There are all kinds of emergencies. Some involve setting the stove on fire using caramel. Some involve breaking an ankle on a seed pod. Some are real emergencies. Some of these real emergencies may involve you needing to get out of dodge for a couple of hours or even a couple of days. You may be stuck in traffic for a while. You may be wearing your pajamas.
What this post is designed to help you do is not freak out or hurt yourself if you need to get away from your home or office in a hurry, but not for very long.
$100 in ten-dollar bills (enough for two nights in a cheap motel or an inter-state bus/train ticket)
$10 in quarters (most common coin for vending machines, toll booths, and pay phones)
two disposable butane lighters
one pack waterproof matches
one prepaid phone card
lists of phone numbers
one or more changes of clothing (including shoes), underwear, socks
toiletries and hygiene supplies
outerwear, as appropriate to the climate and the season
medications (prescription and over-the-counter)
500 mL of water
reading material, deck of cards, or other entertainment
Keep in mind that you will also likely have whatever you usually keep in your pockets or purse.
There are reasons to include every item in this list. I’m not going to detail those reasons here because Jim MacDonald, who introduced me to this concept, has already done that right here.
I’ll just add a few of my own notes because that post was written some time ago and because I’ve learned a few things about keeping these packs around and occasionally using them in non-emergency situations (unless you consider being hungry and having the dog in the car an emergency).
First, the coins, phone list and phone card. You might think these are obsolete. However, cell phones don’t always work in an emergency. You might not have a good signal, the network might be overloaded or the battery might die.
Second, the coins and the money. You might never carry cash. On a normal day, I probably have less than $20 cash in my wallet. I use my debit card everywhere. However, in an emergency, loss of power might mean that you can’t access an ATM. And credit card machines need electricity too. Have an emergency stash of cash. If you keep some at the office, it’s also handy when you forget your wallet and need to buy lunch (as long as you replace it the next day).
Here’s another handy thing, especially if you drive a car. Picture this: you’re in a skirt and heels (if you’re a man, bear with me here). You get a flat tire on the freeway. Do you want to change the tire in your skirt and heels? (You do know how to change a tire, right?) I used to keep this bag in my car so that when I had issues like this, I could at least put on pants and sneakers. I had to do this twice in the six years I kept this bag in my car. Now I’m rarely so dressed up so I just leave this in our front closet.
This is actually Doug’s kit. If it were just me, I wouldn’t bother with such a large first aid kit, but Doug is actually trained in first aid so we included a bigger kit for him than the little one I carry, which basically has band-aids, antibiotic ointment and alcohol prep pads in it. Note also the “camping soap”; little soap sheets that turn into one time use soap. So cool.
The food & water are because you need food and water. Unless you have some kind of medical condition, you can live without food for some time. Water, not so much. That said, water is heavy. So we just carry a little. By the time you really need more, chances are you’ll find some, though it might not taste very good. The Kool-Aid mix and Jello are for when you need to cover up the taste of chemically filtered water or get a quick hit of calories. The Clif bars I rotate out from time to time as I find myself on my way out somewhere without a snack.
Finally, if you are evacuated as a result of fire or flood or some other localized disaster, if you’re sitting in a shelter, your biggest enemy (besides worry) will be boredom. Both Doug and I have a book and a deck of cards in our packs.
So now, a few additional notes.
If you drive a car, never let it get below half a tank. In any emergency, you may not be able to get gas. Some folks in the DC area got a taste of that little problem after the derecho last year.
Consider keeping a bag at home and a bag at the office, especially if you work a long way from home.
Inventory and rotate out perishable items every six months. If you live somewhere with weather, this also gives you the chance to put in/take out seasonal items.
Remember the doggie diaper bag? That also serves as Chester’s go bag. So keep that in mind if you have pets. If you have kids, you’ll need to consider them as well.
So there you go. It’s not a guarantee that you won’t be miserable in an emergency, but at least you’ll be able to change your clothes, brush your teeth and tend to blisters. And chances are, that will be enough.