Thursday, October 23, 2014

Emergency Preparedness with a Toddler (aka Getting Ready for "the Big One" when you have a Little One)

September 2017 update: Wow! I can't believe it has been three years since I wrote this post, which has become, hands-down, my most read blog post of all time. Many people have told me that this post convinced them to get emergency preparations in place for their families, and that is so gratifying. 

From a personal standpoint, having my car and home emergency packs has brought me great peace of mind -- while I can't prevent a disaster, at least I'll be ready to respond to it. What's more, the car pack has come in handy for many "emergencies" over the years, including mending a broken flower (no joke), curing headaches, saving an injured bird (again, no joke), providing light when batteries ran out while camping, and fixing countless playground scrapes.

Whether you have already created a pack or are still considering it, take some time to read the post and think about what your family's needs may be, and particularly if they've changed since you last updated your preparations. Stay safe, friends!

Here's the original post...

As you probably know, Silicon Valley Toddler is a blog focused on family fun. The goal of my posts is to put a smile on my readers' (and their toddlers') faces.

But while my focus is usually on how to spend our happiest times together, lately I've received jarring reminders that we must also think about managing potential not-so-happy moments with our toddlers. First, it was the Napa earthquake in August, which jolted me from my bed at 3:20 a.m. and got me wondering whether we're prepared to weather a serious emergency now that we have Toddler X. (My conclusion: We're not, and it turns out we're not alone. When I posted about the quake on SV Toddler later that morning, dozens of readers responded with the same concern.)

And then, the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta quake -- a pivotal event in my own childhood. Last week, reflecting on the events of October 17, 1989, a disconcerting thought struck me: if "the Big One" were to happen right now -- if we were to have this truly catastrophic event, one that completely shuts down the infrastructure of the valley for days or weeks on end -- I don't know if my current level of preparedness would allow me to properly protect and care for Toddler X. If he were hungry, thirsty, injured, scared of the dark, would I be able to provide adequate food, water, first aid, light?

These thoughts terrified me.

While I've weathered earthquakes and hurricanes and blizzards in the past, I've never done so with the full responsibility for another little person's health and well-being resting squarely in my hands. So finally, last Sunday, I decided it was time to move from planning my emergency preparations to acting on them. I jumped in with both feet and started my research.

As I read emergency lists and suggestions from FEMA, the Red Cross and the Earthquake Country Alliance, pored through the details of various products online, and perused hundreds of product reviews, I -- in typical Mama X style -- wrote down my thought processes and took detailed notes of pros, cons, and other considerations of each product.

Then, in the midst of my planning/ordering spree, something else struck me: This research could be valuable for others as well.

We're all busy parents, and we all need to be ready for the serious emergency that could result when the earth moves beneath our feet. While we each have our own family circumstances that determine what our needs will be in an emergency, we definitely have some commonalities too. If I'm doing the research anyway, why not share it with all of you?

And hence, this post. Here I'll describe the items I chose for my family's emergency packs and why, and provide links for you to purchase those items or start your own research. Once I receive the items I've ordered -- they're all en route right now -- I'll post an update with reviews of each. As with life insurance, I hope that all my purchases reflect money completely wasted, but I already feel better knowing that the X Family has done what we can to ensure our well-being in an emergency.

I hope this is helpful to you. I've already sent this list to my parents and my siblings, as I need to feel confident that they and their families are prepared as well. I hope you decide to share with your family and friends too, particularly those who are new to earthquake country. 

Again, here's to money that's hopefully well-wasted, and to as much peace of mind as you can have when raising a family on unsteady earth.

**P.S. Many of the items for my packs were purchased through Amazon, and I've included affiliate links where applicable.**

Goal of my research

Experts recommend that people maintain a disaster survival kit sufficient to sustain their families for 72 hours -- three days -- after a disaster strikes. In the aftermath of a catastrophic event (either a natural or man-made disaster), you might find yourself without clean water, electricity, emergency services, sufficient food or shelter for days on end. This is, of course, a frightening prospect for any person; it's even more terrifying if you are responsible for young children.

The goal of my research was to create the emergency kit(s) that would best serve my family of three people (two adults and a toddler) and two dogs in our urban/suburban setting in the temperate Bay Area, given our specific activities and needs. Hopefully much of this applies to my readers' situations as well, so as to make this research useful for a wide swath of Silicon Valley families.

September 2017 update: Reading this post from three years ago is a great reminder that families change over time! We now have four family members -- two adults, a kindergartener, and a one year-old -- and one dog. More "people supplies" are needed (including ones tailored to the baby), and fewer pet supplies. I've added items like diapers and appropriate clothes to our packs since Baby X's arrival, but I haven't really considered her toddler-specific food/water needs. If your family has grown, it's time to consider updating your packs as well!

My Thought Processes

Here is a breakdown of my though processes as I considered my family's emergency needs. Obviously no two families' considerations will be exactly the same (mine, for example, assume that I will be with Toddler X at almost all times), but I'm guessing that we have enough commonalities that this will at least be a good jumping off place for you.

What are our major threats?

Obviously, the biggie here is an earthquake (and that's what I'll focus this post on). If you live in/near the hills, a wildfire is a concern, especially with the drought, and of course there's always the threat of some sort of biohazard or terrorist attack.

Where might I be when an earthquake happens?
  • At home
  • On the road
  • At an indoor location (shopping mall, errands, school, work, friend's home, etc.)
  • At an outdoor location (playground, hiking, beach, etc.)

    This was an important set of considerations for me because it led to the conclusion that I should keep our primary emergency kit
    in my car at all times. Given that we spend many of our waking hours out and about, having our main kit at our house just doesn't make much sense for us. Regardless of where we are, we almost always get there via my car, and when we're at home, the car is parked just outside, so the kit would be accessible there too.

How might I have to get home/to shelter?
  • Drive
  • Walk
  • Shelter in place wherever I happen to be

    This was another important consideration for me, because it brought me to a critical realization: I should ALWAYS have a stroller in the car for Toddler X, and walking shoes for me. While we may not ever see the massive traffic jams that can occur as people evacuate from an approaching hurricane or try to get home in the midst of a snow storm (remember the horrendous gridlock in Atlanta during last winter's storms?), it's totally possible that, in the event of a catastrophic earthquake, roads may become impassible -- or heck, you could just run out of gas. I realized that I need to be prepared to hoof it if necessary, and hoofing it with a toddler requires a stroller, comfy shoes, and an emergency pack that is manageable enough that I could carry it if I needed to walk home or to other shelter.

    2017 update: Last spring, we bought a folding utility wagon, and since then I've made sure to always have the stroller or the wagon in the car with me. The wagon is much more compact when folded, and in an emergency would be great because it could fit Baby X (she's a year old, so able to sit up in it) and my emergency pack more easily than the BOB could -- and perhaps even Toddler X if we needed to walk a significant distance. If you like the idea of having something to transport kids/supplies, but your car doesn't have a bunch of room, a utility wagon may be a good bet (and they're super useful for non-emergencies too!!). We got ours at Costco for about $60, but I think it's only available in the spring/summer -- I didn't see it on my last trip. Amazon has a nearly identical, very highly-rated one for $69.99.)

Where might I end up for the duration?
  • At a neighbor's, friend's or family member's home (where they likely just have emergency supplies for themselves, if they have them at all)
  • At a Red Cross shelter (most needs will likely be met there, but it's always nice to be self-sufficient)
  • Camping in our yard (house is unstable, but unable/scared to go to a public shelter, and no friends/family accessible to shelter us)
  • Camping in our car (away from home or at home, for warmth/security if the house is unstable)
  • In our home, but without running water, electricity, etc.

    Again, this consideration reinforced my decision to keep our primary emergency kit in my car, which -- like Toddler X -- is generally located wherever I am located.

Based on that process, here's what I decided we need:
  • A full emergency kit in my car. This will need to have enough supplies for all three of us for 72 hours, in a form that is safe for leaving in the car (e.g., can withstand high heat, has a long shelf life), and in a container that I can personally manage if we ever have to abandon the car and set out on foot. As I noted above, I also plan to keep a stroller and a pair of comfy shoes in the car at all times, along with a change of clothes for each of us.
  • A smaller emergency kit in Mr. X's car. This will again be a portable, car-friendly pack, but just sized for one person (with a few extras) to support Mr. X if he's stranded somewhere. If we're all at home when disaster strikes, we'll have access to this kit to supplement our main kit.
  • A smaller emergency kit in our house, sized/located to grab if we literally have to run out of the house (for example, in a fire or an earthquake so severe that the house is failing). This will contain primarily warm clothes (think middle-of-the-night January earthquake), sturdy shoes, flashlights, cash, some toiletries, and limited water and food. If we're at home, we'll count on the two main packs in the cars for all the other essentials.

What's in our Kits?

Based upon lists from the Red Cross, FEMA and the Earthquake Country Alliance, as well as my own common sense, I created the following list of the items my family might need in an emergency. Note that this is a list tailored to my family's needs -- yours may be different, so please check the official lists at the links above for more ideas.

1. A container for each kit.
  • I chose to buy a sturdy, roomy backpack for each kit (one pre-assembled with emergency supplies, two for me to assemble on my own). While an at-home pack may not need to be portable (many people swear by the Honey Bucket Survival Emergency Kit by Mayday, which is contained in a large bucket that converts to a potty), anything you store in your car should be -- you never know when you might have to abandon the car and set out on foot. Since all three of our packs are going to be mobile, I went with backpacks. I chose the Urban Survival Pack for Two People by Zippmo to keep in my car as our primary emergency kit, then chose Columbia backpacks I found at Marshall's for Mr. X's car and our in-home emergency kit. (September 2017 update: It looks like the Zippmo kit is currently out of stock -- I'm guessing recent disasters have many people buying emergency supplies! -- so take a look at the alternatives I considered below. October 2017 update: Back in stock! Hurray!)
  • Research note: Some of the pre-assembled emergency kits come in high quality backpacks, while others are described as flimsy. Read the reviews before committing.
  • An interesting consideration: Many of the pre-made emergency kits come in bright colors like red or yellow, with words like "Emergency Supplies" emblazoned on the outside. One reviewer noted that, in an emergency, you probably would not want to draw attention to yourself/your bag as a source of supplies. Better to have a plain pack in a basic color than a flashing beacon that says, "This person has water and food!" For example, the Zippmo Urban Survival Kit, which I purchased to keep in my car as our primary emergency kit, comes in an attractive but not attention-getting grey/green color scheme. See below for my review of the Zippmo Kit.

    2. Food and Water
      • Drinking water. This is the biggie -- while humans can survive weeks without food, you can only live a few days without fresh water. The Red Cross recommends a gallon/day for each person in your family, for a minimum of 3 days, plus water for pets.

        Almost every emergency kit comes with little aluminum containers of water, and some come with water filtration tabs as well. However, it seems to be universally acknowledged that the water supplies provided in the emergency kits are not adequate for the number of people/number of days the kits represent. Basically, every review I've read has said to stockpile more water.

        At home, I have a few flats of bottled water from Costco. For our cars, though, where we're keeping the bulk of our emergency supplies, I didn't want to leave plastic bottles of water sitting for years at a time, so I stocked up on a box of Datrex Emergency Survival Water Pouches. They are lightweight, easy to store, separate pouches that they can be split between emergency packs (or even put in a pocket), in aluminum rather than plastic packaging, and a 5 year shelf life.
      • Water treatment tablets. In addition to having a store of water, I decided to purchase water treatment tablets. They're inexpensive and small, and could be priceless in an emergency. I could use these to sterilize water for hygienic uses or the dogs, thereby saving our packaged drinking water for drinking. I chose Potable Aqua Water Treatment Tablets.  If you're going this route, also keep a water bottle in your pack -- tablets won't do much good if you don't have a vessel to hold the water. You can't go wrong with sturdy Nalgene bottles.

      • Energy bars. Energy bars are lightweight, compact, easy to store, and require no preparation beyond opening the wrapper. Most toddlers like bars -- Toddler X actually sees them as a treat, so that might be a bonus for his morale in an emergency. Here are some factors I considered as I chose my bars:
        • Taste. Obviously not the biggest concern in a true emergency, but if you can find some that don't taste like cardboard, why not go with them?
        • Sodium content. The biggest concern in an emergency will be having adequate supplies of water for everyone in the family. The last thing you want is to have your source of nutrition be something that makes you thirsty.
        • Shelf life. While most bars are probably edible for a good amount of time beyond the "Best By" date on the label, and of course you can always swap them out every year or two, why worry about it? There are bars on the market with a 5 year shelf life. I chose them instead to take one worry off my mind.
        • Ability to hold up to heat. I plan to store my emergency kit in the car, so I was sure to choose bars that hold up to heat well, without melting into a gooey mess.
        • After all my research, I ordered the assorted 24 pack of Millennium Bars, which provides individually-wrapped 400 calorie bars in various flavors. The Millennium Bars have positive reviews, the price point is pretty reasonable (given what you'd pay for a protein bar at the store), they have a 5 year shelf life, are not thirst-producing, and people seem to think they actually taste pretty good. How nice is it to not have to worry about emergency food supplies until 2019? See below for my review of the Millenium Bars.
        • Other food items. What other food items you choose to keep in an emergency kit will depend on your family's needs/preferences. Many people keep canned goods, for example, in their at-home kits, but canned goods are heavy and I don't like the idea of leaving them in the car for years at a time, so I don't plan to keep any in my emergency kits (if we happen to be at home when an earthquake strikes, we have plenty of canned goods on hand). Others might choose jerky, trail mixes, whatever. Things to consider are weight, sodium content, what type of preparation is needed, how soon they expire (you'll have to remember to switch them out), how they'll stand up to heat (if being kept in a car emergency pack) and whether you'll need utensils/plates/bowls to open/prepare/consume them (if so, add those to your pack).

          For us, the only things besides bars going in our emergency packs: Annie's Homegrown Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks. Toddler X LOVES these and they're our ultimate prize for him. In the event of an unsettling emergency, I know it would provide him with a ton of comfort to receive these as a treat. So that's a toddler-specific amendment we're doing to the standard recommendations.

        3.  Light and Communication
        • Flashlights. I grew up in a household of flashlight addicts. My family stored flashlights everywhere -- next to each bed, in the kitchen, in the office, in the garage. You know when that came in handy? ALL THE TIME -- and particularly in the nervous hours of darkness following the 1989 Loma Prieta quake.

          So we already have a bunch of flashlights and two battery-operated lanterns in our house (if you're interested, they're Coleman Rugged Battery Powered Family Size Lanterns -- love them!). What we needed for a major emergency, though, was a hand-crank light that can operate without batteries.

          I chose the Energizer Weather Ready Multi Function NOAA Lantern, which has AM/FM and weather radios, a lantern flashlight (lights up a wider area) and USB phone charger, all in a pretty small/flat package (I looked at it in person at Target, then bought on Amazon because it was cheaper). It operates either with batteries or by hand crank. Batteries are obviously preferable, as the hand crank doesn't provide much power and you'd have to recharge it frequently, but it's also very nice to know that, in the worst case scenario, we have a light and radio that we can power ourselves (or at least a lantern to provide light as we load the batteries). See my review of the Energizer Multi Function Lantern below.

          Also, included in Zippmo Urban Survival Kit I purchased is an Eton Hand Turbine AM/FM Weather Radio and LED Flashlight - Purple, which has pretty good reviews (4.2/5 stars) and a really reasonable price point (several colors are on sale for under $20 right now, with free shipping). Unlike the Energizer Weather Ready Multi Function NOAA Lantern, the Eton does not have a battery option, a lantern function (just a flashlight), or a cell phone charger, so that will go in our secondary pack, while the Energizer will go in our primary pack.
        • Glow sticks. Almost all pre-assembled emergency packs have these because they are such a simple source of light -- easy to illuminate, easy to hold, with no need for batteries and no concerns about fire safety. These might be particularly pleasing to a toddler in an emergency, so in addition to the ones included in our kits, I bought 20 of these as supplements: Cyalume SnapLight Industrial Grade Light Sticks, Green, 6" Long, 12 Hour Duration (Pack of 10). (At the current sale price of $10.49/10 pack, buying two packs of 10 is a better deal than buying the pack of 20.) The reviews of these sticks are outstanding -- they light up instantly, burn brightly, and last up to 12 hours. I ordered more than I plan to use for our emergency kits, as they'd also be nice to have on hand for camping, outdoor concerts, trick or treating and many other uses. 

        • A radio. When I think back to October 17, 1989, the single item I am most glad we had was my dad's battery-operated radio, which kept my siblings and me calm, informed and occupied as we nervously waited for our parents to make their way home from Candlestick. Though these days I get most of my news via iPhone, a major emergency could have me relying on exactly the same technology as in 1989, so finding a good radio was an important part of my research, and having one that is solar or manually-powered was critical. As mentioned above, I purchased the Energizer Weather Ready Multi Function NOAA Lantern, which definitely fits the bill, and we have the Eton Hand Turbine AM/FM Weather Radio and LED Flashlight in our secondary pack. See my review of the Energizer Multi Function Lantern below.

        • A whistle and/or siren. Almost all pre-assembled emergency packs include a whistle, and some of the hand-crank radio/flashlight combos also include a siren. Obviously either can signal your location to rescuers, while a siren -- according to the reviews, they are loud -- can also draw attention to you and have a deterrent effect, along the lines of a car alarm. We included a whistle in all three packs (we already had them); if you need to purchase one, no need to go any nicer than the Shoreline Marine Safety Whistle, which is just $2.05 and will get the job done.
        • Batteries in all necessary sizes. If you do choose a battery-operated flashlight or radio, be sure to pack batteries as well. As my Energizer radio/flashlight can be operated by either battery or hand-crank, and battery is obviously preferable when possible, I packed a supply of batteries for it, keeping them in their original packaging to avoid corrosion (I bought small packages of 8 each, rather than the huge Costco-esque packs, for easy storage.)
        • An extra cell phone charger. This isn't technically in my emergency kit, but just an emergency item permanently kept in the car. It would be infuriating in an emergency to find myself with a drained phone battery and a USB port perfectly able to provide charging, but without a cord.

        3. Keeping Warm, Cool or Dry
        • Ponchos. These are on every emergency list and in every emergency kit. In California, your chances are pretty good of not being stuck outside in a rainstorm. Nevertheless, because ponchos can be folded into such a compact package and are lightweight, they're a good addition to a pack. I didn't order any extras because our packs already included enough, but if you're putting together your own pack, here's a basic set of ponchos -- a package of 4 is only $3.15. (Note that none of the inexpensive ponchos sold on line have very good reviews -- they're all made of thin, cheap material, it seems. Given our climate, I think the likelihood of an emergency coinciding with a rain storm is pretty slim, so I wouldn't worry about investing in nicer ones.)
        • Space blankets. If you've ever run a marathon, you're familiar with these metallic silver "blankets", which fold up into a tiny package but offer a lot of warmth. Every pre-assembled emergency pack includes these; I also went ahead and bought a 10 pack of Mylar Emergency Thermal Blankets (currently on sale for around $6), as they're so compact and inexpensive that I figure it doesn't hurt to store some extras in our cars and in our at-home pack.
        • Clothing. These are the items I decided to include for each member of the family (these will be kept in the car alongside our main pack -- obviously there's not room in the pack itself):
          • Sunhat/baseball cap
          • Warm/knit hat
          • Gloves
          • Change of clothes for everyone (long pants, long sleeved shirt, socks, underwear)
          • Sturdy tennis shoes for all
          • Sweatshirt or fleece

        4. Medicine, Toiletries and Hygiene
        • First Aid Kit. First aid kits are included in every pre-assembled emergency kit, but the reviews make it clear that not all first aid kits are created equal -- some are apparently just glorified bandaid boxes. We already had two nice Red Cross first aid kits to include in our packs, and our Zippmo pack came with its own little set, but I bought another full kit -- the AAA 85 Piece Commuter First Aid Kit -- for our main pack (this link is to the 121 piece kit that is a bit more extensive -- the 85 piece kit link isn't working). It's a pretty comprehensive kit, with everything you'd need to treat minor injuries in an emergency, whether it be an earthquake or just a bad cut at the playground. The Red Cross kits we already have will go in our backup packs.

        • Necessary medicines for everyone in the family. Something I read: if a medication is not in its original bottle, it's a good idea to pack a copy of the prescription as well; you never know where you may be when you need to get it re-filled.
        • Small toiletries. Good hygiene is important in an emergency situation, and the routine of doing things like brushing teeth may actually be reassuring for your toddler. Our Zippmo kit actually came with a pre-packed toiletry bag, which I'm going to supplement with our vision needs.
          • Small soap bars (hotel sized)
          • Toothpaste/toothbrush
          • Contact solution/extra contacts/contact case/glasses
          • Sanitary needs
          • Sunblock. Toddler X and Mr. X have very fair skin, and an emergency may require us to be outside for long periods of time. I bought a three pack of Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids SPF 70 Stick to keep in the kits, as the sticks are compact, easy to store, and less likely to cause a mess.
          • Toilet paper or moistened wipes (e.g., diaper wipes). We're going with the wipes, as they have so many more uses than toilet paper. (We're a Huggies Natural Care family.) Just be sure to pack baggies for waste. (Also remember to pack diapers, if necessary. Pack a size larger than your child is currently wearing so you won't have to change out the supply as frequently.)
          • Diaper/waste baggies. We packed rolls of dog doo baggies to handle waste -- they are so much cheaper than the ones marketed specifically for baby diapers, and serve exactly the same function. If you're buying them just for this use, you can get a 120 pack of baggies for around $6; if you use them for your dogs as well (like we do), go for the 1000 pack for $19.95.

          5. Tools and other useful items
          • All purpose knife or multi tool. These are included with many emergency kits, and again, the uses are endless in an emergency. Because of their importance, make sure the emergency kit you choose has a good one, or plan to replace it. Nothing could be more frustrating that relying on a shoddily-made tool in an emergency. Our Zippmo Urban Survival Kit includes the MAXAM Multi-Tool; if I like it when it arrives, I'm going to get a second one for our other kit. If not, I'm going with the very popular Leatherman Sidekick Multi-Tool, which has pretty much every tool you'd need to survive the apocalypse.
          • Face/dust mask. These are included in nearly all emergency kits; if you're putting together one of your own, it seems the best bet is the 3M Aura Particulate Respirator -- a flat-pack version which, according to the reviews, is more comfortable and form-fitting than the standard one.
          • Utility/work gloves. These are included in most emergency kits; if yours doesn't have them, it's worth getting a pair in case you find yourself digging through rubble following a quake. The highly-rated gloves on Amazon are very reasonably priced, ranging from $12-15 -- we chose the Custom Leathercraft 125L Handyman Flex Grip Work Gloves.
          • Duct tape. Is there anything duct tape can't do? Duct tape is one critical item that doesn't come in most pre-assembled packs. We put a roll in our two car packs, and I chose Duck Brand Colored Duct Tape in Yellow because I thought a bright color might be useful for visibility, as well as adhesion.
          • A disposable camera. This was a good suggestion I read on an emergency planning site. You may need to document damage to property following an earthquake, and you won't want to use up your phone's precious battery life and memory. An old-fashioned disposable camera will do the trick. Here's the basic Kodak FunSaver.
          • Pen and paper. For entertainment, jotting down instructions or contact information, or leaving notes for loved ones, you never want to be without pen and paper in an emergency.
          • A tarp. Like duct tape, an item with so many uses in an emergency. If you have room in your pack/car, add one. 
          • Ziploc Bags in various sizes. As any parent knows, Ziploc Bags are useful in more ways than you could ever count. Pack a bunch. You can even use them to pack/group other items in your kit.
          • Garbage bags.

          6. Entertainment/Comfort
          • A few of your child's favorite, reassuring books. We packed Goodnight Moon and Hug.
          • Crayons/paper (in a hard backed pad)/stickers/kid-friendly card games like Go Fish. We picked up a few things from the $1 bin at Target.
          • Sudoku, crossword or deck of cards for adult diversion. Our Zippmo pack includes a deck of cards.
          • A picture of the whole family together, and recent pictures of each individual. If your family is divided during an emergency, it will no doubt be a huge source of comfort for a toddler to have a picture of the whole family together, and pictures of each individual could also be used to search for/identify a family member.

          7. Important Documents/Cash
          • Cash. In an emergency, it will be very useful to have cash on hand, especially small bills -- you lose a lot of bargaining power when you're asking for change for a $100 bill. 
          • Copies of any homeowner's/renter's insurance policies.
          • A list of phone numbers and contact information for family members, as well as an out-of-area contact.

          8. Stuff for your pets: (This is one category I'm keeping at our house, rather than in the car, as the house is where the dogs primarily stay.)
          • Food and extra water 
          • Leashes
          • Medicines
          • Vaccine records (in case we need to stay at a shelter)

          Products I Looked At and Products I Chose:

          Pre-Assembled Kits: I decided to buy a 2 person, 72 hour pre-assembled pack as our main emergency kit, with plenty of supplementation. I read dozens of reviews on Amazon, covering all of the highly-rated kits. My findings are below:

          Here's what I ultimately bought (my review is below):

          The Zippmo Urban Survival Kit for two people was what I eventually settled on for our primary pack. Though they also have a highly-rated "Extreme" pack, the "Urban" version best meets our needs, as we don't often find ourselves in Bear Grylls-esque settings. The pack has near perfect (4.8 out of 5) reviews on Amazon, with almost everyone commenting on the quality of the items and the pack's well-made nature. I will add more/different food, water, duct tape and items for Toddler X, but you could probably just go with this kit as is (my parents have ordered one for each of their cars, and they don't plan to supplement it). This one will be kept in my car as our primary disaster kit. (September 2017 update: Unfortunately, the kit is currently sold out on Amazon -- I think recent disasters have emergency prep on many people's minds. October 2017 update: Never mind -- it's back in stock!)

            Here are the other pre-assembled kits I considered (by brand):
            • PrepPac: The PrepPac 3 Day, 2 Person Disaster Preparedness Kit ended up being my second pick behind the Zippmo pack described above. It has great reviews (4.7 out of 5 stars), is less expensive, and for the most part is described as being well-made. It has the same water/food issues as most other packs, so I'd want to supplement those, and it doesn't have a utility tool, so that's something I'd add, but otherwise it seems to have everything you'd want in a nice, navy blue backpack. Two person kit is normally $99.99, currently on sale for $89.99, with free shipping. (September 2017 update: Kit is currently in stock. Rating is 4.2/5 stars, cost is $99.99.)
            • Ready AmericaThe Ready America 70280 Grab-'n-Go Emergency Kit, 2-Person, 3-Day Backpack is inexpensive and received overall positive reviews, but primarily as a starter pack that would require supplementation. Biggest complaints: meager first aid kit, limited food supply (two 2400 calorie bars), inadequate water. Two person kit is regularly $49.99, on sale for $39.99 with free shipping. (Note that the larger counterpart -- Ready America 70385 Grab `N Go Deluxe 4 Person Backpack -- did not receive impressive reviews. Almost everyone said just buy/make your own.) (September 2017 update: Kit can be ordered, but won't ship for 1-2 months. Rating is 4.4/5 stars, cost is $29.66).
            • Mayday Industries: The 4 Person Deluxe Home Honey Bucket Emergency Kit by Mayday Industries is a very popular pre-assembled kit for the home (it's a bucket, so not as portable as a backpack). Reviews are very positive, with the exception of the food (basically cardboard-like bars) and first aid kit (you'll want to supplement). 4 person kit is $136.62, amazingly currently on sale for $70.75 plus $22.25 shipping. (September 2017 update: This kit is currently available from several sellers -- the best deal appears to be $125, with no tax and free shipping. Rating is 4.2/5 stars.)

              The Mayday Emergency Survival Backpack Kit is very similar to the Honey Bucket, except in backpack form. It apparently has a tent and cookstove, which I can't imagine myself using, and some of the items seem to be cheaply made, but overall people seem very happy with it. Again, you'd want to supplement with more pleasant food and a greater quantity of water. Four person kit is normally $118.67, but amazingly on sale for $60 (49% off), plus $20 shipping, at the time of this writing (there are also less expensive 3 and 2 person kits). (September 2017 update: This kit is currently $69.97 with $19.94 shipping and 4.1/5 stars.)
            • PrepareMe America: The 1 Person Commuter Kit for Auto, Home or School gets great reviews, is very reasonably priced, and looks like a good, basic kit to throw in the car as a supplement to your family's other emergency planning. While it has many of the key items on usual emergency-preparedness lists, it doesn't have a multi-tool, radio, gloves or a few other things, and the first aid kit appears to be extremely slim -- I don't think it's meant to be a full, 72 hour emergency survival pack. For the price, though, it's a good addition to any car that won't be carrying a full emergency kit, and many people mentioned buying these as gifts for family members. One person kit is normally $49.95, but it's currently on sale for $23.95, with free shipping. (September 2017 update: This kit is currently $25.95 with 4.5/5 stars -- looks like a winner.)

              Individual Components:

              I chose the following items to supplement my main kit, and to fill Mr. X's car kit and complete our at-home kit.

              • Drinking water: I bought a box of Datrex Emergency Survival Water Pouches to supplement the supplies in our pre-assembled kit and stock Mr. X's car kit. These are little aluminum pouches of water, 1/2 cup each, which you can open by tearing a notch, and which have a 5 year shelf life. I was uncomfortable with leaving plastic water bottles in my car for months on end, so these are a good alternative. I like the fact that the serving sizes are small (no need to open/partially use a larger bottle, and you can divide them up easily into multiple emergency packs or even your pockets), and the pouches are lightweight. The only complaints I can see are the expense (obviously more than just buying bottled water at the store) and the potential for leaking/being punctured (I plan to store them in Ziploc bags inside the emergency packs to protect from leaks -- and besides, given my purse/diaper bag experiences in the past few years, I'm more concerned about a partially-used plastic water bottle leaking). (September 2017 update: three years later, and I haven't had any leaks or tears in the pouches. I'm about to order more to account for the new addition to our family.)
              • Water purification tabs: In addition to our supply of water pouches, I decided to get a bottle of Potable Aqua Water Treatment Tablets. The bottle is small and the price is low ($5.99, with free shipping), while the potential utility is huge. In an emergency, I know I'd hesitate to give our dogs (as much as I love them) our fresh water pouches, or to use them for washing, etc.; with these tablets, we could make up to 25 quarts of water potable for those purposes.
              • Food: As I mentioned above, I purchased the assorted 24 pack of Millennium Bars, which, spread over three days, would give us each about 1100 calories per day, without any other food. Obviously we would only be living this way in a truly catastrophic emergency, if we were cut off from any other food supply, but it's worthwhile to be prepared. I appreciate the 5 year shelf life of these bars and the varied flavors. I'll post an update once they arrive.
              • Hand-crank flashlights/radios: I purchased the Energizer Weather Ready Multi Function NOAA Lantern, which operates either on battery or hand-crank power. I liked its versatility, with battery operation being preferable but manual operation being possible if need be. It has a lantern, am/fm radio, and (a big seller for me!) a USB port to charge a cell phone. My pre-assembled Zippmo Urban Survival Kit came with the Eton Hand Turbine AM/FM Weather Radio and LED Flashlight, which will be stored in our secondary pack -- it also seems like a nice radio/flashlight, but lacks the battery option and the USB port. My review of the Energizer Multi Function Lantern is below.
              • Multi-tool: The MAXAM Multi-Tool is included with the Zippmo pack I purchased. For Mr. X's pack, I'll either purchase the same one, or a Leatherman Sidekick Multi-Tool. (September 2017 update: I did like the Maxam and have kept it in our main kit, but I went ahead and bought Mr. X the Leatherman anyway as a Christmas present/stocking stuffer that year, and he absolutely loves it -- he uses it for everything.)
              • Space blankets: I ordered a 10 pack of Mylar Emergency Thermal Blankets to supplement the two in my Zippmo pack, and to include in our other two packs (with a few extras just tucked in my car). I've actually seen these go to good use before after a chilly, wet Team in Training run, when a shivering teammate used the one I'd kept in my car after a race a few weeks earlier. Beyond a major emergency, these would be great in the event of a car breakdown in cold weather or even a cold weather outdoor event.

              My Product Reviews

              Here are my reviews of the major products I purchased (I'm not reviewing things like ponchos or mylar space blankets because their quality is pretty much universal). If you have any questions about products I ordered, feel free to ask.

              1. The Zippmo Urban Survival Kit: Thumbs up.

              I chose the Zippmo kit as our main emergency pack based on the positive Amazon reviews, all of which praised its high quality components and the obvious care that went into packing it. I am very pleased with the purchase, and proud that I recommended the Zippmo pack to my parents as well (they just bought three of them). 

              First, the backpack itself -- it's fantastic. Large and sturdy, with padded shoulder straps, a padded handle at the top in case you need to carry it by hand, two large and four small zippered compartments, two mesh water bottle holders on the outside, and an attractive, neutral green color. It's clearly well-made and definitely well suited to its purpose. A nice touch is that the largest zippered compartment zips down all the way to the bottom, allowing you easy access to all the contents -- no digging around necessary. 

              The contents of "Bag 1"
              The kit comes with several carefully packed zippered plastic bags that keep the contents well organized. Bag 1 contains 4 dust masks, an Eton Hand Turbine AM/FM Weather Radio and LED Flashlight, a MAXAM Multi-Tool, two emergency survival pouches (same material as a space blanket, but in a sleeping bag shape), two rain ponchos, a length of paracord, a "5 in 1 survival aid" (a waterproof match box, liquid filled compass, luminous dial for signaling, a signal whistle and a fire starter flint), a pair of basic work gloves, three Cyalume SnapLight Light Sticks, a Bic lighter and a deck of playing cards. 

              Bag 2 contains first aid supplies: bandages, a cold compress, pain relievers (aspirin and non-aspirin), dressing pads, sunblock packets, medical tape, sterile gloves, scissors and tweezers. There is also a really nice, double-sided laminated sheet of first aid instructions that would certainly be useful to have in an emergency. 

              Bag 3 contains toiletries: toothbrushes, toothpaste, a shower gel/shampoo combo, maxi pads, Kleenex, and some handy wipes. 

              Finally, at the bottom of the main compartment is a well-padded cardboard box containing the kit's supply of Datrex Water Pouches (20 4.2 oz pouches) and Datrex Emergency Survival Food Blocks(two blocks, 2400 calories each). 

              Upon opening the Zippmo emergency kit, I was immediately impressed with how carefully the individual bags were packed, and how compact they were able to get them -- really, you could fit all the components into the main pack of the backpack, leaving the five other zippered areas available for supplemental items.

              The main emergency items in Bag 1 all seem to be of high quality. I see now why the folks at Zippmo chose to include the Eton Hand Turbine AM/FM Weather Radio and LED Flashlight, rather than the Energizer Weather Ready Multi Function NOAA Lantern that I bought separately: the Eton radio is far more compact and lightweight, which factor heavily in its favor for inclusion in a portable emergency pack.

              The Maxam multi-tool -- love it!

              The MAXAM Multi-Tool included in the pack is really, really cool -- I've never had a tool like this and am really excited about it (though I hope I never have to use it!). It's extremely sturdy and well-made, and it has a ton of useful tools (including several extra bits with different screwdriver heads and whatnot), all of which fold into a compact form that slides into a nice, black case with a belt loop (I don't wear belts much, but I figure I could string it through one of the straps of the backpack for easy access).

              The dusk masks, mylar survival pouches, ponchos, paracord, "survival aid", light sticks, lighter and playing cards are all as they should be, though I plan to switch out the work gloves for a sturdier pair and move this pair to our secondary pack. The bag of toiletries is just fine and will serve its purpose. I will supplement with eyeglasses, contacts, contact cases, lens solution and sunblock. I will also add some of the Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets and Cyalume SnapLight Light Sticks that I purchased separately to the kit.

              The bag of first aid supplies wasn't as impressive as the rest of the kit. Though it would adequately handle a minor scrape or cut sustained in an emergency, it wouldn't give me the confidence that I could help my whole family through a crisis. The bag is nice and efficiently packed, though, so I'm going to move it to the glove box of my car for everyday minor emergencies -- playground falls, bumped heads, splinters and the like -- and then add a true, stand-alone first aid kit to the Zippmo pack (there is plenty of room).

              The box of food and water was exactly as I expected, and I was happy to find that both the food and the water pouches had 2019 expiration dates. The Datrex Water Pouches are really neat, and I love that they can easily be split between packs or even put in a pocket. The Datrex Emergency Survival 2400 Calorie Food Ration Bars are, as you could guess, not all that appealing to look at -- basically, foil-wrapped bricks of food. If you're eating these, however, you're probably at a point where you're not being too picky.

              The bigger concern with the food and water supplies is that -- like almost every emergency kit I researched -- they just aren't really adequate to get two people through 72 hours, much less the two adults and one child that I'm packing for. The 20 pouches, at 4.2 oz each, equal 84 oz of water. A gallon is 128 oz, and the ideal situation is a gallon a day per person. I plan to supplement my pack with a significant amount of additional water, recognizing that it takes up space and adds weight, and then have more elsewhere in the car, and even more stockpiled at home. I also plan to move the Datrex ration bars to our secondary pack, and add in the Millennium Bars I purchased separately to be our main food supply, as those apparently are more palatable than the bricks.

              Overall, I'm very pleased with my purchase of the Zippmo kit and would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to order a high quality pre-assembled survival pack, then not have to worry about it anymore. I feel comfortable with my parents having these packs in their cars and home, and I obviously feel comfortable with this being the primary pack for my family.

              2.  Millennium Bars: Thumbs up.

              I decided early in my research that I wanted our emergency food supply to be primarily bars -- they're compact, relatively lightweight (compared to canned goods, for example), and easy to prepare and consume (no cookware, dishes or utensils needed). All three of us generally enjoy bars, and to Toddler X they're a treat, so they seemed like a good fit for our family's needs.

              I settled on the Millennium Bars because of their 5 year shelf life, the fact that each 400 calorie bar is individually wrapped (unlike some of the Datrex bars, where if you open one compartment, you need to eat the rest relatively soon), the low sodium content (don't want to promote thirst when you're on water rations) and because many reviewers seem to actually like the taste.

              I ordered the 24 bar variety pack, which came with 8 each of 4 flavors: cherry, vanilla, apricot and blueberry. We decided to open up the apricot bar as our tester, and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised! The consistency is not at all like your typical sports-type energy bar -- instead, it reminds me of a lightly-flavored, very dense shortbread cookie...and I love shortbread cookies! It does leave sort of an oily, shortening-like flavor/feel in your mouth, but I would definitely say it is edible, and in an emergency it wouldn't bother me at all. Toddler X's response after a small bite? "I want it, mama. I want the whole thing!" So it clearly was a winner in the toddler camp!

              Manufactured last month,
              good for 5 years
              In case you're wondering, I didn't let Toddler X have the rest of the bar, nor did I eat it myself. Why? These things are far from health food. Smushing 400 calories into a small, lightweight package requires using ingredients that...well, that you probably don't want to feed to your toddler (or yourself) as an everyday snack. And that was something that it was important for me to come to terms with: this isn't a snack, these are emergency provisions. If I come to the point where Toddler X and I are eating these consistently over a couple of days, it will mean that we are away from home (where we would have plenty of other canned/boxed food on hand), away from a shelter that can provide food for us, and away from any safe and reliable source of more varied, healthy food -- so the last thing I will be worrying about is how much oil is contained in those bars, because it will be those fats that are filling the very hungry tummy of a very lovable toddler.

              My goals here were a lightweight, compact, easy-to-prepare, slow-to-expire emergency food supply that my family (including Toddler X) would willingly eat if a catastrophic event prevented us from reaching normal sources of food. These small, dense bars, with their low sodium levels and far-out expiration dates (mine were manufactured last month and expire in August 2019), fit the bill. I'll be substituting these for the Datrex bars in our primary emergency pack, and I won't think about them again until 2019...hopefully.

              3. The Energizer Weather Ready Multi Function NOAA Lantern: Several pluses, one big minus.

              Of all the emergency products I ordered, this was the first to disappoint me -- and, ironically, this was the only one that I had previously seen in person. I found the Energizer lantern at Target and liked the way it looked/felt, as well as the description of its features (particularly the battery option and the USB charging outlet). I got on Amazon from the store, read a couple of reviews, noted that the price was less than at Target, and ordered it.

              The hand-crank in its
              storage spot on the back
              of the unit
              When it arrived, I excitedly opened the package, ready to try the hand-crank option that made this lantern so valuable to me. It took me some degree of finagling to release the crank from its storage position in the back of the unit -- seriously, I was worried I might break it by yanking it out -- but once it did release, all was good. The crank was easy to operate, and, lo and behold, I was able to generate enough electricity to power the lantern or the radio (using them both at the same time on hand-crank mode drains the juice almost immediately -- on battery mode, it's fine).

              I then tried to charge my iPhone through the USB port...and tried, and tried, and tried. I tried my husband's phone, and a different USB cord. I tried inserting batteries instead. And still...nothing.

              The useless USB outlet

              Re-reading the reviews, there are people who say that the USB charging mechanism works for them, and others who say it is an utter failure. I, unfortunately, appear to be among the latter group, and I'm guessing that anyone with more recent model iPhones will be as well.

              I'm still debating whether to return this product or not. I wasn't initially searching for an iPhone charger, just a good hand-crank flashlight and radio combination, and those functions work just fine on this Energizer. I also love having both battery and hand-crank power options -- many similar units don't have that. I will do some further research on other available products and let you know what I choose. In the meantime, if you're searching for a nice lantern and radio (as I initially was), this should fit the bill; if you're looking for a cell phone charger, search elsewhere. 

              (September 2017 update: Well, I didn't return the radio/lantern, and it has been sitting in my emergency pack for the past three years. This summer, when Toddler X expressed to me his fears about natural disasters, I told him we could go through our emergency pack so he could see how prepared we were. Of all the items in the pack, this delighted him the most! He was so excited to find that he could make light! We tried both the radio and lantern options in hand-crank mode, and both worked fine. It has been about two months and he still mentions this thing, so I'm going to count it as a winner, even without the phone charger.)

              More reviews and pictures to come as I find the time...

              And I think that's it! I will definitely update this post with reviews as my items arrive, and I'll include pictures so that you have a better idea of what I'm talking about. In the meantime, I'd love to know if you think I've left anything off my list -- I'm always open to new ideas.

              Again, I hope that every bit of this preparation, and the money spent on it, goes to waste. I would love to believe that our family will never find itself in the midst of a catastrophic event. But given our location, failing to prepare for an earthquake is really just not an option. While we can't control everything in an emergency situation, knowing that we have a wide array of well-made supplies makes me confident that we can handle a lot.

              Feel free to share this with anyone who needs to update their emergency preparedness plans!

              Toddle safely, friends.


              1. What a great post! I haven't felt much urgency to prepare for a disaster, but I'm so glad that you have done all the research for me!! I plan to put together my own backpack for our family of 3 (soon to be 4) and this is a perfect starting point. :)

              2. Thank you so much for this post! You are so awesome and thorough. I was just about to delve into this world of preparing and research and it's so overwhelming! You brought up things I hadn't even considered, and I'm so grateful. Thanks again and hope that we never have to use this stuff!