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Building an Emergency Preparedness Kit After the California Wildfires

June 26, 2017

The first time I gave serious thought to building an emergency kit was on Monday, when my house was put under a voluntary evacuation order. I know, there is no excuse for it. Any Internet search engine will find a multitude of Web sites giving you clear information on how to prepare for an emergency and build your emergency kit. Government and other agencies have been urging all of us to do it for a long time. We just did not get around to it. Perhaps it is like making a will, it’s just something you don’t want to think about until it is too late. Except, luckily for us and our emergency kit, it isn’t too late. Our house is safe, and we are safe. We were very fortunate and had a comfortable evacuation in the home of friends. We are home now, and this is what I have learned.

I would have built my emergency kit with dedicated supplies, such as food, water, first aid and kept it in an easily accessible place. Our evacuation efforts were not helped by having to move boxes of Christmas decorations and old schoolwork to get to the camping equipment tub to dig out the battery operated radio, only to discover that it needs new batteries and guess what we are out of AA batteries so we’ll have to raid the toys for them, if only we can find them, and all the while California is burning.

Amazingly we did have a flashlight in a designated place. This was only because a few years ago, my husband had to make a transatlantic phone call in the middle of the night to his vacationing wife and children to ask where was the flashlight as he battled a flooding basement in a power outage. Well, as any eight years old can tell you, the flashlight was under the bed in the spare room – imagine not checking there first! Needless to say, since then the flashlight has remained in its own place, from which we dare not move it and that is where the emergency kit is going. We did have all our important document together in a fire proof box and that helped enormously.

I would also have given more thought to which items we would want to save in an emergency.¬†Obviously, in some situations, immediate evacuation is required and no item is worth risking your life for, but in some cases you have a little time and preparation helps you use that time to enable your family to cope with the emergency and its aftermath better. Evacuation concentrates the mind wonderfully, but I’m sure most families would benefit from discussing in a relaxed environment which items are most dear to them. I find it heartwarming that most people take their photographs with them. With digital photographs a little planning is required unless you take your computer as we had to. I wish that I had backed them (and indeed other important digital documents) up onto more easily portable media or uploaded them onto an internet hosting service. Imagine how it would feel to lose them all.

The other thing I learned was that children have very clear ideas on what is precious and irreplaceable to them. I gave each of my children a small bag to load with their most precious possessions. There were some items I could have easily guessed like their favorite soft toy, but much anguish is spared if you also allow, where practical, the chipped china dog or the plastic trinket which they have carefully saved for half their life; even if you can’t remember why it is so meaningful or irreplaceable, your child can. Discuss what items they would want to take so that in a real emergency, where this is safely possible, items can be collected quickly and your child will cope with any loss better.