By Melissa Rivera
I thought I’d built my family a pretty comprehensive family emergency kit. I pictured us after a disaster, waving off offers of additional assistance and, in fact, sharing with others less prepared. (Admit it: you’ve imagined the same thing.) Then I tested it. My family tried to live from our 72-hour emergency kit while we moved from Utah to Virginia.
I was oh, so wrong.
My original plan was to wait to open the emergency kit until we were on the road, to simulate a disaster. That was a fail the minute we tried to pack the minivan. The kit didn’t fit. I’d designed my emergency kit around surviving an earthquake and the fact that we could just jump our back fence to get to an evacuation point. The kit’s three huge buckets and two plastic totes filled the trunk even before we added camping gear and clothes.
We dragged everything back into the house and dumped it out, trashing the place right before some friends came over to help clean the house. We had a lot of junk we didn’t need. For some reason, we had boxes of votive candles. Nothing to place them in, mind you. But, hey, if some church came a-calling, we’d be so ready.
For lighting, we had a lantern with the wrong size batteries and two broken flashlights. For cooking we had three can openers, but no scissors or utility knife, two stoves and a box of Sterno cans that stank up the whole room.
My third child jammed her finger. As the digit swelled, I grabbed the first-aid kit for medical tape. The kit contained an ankle wrap, a piece of an asthma inhaler and three foil blankets. Fortunately, we still had masking tape around.
My children saw the food. My 14-year- old’s reaction was universal. “I don’t want to eat food that’s over a year old,” he grumbled.
To be fair, the raisin granola bars were really nasty after they turned stale. The chocolate chip ones weren’t bad, though.
They vetoed most of the food, including almost anything that required cooking. However, by the next morning they’d already downed most of the kit’s three-day supply of crackers and dumped out half the breakfast cereal.
We had just three hours’ notice for a moving truck’s arrival. In the mad scramble that followed, we accidentally packed every pair of my eldest daughter’s shoes. Hey, no problem, she had a pair of tennis shoes in her emergency kit backpack. Well, ok, it would have been no problem if they still fit her.
It wasn’t all bad. When we accidentally threw away my daughter’s toothbrush, we replaced it from the emergency kit. And the kids loved the bubbles, toys, and games I’d packed in the kit. If you want to keep young kids happy, bring lots of bubbles.
But one day before we left for our great cross-country adventure, one in which we were supposed to live out of our emergency kit, I had to start over.
I learned an emergency kit is not something you just throw together. My kit contained Halloween plates and napkins because I’d tossed them in, thinking they could be useful. But I forgot I already had a few weeks’ supply of disposable dishes. The Halloween dishes were just taking up space. Plan exactly what you’re going to put in your kit, and buy what you need as you plan. Keep track of where supplies are located and how old they are.
I learned to consult my children about our food. The kit contained two hot meals per day for the whole family. I didn’t want to cook, and my kids didn’t want to eat the food anyway. We ended up keeping only one of the hot meals and buying picnic-style food my children would eat.
I should have updated the emergency kit annually. None of my children’s emergency shoes fit.
I learned a well-stocked first aid kit is vital. After my daughter’s finger adventure, I rebuilt my first-aid kit with what I thought was plenty of everything, including all our prescription medicines. Well, a few days later a spider bit my thumb, and I had nothing for the abominable itching and swelling.
I learned you never want to buy a solar charger on Amazon. It lasted one day. The thing charged only one device on one day then it wouldn't recharge itself whether we plugged it in or put it in the sun. We had to buy a new battery-powered charger en route.
During our week-long trip, my family’s emergency kit helped us through flash flooding, power outage, boredom, stultifying heat and far too many picnics. (None of us wanted to look at peanut butter or granola bars after day five.) Yet we still needed almost-daily shopping trips. So it wasn’t successful. Hopefully I’ll remember this experiment as I begin building a new emergency kit in a new home – and hopefully I won’t need it for Hurricane Irma.
Melissa Rivera is a jack-of-all-trades who is master of none. She has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years.