A Rolling Disaster Kit

A Rolling Disaster Kit

The container for my kit is a 25-gallon general tote box. This one is made by Centrex Plastics and is available at home-supply stores for $25. Fully loaded with supplies, my kit weighs 96 pounds, so the wheels are essential.

Photo by Wade Roush

Upper Level: Food and Gadgets

Upper Level: Food and Gadgets

Supplies are stacked in the box in two levels. On top: canned goods, other edibles, a box of medical supplies, and various devices.

Photo by Wade Roush

Lower Level: Liquids and Tools

Lower Level: Liquids and Tools

Water, bleach, and a box full of tools and other supplies occupy the bottom half of the box. A layer of foam-core board separates the two levels.

Photo by Wade Roush

Emergency Radio

Emergency Radio

This American Red Cross Axis radio from Eton ($69) is powered by a hand-crank dynamo, AAA batteries, or an AC plug. It tunes to AM and FM bands and NOAA weather bands. It's also got a handy USB port for charging mobile devices.

Photo by Wade Roush

Tripod Flashlight

Tripod Flashlight

This Stanley 95-112B LED flashlight ($23) is the world's coolest flashlight, mostly because it looks like a light saber, but also because the legs and the swivel mount let you stand it up and point it anywhere.

Photo by Wade Roush

Canned Goods

Canned Goods

My kit includes about 14 cans of fruits and vegetables. Every six months or so, I raid the kit, eating up the old cans and replacing them with new ones.

Photo by Wade Roush

Breakfast Foods

Breakfast Foods

In a disaster, you'll be glad to have high-calorie munchies like granola bars and Power Bars around. And who can live without coffee? Starbucks' Via packets are convenient and delicious.

Photo by Wade Roush

Peanut Butter

Peanut Butter

The perfect food: protein, fat, and sugar all in one filling package that stays fresh just about forever. And it lowers your cholesterol and triglycerides! This would be my stranded-on-the-frozen-tundra food.

Photo by Wade Roush

Utensils and Can Opener

Utensils and Can Opener

If you buy canned goods for your kit, don't forget a can opener. Also, in a disaster scenario you aren't going to have a lot of hot water to wash dishes, so plan to use disposable plastic utensils.

Photo by Wade Roush

Foil and Paper Towels

Foil and Paper Towels

Essentials for any portable/outdoor food operation.

Photo by Wade Roush

Bottled Water

Bottled Water

Experts say you should have enough drinking water on hand for three days. Plan on consuming one gallon per person per day. My kit includes five 1-gallon bottles -- enough for me, my dog, and maybe some lucky neighbors.

Photo by Wade Roush

Bleach

Bleach

If you run out of stored drinking water, you can disinfect water from other sources by adding a few drops of 5.25% sodium hypochlorite, i.e. bleach (1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon per gallon).

Photo by Wade Roush

First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit

This Smart Travel kit from Adventure Medical Kits is great for emergencies, and is admirably compact. It includes a variety of bandages, dressings, ointments, tools, and basic medicines.

Photo by Wade Roush

More Medical Supplies and Toiletries

More Medical Supplies and Toiletries

In addition to the Smart Travel kit, I've got a few extra supplies like Band-Aids, sterile gauze, tape, ibuprofen, toothpaste, a toothbrush, and shampoo.

Photo by Wade Roush

Poncho and Drop Cloth

Poncho and Drop Cloth

You'll need rain gear. Big pieces of plastic, like these painters' drop cloths, are good for covering broken windows or building an impromptu tent. You can also use large plastic garbage bags.

Photo by Wade Roush

Wipes and Sewing Kit

Wipes and Sewing Kit

You can never have enough wipes, as every parent of a small child knows.

Photo by Wade Roush

Batteries, Soap, Matches

Batteries, Soap, Matches

My Stanley flashlight (shown previously) uses nine AA batteries, so I stocked up. Also, in the miscellaneous category: dish soap and matches.

Photo by Wade Roush

Rope

Rope

Just because. You never know when you're going to need rope.

Photo by Wade Roush

Work Gloves, Knives, and Duct Tape

Work Gloves, Knives, and Duct Tape

You'll want hand protection if you're working in debris-strewn surroundings, and if you're cutting things. The duct tape is essential for basic MacGyvering.

Photo by Wade Roush

Tools

Tools

My kit includes heavy-duty scissors, a wrench, a screwdriver, and a hammer for small construction projects.

Photo be Wade Roush

If you live in California, where earthquakes measuring 4.0 or above hit once or twice a month, you can’t ignore the fact that the continental plates are shifting. Frequent, minor temblors help to remind us that someday, the Big One could instantly disable our fragile highways, aqueducts, and communications networks.

In that scenario, all of the usual tech-industry chatter about apps and accelerators and agile development and A-rounds would seem pretty meaningless. We’d be forced back into confronting life’s basics, the way San Franciscans did after the 1906 earthquake and fire. (Rebecca Solnit’s recent retelling of that castastrophe, A Paradise Built in Hell, remind us how quickly disasters can clear away what’s unimportant in our lives.)

If you live on the East Coast or somewhere mid-continent, you probably don’t think about earthquakes at all. But you should, as a 5.8 quake centered in the Piedmont region of Virginia reminded District of Columbia residents in August 2011. That quake damaged the Washington Monument and was felt as far north as Boston and parts of Canada.

Speaking of Boston, an even bigger quake hit there in 1755, destroying hundreds of buildings. And the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812, in sections of the Louisiana Territory that would later become Arkansas and Missouri, measured 7.0 to 7.5 on the Richter scale—much bigger than the Loma Prieta quake that caused so much damage in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989.

The point is, disaster preparedness is a good idea for everyone. If you can’t quite bring yourself to worry about earthquakes, then think about hurricanes and tornadoes instead.

Back in 2010, shortly after I arrived in San Francisco to open Xconomy’s Bay Area bureau, I assembled an earthquake kit, following the guidelines published at FEMA’s ready.gov website and 72hours.org, a service of the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management. To inspire Xperience readers to do the same, I decided to photograph the contents of my kit and publish the slide show above.

The main reason to have a kit like this is that earthquakes and other major disasters can disrupt basic services like electricity, gas, and water. Emergency management agencies say you should have enough supplies on hand to survive at least three days without electric light and refrigeration, without gas for heating or cooking, and without municipal water. Hospitals may be overwhelmed in a disaster, so you also need to be ready to deal with basic medical problems on your own.

I was able to fit just about everything I needed for my kit into a rolling plastic tote box the size of a large cooler. It’s parked near the door of my apartment in a spot that, with luck, won’t be covered in debris if there’s a quake.

Like the good geek I am, I also used my earthquake kit project as an excuse to buy a couple of cool gadgets. One was the Eton Axis American Red Cross emergency radio, which has an internal battery that you can charge using the attached hand crank. It can also run on AAA batteries or a wall plug, and it has a USB port so you can recharge your phone. Eton has discontinued the model that I got, but now there’s an even snazzier one called the FRX3; it looks like something out of Battlestar Galactica.

I spent about $300 on my kit, but you could do it for a lot less—so why not make it a weekend project? If disaster strikes, you’ll be glad you did.

In addition to the stuff shown in my photos, here are a few more items to consider for your own disaster kit:

  • Paper plates
  • Pet food
  • Sleeping bags or blankets
  • A copy of important documents & phone numbers
  • Warm clothes
  • Eyedropper for water purification
  • Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, soap, and other hygiene items
  • Crowbar, nails, staple gun, bungee cords
  • Plastic bags and plastic buckets for waste and sanitation
  • Special-needs items for children, seniors or people with disabilities, and pets
  • Whistle to call for help
  • Dust mask
  • Emergency cash in small denominations
  • Sturdy shoes and a warm hat
  • Local maps
  • Permanent marker, paper, and tape
  • Photos of family members and pets for re-identification purposes
  • List of emergency phone numbers
  • List of drug or food allergies
  • Copies of health insurance and identification cards
  • Extra prescription eye glasses, hearing aids or other vital personal items
  • Prescription medications and first aid supplies
  • Extra house and car keys
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Tent
  • Compass

The Author

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy.

  • Ben

    Why do you need that much bleach and dish soap? Why paper towels? What’s in your kit to boil water/cook food?

    • http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco Wade Roush

      Hey Ben. I probably don’t need that much bleach or dish soap. Since I have enough space in the tote box, it’s just easier to leave these liquids in their off-the-shelf containers.

      I don’t have anything in my kit to boil water: that’s what the bleach is for (to decontaminate water). And none of the food in the kit requires cooking.