Emergency Evacuation Kit

February 21, 2013
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What will you do when disaster strikes where you live? Where will you go if your home is no longer safe? There are many events that can make your home (or the hotel you are staying in) dangerous or uninhabitable, and cause you to have to evacuate quickly. If you are unprepared, life can be difficult for a while afterward, but with a little planning you can alleviate a lot of the stress that would otherwise go along with the heartache of losing your abode.

I only lived in Japan for a couple weeks before I experienced my first earthquake. It wasn’t severe, but it definitely got my attention. There I was, sitting at my desk late in the afternoon doing a little catch-up. The building I was in, a relatively small 1-story, suddenly felt like it slid about a foot to the left, and then stopped as abruptly as it started. No damage, but it was enough to get me thinking, to do a little research, but it wasn’t until the Kobe earthquake early the next year that I started to personally prepare. I learned that Japan suffered about 9,000 quakes per year; most were so slight that you would only feel the closest ones if you were lying in bed at night when all was quiet and still. I was in a 6th floor apartment, and could sometimes feel the building sway. I began to keep an emergency kit in my car. This article is not about earthquakes, but about preparing for the unforeseeable.

Years after I returned to the U.S. I was on a business trip and awakened by the hotel fire alarm. I evacuated the building – standard emergency procedures – use the stairs, go outside, stand in a parking lot away from the building. I was one of the few who thought to bring a coat, wallet, rental car keys… as the damp midnight air cut through us there wasn’t much most people could do. A few people brought their luggage out with them. Good idea, hadn’t thought of that, keep the luggage packed and by the door. What If there really was a fire? I sure would have liked to have my stuff…

When I was in Japan, I started to think about what I could do if I had to evacuate my home… or any building I was in, for that matter… and it has continued to evolve over the years. Standard procedures have been drilled into us since elementary school, proceed calmly away from the building and wait at a safe distance in the parking lot for emergency crews to take care of the problem, but what happens then? You might not be able to go back inside anytime soon. What if it’s cold? What if it’s raining? What if it’s wintertime? I figured wherever I was, whatever time of day, if there was an emergency – fire, earthquake… and I needed to get outside, my car was sitting out there. If I made sure it was a safe distance from buildings, I had a viable option. I would have a means to get away if I needed to, and a warm place to stay. I could even leave some emergency gear in the car, locked and secure in the meantime, and further thinking resulted in a kit that would help me weather the storm, should it turn out to be a more permanent situation.

Here is what I have for an emergency kit for the car:

Emergency contact numbers – including embassy if traveling abroad.

Extra cash in case bank machines don’t work. For traveling abroad, I always picked up some local currency before the trip, I can’t tell you how many times that paid off.

Extra set of clothes and shoes, including jacket, hat, work gloves. This will keep you from having to stay in pajamas (or worse) until able to find or buy clothing. Clothing should be suitable for work in case of a disaster. (Each Person)

Extra key on (or near) car – in case I can’t get to the keys while trying to get out of the house.

*Bug-Out-Bag. Another option is to keep your clothing including car keys, wallet w/extra cash and ID, cell-phone and charger, emergency contact info and personal sidearm in a bug-out-bag next to your bed or on your egress route out of the house – saves you the trouble and risk of keeping high value items in the car – especially ID – we usually don’t have an extra and wouldn’t want it to disappear if someone broke into your car in the night. When you practice getting everyone out of the house, physically grab your bag. If you don’t do it in practice, you won’t do it in a real emergency.

Fuel – develop habit of keeping fuel above 1/2 tank, don’t wait until it’s almost empty to fill it up. That way you always have half-tank range of driving and ability to warm up if needed.

Blanket or sleeping bag. No matter what time of year it is, a blanket or sleeping bag will make sleep time more comfortable. Sleeping bags and blankets are bulky, but may be vacuum packed to save space. Have at least 1 blanket or sleeping bag (share or take turns). Optimum would be 1 per person, and you can huddle together for warmth. Generally you should “dress-down” for sleeping in a sleeping bag – wearing clothing other than your underclothes inside most sleeping bags will cause you to sweat, which in turn will make you feel colder. Extra clothing or jacket can be used to pad the ground, placed around your body as additional insulation, to fill in the open spaces within the sleeping bag that tend to get cold (around your feet, behind your knees, and in front of your stomach) or used as a pillow. This also keeps your clothing warm and easier to put on the next day.

Sleeping area. The padding on the seat of a car can make an adequate sleeping area if you are ok with the contour and limited space, but if you are sleeping on the ground or a hard un-insulated surface (say the bed of a pick-up truck) you will need a pad to insulate you from the ground. Insulation from a sleeping bag or the clothing you are wearing is easily compressed by the weight of your body making it easier for your body heat to escape to the colder surface. A thicker the barrier of insulation between you and a cold surface slows your loss of heat and increases your comfort for better rest. Insulation is generally considered anything that creates dead air space or holds air molecules within it and limits their movement. An un-insulated air mattress rolls up small and is comfortable, but is easily punctured (making it unusable) and still allows excessive air movement inside which decreases warmth in cold environments. Closed cell foam pads provide uncompromised insulation, but are not the most comfortable to sleep on. You can also create your own insulated pad out of extra clothing or blankets, or even piled up grasses or pine branches.

Additional Shelter: Tent, tarp, lines or bungees. The car isn’t always the most comfortable shelter, may not be big enough to stay in, and also tends to hold in moisture from your breath, which can be excessive after a single night, making everything inside damp and decreasing your ability to stay warm. If you are staying inside a car, keep a window cracked to decrease carbon-dioxide build up inside and allow moisture to escape. A tent, tarp, or other additional material allows you to extend your living area to outside the car. Use strong line (like 550 lb test paracord, or nylon or cotton clothesline) or bungee cords to secure tarps.

Water. Water ranks pretty high on the list of priorities – it enables your body to function properly and helps you to think rationally. Without water to drink, things start going downhill quickly. Store some ready to drink water in your kit as the stress of an emergency can create an instant need. American Red Cross recommends 1 gallon of water per person per day and a 3 day supply for area evacuation… Is that feasible to keep in the car? I keep a water filter/purifier that will purify water from puddles lakes and streams. I also keep chemical purification tablets like iodine or Aqua Mira and a small camp stove and pot for boiling (rolling boil for 1 minute to purify). You can also catch rain water in a tarp or melt snow – precipitation is already pure. Keep in mind that if temps are below freezing, your ready to drink water will not be ready to drink.

Health. Health also ranks pretty high in the categories of emergency health items, health maintenance, and maintaining sanity. A good medical kit with adhesive bandages, antibiotic ointment, wound closure strips, Gauze pads and rolls, first-aid tape… A hygiene kit containing toothbrush and paste, toilet paper and baby wipes, antibiotic soap, feminine hygiene items, and a few days supply of any medications you take. Psychological health includes items such as Bible, book, game, cards.

Fire: Any time of year fire is useful for warmth and drying clothing, cooking and purifying water. In addition to some basic fire building skills, lighter, igniter or matches, fire starter like lightning nuggets or Sterno. Camp stove and fuel also fit into this category.

Food. Have some ready to eat food for instant use and energy, like energy bars or granola bars, dried fruit or trail mix. Some stored food may require additional items for cooking and eating like can opener, cooking pot, stove with fuel, paper plates, utensils. For extended periods consider a hunting/ fishing kit.

Travel. Plan where you will go in an emergency. Let someone out of town know how and where to reach you. Know how to get there. Map, Compass, GPS are incredibly useful. Know how to use them. Map and compass don’t require batteries or satellite signal to use.

Sturdy flashlight with extra batteries or 12v rechargeable spotlight. If you are out over night or have to do anything at night, this will be indispensible.

Power source – like a 12v-120v inverter for the car. Enables you to power low wattage 110v items from your car’s power.

Weather radio. Weather radio broadcasts are long range and include emergency broadcast info as well

Duct tape. If it isn’t listed above, you can probably do it with duct tape.

Contain the kit – There is nothing wrong with having the items of your kit dispersed throughout your car, as long as you know where they are. My kit is in a sturdy plastic box that I keep in the back, all in one place, nice, neat, organized. Add or subtract items as you see fit.

This isn’t meant to be an all-inclusive list, but a starting point for you to begin constructing your own emergency kit. Run through a scenario in your mind, imagine how you could solve the problems you run into, add items to your kit that will help you solve problems, but try not to go overboard lest your kit become too big. We want to find items that meet a variety of needs, vs. an item for every need. You could easily deduce that the perfect bug-out car kit would be a motor home complete with tow-behind car for small trips… Maybe so, but that comes with it’s own set of problems…

Last but not least, Practice, practice, practice. Practice egressing the house. Practice starting a campfire in your BBQ. You might even practice by going out and spending a night or two in the car – go on the road trip you always wanted to take, and when you do, make sure you practice your emergency contact as well and let folks know where you are going.

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