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Preparing for an Emergency

These days, preparing for an emergency doesn't just mean being ready for a storm or an earthquake. Forces of nature aren't the only things we need to account for, we also need to account for the unexpected, intentional attack on our sense of peace. Still, whatever the source of an emergency, you'll always be in better shape if you've done something to prepare for the unexpected. Knowing your environment will help you determine exactly what you need, but there are some things that just about everyone agrees you should have available during an emergency.

Here's a quick list of items that you should keep in an emergency kit:

  • Flashlights – more than one if possible – but always have extra batteries. LED flashlights are among the toughest, brightest, and longest lasting flashlights you can get.
  • Radio – if you have to evacuate, it's easier to rely on radio than on any other medium. For an emergency kit, pocket or self-powered radios would be best. Our best recommendation is the CC Solar Observer, which is an emergency radio that can be powered from many sources (sun, batteries or by the windup crank) and it also has an LED light built into it. If you're more technically inclined, and willing to spend a bit more, you might also want to keep a portable scanner or ham radio handy. You don't need a license to listen to either one and, during a crises, they can be great sources of information – particularly when other modes of communication are down. Listening in on police and fire frequencies can alert you to immediate road conditions and emergencies. Listening to ham radio operators on a scanner can also be very informative – especially since hams are often the people most experienced at finding and sharing relevant information. On most scanners, you can listen to what's called the 2 meter band between 144 and 148 MHz and also the 440 band between 400 and 469.995 MHz. After listening enough, of course, you might also decide to get your license and join the amateur radio community.
  • First Aid Kit – be sure to include extra doses of any medications you might need, particularly prescription drugs. As an asthmatic, I can tell you that having an extra inhaler in my first aid kit is essential.
  • Extra batteries – I mention this twice because it's important. Your radio and flashlights should run on the same size batteries, that way it's easier to stock up on backup batteries.
  • Tools
    • Pliers and a knife blades – both are important, so you might want a compact tool that has both.
    • Duct tape – you won't see duct tape on many emergency kit lists, but it is important to have on hand. As most duct tape fans know, you can fix almost anything with duct tape, even a wing on a plane (at least in the movies) - but more importantly, duct tape can be used to seal windows if there's a chemical attack and you're required to stay indoors.
    • Water – Water is very important, but it's also one of the heaviest, most cumbersome things to store and carry. Since you need water to drink and to wash, just one person could easily go through about 4 quarts a day. Carrying around that much water might be impractical, so it would also be useful to have some additional water purifying methods. You could invest in some iodine pills - they taste terrible, but they're an easy way to make water potable (I usually add a packet of a powdered drink mix, like Crystal Light, or something). Or you could go with a water purifier.
    • Nonperishable food – and a can opener, don't forget that can opener, and be sure it's not electric. I know of someone who got stuck in the desert with a case of canned beans and no can opener. By the time he stumbled into a gas station, just a few miles from his stalled station wagon, he could barely talk. According to the people who saw him before he passed out, the only thing he could say was "can opener... no beans." It's funny now, because he's fine, but it wasn't so funny then. (No, it wasn't me).

Of course, all these supplies won't be very helpful if you don't know where to go or you're not dressed right (wear sneakers or other sturdy shoes, long sleeves, and pants). Putting together an emergency kit is only the first part of dealing with an emergency. Once you've got specialty items assembled, toss in blankets, toiletries and toilet paper, and an extra pair of eyeglasses. You also have to take care of other issues like securing important documents ahead of time (in a fire resistant safe), and making sure that you know your area's evacuation route.

If you're on vacation, commuting to another town or have just moved to a new place, it's also a very good idea to keep an area map in your emergency kit. If required to evacuate, however, don't try to find your own way out of town. Follow the prescribed evacuation routes, since, in the event of debris on the roads, etc, those routes would be cleared more quickly than others.

Finally, stay alert. Keep your radio on, stay clear of any heavy objects that could fall, and do your best to keep calm. In terms of preparing for anything that could happen in your vicinity, get in touch with your local emergency centers. You may want to visit some of the following Web sites, and print out some of the check lists and preparedness advice that applies to you, in terms of where you are, or where you might be going.

  • Center for Disease Control – This is not the typical CDC Web site. This site is packed with information on issues related to bioterrorism.
  • How to handle suspicious packages (PDF) – goes into more detail than the postcard you might have recently received from the Postal Service.
  • FEMA – Basic Disaster Supplies Kit
  • Red Cross Locator – find out the location and number of your local Red Cross – useful for volunteering and getting update information.

That's a lot of information to digest, I know. If you want to come back and reread some of the items on this page, please add it to your favorites or bookmarks now. One last thing, be sure to go over your preparations with your family. Set some meeting places, one in town and one out of town, and agree on someone out of town that everyone in your family can contact if necessary.

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