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Earlier in the week I had written a cuter opening to this blog post about commemorating anniversaries of major earthquakes, headline news about dormant fault lines getting frisky, and the Great California Shakeout drill all coinciding with temblors down south. Now though, with the news of fires continuing to rage in Sonoma and the large-scale emergency evacuations amid power outages and dangerously high winds, I am going to head bluntly into my topic – emergency preparedness and stocking your Bug Out bag.

When I was a little girl in New York I would regularly read Pauline Kael’s movie reviews in the New Yorker magazine to which my father subscribed, but one time an essay by Joan Didion in her ‘Letter from LA’ column made a lasting impression. She talked about the rare feeling about life you get by living in a place of precarious stability – where you had to keep a box of photos by the door, ready to grab and go at a moment’s notice, because your home might be consumed by fire. The photos might be your only link to a vanished past. The bug out bag is a practical extension of that, with a collection of things you’ll need to keep safe if you have to get out of the house fast and your destination is uncertain.

It’s hard to prioritize taking the time out of our rush-around lives to gather in what we may need in the face of the theoretical emergency we hope will never come. Alas, it can be a precarious thing to live in the Golden State but there are plenty of disasters like flooding and hurricanes and tornadoes in other parts of the country, so it’s not an issue unique to Californians. We should all have emergency coordination plans with friends and relatives who live in our region, and supplies to last 72 hours in case utilities are cut and/or you have to suddenly evacuate your home.

With luck, I am writing a superfluous post because everybody reading is all set and in great shape emergency supply-wise, but from my informal conversations with friends and acquaintances – especially these last two weeks wit the profusion of small earthquakes and large fires – many feel they still have work to do.

I’m no expert, but I do have one of those imaginations that spools toward catastrophe, and my husband comes from a tougher climate (Northern Minnesota) where as he says that the weather alone can kill you about 40 days out of the year. He took the time to put together a comprehensive pair of bug out bags for the us about a decade ago, and now it’s time to go through and update the expired prescriptions and toss out the freeze dried food that’s several years  out of date. (If a freeze dried meal is only a year or six months out of date, then no worries. It’s not really dead. We had some of them for dinner one night to see which ones we liked best. Chili mac won, and I liked the buffalo chicken but no one else in my household tried it.)

Below is a pictorial inventory of what is packed in our bug out bags. If you have a bug out bag, now is a great time to check the expiration dates of your medications and re-order the expired ones. From doing an inventory of both our bags today I learned that the clip on lights and headlamps aren’t working because they need new batteries. The pain medications in both our first aid kits were expired, and while the Mountain House brand of freeze dried food lasts well beyond its best by date, 2010 seems a little too long ago not to replace those meals with something fresher. Oh, and I saw that our photos of family members were way out of date. My sister was holding her then 3-year old son in her arms. Now at 16 he could probably heft her on his shoulder. (In case of a major emergency, it’s a good idea to have photos of loved ones to show people if you are trying to reunite with them in an area where there is no cell service or electricity – no computer access!) Also, my bag was supposed to have a mag lite flashlight but didn’t, so if at some point that supply got poached from the bag I should add that to the list of items that needs to be replaced.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the idea of putting together your own kit, you can go about it in manageable stages – eat the elephant one bite at a time, as they say. Start by buying or designating a back pack for emergencies, find a spot where you want to keep it that’s easy to get to, including the trunk of your car, and fill it a category or mail-order at a time. Many items come from outdoor specialty camping supply stores and sites. Google “First Aid Kit refills” and a bunch of online ordering firms come up. If you work in an office, I’d also consider asking your office manager where they get their supplies from to find a more wholesale approach than a pre-made kit by AAA or Red Cross – but that’s me being frugal, if buying a kit from them gets you to have the emergency supplies in your house pronto then do that by all means…

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Freeze dried meals. Just add water! You will be glad for these high quality dinner options when supplies and cooking options are limited.
The fanny pack (upper right) holds the pocket survival pack with a compass and whistle, firestarter and tinder, nylon thread & needle, aluminum foil, wire, and duct tape among other items. There’s also a can opener,l sun block, a mini leatherman, a clip-on light and strong yellow twine.
In the first aid kit is a variety of bandages and gauze, liquid bandage spray, pain relief capsules, and packets of antiseptic ointment and wipes.
Warm socks, a mess kit, shock blanket, rain poncho, biodegradable bags, a spare pair of glasses and playing cards.
Heavy duty plastic cutlery, twist-ties, a waterproof case for matches, tubes, soap, and a camping towel.

My bag has a mess kit, my husbands has the cookpots, stove and water filtration bottle.

A dragonfly cookstove, with red metal fuel tank. and a water bottle with an internal purifying system. These products have gotten even more advanced since we bought this one, with powerful filtration apparatus inside a drinking straw.

Though you don’t want to carry the world on your back it can be a good idea to personalize and throw in a couple of feel good items like a chocolate bar, a sketch pad, or a small and meaningful keepsake. Don’t forget prescription medication if you can, copies of important personal papers, cash, and food and essentials for your pet if you have one.

Some of these items look pretty intimidating to me – a non camper – but having essentials at home or on the road give you more options and control in difficult and uncontrolled situations. And being well supplied may give you the opportunity to really help somebody else who needs first aid or a safe cup of water to drink.

Here is a link to the SF 72 website and the Red Cross website for more info and tips for making emergency preparedness plans.

Wishing and hoping for the safety of all those threatened by the fires in our North Bay Communities, and the brave and tireless emergency responders throughout the state!