Ask them if they have one. Make a new friend. May come in handy for a less tragic moment, like needing an extra egg for that cake you’re baking.
- Get 3 gallons of water for every human and animal in your home. Put it in an easy to reach area like a shed, garage or porch.
Tell me if you’re in the works making a plan and a kit. How much time it is taking you? How does it feel to assemble this kit and what struggles have you had?
There are great kits online for “sheltering in place” with survival supplies. I bought one for a family of four, an extra kit of food only in case it’s needed, and a 64-pack of water. The big advantage of these kits (besides the plain old convenience) is that there is an expiration date on everything. That way I don’t have to worry about whether to change it out or not. Should an emergency occur and we’re able to scrounge through the pantry and freezers, more’s the better.
I need to gather clothes for everyone, cat and dog food. My big question is where to store. Red Cross says near the most common exit. I’m thinking a basement would be good, in a newer house. It’s unlikely a new house will fall off it’s foundation and the cement walls of the basement should protect everything.
I have not put the emergency contact phone number into the kids’ backpacks. I’ll do that today. Thanks.
Can you share your website links that have already made kits?
May I just confess that I am overwhelmed by all of this! My husband and I can’t even agree on a place to put the kit (that isn’t started yet). So many lists from so many places…I wish your blog posts had a handy little printer-friendly button!
Thank you for sharing your experience, and thank you for nagging – I will move it up my list and stop avoiding thinking about it!
Kelly M says
I think this is great. However, I also think it is important to plan for a disaster that would cause your family to leave home. My father-in-law made me and my husband emergency kits and put them in backpacks. That way we can toss them in the car when we go on vacation, or if an emergency requires that we leave our home and travel on foot, it’s much easier to carry a backpack than a heavy container.
It doesn’t work for every scenario, but it might be a good idea to pack the absolute “must haves” in a backpack and then put other items in the container.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Melissa, the pre-made kits can be hard to find. We need someone to start a business around this! The one I bought is from the Oregon Red Cross store (https://www.oregonredcross.org/product_detail.asp?Id_product=176&IDCapitulo=663b0id44v) but others are avail on Amazon and elsewhere. Some are on back-order right now, I’ve heard.
Thing to know is you’ll still need other supplies in your home (and plans) in addition. But as I said in the post about making a kit (https://www.wendysueswanson.com/japan-tsunami-reminder-for-parents-to-prepare/) if you can afford a pre-made kit, it’s a GREAT start!
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Marion, I was totally overwhelmed, too. Hence why I grabbed a friend who joined me in doing this! Do the same, together you can hold each other to finishing the task!
The more you get done, the better you’ll feel. The sense of overwhelm goes away with each step.
Dr. Swanson – Thank you for following up on this topic. I definitely need some nagging.
I have ordered items from the following online site, they have pre-made 72 hr kits.
I totally agree that there is a great sense of peace that comes as you prepare. I made kits several years ago. I need to update the clothes, food, and water.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your diligence in encouraging us to be prepared!
When we lived in a downtown Seattle neighborhood we had our basement of our old Craftsman earthquake retrofitted so that even if the house fell down, we’d have a safe, intact place. Unfortunately, since we’ve moved out to the suburbs we don’t have a basement and I’m concerned that our new construction is not well made enough to hold up well with an earthquake.
Does anyone have a good website that shows maps of active faultlines? I’ve googled that info. and not found anything but topographical maps that are large and hard to tell where the city boundaries are in comparison to the fault lines. Also, I once saw a map in a news story years ago that showed the areas around the fault lines that would receive the worst damage and I have since not been able to locate that again. I think both those would be good information for all of us in the Pacific NW to have so we know a little about our areas risk factors – if I could just find them!
Also, we need to replace our stored water supply but two things that I thought sounded like good ideas as opposed to just jugs of water stored for six months at a time are indoor water storage barrels (you have to change it out once every one or two years but you can use it like rain barrel water when you’re changing it out) and also having water purifying kits like you would take for backwoods camping.
And here’s a doctor question – both my husband and I need to take daily medication – me an SSRI and he takes thyroid medication. Both of those expire a year after filling the rx and since we have to take them daily we can’t “store” any of them. What suggestions do you have as a doctor for finding ways to have extra on hand in case of an emergency? I guess that question goes for anyone taking a daily medication (for diabetes, asthma, etc) or psychiatric medication.
Sorry for the delay. I got mine through Amazon. The makers were Mountain House (the single food kits) and Mayday makes a bucket (that handily converts to a porta potty) with all the emergency shelter tools and food for a family of four. The budket is sold by Fuel for Adventure. The water is in 64 pouches sold by Fuel for Adventure but made by Datrex. But I got all from Amazon.
You should check with the city in which you live for information about neighborhoods built on fill. That seems the most critical information to have regarding the viability of your house. Remember that older homes around here have been through more than a couple big jolts already. I lived in a 1920 stick frame house in North Tacoma during the 2001 earthquake and had just one cracked window. Older homes aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
Karrie Kohlhaas says
I loved your advice to meet all of your neighbors, even Boo Radley. Great reminder. I have some folks on my block I have yet to meet.
I finally prepared and wrote about my wacky experience getting my Go Bag together after overcoming the overwhelm and biting the bullet! This might help to inspire more of your readers to take action and get in gear. If I did it, anyone can! https://thevashonline.com/2011/04/how-i-became-a-disaster-preparedness-freak/
Thanks for putting this out there. People really need support around disaster prep.
Dr. Wendy. great advise, We kept a smaller version in the garage.. Recently disposed of the old clothes and items. Have advised my daughters in SF to keep shoes under the bed to grab and the back pack ready to go with a least one bottle of water….Apartment living creates it own challenges. It takes a village, and some will be more prepared then others, sharing and caring will make a difference for some.
Yes! We have kits (big never-touch kit with extra food/water in the laundry room), lots of first aid supplies in the bathroom closet, more in the car… AND we had a family safety night https://verassong.blogspot.com/2011/03/safety-night.html That worked to educate and ALMOST didn’t terrify the kids ha!
Great ideas! A book I found helpful when figuring out our emergency plans was “At Ground Zero” ( https://www.amazon.com/At-Ground-Zero-Emergency-Preparedness/dp/1453894055/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1302660937&sr=1-1 ). A fast read with lots of good info.
RE:medications that someone upthread asked about, most insurance companies allow you to fill rx’s when you have a week’s worth of meds left. If you rotate those out, you’ll always have some extras on hand. (at least, that’s our plan for now, would love to hear if there are other, better suggestions!)
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Yes, thanks, RNMom. Sorry to not have responded sooner. Yes, most insurance will allow for an early refill and you can stash the extras. Do your best to keep track of expiration dates!
Thanks for the help here!!
As a mom of 30 years with 5 picky eaters, I always imagined that if we were ever in a disaster and had to live out of our 72 hour kits, my kids would probably choose to starve rather than eat some of the “emergency food” that is available. Really, though, in the middle of a disaster, do you want to be handed a small package of squished spaghetti that has been in the bottom of a backpack for 6 years in the corner of the basement? Yah, super comforting!
So I put together kits that have everyday food in them. Twice a year we pull them out and laugh at how small the sweatshirts have gotten and put the old food into the cupboard and fill in the new. We review the communication plan each time, because if they can’t remember to feed Fido, what are the odds they remember the communication plan? It really doesn’t take that long each time, I just add the items to my grocery list. Here is a sample of what might be on the menu in one of the 72 hour kits:
Breakfast: 3 cereal bars, 3 envelopes of hot chocolate
Lunch: 3 packages of peanut butter sandwich cookies and 3 containers of applesauce
Snack: 3 individual packets of trail mix or Peanut M&M’s
Dinner: 3 Soup cans with pull top with veggies and meat, ready to serve.
Since these are all things we use regularly, they rotate right back into the cupboard and get used up before their expiration date. As we talk about this every six months, it doesn’t freak the kids out, rather preparation fights fear. Kids think about these things anyway, but regular discussion will help them keep a cool head in a disaster. Then I schedule in the nest kit night for 6 months on the calender. Be sure to have your kids put their own kit away, that helps them know exactly where to head if needed.
Another thing to consider: boredom! Ever seen news coverage of a gym somewhere with hundreds of disaster victims crammed in there? The camera slowly zooms in on a vacant expression. It would be right to assume that they are in shock, but I can’t help but imagine they are also bored out of their minds! Put some card games and a book or a soft ball in those 72 hours kits as well. You think your 7 year old is gonna sit quietly on a cot for a week until it is safe to go home? Oh sure, because traumatic events always bring out the best behavior!
Great post! I have an emergency food storage stockpile that should last me and my family at least three months if anything were ever to go terribly wrong. I feel much safer this way. https://www.thereadyproject.com
Sean Nolan says
Dr. Swanson, thanks for helping to raise awareness of the simple things we can be doing to keep our families safer. I wanted to point out a new, free resource that we just launched at Microsoft HealthVault to help folks ensure that critical health information is ready as well, both in regional emergencies and other accidents.
Setting up emergency profiles for your family takes only five minutes, and you can even keep some of the information like medications up to date automatically by connecting the profile to pharmacies and other health providers.
Give it a try here: https://bit.ly/pr0iOC
I would love to speak with folks about their experiences in using the system, and can always be reached through the contact form at my blog, https://familyhealthguy.com.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Thanks, Sean. I just set up an emergency profile with my allergies, medical conditions, and emergency contacts. I printed out a copy in wallet form. It did take me a bit more than promised 5 minutes but certainly less than 15!
Love this tool. Makes for an improved communication plan. Now I need to carve out time to make these for all the members in my family.
My only suggestion would be a contact listed specifically as an out-of-state contact in an emergency situation.
Dave Anderson says
I love the idea of having a 3-day emergency kit. I would love for my family to have a survival supply kit in case of a disaster of some sort. I will take time with my family to get this done some time!