It’s fire and mudslide season, and we're overdue for a big earthquake. So what things do we need to get ready to go in case of a “leave right now” emergency? Here’s our non-scary list, plus must-know advice from the experts so you can be prepared when disaster strikes.
7 Emergency Essentials You Should Always Keep by Your Front Door, According to Experts
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1. Paper Maps
Approximately one million years ago, before GPS and mobile phones, travelers navigated the byways using compasses and paper maps. In case the electrical grid is rendered useless or your phone is lost or can’t hold a charge, you’ll need to find the quickest possible route to your evacuation spot. (And potentially multiple routes, in case freeways are clogged or become impassable because of roadway destruction.) Be smart and get a few different colored markers to plot multiple routes to your destination before disaster strikes; that way, all you have to do is jump in your car and go.
2. A Disaster Kit for Everyone in Your Home
Here’s what to put in your kit in case of wildfire devastation, and here’s a handy checklist for earthquakes, prepared by California’s Earthquake Country Alliance. If starting from scratch seems too daunting, shop for a pre-assembled kit, which you can then augment with whatever is particular to your needs (such as your contact lenses, prescription medications, etc.). And whatever you do, don’t let the potential choices or cost of some kits put you off assembling something today. According to Dan Baird, head instructor of the California Survival School, “Thirty minutes and $30 at Walmart can save your life.” Knowing what is a priority is key. Baird says, for example, “in figuring out what you need to survive, you may think which is more important, a sleeping bag or a power bar? Well, temperature regulation is a larger consideration in survival than feeling hungry,” so the sleeping bag is more important.
3. A Disaster Kit for Your Car
Even in these COVID-19 quarantine days, you could easily find yourself running errands when a disaster strikes. Keep a kit in your car (see note above) and get extra supplies for your vehicle. This includes making sure to have jumper cables and some old T-shirts (or similar rags) that can be used to wipe down your windshield in case of lowered visibility. And a set of road hazard lights and a portable hand-crank radio can’t hurt.
4. A Disaster Kit for Your Pets/Livestock
There are pre-made kits just for your animals, and Ready for Wildfire has a comprehensive online list of items to include. Make sure you have an extra leash in the pets’ away kit so you don’t have to go searching for their usual lead. And stick a “Pets Inside” sticker on your door—in case you’re forced to evacuate without your pets, you want to make sure search-and-rescue teams know to save your animals inside.
5. A Dossier of Important Accounts, Contacts and Worst-Case Scenario Wishes
This should include homeowners or renter’s insurance, earthquake insurance, flood insurance, health insurance providers, a color photocopy of your passport and driver’s license and a zip drive with your various account numbers and passwords. Also be sure to add your social media logins, since you will want to post that you are safe as soon as you can, and you might have to login using someone else’s computer or phone.
6. A By-Your-Bed Grab Bag
It’s 3 a.m. and you’re awakened by a loud rumbling, debris rolling and the animals yelping. You don’t want to waste precious time feeling around in the dark in the closet for your shoes and a pair of sweatpants. Instead, grab your pre-assembled bag under your bed—the one that contains a flashlight, extra batteries, pair of closed-toe shoes, sweatpants and a T-shirt and sweatshirt. Oh, and a portable charger, which Baird recommends for getting eight to ten more charges from your phone, as well as a leash for your freaked-out pet. There, you’ve saved a few minutes...and maybe your life.
Not to get totally paranoid, but wouldn’t you feel safer if you had your cash (which you have collected in small denominations) clustered in hidden spots on your body and in your supply stash? "It's important to have small bills on hand because ATMs and credit cards may not work during a disaster when you need to purchase necessary supplies, fuel or food," according to U.S. disaster preparedness authorities at Ready.gov. Whether it’s in a pouch under a floor mat, in a belt under your waistband or in a hollowed-out soda can—or all three—you’ll have extra security in diversifying your liquid money. " (Just don’t forget and give a friend a soda can full of ten dollar bills by accident.)
3 More Must-know Tips For When Disaster Strikes
Plan Your Out of Town Evac Place with Family
Before you gather your supplies, put a plan in place. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, only half of Californians have a definite disaster plan. That includes an in-town meeting point for your appointed friends and family if disaster strikes while you are away from your dwelling, and then an out-of-state meeting point for fleeing from your city or town if leaving is warranted. For example, if you live in California and have friends in Arizona or Utah, you might want to get their OK to head straight to their home in case of fires, floods or earthquakes.
Conduct a Family Drill
What exactly are your kids supposed to do if The Big One strikes while they are sleeping? What are your first, second and third steps if a fire fast approaches? And always, where are the Band-Aids? These and other questions will be less frantic if you walk through your plan with your family. You should also write down your plans and send photocopies to out-of-town relatives and to your evacuation destination host. Make it a fun after-dinner game—give a reward to who is quickest to assemble their own under-bed go-bag—and sign up to have your home participate in the Great California Shake-Out.
Attach Your Gas Valve Cutoff to Your Gas Line
Many area gas lines have been retrofitted to include seismic cut-off valves. Call your gas company to have a technician check your set-up during an appointment. If your gas line isn’t fitted for automatic earthquake shutoff, or if you want an extra feeling of security, buy an inexpensive gas shut-off wrench and twist-tie it to your gas meter outside, where you can easily detach it for manual shut-off in an emergency.