Laura asked: What should I add to my emergency kit to make it climate ready?
MCP Team Answer:
Emergencies are by definition unexpected and often stressful. No one likes to think about worst case scenarios, but a bit of preparation can help you ensure you and your family have the best chance to stay safe.
Over the last few decades, governments and emergency management organizations have been driving home the same messaging. Every household needs an emergency kit that contains the necessary items to keep you and your loved ones safe for at least 72 hours.
This includes a larger kit that has everything you might need if you have to shelter-in-place, and a smaller grab-and-go bag should you need to evacuate on short notice. You may already have these ready to go, but if you don’t, there are many resources around the web that can get you started.
However, not every list has been updated to include items specific to a climate related emergency like a wildfire, flood, or large-scale power outage caused by an extreme heat event.
Recently, professional firefighter Sebastian Sevallo shared some of the most overlooked items that you should have in your kit in case of a wildfire emergency. Based on his recommendations and the feedback from our My Climate Plan network, we have compiled some climate-specific items you can add to your existing emergency kit to help keep you and your loved ones safe.
- Fire and waterproof document holder: This should contain photocopies (or originals) of important documents including your passports, insurance information, and birth certificates. Another option is to put digital copies onto a small memory stick and put it in here as well.
Sevallo also highlights the importance of having cash in case banking systems are down, and it’s a good idea to keep it in the same place as your important documents.
- Solar or battery powered/hand crank radio: In case of an emergency, crucial information like weather updates and evacuation routes will be broadcast over radio to help you find safety.
- Solar or battery powered flashlights and chargers: There are many great options on the market now that last for hundreds of hours and even double as phone chargers. Plus they don’t pose the fire risk that candles can.
If you can’t find one that doubles as a charger, you can purchase a separate solar powered USB charging bank to charge cell phones and other devices.
- Several well-fitting N95 masks for each member of your family: Certain emergency events like wildfires can release chemicals into the air that are harmful to your health. In these cases, a high-quality mask can help filter out some of these dangerous particles, especially if you’re outdoors or in a place with poor air filtration.
- Long-sleeved shirts and pants: Sevallo notes that in the case of wildfires, the air can be filled with ash and burning embers. Make sure you have a set of clothes that can cover exposed skin and keep you safe.
- Goggles and work gloves: Wildfire smoke can seriously irritate your eyes and cause blurry vision. A set of goggles can help protect your eyes from the worst of it. It’s also important to have a durable pair of work gloves to protect your hands in case you will need to move dangerous debris.
- Sunscreen: This is especially important in extreme heat events. Sunburn can inhibit your body’s ability to cool down and increase the effects of heat-related illnesses. You may be outside for a prolonged period in an emergency, so it’s vital to protect your skin. You can choose between mineral or chemical sunscreen, just make sure you reapply it often.
- Water purification tablets: You may need to evacuate quickly or even on foot. This means that carrying around jugs of water may not be practical or possible. Water purification tablets are a lightweight and portable option to help you clean water from untested sources for drinking and bathing, until you can get to safety.
- A list of emergency shelters near you: Certain emergencies can cause the power grid to get knocked out for hours or even days. You may not be able to just pull out your phone and look up the address and driving directions of an emergency shelter. Make a list of the ones closest to you (you can keep this in your document holder above) that also includes simple driving directions to get you there.
- A deck of cards: Hear us out. Emergency situations can cause high levels of anxiety for everyone. Having something you can do to take your mind off of the situation, even for a few minutes, can provide a needed mental rest and reset to take on the next steps. If you have small children, add a few lightweight picture books or small toys. Remember that little ones will need some extra reassurance during these times of heightened uncertainty.
A few additional reminders:
- Keep your kits accessible: Having your emergency kit under boxes of kids’ sports equipment in the garage isn’t useful. Make sure your main kit is somewhere you can easily get to it. If you have a car it’s a good idea to keep your kit close to it so you can put it into your trunk if you have to leave quickly.
You can keep your main kit in a duffle bag with wheels or a large Rubbermaid tote so they’re easy to move. For your grab-and-go bag, a lightweight backpack kept close to the front door is your best bet.
- Practice makes prepared: In an emergency it can be hard to think clearly. By going through your emergency plan ahead of time with your whole family and practicing what you would do, you can help make sure everyone knows what to do and where to go when emergency situations arise.
- Don’t forget to breathe: Sevallo notes that in the fire truck on the way to emergencies, he and his fellow firefighters focus on their breath. He says “when you’re calm, you’re going to make good decisions”. So make sure you take some time to get grounded, breathe, and remember that the worst of it will pass.
Thanks for the great question, Laura! We will be selecting a new question each week so feel free to submit your questions here and we will add them to our list.