The first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 happened days before I was supposed to visit New York City with some friends from college. We were all really young, and broke, and had a hard time getting together since we lived in different states, so we couldn’t change our plans and go some other time. So, we went, feeling sad at what happened and the people who were hurt and killed, and knowing there would be traffic and other delays and we wouldn’t get to see some sights in Manhatten that we had planned on seeing. Traffic was really slow going by the scene, so I had the chance to really look at it and think. I remember there was a problem evacuating people because the power had been knocked out and smoke filled the stairwells, causing lots of injuries. I remember looking at the building and wondering how could you safely get tens of thousands of people out of a multi-story building like that.
I made up my mind about several things that day and in the days after, and I’ve really stuck to them. Here’s what I think:
- Always wear safe, sturdy footwear. If you are female and have a dress code where you work, find good footwear that meets the dress code but will protect your feet and ankles. Stylish boots, or shoes that are held in place by wide bands instead of teensy little straps and tippy little heels. You are nothing but a liability and in someone else’s way if your feet won’t work properly, or if you break your ankle tipping off your itty bitty heels, no matter how cute you and your feet are. You never know when you might need to RUN, or jump, or trudge up or down dozens of flights of steps.
- In general stick to natural fibers for your outerwear when possible. Again, dress codes might limit you a little, and, you might have some favorites that are poly-this or spandex-that. But if you can keep the outerwear linen, cotton, wool, as much as possible, you are less flammable. If you have or have had small children in the last 20 years, you had probably seen packaging for children’s clothes (particularly pajamas) that state the the clothing is made with non-natural materials and has been treated with flame retardant. Adult clothing usually is not treated with any chemical to avoid going up in flames, so for your outermost layer, give yourself the best chance possible of not becoming a human torch in the presence of sparks, cinders, ashes, etc.
- Keep a flashlight in your purse and in every vehicle. They’re small and the batteries last a really long time. I also have a flashlight in my car that is powered by a crank. It never needs a battery and it always works.
- Keep a knife anywhere you can. You never know if you would need to cut off clothing, a seatbelt, or pry away debris that traps you in a burning, drowning, or fume-filling situation.
Sure, there’s a lot more you can add to the list, like first-aid kits and bottled water and a ton of other things. But I think keeping those four things in mind covers a whole lot of situations and doesn’t outwardly appear weird.
I ran across this basic kit on Amazon, and while the simple thing to do would be to just buy a bunch of these, I think I’m going to make my own. I have thoughts about each of the items in the kit and will share my ideas here.
Quakehold! 70500 Evacuation Essentials Kit $12 on Amazon
Contents: 1 Emergency 12-Hour LightStick, 1 Emergency Whistle, 1 Dust Mask, 2 Nitrile Gloves, 1 Survival Blanket, 1 Pocket Tissues, 1 Pair Goggles, 1 Rubber Band (to attach lightstick to wrist), Velcro Fastener (to attach to desk)
Lightstick: When a building has an emergency, whether due to natural disaster, structural issue, or damage, it is not uncommon for the electricity to go out. Frequently there is emergency lighting. However, people might be in parts of the building where that’s not so easy to see, or they might panic, or they might not react the way you expect. So, having lots of light sources in a building would really help, like glow sticks. Those are super cheap and can be stored for years without being used, and they are small and lightweight. When you’re ready to use them, you just bend and shake them, and you’ve got light for 4-12 hours (depending on the strength of the stick). That would help people get from far corners to areas where they could see better, help prevent trips and crashing into each other on dark stairwells, and also ease the general panic of being trapped in the dark. I can also see it as being very useful in your house. You can have them in every room in the house, in case you lost power and need to get around, or in case there is a smoke or other problem where everyone needs to get out quickly. *****TIP***** These things go on sale by the hundreds just after Halloween. You can get tons of them at Dollar General and similar stores for a fraction of the price.
Whistle: Great idea. You can already think of ways that could help. I don’t have one in my car’s emergency kit and I can’t believe I haven’t thought about it before now! I’m going to get one for sure. I saw plastic ones on sale at Dollar General, twelve to a box, for $2. They were party favors. I don’t imagine the quality is great, but how great does it have to be? It just has to move air through a small tube that’s shaped just so. I know there are sturdy ones you get in the athletic department stores that are metal and perfectly loud and shrill, and that’s great, but I’m going to start with plain plastic ones for my small kits.
Dust mask – great idea. You can get these at paint stores, home improvement stores, craft supply stores, and medical supply stores. Watch for coupons and only get them at the lowest price.
Gloves – same as the masks, you can get them at a serious discount if you plan ahead and only buy with a coupon.
Blanket – I don’t see the need for this in mini-kits. Maybe in evacuation bags, but as far as getting from room to room, getting out of an office, or getting out of a house, I don’t think I’ll be buying these. It seems that the best use of an emergency blanket in that case would be to help protect your clothing in case of fire, and so with that in mind, you might want the extra item. I’ve seen these sold for real cheap at the end of summer sales at Target, dollar stores, and in the sporting goods departments of other stores. You won’t get them cheap at stores that cater to the outdoors, because they sell them full price year round. Concentrate instead on stores that are not entirely focused on outdoorsy stuff but that only keep an aisle or two of them once a year. Think Walgreen’s, Family Dollar, and Rite-Aid, and you’ll get a better price when they go on clearance in late summer/early fall.
Tissues – there’s always a sale on Kleenex in the 10-pack of mini-tissues somewhere, and there’s always a coupon for Kleenex, so there’s no excuse to pay full price. Watch for the best price, use your coupon, and the pack of 10 will break up into 10 kits.
Goggles – eye protection is a great idea. I got several pairs at Harbor Freight tools for $1.79 each. That’s the cheapest I’ve seen so far. They aren’t like swim goggles, they are more like the kind that will fit over eyeglasses. If you would prefer to get the swim goggle type, get them at the end of summer sales at the places that clear out their summer stuff – like Walgreen’s, Family Dollar, Rite-Aid, Dollar General, CVS, etc. Sporting goods stores will keep them at full price year-round.
Rubber band – office supply stores will have large packages of these the cheapest.
Velcro – You can get rolls of Velcro at JoAnns, Michaels, or any party store or craft supply store. Every week, these stores offer coupons for 40% to 60% off a single item, so buy them one at a time and always at the discount. If you start now, and buy one thing each time you run errands, you will have more than you need in just a few weeks. Only pay discount!
Bag – sounds like it all should fit in quart-size freezer bags, like Glad and Ziploc sell. Or even store brand. Name brand bags often have coupons and go on sale in dollar stores and grocery stores, so watch for that and only buy them at the lowest price.
If it’s simpler to just buy the pre-made kit, that’s fine too. I would recommend one of these small kits in every room where everyone knows where they are. As long as the kids aren’t stringing the stuff out to play with them, it would be just an added bit of preparation in case of disaster. And if you keep one velcro’d under your desk at work, you’ve got something you can grab quickly in case of an emergency evacuation. You’ll be the most popular babe on the floor if you’re the only one with a light! If you work in a multi-level building and have co-workers you really like, you could put together a bunch of these kits cheaply after you bought everything on sale and give everyone one to keep in/under their desk. Maybe they’ll think you’re weird, but if the electricity goes out one day, they might remember how thoughtful and wise you are.