Written By: Leigh Anderson for
“What’s your nightmare, since November 8th? Perhaps your subconscious, like mine, has reserved 3AM-5AM for an exercise I like to call “Panic Town,” a half-awake, blurry, mental recitation of anything that could go catastrophically wrong for the country, or for you personally, or for…literally anyone. It’s a fun two hours! Then I read the news.
Lately, these fear ramblings largely focus on what will happen in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack. (I know there are other things to worry about too, maybe even more pressing, how about you not tell me about them in the comments.) And while I’ve always laughed at the doomsday preppers who build bunkers and stockpile guns, I’ve recently started to consider that they might be on to something. Not for an apocalypse, necessarily, but for a disaster on an ordinary American scale: Hurricanes Katrina or Sandy, September 11th, even the 2010 blizzard with its empty grocery shelves and no clear routes to the hospitals. In my early-morning panics, I ask myself, how on it do I think the Trump administration will be? Will Trump’s FEMA be a fast, organized, efficient machine?
LOL. I started ordering canned food.
And so, while I don’t think I’m newly paranoid, I am newly…prepared. Fortunately, the internet provides both camaraderie and online shopping for people who can vividly imagine literally every terrible scenario, and I quickly found myself down a rabbit hole of opinions on what I, my husband, and two small kids need, for, say, two weeks in an apartment with no access to food, water, heat, or medical attention. Or what we’ll need for a fast skedaddle out of town. But I persevered, and bought what I think is the bare minimum for health and safety in the event of a disaster. Below, everything I have in either my emergency supply kit or our “go bags,” or both.
Water. After the 2010 blizzard, I laid in some gallons of distilled water, but they eventually leaked, and—being an easily defeated person—I never replaced them. Google tells me that you want hard-sided, refillable containers. We live in a cramped apartment, so I went for the stacking water bricks that don’t take up a lot of room. You want a gallon per day per person: FEMA says for three days; NYC says a week. I say for as many of those water bricks as I can drape a quilt over and call it a coffee table.
Food. Canned goods for home, and energy bars for the go bags. Two weeks’ worth of canned goods for four people takes up a whole cabinet in my kitchen, so that’s now my designated emergency-supply place. So long, popcorn-popper and stand mixer. You are artifacts of a more happy-go-lucky time.
A two-week supply of birth control. No one wants a disaster baby.
A whistle. I mean, I don’t think I’m going to be trapped under rubble, but then, who does?
First aid and toiletry kit, especially Band-Aids and moleskins, in the event of hiking out of town. The kit includes sunscreen, Advil, children’s Tylenol, Imodium, Claritin, sunscreen, toothpaste and toothbrushes.
Masks. For any kind of disaster that involves dust and debris.
Paper maps of your state and surrounding states. I have a terrible sense of direction, and God forbid I have to walk to my parents in West Virginia with only a dim idea of which way to go. I’d be all Blair Witch by the time I got to Pennsylvania.
Copies of all our important documents, in ziplocks. Also good for when the terrorists take down the cloud and you have to argue with the Citibank teller that yes you do have an account there.
A utility knife. A Leatherman, which is now in my go bag, and which is so much fun to play with I wish I had a second one. If you don’t want a utility knife, at the very least keep a can opener near your food.
Duct tape. I don’t know why, but the various preppers recommend it. It’s cheap, so why not?
Potassium iodide. This was actually not my idea, and on the paranoia scale I think this one’s pretty high up. During the George W. Bush administration, my former boyfriend’s mother, a M.D. who had trained to care for people who’d survived war and other traumas, insisted we keep a packet of potassium iodide, which provides some protection to the thyroid in the event of a dirty bomb. After the breakup, I kept the Le Creuset, and he kept the KI. So it’s paranoid, whatever, potassium iodide is cheaper than Le Creuset.
Mylar blankets. If the power goes out, no heat. If we’re walking somewhere in the winter, no heat.
Tampax. My period has taken me by surprise every month for thirty years, that’s how fast I learn. Disaster-time will be the moment that all changes, I swear.
Cheap ponchos. If we’re walking out of town I want to try to stay dry.
A crank radio that will also charge our phones, and extra chargers.
A flashlight, plus more flashlights. Every flashlight I buy, the kids squirrel away for nighttime shenanigans, so now I actually have nine or ten flashlights that I can’t find.
A lamp and a billion-hour candle.
Batteries for all of the above, in ziplocks.
A deck of cards. I love games and in fact wrote a giant how-to for parlor games, outdoor games, and card games. And because God is capricious, I married a man who is not a big game player. A disaster is the perfect time to force him to learn.
Chocolate bars. In the event of a shelter-in-place kind of situation, we will need some treats. Unfortunately I ate those treats immediately after buying them, ordered some more, ate those, and so on. I hope the disaster catches me in the four-hour window in which I actually have chocolate in the house.
Backpacks, which I got at the Good Will, because I am a frugal paranoiac. These are our go bags, one for each person for our family, plus an extra for my husband to keep at work. In his work go bag I also put a blanket, another billion-hour candle, and, in case he has to sleep at work, a comic novel. Something lighthearted, because if he’s sleeping at work I know he’s going to be freaking the fuck out. I considered The Road but decided that was unkind.
Water purification tablets, a bottle of unscented bleach, and a medicine dropper. Also feels a little ‘noidy, but if we run out of bottled water, I don’t want to be gulping grody bacteria water.
Matches in a ziplock.
Cash in small bills.
A roll of toilet paper, baby wipes, and hand sanitizer. Paranoid ladies still want to stay fresh.
Contractor’s bags. If the toilet stops flushing and there’s no trash pickup, we’re going to need to designate a waste zone. I’m going to call it “somewhere pretty far away from here.”
A gun: Just kidding, no gun. If my kids can find all the flashlights, they can find a gun.
For specific product recommendations, I relied pretty heavily on this product guide from The Sweethome, New York City’s Emergency Management “go bag” page, and FEMA’s Emergency Supply List.
The thing about disaster preparedness is that it’s hard to stop. I mean, 3AM-5AM still serves up dreadful scenarios every morning, and I usually need a couple cups of coffee to determine whether stockpiling camping gear, Tamiflu, lipstick, and nylons are the next logical steps or merely the ravings of Panic Town. But for now, at least, we’re set. Except for the chocolate.
Update: Yes, if you have prescription meds you’d die or suffer without, definitely pack an extra few weeks’ worth in your go-bag. And stick in extra glasses for anyone who wears prescription lenses. I didn’t add these because the former doesn’t apply to me, and I haven’t gotten around yet to buying the latter, but commenters have reminded me that these two things are at the top of the FEMA list.”