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Avoiding Irene: The Importance of Packing a ‘Go Bag’


Mother Nature has given Americans a number of reasons to rethink emergency preparedness this year, including monster snowstorms, flooding and now, for those on the East Coast, hurricane Irene. Experts say that it’s a good idea in general to have a “go bag” of vital papers and other supplies ready if you need to leave home — fast — in any emergency situation.

The number of storms, floods and other natural disasters reaching catastrophic levels — meaning they caused in excess of $25 million in damage — jumped 22% last year to an all-time high of 247, reports reinsurance firm Munich Re. This year is a contender to beat that, given crippling snowstorms across the Midwest and Northeast in January, spring tornadoes in the South and extensive flooding along the Mississippi. “You never know what could happen,” says James Judge, a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory council. (He’s also executive director for Lake-Sumter EMS in Mount Dora, Fla.) “It’s always best to be ready.”

A “go bag” should literally be grab-and go, Judge says, so it’s smart to collect the things you need when there’s no emergency in sight. Pack them in a plastic bin (available at any home goods store) and stash it under the bed or in a closet near your front door. A good kit can also double as a store if you need to weather a hurricane or other disaster at home.

Here’s what to pack:

  • Cash. If the power is out, it’s unlikely that ATMs will be functioning, or that banks will be open.
  • Water.  One gallon per person per day, and plan for a three-day supply.
  • Food. Pack a three-day supply of non-perishable, easy to prepare foods.
  • Flashlight.
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio. It’s your best bet for weather updates, Judge says.
  • Extra batteries for those devices.
  • First-aid kit. Customize a store-bought one with things your family uses, Judge says – extra hearing aid batteries, contact lenses, diaper rash cream, etc.
  • Pet supplies. Pack a three-day supply of food, and other items like medication or a leash.

Of course, you’ll also want to grab important papers. Pack anything irreplaceable, like birth and marriage certificates, Social Security cards and passports (see our How-To for a comprehensive list). Also take copies of your insurance policies — Judge recommends putting those on a flash drive, along with recent photos of your home, in case you need to file a claim for damages.

Make a list of any other must-grab items and where they’re kept — say, the family photo album – and stash that with the kit. You should also include a list of emergency contact numbers and a list of hotels along your route so that you have a few options to evacuate to, Judge says.


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