By Cassie Johnston
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Back after our apartment was hit by a tornado in 2011, I wrote a post about what we had in our emergency kit (in fact, the photos in that post were taken in an apartment we were squatting in as temporary housing). More importantly than just the list of items, that posts contains what we learned by going through an actual emergency with the kit—what we added, what we changed, and what we used. Even though our emergency kit wasn’t perfect, I was so thankful to have that resource during the stressful time post-tornado. We saw firsthand how stressful it was for our neighbors who weren’t prepared (and in fact, lent out more than one item in our kit to them).
But now, our life is dramatically different from when I first wrote that post. Back then, we lived in a small apartment, in the city. We had only one pet, and we certainly didn’t have a little baby running around. Then, our emergency plan meant that in most situations (fire, tornado, earthquake, environmental disaster, terrorist attack), we were going to leave our apartment and the city. In almost all situations, it was safer for us to pack up in the car, and head south to my parents’ house in the country. That made our emergency kit easy. We packed the bare minimum in an easy-to-transport bag.
But that’s not our situation anymore. As our life gets more complicated (owning a house, more pets, having a baby), our emergency kit needs to get more complicated, too. And in fact, our entire emergency plan is now multi-faceted. I know this all may sound like overkill to some folks, but the peace-of-mind of knowing we’re prepared is absolutely worth it to me.
I think the key to figuring out your emergency plan and kit is accessing your situation. Figure out what you are at high-risk of going through. We’ve figured out, shy of the zombie apocalypse, there are three types of events that could logically happen to us. Obviously, we live in tornado-central, so tornadoes are a biggie for us. Secondly, as we learned this past winter, it’s entirely possible for us to get dumped on with a metric ton of snow, lose power, and not be able to leave our house for a week. And thirdly, everyone is at risk for a house fire.
Your list might be different. You might live in a flood-prone area (we don’t). You might live on a fault line (we do, but it’s not a huge risk to us). You might live in a major city that is susceptible to environmental spills or terrorist attacks (we don’t). You might live next door to a nuclear plant (we don’t). I think the key to having a really great emergency kit is figuring out what emergencies you might need it in. And of course, you can go as crazy with thinking about the scenarios as you feel is necessary. We’re not crazy about it. Yes, I realize that there is a chance that the entire financial system will collapse, roving gangs of zombies will come to eat us, and some foreign dictator will spray the entire country with some superbug. But I have no interest in revolving my life around planning for those extremes. But I do want to be prepared for the realities of our situation. And the reality is, we sometimes get hit by big snowstorms, fires happen, and we’re apparently tornado magnets.
Based on our risks, we decided to stick with the easy-to-transport bag idea, but just expand it to include a more comprehensive selection of items then we had before.
We store this bag on our main floor, in a cabinet equidistant from all the outdoor doors, so it’s easy to grab if we can in a fire, but also near the basement stairs entrance so we can grab it as we head down to take shelter for a tornado. Forecasting has gotten pretty decent in the past few years, so we usually know at least a few hours a head of time if we have a high chance for tornadoes, so I also tend to put my purse and the diaper bag right next to the basement door on those days, too.
It sounds like a ton, but we manage to keep it in a small duffle bag. Easy to grab and go. It includes:
It’s not going to last us through a week out in the wilderness, but it will definitely help us get through the first few hours after an emergency. It sounds like a ton, but it’s actually pretty compact. I can easily carry it.
We also have other survival-y items stashed in the basement, where we would be hanging out in the event of a tornado, or if for some reason we needed to stay in place during an emergency. Our overflow pantry is in the basement, plus a spare fridge and freezer packed with food. We also have a bunch of good-for-if-the-zombies-come gear stashed in the basement with our camping goods—camp stoves, sleeping bags, tents, backpacks, flashlights, etc. We don’t really have an emergency kit in the basement, but there are a lot of things that could come in handy in the event of an emergency down there. Basically, just as long as we have access to most parts of our basement, we could live down there for an extended period of time relatively comfortably. Although I really don’t see that happening except in a crazy extreme emergency.
I know this all sounds like overkill, but it’s actually a pretty modest emergency kit. We’re not stashing years worth of food or water. We’re not preparing for every single bad thing that could ever happen, but we are being realistic about that bad things that are in the realm of possibility with where we live. And we’ve worked really hard to make sure our emergency kit is compact and don’t really impact our day-to-day lives—but still leaves us feeling prepared for the most common emergencies we could face. If you have less room, you can make a smaller kit. If you have more threats, expand your kit.
We usually go over and restock our kit once a year (normally right around early spring—before tornado season hits). We’ll switch out expired food, replace anything that isn’t working well anymore, and update any paperwork that needs it. Now that we’re a family of three, we’ll need to do it a bit more frequently to make sure Baby J’s needs are met—obviously she’ll need bigger clothes, different food, etc. as she grows.
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I don’t have an emergency kit. I keep my keys, passport and papers in the same place so I know where to get them but I live in a big city. The last time there was extreme weather here was the ‘hurricaine’ in 1987 and we still went to school the next day! We had a storm come through this year with warnings and I made sure that I had a torch, camping stove and kettle nearby but our weather is not extreme, I think you’re just being sensible to have that much kit and if I lived in the country or a country that had tornados, I would too but I don’t think there’s much need for me here.
More likely for this city is terrorism but if that happens it’s generally in the centre of London, although there was a bomb in Ealing in 2001 – I live about 20 minutes away and I heard the bang! – and riots a couple of years ago but neither of those had much of an impact on me or the day to day life of the city past the first shock. We Londoners are a pretty hardy bunch and we have awesome emergency planning!
Thanks for the reminder. After reading your last post about this, I thought I really need to do this! Still haven’t. Hopefully this post will get it done for me!
I’m one of those people like your neighbors who doesn’t have an emergency kit. But this post gets me thinking. The area in which we live is prone to the same 3 things you mentioned, so when I do go about gathering items, this’ll be the perfect little checklist. Thanks!
We live in Oklahoma, another tornado magnet. After the 2 huge tornadoes that hit Moore, OK in May a year ago,and one of those being less than a mile from my house, I built emergency back packs for all 4 of us. Here, the local news encouraged 3 days worth of portable food in case we get stuck in a storm shelter, or our home is completely wiped out. I also have small LED flash lights, pocket knives, a complete set of clean clothes including socks, and a roll of duct tape, which you know fixes everything! LOL
Thanks for writing this post. You reminded me that I need to check the expiration date on all the food items.
Duct Tape! I had it in there at some point, but it must have gotten taken out for some project. Must. Add. Duct. Tape.
In September 2011, our house was flooded. My husband and I were woken up in the middle of the night by someone banging on our door telling us we had to leave. Our house was completely surrounded by water. We rushed around packing and grabbing important documents and things. A few days after the initial shock, I looked at the “important” things that I packed and realized what I thought was important, really was mostly junk! You really don’t have time to think in a crisis, you just react. Hopefully you never need to use the bag, but it’s great to be prepared. Does your cat use a litter box? We has to stop at the grocery store and buy a litter box and litter.
I’m so sorry to hear about your house! We’re very fortunate we don’t have to deal with flooding where we live.
She does use a litter box, and it and her litter is in the basement. But I’ve been thinking about putting an aluminum baking pan and a zip-top bag full of litter inside her cat carrier in case we ever need to leave quickly.
thankfully i have never had to experience anything like this but certainly something to keep in mind.
SUCH a great idea!! thank you so much for sharing!!!
We sure do, but with 4 kids we have 4 bags :) The older two kids have their own backpacks that are small and they can carry and Thomas and I both have one. We have about the same things as you and it could certainly use a going through. I bought these nasty looking, last forever, high calorie survival type food/bars and keep some of those in our bags too. I hope to never ever use them but it’s nice to know they are there. I’m not sure what disasters happen in southern Utah. None I hope :)
We have a small emergency kit which we are slowly adding to each month. Your list is great- you are very prepared! The things I didn’t see on there that we have are some toys and activities for our kids to keep them entertained and hopefully calm.
The one thing that I think everyone is susceptible to is a contained water supply. While it isn’t as much of a disaster as something like a tornado it can quickly become a major issue. We keep a large supply of water in our basement that we have had to use more than once during boil water or ‘don’t drink’ times in our area.
Our family is also working on having a mini emergency kit in our vehicle and my husband has a small one at his office in case something happens when we are not home.
For us the dangers are mostly winter storms, flooding and high wind and hail storms.
We have a large (spring-fed) fresh water source in our property, so we’ve focused more on stashing purification methods than actual water–but for folks without that resource, stashing water is vital!. Great tip on the kids entertainment! I’ll definitely be adding some once JuneBug is old enough to want toys and games.
A suggestion for you to add to your bag is an inexpensive baby carrier. You can get an Infantio Mei Tai for about $30 and it rolls up nice and small, but can be used for front, back and hip carries. This would also allow you to have free hands while helping Craig manage the cat and dog. They’re sturdy and easy to use
A few years ago i gave my husband a pair of prestocked emergency backpacks. It was mostly a joke (he had also been gifted an emergency zombie survival bag from his sister. it was awesome btw). However, it was nice to know that we had the two bags. Since then though, we’ve added an additional 2 kids and 2 cats to our lives.
This post reminds me that I need to make some family specific bags in addition to the prepacked bought ones. A Mei Tai or other carrier will definitely be going into one of my bags.
Oh! That’s so smart. We have a few lightweight slings that are okay, but we don’t really use them for everyday life that would be perfect for the emergency kit. Awesome idea!
I don’t have an emergency kit but I’ve been meaning to put one together, especially since moving to the San Francisco, aka Earthquake City. Thank you so much for sharing what’s in your bag – this definitely has me motivated and planning to put one together for the hubs and I this weekend!
I thought about you the other day, because I recently got taken off dairy/soy for my son’s milk allergy. I know you said you had put formula samples in your emergency bag, I’m sure you have, but if not, make sure they are hypoallergenic formula, without milk or soy in them for Juniper!
I want to install a vented natural gas wall mounted space heater because we get ice storms that knock out power for a week or so and peoples pipes burst because their furnace requires electricity. These heaters are safe and cost about $200.
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