Apparently there’s just no escaping disaster. When I lived in California we got earthquakes. In Colorado we got blizzards. In Kansas we dodged tornadoes. Now in Florida we brace for hurricanes.
Though disasters differ with the territory, home disaster plans are pretty much the same: Close your eyes and scream, “This can’t be happening!” If that doesn’t work look at your husband and say, “Good Lord, would you stop watching the game and do something already!”
During the two natural disasters I’ve been through — one major earthquake (Northridge), one seven-day blizzard — my strategy has worked. Neither time did I have a disaster “kit.”
I’m sorry, but a kit in the face of disaster seems about as useful as a squirt gun in combat. Just the word “kit” seems too trite for the task. Kits are for sewing, hatching butterflies and making gingerbread houses, not for typhoons. But if a kit makes you feel better, knock yourself out.
The idea of preparing a disaster kit reminds me of that David Sedaris book, “When You Are Engulfed in Flames.” The title came from some actual instructions Sedaris read while staying at a foreign hotel. I can’t remember how the instructions finished, but they went something like … dial the hotel operator. Never mind that the phone lines have melted, that the operator has run away screaming, “This can’t be happening!” and that you’re on fire.
When I was in grade school we had these duck-and-cover drills. Every so often some bell would ring and we’d have to dive under our desks and curl up like snails. Then we carefully folded our hands over the backs of our necks to protect them. Even to my 7-year-old mind this seemed rather pointless in the event of a nuclear attack; however, I gave the adults the benefit of the doubt, granted that they knew what they were doing. Now I’m the adult, and I know for a fact none of us has a flippin’ clue!
Nonetheless, the other night, after I learned that hurricane season had officially begun here in the Southeast, I decided to do some adult role modeling and told my teenage daughter that we needed to put together a disaster kit. Actually, I suggested she assemble the kit now that it was her first day of summer and she had free time I need to account for.
I was also motivated by the fact that since my husband lives in another state, and so would be fairly unresponsive if I yelled, “Do something already!” I’m the responsible one here, which in itself is terrifying.
My daughter looked at me as if I just told her to curl up under a desk. “A home disaster kit?”
“Seriously,” I said. “That’s what people do.”
“Right, but not us.”
She had a point. “Well, it can’t hurt.”
“Mom, last time you had an emergency earthquake stash in California, you used up all the water bottles and the tuna cans for our school lunches until there was nothing left but some expired batteries.”
“It did come in handy when we ran short, which is another good reason to have one!”
“Let’s make a list.” I hand her a pen. “Flashlight, first aid kit, bottled water, booze.”
“Blankets, batteries,” she says, writing.
“Did you get the booze?”
“Canned goods,” she adds.
“Right. Tuna, and peanut butter,” I say. “Because when your house has burned down, or your roof has blown off, a jar of Jiff will be just the thing.” I can only be an adult for so long.
“Will this really help?” she asks.
“Probably not. But plans make people feel like they have some control, even though we’re all at the whims of the universe.”
We continue like two Girl Scouts planning a sanitized campout. Afterward, we cross check our list with legitimate ones we found on websites for the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
So here are the basic disaster kit elements. Tailor yours for your region’s brand of devastation, but do make one. It will make you feel better, or at least more responsible:
• Bottled water, a gallon per person per day for three days
• A battery-powered radio
• Flashlight and extra batteries, candles
• A lighter, matches (in a plastic bag), Sterno, a small non-electric grill
• First aid kit, including several days of prescription medications
• Instant coffee and tea bags
• Canned and jarred foods for several meals, also crackers, dried pasta and other foods that won’t perish
• Baby and pet food and supplies (diapers, leashes)
• Plastic or paper plates, cups, utensils, pans
• Manual can opener
• Moist wipes and hand sanitizer
• Copies of insurance policies
• Cash. When the ATMs don’t work, cash usually does
• Blankets, towels, sleeping bags
• A deck of cards and other amusements
• Phone number of a good hotel or friend with a guest room
Put all in a waterproof trashcan, in an accessible place, because you never know when you’re going to be engulfed in flames.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.