The disaster supply kit – having one is really your responsibility!

Why do we need to even bother buying a disaster kit, let alone trying to build one? Last I knew, South Windsor was a relatively safe area, and it is. So, is there really a need to have a disaster supply kit? The answer is a resounding YES! However, while it is important to be mindful that a disaster can strike at any time, and without warning, it is important to keep the potential of a disaster in perspective – there’s no need to get crazy, and let it consume you. Now, let’s get started on getting you and your family prepared.

Fortunately, there is no need to recreate the wheel! There are several helpful resources available on the Internet. I highly recommend FEMA’s Ready.gov site, as well as our local Capitol Region Councils of Government’s (CRCOG’s) Get Ready Capital Region site. Both offer a complete list of items one should have in their disaster kit. I will list the essential components below and share some of my thought. Like many other things in our lives, building a disaster kit continues to be a work in progress; frequently making additions to the disaster kit, and replace supplies that have become outdated.

My approach has always been somewhat relaxed taking most things in stride, doing what I can, when I can. Likewise, I have never gone hard-core, nor, am I going to prepare for Armageddon. Rather, I try to focus on preparing for what makes sense, and I hope you will do the same – for yourself, and for your family! For those of you who are interested in learning more about what components make up a functional, and perhaps, life-saving disaster kit, please read on… Being prepared is empowering, and it may actually help you sleep better knowing that you have made arrangements for you and your family – you will not have to depend on the kindness of others in order to meet your most basic needs – in the unfortunate event of a disaster!

Over the past couple of years, Connecticut has had its share of natural disasters. During most of these, services that we take for granted on a daily basis – electricity, heating, cooling, running water, phones, and even the Internet – were unavailable. This is why we need to be self-sufficient for at least three to five days. A great list from “Get Ready Capital Region” has an excellent PDF file you can download and print out. However, for those of you who want to get started immediately, below is a list of essential items that every basic emergency kit should include:

Water: Each individual should have (1) gallon of water per day. So, for a family of 4, acquiring and storing 20 gallons of water would provide plenty of this life-sustaining resource for about 5 days. I know this seems like an awful lot of water, but it really is the minimum a family should have on hand in case of a true disaster. You can watch for sales, and purchase a few gallons at a time, until you have what you need – without going broke in the process.

Nutrition: It’s estimated that an adult needs about 2,000 calories per day. Common sense would suggest that you try to stock up on non‐perishable food; keeping it simple is the key!  This can include meals ready to eat (MRE’s), cereal (granola) bars, canned or foiled foods (sounds odd), trail mix, etc. All you need to do is walk up and down the aisle in your favorite grocery store, and it’s all there for the picking. The one caveat being that you should stock up on foods that are healthy and easily prepared without a stove or microwave oven! If you have any medical conditions that require a specific diet, you may want to take a little extra time to read the labels on the various products you are buying to make sure you would be able to eat them, if you had to. Diabetes, for instance, doesn’t get turned off when the lights go out.

Kitchen Gadgets: A manual can opener and other cooking supplies can prove useful when you have lost power! The last thing you want to do is cut your finger off trying to pry the top off of something you want to eat.  I would also suggest keeping some disposable plates, utensils, hand sanitizer, wipes, and extra garbage bags on hand. The maid won’t be coming and your dishwasher won’t be working!

Communication and Information: Every kit should have at least one battery‐powered or hand‐cranked radio! For most of us, we’ve already got one in the beach bag. If not, they are easily found in most stores. If you are planning on buying a new one, I would suggest looking for one that has the hand crank power, and more importantly, one with NOAA Weather Radio. Remember, being able to receive warning messages and response information is critical!

One of my favorite topics on this list is cell phones! If you own one, great, if not, it may be time to join the 21st century and invest in one. Other portable communication devices such as iPads, mobile hotspots, and laptops are also worthwhile if it falls within your budget. My personal opinion is that owning a mobile hotspot is an invaluable investment. You will make many friends, and 5 to 10 individuals can assess the Internet at a time when many can’t. As a BONUS, your kids will love you, and it will keep them very busy! Lastly, look for an old style (landline) phone; the one that actually tethers you to one room. Often, even without power, the phone lines are still operational!! It will, of course, be essential that you invest in some solar chargers, inverters, or some form of alternate charging system- you are going to need it, and it will be a great excuse to spend some quiet time alone in your car – just remember to back the car out of the garage and roll the windows down!

Sleeping and Warmth: Having extra blankets, pillows, and if possible, sleeping bags are all important parts of your kit. Besides keeping warm at home when there is no heat, there is a possibility that you may have to evacuate to a shelter, in which case, it’s always best to bring your own bedding.

Clothing: Try to keep at least one full change of seasonally‐appropriate clothing, including shoes and outerwear – for each member of your family – in or near your kit.

Lighting: Go out and get some flashlights and batteries! While you are at it, buy a few more, and stockpile those batteries. Keep a few in your kit and some strategically placed around your home. Take your time with this, no need to spend big bucks all at one; look around, you can scoop them up when they are on sale. Another excellent lighting source are glow sticks; cheap and safe. Just don’t let anyone chew on them! And, NO! Do not use candles; the risks of a potential fire far outweigh any benefit! Remember, your local fire department is already very busy, and you could lose everything waiting for them to come to your rescue.

First Aid Kits and Medications: A store‐bought first‐aid kit or a custom-made one you create will do. Either way, make sure it contains any medical supplies you regularly use, based upon your family’s medical history/conditions. Also, it is a good idea to leave a note taped to the top of your kit reminding you to grab any medications normally taken daily, with you, should you have to quickly evacuate! Having your prescription medications, as well as any over-the-counter medications you may use regularly, available during a disaster is critical. Many times, we know well in advance that a potential weather event is coming. For instance, we knew a week in advance about the last blizzard that hit us. The time to call your physician or pharmacist to obtain refills of all medications is when the warnings or alerts are first publicized. This way, you will be sure that you have enough medication to last until life returns to normal! It is a very good idea to check the expiration dates each time you change the batteries in your home’s smoke detectors – typically, each spring and fall. If anyone in your family has severe allergies, be sure to keep spare allergy medications, such as an EpiPen, in your kit because you may not be able to prevent an exposure if you are staying in a shelter, for example.

Your first aid kit is an excellent place to keep a neatly printed or typed list of each family member’s name, medical history, medications, food and drug allergies, as well as other important medical information – including the names and phone numbers of your family’s physicians and pharmacy. This same information will also be needed when you put together your family’s emergency plan, which will be discussed in a future post.

Basic Tools and Supplies: A small tool kit that includes a screwdriver, hammer, pliers, work gloves, and an adjustable wrench is a good start. However, don’t stop there, because investing in a good knife and or a multi-tool knife is also a very good idea. These tools are invaluable, and if you have ever seen MacGyver, or Bear Grylls, they frequently used these tools to get themselves out of many jams. And no, I am not diving off the deep end, just trying to emphasize the usefulness of a multi-tool! Depending on your utilities, investing in a utilities tool to turn off utilities is not a bad idea, either. FEMA’s Ready.gov has a few examples of these tools, and instructions regarding their use. Lastly, have some duct tape, bungee cords and rope on hand in case you need to make any temporary repairs to your property.

Hygiene: Toilet paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, moist towelettes, bath towels, feminine hygiene products, deodorant, sunscreen, comb/brush, and waterless hand sanitizer are all among those items that are easily overlooked – right up to the minute you need them.

Extra House and Car Keys: Having an extra set of keys is worth the investment! I know some newer car keys can be a bit pricy, but if you can afford it, buy one. Once you have an extra set, either put it in your kit, or keep it in a specific location where everyone knows where to look in a hurry. Remember, disasters can cause chaos, which leads to confusion; keys are easily lost or misplaced.

Cash: CASH is KING. During a disaster, ATM’s may not be assessable, and banks may be closed. How much you keep on hand is really up to you; just make sure you think it through.

There you have it, a basic disaster kit! Yes, I did add that little word, “basic.” Meaning that list of items we just reviewed is not all-inclusive. There are a plethora of other items you may want to add to your disaster kit. Whatever those items may be, remember this, the important thing is that as long as your kit meets you and your family’s needs during a disaster, and you can go without any outside help for a few days, you will thrive and survive!

A great way to assess if your disaster kit meets you and your family’s needs is to test it. How you ask? Well, I can vividly recall over the last couple of years a few hurricanes, and a blizzard. Think back and recall how you and your family felt – was there anything that you would have chanced, or done differently (other then making plans to be in Florida that week)? What did you learn from those miserable experiences – write down your answers, and see if your newly assembled disaster kit eliminates some of those, “I wish I had….” thoughts. Needless to say, if you and your family’s basic needs are not meet, you now have an opportunity to add whatever that item is to your disaster kit. Likewise, if you believe your disaster kit is complete, then you have met your responsibility, congratulations! You and your family are now better prepared, safer, more resilient. In some ways, by accepting this responsibility and building your disaster kit, you have made your community a bit safer too!

In the coming weeks, I’ll focus on awareness, as well as hazards, and vulnerabilities so we can better understand what our individual risks are!  – Jay

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