How to make assembling a disaster preparedness kit more fun, less tedious

SUBMITTED PHOTO - A well-stocked emergency preparedness kit can mean the difference between life and death after a disaster.Disaster preparedness has been on the minds of many Oregonians especially since Kathryn Schulz’s infamous New Yorker article “The Really Big One” was published last month. The article forecast that an impending mega-earthquake and tsunami will devastate much of the Pacific Northwest.

Beyond the threat Schulz describes was the picture she paints of the disaster’s aftermath: “OSSPAC (the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission) estimates that in the I-5 corridor it will take between one and three months after the earthquake to restore electricity, a month to a year to restore drinking water and sewer service, six months to a year to restore major highways, and eighteen months to restore health-care facilities,” she wrote.

Suddenly, putting together an emergency preparedness kit to weather the after-effects of a major disaster has begun to seem like a very good idea. Yet how many of us actually have the time to do so?

“People are just a little overwhelmed by the idea of disasters in general, and don’t know what to do,” says Melinda McGoldrick, the preparedness and partnership manager for the Red Cross’s Cascade Region chapter. “That’s something we try to do in classes — to break it down into simple steps. Because at the end of the day, it’s a really simple process.”

What do you need?

Many lists of recommended supplies for emergency preparedness kits can be found on the Internet, and pre-packaged emergency kits can also be purchased online or in stores. But you likely already have some of the supplies you’d need to put a kit together.

“Use what you already have,” says Piseth Pich, a public affairs officer with Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue. “You’ll have what you need to get started.”

Those who camp and pursue outdoor recreation will likely be well on the way to having a fully-formed kit. Items like chlorine tablets for purifying water, a camping stove and a flashlight are all important elements to have in a kit.

It is important to keep your household’s disaster supplies in one place. “That way, you don’t have to remember where everything is,” Pich says.

Gathering materials from around the house can be made more enjoyable for families by involving children. McGoldrick recommends making the process into a scavenger hunt. In addition to making the task of gathering supplies easier, turning the process into a game also helps children to gain ownership and awareness of the kit.

McGoldrick says that the three most essential supplies in a kit are food, water and a first aid kit. Randy Crebs, emergency management and training specialist at the City of West Linn, agrees, and emphasizes that access to clean water will be paramount after a disaster.

“Water is one of the most important things,” Crebs says. “It’s the water that’s going to kill us.”

Crebs recommends keeping at least one week’s supply of drinking water in your disaster kit, at a rate of one gallon per person, per day. Food is, of course, also vital, but Crebs says that minimalists will likely be able to get by with a three day’s supply of food.

A radio capable of accessing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Portland radio station KIG98 is also a vital element of any kit, according to Crebs. The station broadcasts at 162.550 MHz, which is beyond the range accessible by standard radios. It updates disaster survivors on relief efforts and other important information.

One should also be sure to have a wrench that can be used to turn off one’s utilities in an emergency. “You need to have a wrench that fits all of your services so that you can prevent even more disaster from happening,” Crebs says. It’s also important, then, to be familiar with the location of one’s utilities and to know how to turn them off if needed.

A supply of extra medications is also important, so people should talk with their physician ahead of time to make sure that a sufficient supply is on hand.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - The American Red Cross recommends working with family, friends and neighbors to make assambling a kit more efficient and enjoyable.“It’s important to discuss this with your physician and see if you can get at least an additional month’s worth of medication,” Crebs says.

And just as humans need a disaster kit containing food, water and other supplies, pet owners should be sure to have emergency supplies stored for their animals. The Red Cross recommends that your pet disaster supply kit include, among other things, current photos of your pets in case they get lost; food, water, bowls, cat litter/pan, and can opener; and information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian.

“Your kit should be representative of the kinds of things that you need in your life,” says McGoldrick. “Don’t have it be super bare bones — put in that thing that makes you feel better at the end of the day.”

Keeping your kit ready

“Even some people who have emergency preparedness kits don’t secure them in a safe place,” Crebs says. A kit held in a flimsy container might be damaged by falling items or crumbling walls in the event of a disaster. To reduce the chances of a kit being significantly damaged, Crebs recommends locating it near an internal wall and away from furnaces and other appliances.

Keeping multiple kits is also a good idea, Crebs says. “We probably only spend a quarter of our time at home. You need something in your vehicle,” he says.

Pich agrees that a car kit is important. “It could be as simple as putting some supplies together in a backpack,” he says.

Don’t limit your preparations to your household, either. Pich says that it is a good idea to plan kits and disaster plans with neighbors as well. “Make sure that if you’ve got vulnerable populations, if people have higher needs or disabilities, everybody in the community knows,” he says.

Crebs agrees. “Get to know your neighbors. Ask them where their (emergency kit) is located. Because you never know what’s going to happen,” he says.

You should also check to be sure that your place of work has a well-stocked disaster kit, Crebs says. And parents should verify that their children’s schools are well-prepared for a disaster.

If preparing a kit still feels daunting, be sure to visit the Red Cross -- Cascade Region or Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue's websites, which each offer a bounty of information for those assembling an emergency preparedness kit.

More information on assembling a kit will be available at an Emergency Preparedness Fair hosted by TVF&R and the City of West Linn, Thursday, Sept. 24, 4-8 p.m.; West Linn Ward Church of Latter Day Saints, 1395 Rosemont Rd.

Join the West Linn Survivors Book Club! Pick up a copy of "Unthinkable: Who Survives When Diaster Strikes and Why" by Amanda Ripley (we have some copies at the Tidings office) and participate in discussion below.

Contact Jake Bartman at 503-636-1281 ext. 113 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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