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If a Disaster Hit Tomorrow, Would You Be Prepared?

I find it interesting that while Hurricane Katrina devastated a whole city and surrounding areas, I still walk around San Francisco as if I am impermeable to disaster. But the reality is none of us are.

At a recent disaster preparedness meeting put on by the San Francisco Fire Department, a female firefighter asked us: if a disaster hit tomorrow, would you prepared? I gulped and pulled out my notebook to take notes.

At the meeting, I was shown images about the last major earthquake, Loma Prieta, in San Francisco on October 17, 1989. There had been a 50 percent chance of an earthquake the day before and a 50 percent chance again on the day after, proving that any day the next one could hit. Natural gas lines ruptured, lighting fires all along the Marina district near the Bay, and when water lines broke, there was no water in the fire hydrants to put out the fires that engulfed homes and lives. Firefighters and volunteers ran water hoses from the Bay to the fires, and pumped water through a tangled heap of hoses on the city’s docks.

The following information from the San Francisco Fire Department tells you how to make a disaster supply kit for your home, kids, work, and car so you’re prepared when disaster strikes.

Disaster Supply Kit

  • Water: 1 gallon per person per day for at least 3–5 days (4 people = 12–20 gallons) and bleach, to purify domestic water if needed; 2–4 drops per quart.
  • Food: enough to feed your family for 3–5 days; choose foods that are easily stored, ready-to-eat, and have a shelf-life of at least one year before they need to be replaced; canned and dried foods, soups, canned juice and milk, are perfect emergency supplies. You also want foods that are low in salt and do not require large amounts of water to cook; if you plan to cook noodles or rice, store cans of broth for cooking.
  • Cooking supplies: an alternative way to cook (grill, camp stove), utensils, manual can opener, foil and plastic wraps, matches, zip plastic bags, garbage bags.
  • Clothing: a complete change of clothing for each person, stored so it stays dry and clean; heavy enough to protect you and keep you warm, boots or heavy shoes that are comfortable, gloves, rain ponchos.
  • Safety supplies: flashlight and portable radio with extra batteries, candles, and matches, duct tape, good pair of scissors, whistles (to get attention and keep track of kids), rope, sharp knife, small tools like a wrench for utility shut-off, fire extinguisher.
  • General supplies: plastic bags, money (no ATMs!), pencil and paper, city/area maps, extra set of house and car keys, ID cards for everyone, “space” blankets, emergency contact information and reunification plans, insurance information.
  • Hygiene supplies: soap (waterless kind), liquid detergent, shampoo, toothbrush and paste, tissue, toilet paper, sanitary supplies (sanitary napkins make excellent pressure bandages), paper towels.
  • Medical supplies: first-aid kit (adequate kits in stores or assemble your own), first-aid book, medications, extra eyeglasses, and prescriptions for both, list of doctors.
  • If you evacuate, you may need a tent, sleeping bags, some means for moving all your supplies (wheeled cans), and games or cards.
  • Special items for infants, children, elderly, or the disabled.
  • Consider your pets—they need their own water, food, leashes, medication, carrier, or shelter.

Kid Kit:
To keep in your children’s backpacks for when they’re at school.

  • Contact information for Mom and Dad, out-of-state contact.
  • ID with your names, contact numbers
  • Info on who is authorized to pick up your kids (if you can’t get there)
  • Family reunification plan—with a note from Mom and Dad that everything will be all right
  • Favorite book or toy, especially for the little ones
  • Favorite snack and juice box
  • Change of clothes
  • Extra medication; make sure school knows what these are and how to store them (if refrigeration required, etc)

Workplace Kit:
This is a simple kit that will allow you to get to your home or reunification site.

  • Comfortable walking shoes (I store mine in my desk drawer.)
  • Flashlight
  • Portable radio
  • Small amount of water and food
  • Money
  • Contact information 

Car Kit:
Similar to the workplace kit, in case you’re on the road.

  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Flashlight
  • Small amount of water and food
  • Basic first-aid kit
  • Money
  • Contact information, maps
  • Change of clothes
  • Flares

Other information can be found at

Related Story: Creating a Family Disaster Plan