Building an away-from-home survival kit

By Gordon Williams 

You have been advised time and again by the American Red Cross that the key to living through a disaster is having a well-stocked home survival kit. But what happens if disaster strikes when you aren’t at home? What if you’re at work, or in your car miles and miles from home? 

The answer is to have secondary survival kits in your car and at the office — just in case. 

Vehicle Preparedness

For advice on an emergency kit for your car, we turned to the National Safety Council. “Every vehicle should have an emergency supply kit, located in the trunk,” says the NSC. “Kits should be checked every six months, and expired items should be replaced to keep it up to date.” 

As to what should be the kit, here are some suggestions from the NSC: 

  • A properly inflated spare tire, wheel wrench and tripod jack
  • Jumper cables 
  • Tool kit or multipurpose utility tool 
  • Reflective triangles and brightly colored cloth to make your vehicle visible if you have pulled off the road or are awaiting rescue 
  • First aid kit, with antibiotic ointment, non-latex gloves, hydro-cortisone, tweezers and instant cold compress
  • Non-perishable, high-energy food, such as unsalted nuts and dried fruit 
  • Drinking water
  • Reflective vest if you must walk to get help
  • Car charger for your phone 
  • Fire extinguisher 
  • Duct tape 

Keep those supplies in your car year around. Now, as the weather turns wintery, add a snow brush with scraper, shovel, windshield washer fluid, warm clothing, blankets, and cat litter for traction. 

Beyond stocking your car survival kit, the NSC suggests keeping the full array of emergency phone numbers in your cell phone. That would include numbers for family members, your auto insurance provider and AAA and a towing company. 

One further bit of advice for Washington state motorists is to call 5-1-1 before you travel — especially if there is bad weather in the forecast. Dialing 5-1-1 in Washington will update you on road conditions, including construction shutdowns and detours. You’ll hear about conditions and restrictions in the mountain passes, plus any emergency alerts. It will also link you to 5-1-1 systems in Oregon, Idaho and Montana. 

Workplace Preparedness

An earthquake can come at any time, day or night. You could be home when the earth trembles, but you could also be at work. A blackout could catch you at the office — maybe on a high floor with no way to make it safely to ground level. So, what emergency supplies should you keep at work? 

Every workplace should have a well-stocked first aid kit and some provision for emergency lighting. There should also be a designated meeting place where the office staff can reunite if you must evacuate the building. 

As to personal supplies, here are some suggestions:

  • A half-dozen bottles of water
  • Protein bars or some easy-to-prepare food such as canned tuna, in case you must shelter-in-place in the office for a time
  • Boy Scout or Swiss Army knife, including can and bottle opener 
  • Spare eyeglasses, plus contact lens solution if you wear contacts 
  • Flashlight plus spare batteries
  • Battery-powered radio, plus spare batteries 
  • Emergency stock of medicines you take daily 
  • Extra clothing, depending on the season. In winter keep a sweater or sweatshirt in case you must shelter in an unheated building. A spare pair of comfortable shoes would be welcome if you must walk down many flights of stairs.
  • Power bank to charge your phone if building power is out. Check it frequently to make sure it is fully charged and ready for use. 
  • Some emergency cash since ATMs might not be working. Have enough bills or coins to work vending machines to provide you with snacks. 

Finally, because you never know where you will be when disaster strikes, pick a designated meeting place — known to all family members — where everyone will gather when they have made it to safety. Designate someone far away from the disaster scene to field and relay phone messages among family members until all are together again. 

Getting prepared may sound difficult or time consuming but – with a little help from the Red Cross – its actually very doable. Visit RedCross.org for a wide array of additional preparedness tips specific to age, ability, location and situation.

American Red Cross Northwest Region

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