Emergency preparedness: why you should build emergency kits (plural)

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Everyone has a different opinion of what your emergency kits should have in them. Notice, I said “kits” (plural).

The worldwide standard is for at least 72 hours’ worth of supplies with which to function in an emergency. Many people have heard at least that much about emergency preparedness. How many of you know that Washington state’s Emergency Management Division has increased that urgent suggestion to two weeks or more? If you are hearing that for the first time, what does that tell you?

The unique combination of documented regional hazards, terrain and infrastructure is such that we are encouraged to an elevated self-sustainability model for preparedness. This also takes into account the unbalanced ratio between the number of emergency responders and the number of citizens, as well as after-action findings from the 2016 Cascadia Rising exercise, which simulated a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Washington state.

Logically, you would need a kit for staying at home (this is called “Sheltering in Place” or SIP), one for each vehicle, one for you in the workplace (at least a small, basic kit that goes beyond the required workplace first aid kit) and perhaps a mobile evacuation kit to “grab and go” with. (When it comes to a non-vehicle evacuation version, you might need to grab a backpack and move rapidly.) Some people also have a few small items that they carry with them called EDC or “every day carry” items. Something like a multi-tool, lighter and whistle, for example.

The point here is that you cannot determine when it might be needed. Therefore, you should ideally, in a pro-active state of awareness, have access to some degree of supplies in a variety of locations to accommodate a variety of potential emergency situations.

Be reasonable. You will never have all of the things you wish to have in a kit. A kit is so that you can function until or unless a professional emergency response is needed, not to live in luxury. This is why additional skills for improvising and adapting are so very necessary. “Things” break, malfunction, reach their end of use or can go missing. Skills are your ultimate backup to having “stuff” to help you with that need. If I lose power at home, I have a gas stove and oven. If I had an electric stove, or if damage forced me to shut the gas off to the house, I could cook outside with a propane or charcoal grill, a fire pit, etc. (You can cook with wood in a charcoal grill, by the way.) These are backups and improvisations.

You have four essential areas that need to be addressed in an emergency scenario. The first is water. Physiologically, we are made up primarily of water. This is even more important than food. The second essential area is food. We need nutrition or “body fuel” to keep functioning. The third is shelter. We need shelter from harmful elements such as heat and cold and aerial debris. The fourth is first aid and medical supplies to treat injuries or existing ailments.

There are some good, basic essentials that you should have to support the other needs. You need to first understand what you are gathering and why. Your combination of a kit and your improvisational skills need to address those four aforementioned essential elements in order to face a potential emergency scenario efficiently. Each person and family has some of their own unique needs, such as prescription medications, pet needs, allergy considerations and so on. Any list you see from various sources should be seen as a basic guideline to adapt and customize from, and never as an “ultimate list” of needed items.

Even if you have packed everything and the kitchen sink, you will never have every item you might want or need. Plus, someone may have to mobilize all of that, while some variables may not make it possible to move all of that with you in the event you need to evacuate or relocate. This is why relevant skills and the ability to improvise are vital.

Richard Martin is the director of the non-profit group NorthWest Emergency Preparedness (NWEP).

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