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What's in that Emergency Kit that's out in the Shed?
by Dianne K.

At least 5 years ago, for Christmas, my daughter Sheri gave me a disaster bucket filled with emergency supplies -- to use when The Big One hits. I finally located it out in the shed. I realized I had never even opened it. It's a big, very heavy, white bucket, like one of those giant paint cans.

It has a plastic pull-strip near the top, like those tear-off strips on food containers. I try to pull it off. No luck, it's cemented on, and all the little tear-off slits seem to be glued tight. I look around for some pliers to help. Nope. Of course, I don't have much strength, but I can't even budge it a little.

This is awkward. What does one do when one cannot open one's emergency supply kit? Keep trying, right?

It's really shut tight, maybe being so old, the plastic has hardened. I look in my tool box for some tin snips to cut the plastic. No tin snips to be found. My box cutter breaks when I try  it. I jam a screw driver under the tab to loosen it up. Again, no success. I even use the claw part of the hammer to pry it off. This is becoming quite irritating. If I were a squirrel, I'd just start gnawing on the plastic at this point. Maybe in a true emergency that's what I'd do. But no, I'll wait until somebody comes over, and ask them to help me.

So a few days later Karen comes by, we're going out to dinner. She gives it her all and eventually manages to open it up, using the screw driver. But we are both too hungry to investigate the darned thing. It's dark in the shed and the bucket has a peculiar smell. I'll tote it into the house and tackle it later.

The next morning, after several cups of coffee, I decide it's time to take inventory. The smell is still bad, and as I lift the lid, it gets worse. The thing is filled to the brim. Here's what I find:

1. A pair of XL men's gardening gloves. Rather large for me.
2. A solar radio-flashlight including instructions on several ways to charge it
3. 50 feet of nylon utility cord
4. Shelter-in-place plastic sheeting in case we need to seal windows and doors (no scissors and duct tape enclosed)
5. 4 paper breathing masks
6. 4 packets of paper towels, small sized
7. gas shut-off wrench
8. large size Swiss Army knife
9. 50 aquatabs to purify water, with instructions
10. 12 disposable toilet bags: not sure how to use these, maybe use with the bucket?
11. 1 pkg of toilet deodorant (one???)
12. 8'x6'x3' high tube tent, ends are open
13. 4 emergency ration bars, aka sea rations, 6 servings each. This is what smells funny, sort of sweetish.
14. 4 light saber sticks/8 hours each
15. 1st aid kit, mostly bandaids, 52 pc.
16. 4 waterproof ponchos
17. 4 emergency blankets
18. 4 ID cards for emergency contact info, to fill out
19. 5 5-hr candles
20. matches
21. whistle
22. 12 juice box sized drinking water containers

After five years in the shed, something must be out of date:

1.   The 12 packs of water (juice box size), expired in 2013. However, the water is sealed. I imagine in an emergency it might be safer to drink the bottled water than mud puddle water. Of course, we do have drinking water tablets. We would have to dump water into a liter-sized container and add a tablet, let it sit for 30 minutes, and then it might be safe to drink. I think I’d chance it and just drink it out of its juice box.

2.    The “coast guard” recommended food bars, aka sea rations, that are supposed to keep us from starving to death for 4 days, expired in 2012. I think they are also still edible, we probably wouldn’t expire if we ate them. In the unlikely event that I was in a life boat at sea, I would eat them even if out of date. At home in my backyard, I would rather go to the kitchen, get some canned goods and a can opener and eat that instead.

3.    The hand crank solar flashlight radio (circa 2008) is outdated. There is a newer model on the market that can be plugged into power via usb cable for charging if solar and hand cranking aren’t available. Of course, that assumes we have some sort of battery power, like maybe a car battery. I say we keep the thing, figure out if it will actually power up using solar or hand cranking. However, I think we would be wiser to rely on our iphones for communications, and possibly just go buy a little portable radio, battery operated, for emergencies. They last for freakin’ ever, as I remember. I had a couple but I forgot to replace the batteries and they corroded to death. That's right, the radios both cacked.

T    The rest of the supplies in the kit don’t have expiration dates.

This bucket full of stuff assumes we are without power, have limited water, mostly contaminated, are not seriously injured, that it’s cold outside, and we can’t go into the house, and we are in some danger of gas/nuclear contamination ( That's what the supplies for sealing leaks in windows and doors, as well as cloth breathing masks are for). In the event of nuclear war, skip this step. We are toast.

As I recall from the last earthquake, our only problem was that we were without power for several days. Other than a few broken dishes and some small cracks in the walls, the house was okay. So we lost all of our frozen and refrigerated food after about 24 hours. But we still had shelter, and water, and use of our cars. (I talked to my friend  Rosemarie and she said she slept in the backyard for several days after the earthquake because she was scared. Whatever.)

Our kit contains a “tube” tent, no sides but it does provide a cover. The TV Survivor cast members might like it. There are also ponchos and blankets, toilet facility supplies (very primitive). Also handy for Survivor cast. And us too if we have to live outdoors on our decks and backyards, and our toilets aren't working.

Bottom line on survival kits: A waste of money, I'm not sure how much of this stuff would be valuable or usable in an emergency. But it does start me thinking about what a person might really need. Much of it is already at home, but we don't give any thought to where it is exactly or whether we would be able to gather it up in an emergency. I know where the candles are and the flashlights, but I'm not sure if I have extra batteries for the lights, and sometimes I can't find a match. I have food in the pantry which could be eaten cold, and there are plenty of blankets and pillows.

We should assume that in the event of an earthquake we will all head for our homes, at first, to see how things are. Then check with other family members and decide whether we need to temporarily combine households. There will be lots of paw counting if that happens, the pets will be frightened, even though they don't really need electricity. We should all agree on this first step (go home), so that we aren’t all trying to connect and worrying about each other. If anybody's house gets red tagged and needs to move out, that’s step 2. Choose a second home base for everybody to head for, pets included.

In my humble opinion, some additional supplies are needed. Some thought should be given as to where to store them. If your house is in danger of falling down, blowing away, or being burned to the ground, you need other options! In earthquake country, who knows, but the majority of houses will still be standing, (there are even houses in San Francisco that are older than 1906), so maybe inside storage, garage storage, and even outside shed storage are good options. Inside is best, temperature-wise. Like good wine, canned food and plastic do best in controlled temperatures.

1.    I think we should all keep a good supply of water on hand in various sizes, and check on it occasionally to make sure it’s drinkable. And speaking of water, in a severe earthquake, there is definite fire danger, so it wouldn’t hurt to keep several hoses around the yard. We might still have running water and we might have to put out our own fires. The thing people don’t think about is hoses! Maybe connect one to every outside faucet.

3.    Keep a supply of fat candles that won’t tip over and will burn a long time, along with plenty of matches. Batteries! 

 I remember seeing how cold folks on the east coast were without power during the winter. That's a huge problem for them, one that needs some strategizing. Just how does a family keep warm when it's below freezing outside?

4.    Emergency radios, various sized batteries for flashlights (they have expiration dates on them. Check them occasionally), a supply of tools that you can get at easily for turning off gas (a gas wrench is included in our kit), and whatever else might be needed, like extra power storage for our iphones and ipads. Fresh duct tape, scissors should be handy, extra blankets and pillows might be useful.

AlsSome folks suggest that we always keep extra supplies of our meds and whatever else we need on a daily basis, since we can’t rely on drug stores to be open.

      It wouldn't hurt to remember to keep the car's gas tank at least half full at all times. If you need to leave town in a hurry, you probably won't be able to get gas first. Odds are that in an emergency it might pay to just stay home. The traffic tie-ups due to folks trying to get out might make it impossible to reach a safer destination.

WeAnd this is a situation where we might need some alternative amusements on hand that don't need electricity. I’m thinking books, puzzles and board games. We might have time on our hands and shouldn’t be texting and facebooking in emergencies.  

PllllPeople living in different parts of the country have different types of disasters to consider. Wind disasters, fire, torrential rains, severe winter storms, volcano eruptions, and flooding need a totally different kind of prep than earthquakes do. And then there are human-made disasters of every magnitude to bite our nails about, such as: shootings, arson, poisoning, boating accidents, car, train and plane crashes, murder and mayhem, warfare, explosions, bombings, the list goes on. How does one prepare for such things? I simply cannot imagine.

6.    If we get into serious survival mode there are other things we could buy: portable generator, portable composting toilet, guns and ammo, outdoor cooking supplies that don’t rely on gas lines, large tents, wood for campfires , and whatever else survivalists deem necessary. When push comes to shove in a survival situation you even have to worry about your neighbors, especially if you don't get along with them in good times. Fencing, moats, armed guards, attack dogs, and of course, more of the ever popular guns and ammo. My suggestion: try to get along with neighbors, and perhaps even plan together how to cope if and when the time comes.

Seriously folks, we do need to think about what we would do in emergency situations. It's something that we hear about on slow news days. There are occasional newspaper articles, (who reads the newspaper these days?), news casters tell us to be prepared, but I don't think we really listen to them, and I'm not sure anybody really knows what it means to be prepared for some unnamed disaster. If buying that kit is considered being prepared, we are definitely in trouble. California has this "big one" cloud hanging over us all the time, but the rest of the country seems to have more ongoing FEMA visits than we do. So none of us can be blasť about being prepared for some unknown eventuality. As the old saying goes, hope for the best but plan for the worst.

So, belated thank you to Sheri for getting the ball rolling on our survival strategies. Better late than never to be prepared. But somehow I don't feel all that safe even knowing that paint can full of emergency supplies is moldering in my shed.

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