This Article was first Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 22nd, 2014
Do you live in a zone impacted by natural distastes, earthquakes or floods from rising rivers or sea levels? Are you concerned that your town or city is prone to sudden outbreaks of unrest and shutdowns? In Pakistan this is not unheard of and the preparedness levels of the state’s response to large scale emergencies are not a secret.
When disaster strikes people are often seen scrambling for cash or trying to save some valuable items. Others may be seen gathering some essentials to survive the days ahead. In our society people are known to come to the aid of their fellow citizens but neither everything nor everyone can be catered to.
Are you and your family ready to manage such a situation?
To help you get started or to improve on your existing plans you need to think about a getting together a “grab-bag”.
Simply put, a grab-bag is a survival kit for a family of four which should last you through the first 72 hours of a disaster. It should incorporate the following:
Food & water
Medical & hygiene
‘Good to Have’ items
Have a communication list and plan:
List of folk you would call to inform about your welfare List of places to go to and alternate person/s to inform in case you get separated Emergency numbers for your area, city, etc.
Have an out of city contact (sometimes local networks may be overloaded and contact externally is possible)
Keep copies of ID documents for all family members (CNIC, passport, office ID, etc)
Keep a map — using Google maps you can print highly detailed street maps of major Pakistani cities. Laminate and place in your bag
Have photographs of yourself and your family members and place their names on the reverse. (You can show these to rescue teams if you get separated).
Spare phone with number printed on reverse and key contacts stored on the SIM & phone. Extra, fully charged battery also needed.
Pens and note pads
Whistle — raise an alarm or even signal for help when all other devices fail.
Radio — most phones have built in radios — make sure the hands-free cord is kept with it as it works as the external antenna for most phone radios
Keep a copy of your plan in your grab-bag and make sure that if you are making mini grab-bags for your family members, these bags should have a copy of the plan and ensure everyone in the family knows the plan.
Food & water
Food: When planning your emergency rations make sure you choose food you will actually eat. Also be mindful of any special needs such as infant feed or patient dietary requirements.
Choose non-perishable ready to eat food that is low in salt (to avoid dehydration) and high in energy. You can also make your own ready meal — place contents of an instant noodle packet in a zip lock bag and all you will need to do is add hot water.
Pack some comfort foods like instant coffee, tea bags and milk powder, chocolate, etc.
Water: The average person requires three litres of water a day to stay well hydrated, but storing this much water in a grab -bag may become a problem. So the easier option is to keep a small supply of potable water (one litre) and have a water purification kit or sachets.
Medical and hygiene
First aid kit: There are many commercially available first aid kits; however, it is better to build your own kit rather than buy a readymade product.
Items for a basic first aid kit are:
1x scissors (preferably blunt tip)
6x safety pins
2x sterile eye pads
1x crepe Bandage 5cm x 4.5cm
2x packets of sterile gauze swabs 5 x 5cm
1x fabric tape or micropore tape 1.25cm x 5m
10x alcohol prep swabs
2x disposable latex gloves
1x pack of assorted plasters
1x pack of analgesic plasters
1x forehead thermometer / digital thermometer
There’s no need for a specialised case and you can pack these items in a small container like an old purse or even a lunch box.
Personal medical needs: If someone has some form of personal medical needs such as prescription glasses, prescription medication, etc. Then account for it and don’t forget to keep a spare set of glasses in a protective case in your kit.
Hygiene supplies: Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, insect repellent, hand sanitizer, paper towels, tissue paper, wash cloth, antiseptic liquid, vaseline, diapers, sanitary pads and a small amount of bleach in a secure container.
Lighting: Two flashlights with extra batteries, candles, matchsticks (keep them waterproof by placing them in a container such as a 35mm film canister) and lighters.
Dust masks: Very good to protect from dust, sediment and other particulates that may cause breathing difficulties.
Duct tape: This is a very strong adhesive tape and will secure anything to anything. Squash the roll by stomping on it to make it easier to pack in your bag.
Multi tool / pocket knife: A knife has many uses and there are many types of knives available, choose a reliable and good blade. A practical option is a multi-tool which contains a plier, saw, knife, etc.
Nylon rope: Keep minimum five metre of a good quality rope. It can be used for a number of emergency situations such as securing objects, making your shelter, making a stretcher and much more.
Aluminium foil: This is a very versatile bit of kit and can be used to create a solar oven, an electricity-free refrigerator or even a signal mirror to signal rescue boats/ helicopters.
Zip lock bag: These are cheap resealable bags good for storing almost everything.
Plastic sheet: 12 feet by 12 feet plastic sheet (2mm in thickness) it’s primary use is to help you create a temporary shelter and even help in collecting water or acting as an emergency stretcher.
Good to have (optional goodies)
Sewing kit: A good sewing kit is very useful to mend clothes.
A book: Once the chaos passes, this is one bit of your kit that will comfort you and take your mind off things, it can be any kind of book such as a religious or spiritual book or something that gives you comfort.
Your child’s favourite toy or a board game/colouring book: You may wonder why on earth you would put this in an emergency kit, but you must understand that children cope differently from adults in an emergency and it is vital that they see that parents are in control and things are ‘normal’. Such little things will keep their mind off matters around them and allow you to engage with them and reassure them.
Storing the grab-bag: Just getting the bag together isn’t enough, it also has to be stored and maintained.
Storing: Once you’ve assembled your kit pack it in an easy to carry rucksack, a school bag can also work. Store it in a place within your home where it will never be out of sight and inaccessible.
Refreshing items: Batterires, medicines, food and water have expiry dates; ensure these are periodically refreshed. Don’t discard simply use it at home but always ensure you’ve placed the fresh stock in the bag first.
Now that you’ve created a grab-bag and enabled yourself and your family to survive up to the first 72 hours of a disaster, don’t forget to rehearse and test your plan with every family member. If everyone is not engaged you may end up in a situation with your grab bag secure and you out on your own.