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August 31, 2005

Emergency preparedness redux
Posted by Teresa at 02:19 PM * 42 comments

I think this makes the third time I’ve linked to Jim Macdonald’s jump kits page.

A jump kit, also called a go bag, is an emergency kit you leave next to the front door so you can grab it on the way out without breaking stride. You should have one, because, hey, you never know. I’ve seen interviews with Hurricane Katrina victims who were sitting on their roofs barefoot because the water came up so fast that they didn’t have time to grab their shoes.

If you’re interested in Making Light’s past discussions of these and other related topics, see Real emergency preparedness, from November 2004, and Tips for an apocalypse, from July of this year.

Coming at the problem from another angle, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has a website about putting together flood buckets, health kits, and other special-purpose emergency packs to be sent to disaster victims.

Comments on Emergency preparedness redux:
#1 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2005, 04:08 PM:

If you don't feel like putting together your own kit, Target is selling four-person pre-packs. They're inexpensive (thirty bucks, of which ten is donanted to the American Red Cross).

The time to prepare, to think out your plans, to take classes, to gather materials, is now. When it's two in the morning and the cops are hammering on your door yelling "Get out NOW!" it's a little late.

#2 ::: Jackmormon ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2005, 04:37 PM:

New York City's office of Emergency Preparedness (link) suggested packing a local map into go bags. That sounds sensible to me.

On the other hand, their site also advocates calling 311 not only to prepare but also to get instructions in case of emergency. That sounds rather less sensible in the event of a major disaster.

#3 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2005, 05:00 PM:

Having read reports on the ground and information about emergency water purification, I think I would consider packing purification tablets or, at a pinch, bleach. Also a pack of nappy sacks/dog waste sacks.

#4 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2005, 05:14 PM:

I should probably buy another cat carry case, and get a new kit. Living in CA, haivng an earthquake kit was something most people I knew had. Not so much in NYC, but still, I should have one.

#5 ::: JennR ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2005, 05:49 PM:

As a quick note, any money donated to UMCOR goes 100% into relief efforts, as member churches pay the administrative/distribution costs as part of their annual apportionment payment to the United Methodist Church. Most churches which have relief efforts do the same (I know the Congregational, Presbyterian, and UCC churches do; I expect others do too, but I don't have first hand knowledge of that.)

#6 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2005, 05:56 PM:

If it comes to that, I'm planning to put Arthur into his hammyball and carry him in my backpack.

#7 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2005, 05:57 PM:

Can anyone tell whether that UMCOR address is still working?

#8 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2005, 06:10 PM:

I just clicked on the link in your post, and reached the Methodists. So it worked for me. But that may because I know the secret Methodist codes.

#9 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2005, 06:42 PM:

I just clicked on the link in your post, and reached the Methodists. So it worked for me. But that may because I know the secret Methodist codes.

Not so much the webpage -- but the mailing address they give. Seems that the collection center for those flood kits is located about 80 miles west of New Orleans....

#10 ::: JennR ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2005, 07:29 PM:

I have enquired. I will let y'all know as soon as I hear back.

#11 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2005, 09:52 PM:

I'd just like to note at this point that a number of the items listed in James's checklist are culturally/nationally specific and I'm not sure what the UK (or other non-US) equivalents would be (or even what the hell they are).

More on this when I'm awake tomorrow ...

#12 ::: Jackmormon ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2005, 10:06 PM:

It sounds like the idiots have already arrived. According to this bOingbOing post, a very enterprising someone has set up websites to accept "donations." To date, the following sites are veddy veddy suspect:

#13 ::: Victor S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2005, 01:06 AM:

In response to Charles Stross's note, I've taken the liberty of annotating Jim Macdonald's first aid kit list and posting the result on my LiveJournal: I'll correct errors and omissions as people let me know what I've missed.

#14 ::: JennR ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2005, 09:41 AM:

Heard back from UMCOR. Sager-Brown is operational, and accepting kits. They're far enough inland that they didn't get the surge, and Katrina passed far enough east of them that they got rain and wind but nothing catastrophic.

#15 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2005, 12:16 PM:

There's a lot of good emergency/survival equipment reviews at Equipped to Survive.

Since I'm absent-minded (and not good about keeping a supply of fresh batteries on hand), I've also been looking at hand-cranked radios and flashlights. Does anybody have any experience with this stuff?

#16 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2005, 05:59 PM:

Yes, I have a hand-cranked radio. It would work better for me if it was a pump radio (I'm disabled), but I can turn it long enough for several hours of news before I have to turn it again.

I have a chemical flashlight that you just shake and it turns on. It can be used about 200 times.

#17 ::: Tiger Spot ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2005, 11:46 PM:

We have a small flashlight that's powered by squeezing the handle to rotate a flywheel of some sort. It doesn't work very well for normal household flashlight uses, because it doesn't stay on when you're not squeezing the handle so it's hard to hold still.

It's okay for finding your way along a path or locating the candles and matches buried in the back of a drawer.

#18 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2005, 01:57 PM:

Any ham-radio operators on the list? Getting a license has always been on my "to-do" list just for the entertainment/geek-factor. Now, it's looking like a smart move survival-wise. Any good place to start for a complete ham neophyte? (I am an electrical engineer, so taht part of the exam should be covered).

#19 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2005, 02:26 PM:

If you're an EE, getting a ham license should be a cakewalk. ARRL publishes a number of fine books, and you no longer need to know Morse code, just some basic electronics and radio theory. (Higher-level licenses still require Morse code, of course, but you no longer need it to get started.)

Good luck!

#20 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2005, 02:38 PM:

The "Freeplay" Foundation makes and sells a pretty serious crank-powered AM/FM radio. Mine works fine, I've given a couple as gifts and I've never heard any negative feedback. It's relatively hard to find in stores, but worth tracking down:

There's a cheaper radio (from Grundig? Philips?) that you see in places like Target that I was NOT as impressed with.

Freeplay also sells a more-expensive version that has some SW reception, but I don't have experience with that one.

(Come to think of it, in one of the cars I have a Coleman crank flashlight, too. Haven't had occasion to use that one, though.)

#21 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2005, 03:33 PM:

I ahve a small, cheap hand-crank/solar/battery powered radio, AM-FM, for emergency use. It works adequately well. Got it through Major Surplus & Survival in LA - they have a website, but finding anything on it can be interesting. (Retort water was under Binoculars and Electronics at one time, not under Food/Water where you would look for it.)

#22 ::: janet ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2005, 04:00 PM:

One of the things I keep reading about in news stories is diabetics who need insulin. More people should know that insulin doesn't have to be refrigerated! A sealed bottle will keep at room temperature, up to about 110 degrees, for at least a month. An opened bottle should be used up within one month, but even after I've opened one I don't refrigerate it, I just keep it in the little bag I take with me everywhere, along with the rest of my diabetes gear. (Think about it: if insulin had to be kept refrigerated, insulin pumps would be impossible. Depending on how and where you wear the pump, the insulin in it will be somewhere between room temperature and body temperature. I change the cartridge in my pump about once every six days, so the last insulin in the cartridge has been between room temp and body temp for nearly a week. I've never had a problem with it going bad.)

So if you're diabetic and you use insulin, keep some insulin in your jump kit, along with whatever supplies you need to inject it. Keep the jump kit in a cool place, and it should be fine. Replace the insulin once a month: if you put the old bottle back in the fridge you can still use it, so it doesn't have to go to waste. Insulin is a lot more durable than people think.

#23 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 02:24 PM:

Charlie -- have you had any thoughts on things that are culturally specific that I can update and explain?

That page has had over three thousand hits in the last two days. It's incredible. I'd like to make it more useful.

#24 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 04:09 PM:


Just wanted you to know my partner and I started working on urban go bags this weekend. Jan has her First Responder's Certificate, thus we have medical jump bags for the house and car.

After looking over the 'wilderness' bag, we're going to put one of those together for the house. We can visualize situations where those items would be very handy...

And my Mom, the R.N., has asked that I send her a copy of the list, after I read part of it to her over the phone!

The only thing I'd suggest adding to the urban go bag is personal papers. Specifically, a copy of your birth certificate and your Social Security Number card (passport if you have one).

Thanks for the list,

Lori Coulson

#25 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 04:51 PM:

I've added laminated copies of personal papers, a regional map, and anti-chafing ointment to the Urban bag, based on suggestions.

The guiding philosophy of all these bags has been: a) small, b) light, c) cheap, and d) hands-free. The first-aid kit, for example, weighs in at about one pound.

The idea is to make 'em more likely to be assembled and carried along.

#26 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 03:32 PM:

Another note:

If you're vacationing in, say, the Great North Woods of New Hampshire, and you have kids -- give them all whistles. Make sure they don't go anywhere without those whistles. Put 'em on lanyards around their necks, pinned inside their pockets, whatever pleases you. Any time they're outside, even if it's just to go play in that field right over there, that you can see from your front door, with a whole bunch of their friends.

Teach them -- drill into them -- that if they get lost, if they get confused, to stop moving, stay where they are, and blow the heck out of that whistle.

The search and rescue folks -- the fish and game guys, the local EMTs -- will thank you. You'll thank yourself. Your kid will grow up to thank you.

This has been a public service announcment.

#27 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 10:14 PM:

Weirdly, the number one Google hit for jump bag is currently my little page.

By looking at the trackbacks to it, I've found some other interesting pages and discussions.

One of them is which is all about putting together kits to get you though 72 hours without infrastructure.

See also the 72 hour kit at

They're different from my bags -- mine are short-term kits, small, light, inexpensive, for particular purposes. See also their earthquake kit and personal kit inventory lists.

#28 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 10:27 PM:

Three-day kits came up last week at our mandatory pre-firedrill meeting (wherein we learn what's changed since the previous drill). There's theoretically three days worth of food and water in the emergency cupboards (two per floor), but they are recommending that we have three-day kits in our desks also. (I think it may be not enough food; I heard the LA city emergency center figures two weeks to get the five feet of glass and stuff off the streets.)

#29 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 05:20 AM:

I'm thinking of making up urban jump bags and first aid kits for my family as stocking stuffers, and one of the things I was thinking of adding to the urban kit was japanese style socks, for if you have to evacuate in dress shoes. They roll up into quite a small package but have rubberized soles. Wouldn't stand up to climbing over rocks, but a lot more comfortable for walking on pavement than bare feet. Good idea? Or is there something better?

#30 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 08:49 AM:

Tavella, what about pool shoes? They fold up small (at least some kinds do) but have pretty substantial soles.

#31 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 04:57 AM:

Hmm, the "pool shoes" Froogle is showing me are way too heavy -- I want something that rolls up basically to socklet size.

#32 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 05:28 AM:

The "Japanese socks" you're describing are called odori, or sometimes "tabi boots" (regular tabi socks don't have the rubberized sole).

You can find them at this place; a search on "tabi" or "odori" would probably bring up more sources.

Another possibility for emergency footgear would be the plastic-soled Mary Janes (plain slipper-style fabric shoe, usually with an instep strap). They don't roll up, but a pair would flatten to about 3/4", and the hard(ish) sole, while no substitute for engineer boots, would be better protection against pavement and sharp debris than rubberized cotton.

#33 ::: Victor S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 01:19 PM:

Whistles: The Fox-40 is available in glow-in-the-dark, which is amusing if not extremely useful. I got a couple of these to give as stocking stuffers (for adults) last Christmas; after reading the warnings on the package, I'm nervous of trying them inside city limits. One hundred ten decibels is a lot of sound.

Wilderness, values of: A friend of mine tells stories about hosting an exchange student from Europe one year. The student's biggest danger was her belief that hiking in Maine was no different than hiking in [European Nation], except for the danger of terrible wild animals. It took a couple of hikes to convince her that getting lost is a much more significant threat, and that her technique, 'keep walking; you're bound to get somewhere', wasn't valid in Maine.

#34 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 01:37 PM:

Oh, gods.

There's also that 'follow the river downstream' is an extremely bad idea in many Canadian provincial and national parks, since some substantial fraction of the rivers are so inconsiderate as to end in vast bogs, other, equally trackless, rivers, nameless, uninhabited lakes, the shores of Hudson's Bay....

#35 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 02:20 PM:

Graydon: How about "Follow the river downstream -- unless it goes north!"

Most areas of Manitoba, that could work.

#36 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 02:24 PM:

Most of those rivers twist around a lot, and there's also that, for example, most of the country that you don't want to get anywhere near along the Mattawa or upper Ottawa rivers, the river will be running mostly east and south.

Alas, this will not save you.

#37 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2005, 07:57 AM:

We lose a few tourists in Oz here most years who just don't seem to have quite got some of the Australian survival basics. Water, for instance. Always have water. Don't leave your water behind in the car if you leave it for anything. But in any case, if your car stalls or bogs in sand, it's best not to leave it anyway.

And the distances. Australia has about 2.5 humans per square kilometre (um, whatever that is in miles?), but about 85% of us are in the larger cities, so outside them there's a lot of space that's people-free for much of the time. Walking for help could mean 100 k of shadowless stony gibber plain.

And many things marked on maps as rivers or lakes only have water some of the time. And quite a few of them run inland down towards the 'bottom of the saucer' at the sun-baked saltpans of Lake Eyre (which fills about every decade), ending by sinking into the sand, or forming giant but ephemeral marshlands. Many of the mountains along the Great Dividing Range are a dissected plateau, there are few passes that will take you through down near the waterways, you need to follow the stony exposed ridges -- this stopped explorers getting west for decades in the nineteenth century.

And there are a lot of open bores in Central Australia, but the water is often boiling hot and full of minerals that will make you thirstier after you drink it, while most freshwater tropical waterholes and rivers have crocodiles. Did I mention that nine of the ten most venomous snakes are Australian? Then there's the irikanji (tiny, invisible, deadly, jellyfish) and other unwelcoming sealife ... OTOH, the crocs are about the only really BIG dangerous animals -- no bears or pumas or wolves.

#38 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2005, 11:36 AM:

Wolves -- unless you are aggressively, actively stupid toward them -- are harmless. They don't consider humans a prey species.

Pumas are pretty harmless unless you imitate deer, too; pretty much all the attacks involve joggers running along narrow paths below trees.

Bears, well, yeah, bears are known to eat people from time to time.

#39 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2005, 11:44 AM:

We lose a few tourists in Oz here most years who just don't seem to have quite got some of the Australian survival basics.

In Southern California, we lose them to things like Going Out Hiking in the mountains, which may be complicated by Consumption of Alcohol. Almost every year we lose a few locals to alcohol-plus-ice-plus-mountain: they go out, have a few beers, and end up going down an ice chute, or down a slope with no way back up. Then there are the kids who wander off and are never seen alive again; sometimes it's years before the remains turn up. It isn't the critters that are problems, it's the humans.

#40 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2005, 12:39 PM:

Well, I grew up in Seattle, and let me tell you, "moss grows on the north side of the trees" doesn't help a lot in the rainforests of the Olympic peninsula, or on the western side of the Cascades! (There are, of course, other ways to determine north if you don't have a compass, but they take longer).

#41 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2005, 01:10 PM:

When I first moved here, my partner told me that one could always work out where north was since, "the mountains are in the north."

"What about the ones in the west?"

"Those mountains don't count."

#42 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2005, 01:10 PM:

Packable emergency shoes: Try "Tai-chi shoes" which you can find in any city that has a Chinatown. They are medium-weight cloth on the top, flexible plastic soles. I used to wear them casually for a while; they wear out after some months of normal use, so they'd probably last through an evacuation hike.

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