Do you have a Family Emergency Kit? Have you prepared your family for an emergency evacuation? Do you know what to do if disaster hits and you need to get out fast? Many people think these types of emergencies are only in the movies or that things don’t really happen that fast. This week I watched as tens of thousands of families raced against a wildfire, fleeing their homes and community, most with only the clothes on their backs. This happened only a couple of hours from my home. I’m blessed to have a husband who believes in always being prepared. We are prepared to run, but many people aren’t. So here are 10 things you need to do now to prepare your family for an emergency evacuation.
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The events in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada are an extreme example of an emergency evacuation on a large scale, but smaller events can happen too. Fires can happen anywhere. Communities can face flash flooding, earthquakes, tornadoes or other extreme weather. Disasters happen when we are least expecting them. It’s important to be prepared for an emergency, especially if you have children.
A Go Bag (aka Ready-To-Go kit) is the first and most important step in preparing for an emergency. Everyone and every family should have a Go Bag. You can use a duffle bag or large backpack or a small wheeled suitcase and place it somewhere safe but easily accessible. You can even set up a few bags so each member of the family has their own Go Bag. Now in the movies a this bag is usually stuffed with money, maybe in different currencies, plus a bunch of different passports. In reality, this is a bag that has some essentials to keep you safe if you have to hit the road quickly. What goes into your Go Bag? Here are the 10 things you need to prepare a family emergency kit.
1 – The most important thing is water. You should aim to have 4 litres per person, but for families that is a lot of water and would require a lot of storage space. One way to address the water issue is to use a Life Straw in your kit. This will provide your family with as much safe water as they need (one straw will filter over 1000 litres) and you can all share one straw. Life Straw has a couple of other products you can consider as well including Life Straw Water Bottles or the Family Life Straw. I still recommend having a few bottles of water in your kit, but the Life Straw can help keep your water supply going and if you have a large family, it can be a good solution as you can use water from anywhere and filter it so you can drink it safely.
2 – Next up you need to have food. Pick foods that are non-perishable. Granola bars, crackers, cereals and canned foods are good choices. If you have canned foods make sure you include a can opener! Aim to have enough food to last 72 hours. You may want to include some plastic plates and cutlery if you have the space. If you have a baby that is still on a bottle, make sure you include a bottle and formula you can mix with water. Even if that is not normally what your baby would have, in an emergency you want to keep them fed. If you have a toddler or baby starting on solids, make sure you have food they can eat. If you really want to be prepared, include some MREs with built in heaters for quick hot meals.
3 – Clothing is next on the list. Ensure you have one change of clothes per person. Place each person’s clothes in a ziplock bag and label them. That way when you check your bag twice a year, you can pull out the kids clothes that they have outgrown and refill the bag with new clothes that will fit. Make sure you include protective clothing – sweaters, touques, mitts, and even coats if you can fit them. Think layers.
TIP! Pack a few garbage bags, they can be used for many things including emergency ponchos.
4 – Personal essentials can take up a lot of space, but with a bit of planning can be handled. Remember it is only temporary, certain things can be shared and only focus on the absolute essentials (toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, etc.). If needed place feminine products and diapers in a ziplock bag and squish out the air to pack them tightly.
5 – Paperwork – Have a list of emergency contact names and numbers. Keep in mind that if you are under an evacuation order, you will want names on this list of people that live some distance away. Think about developing a list of names and numbers that are progressively farther away, so you have people you can contact no matter how far you need to go. You should also have copies of all your important papers – birth certificates, passports, insurance, wills, etc. Plus copies of your ID. You should also store digital copies of all your vital documents in a safe location. We like to use an encrypted, password protected thumb-drive that we keep in a security box in a safe location outside of our home.
6 – Money is important, so you will want to have some cash in your Go Bag. Keep small denominations so you can easily take care of essential transactions even if change is not available. Also, ensure you have your card numbers (debit and credit) memorized or stored securely with your other paperwork.
7 – Comfort is going to be important for not only you, but your children too in an emergency. Beyond the initial rush to safety there may be extended periods of time where you are simply waiting. Having a few blankets, stuffies, pacifiers, books, and small games or a deck of cards, could all help comfort children through these stressful times. Don’t forget to include a candle. It can bring comfort if you are trapped in your car for extended periods of time. In addition, a candle will help bring warmth to the vehicle if you are stuck in your car in cold temperatures. Remember the matches or a lighter.
8 – Electronics – Electronics are going to be the way you stay in touch and provide you with vital contact to authorities and loved ones during an emergency evacuation. Cell service may go down, but if you are fleeing an area, hopefully you will regain service shortly. Consider putting an extra charger for your phone in the Go Bag. You should also have an emergency flashlight. We are using this one from Goal Zero that can be powered with solar power or crank. The great part of this tool is that it also has a USB charger, so you can use it to charge your phone if there is no power.
9 – Many families have pets and you need to think about them in your escape plan as well. Keep carriers and leashes near your Go Bag. Keep a bag with enough food to last 3 days for the pets. If your pets are on medication, ensure you have some of their medication in the bag as well. In an emergency you can have food that can be used for pets and people, such as canned meats. We are talking survival and extreme circumstances, double duty can be a good thing and if for some reason you don’t have your pet with you, it provides you with extra food. In addition, make sure you have your pet details with your personal documents (microchip, tattoo, picture, etc.) so if you get separated from your pet you can hopefully be reunited quickly.
10 – Medication and first aid – Ensure you have a good first aid kit and enough of any required medication to last up to two weeks. If you have children, make sure your first aid kit includes children’s medications (antihistamines, pain relievers, etc.). If space is tight, pack only the children’s medications, an adult can safely take children’s OTC (over the counter) medications, they simply need larger doses.
Tip! Make sure you check your Family Emergency Kit twice a year. Check expiry dates on medications, swap out food/water, check clothing bags to ensure everything still fits, and adapt the bag for any changes in your family. Time this with when you check the smoke detectors in your house. That way you won’t forget!
Bonus – Self care – This is so important, especially once the chaos of the initial situation has started to settle. In an event like what happened in Fort McMurray, there is going to be massive impacts on health, particularly mental health. Look for help and build your supports. If you feel one of your children, your spouse or you are struggling, especially if you see impacts on appetite, sleep, mood or other behavioural issues, reach out to a professional. Trauma can have a lasting impact, but there are things that can be done to help mitigate the impact of trauma on people of all ages. Be proactive. Don’t ignore the signs. PTSD can happen to anyone and can appear months after the incident. Especially in a state of devastation and loss. Take care of yourself. This situation is a moment in time, it will pass, but the impacts can last a lifetime.
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