I was up until nearly 1:30am today watching the Tsunami in Japan live online. Terrible for the psyche and hard on the heart, I simply couldn’t stop watching it unfold. It’s utterly terrifying to imagine the devastation and separation that catastrophic events like this cause for people. In the face of this terrible news, there is much we can do as parents. In addition to donating to relief organizations, we can prepare our families. We have incredible strength and insight as the proud providers and nurturers of our children. Now, today, is the time to utilize this reminder for good and harness your concerns into preparedness.

On the news last night, reporters kept repeating that every home in Japan had an emergency kit…that every family had a plan for an earthquake. They detailed how children knew at a very young age what to do when an earthquake began and families had communication plans to re-unite.

Today is a day to begin to create the same for your family. Emulate the universal emergency plans of families in Japan. I trust these kits and plans have saved many lives in the past 12 hours and lessened the worry of the millions of parents reuniting with their children as I type.

Last year, I made a disaster kit and blogged about the experience. Today, in the wake the Japan Tsunami, please consider doing the same. I’m re-posting some of the content here.

I’m gonna be honest, making a disaster kit completely stressed me out. I hope my experience will make it better for you. I guarantee with each step you take, you’ll feel an incredible sense of relief as you ready your family. I’m no expert at this but have learned a lot along the way. And there is no question, I feel so much better with my family prepared and my preparedness tidied.

As The Economist said last year when discussing Iceland’s volcano, “Disasters are about people and planning, not nature’s pomp.”


I believe in the 3 tiered approach you see everywhere:

  • Make a Kit (detailed below and in my video)
  • Make a Plan (how to communicate and find your family)
  • Stay Informed (what disasters are likely to happen, where to find info)

If you watched the video, you know that Dr Suzan Mazor and I were totally overwhelmed by the task. Do your best to buddy up; having a partner was the best move I made. Hopefully she’d agree. Thanks again, Suzan. Please continue to be my friend despite me filming a video while sitting under a desk and having you help edit it at 11:30pm on a Friday night.

The good news: You’ll feel better with each step you take and everything you do to prepare your family.

The bad news: This is gonna cost you some cash. And some time. I spent somewhere between $300-$350 getting my home and family prepared. And, well over 15 hours, too.

Double ouch, I know.

First, don’t try to re-invent a list. People make these emergency lists for a living and are very good at it. After reviewing multiple websites, I really liked the Red Cross list the best. Both for its details for a homemade kit but also its list on communication plans. It’s long and overwhelming but do your best to pick through it.

You’re not going to be able to do this in one day. I’m not entirely done and I’ve been working on this for a month. You’ll need a trip to the grocery store, the hardware store, the bank, the pharmacy and possibly the doctor’s office, and then lots of conversations with those in your family so you are all clear about a communication plan. You really want to have a plan to reunite your family in the case of an emergency.

After the water, I think the communication plan is what is most important for your family.

This is a long post. Think of it as vitamins for today but ones that can save your family, keep you warm and get you to the other side of a big disaster.

Mama Doc’s To Do, Today:

  1. Go buy two, 20 gallon plastic or Rubbermaid type containers with lids. Once you have those, you’ll have a place to organize your emergency gear.
  2. Make some REFRESH cards. That is, keep a list on top of your emergency kit of what items need to be replenished and when. I never read about doing this but with the realities of our busy working-parent-lunatic lives, one of the things we need to do if remind ourselves. Tape an index card to the top of your 20 gallon tub. This is going to be your reminder card for things in the kit that are going to expire.  For example, the water I bought expires in 2013. The food, mostly in 2013 but some in 2012. They are on my list.  Put a reminder in your ipod, g-calendar, or blackberry that alarms and reminds you to go to your kit to see your REFRESH card and replace items.
  3. If you can afford a pre-made family 3-Day Emergency kit buy it online today. Then add additional items below (like clothes for kids, wrenches, fire extinguishers, medications, documents, etc). My only complaint about the pre-made kit we bought is it included water and I really think you can buy that yourself. Furthermore, the water in the kit expired in 2011 and the water from the grocery didn’t expire until 2013. But if you can afford the premade kit, it will save you hours.
  4. Talk with the other adults in your home and make a plan for where to store your kit. Ideally in a garage or lower level near a door. Outside is not a great place to store a kit with food.
  5. If your home has natural gas, go and find the area where gas enters your home. Learn how to turn off the gas. Buy a 12 inch crescent wrench or pliers that allows you to turns it off and LEAVE it at the site of the valve on the outside of your house.

It’s okay if you don’t finish the list below immediately. Calm down and do this over the next few months…Plan for a few shopping trips: one to the grocery, one to the hardware, one to the bank, one to the computer…

Mama Doc’s Grocery Store Tips:

  • Water: 3 gallons per person or animal. That’s a gallon a day for 3 days for everyone. This is the most important thing you have in your kit. You’ll need a little more for breast-feeding mothers. Pay attention to expiration dates! It’s true that water expires. Just let go of the controversy and believe the experts.  If you make your own bottled water, you need to replace those every 6 months.
  • Food: Buy canned, high-calorie foods that will feed your family for 3 days like chili, tuna, veggies, soup, peanut butter, crackers, snacks. And some comfort foods like chocolate or candy. Buy foods with the similar expiration dates to make it easier to refresh your kit. Formula for babies. Storable milk for toddlers.
  • Medications: First aid kits don’t include these! Specifically, they don’t have children’s medications. My advice is to include Children’s or Infant Tylenol and 1 container of Sunscreen (50 SPF or higher). Also, write down your infant or young child’s dose of Tylenol because often the bottle doesn’t include it. In a stressed situation, you may forget. Ideally you should have a 7 day supply of any prescription medication you or your child is taking. This is seemingly impractical with the way that insurance companies allow prescription refills (ie they only give you your month supply). If your child is on an important daily med, ask your pediatrician for a 1 week supply prescription. Remember to add the expiration date of meds to your REFRESH card.

Online shopping:

  • First Aid Kit: I recommend buying this online. They usually retail for around $25 for a basic kit. Ensure there are a couple pairs of gloves, gauze, tape, & antibiotic ointment.

Hardware Store:

  • Tools: 2 tools stand out as most important to me: One, a wrench for turning off your gas line (if you have it) and two, a can opener. Because, I mean, how peeved would you be if your had your kit, the earthquakes hits, you’re chilling with your family and you couldn’t eat the chili. Also, Flashlights, batteries, battery or hand-crank operated radio, utility knife, waterproof matches, fire extinguisher—one for each floor of your home, non-electric can opener (as mentioned), whistles with lanyards for everyone in your home.
  • Sanitation supplies: Bottle of bleach, hand sanitizer, diapers & wipes, garbage bags.

Mama Doc’s At Home Tasks:

  • Clothing:  A complete change of clothing and shoes for each family member. Hats and gloves. Remember to change this out as your kids grow. Put that on your REFRESH card!
  • Documents: Copies of important family documents in a waterproof bag. This one totally stressed me out.  Do your best.
  • Entertainment: Age appropriate items like a deck of cards, coloring books, stuffed animals. Maybe old games could live in your kit for a bit?

Overwhelmed? I was. But this is surmountable and will only provide you comfort. Hang on, buddy up, and save some money in advance for your kit. You’ll never be sorry you did this. Promise.


American Red Cross–Seattle Chapter links with info on lists, communication plans, etc

American Red Cross Store– I went crazy here. I bought a 3-day kit, a hand-crank radio, an emergency escape ladder for our home and a first aid kit for my car. I didn’t expedite shipping and all the goods arrived in less than 48 hours.  Phew!

3 Days, 3 Ways