What to Pack in a Disaster | Takeaway meals


Melissa Harris-Perry: Hi everyone. I’m Melissa Harris-Perry, and this is Takeaway meals. Now a little confession. In the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, I frantically watched the four seasons of the National Geographic Channel Preparers for the end of the world. The show focuses on the subculture of people who spend a lot of time and money preparing for some pretty unlikely doomsday scenarios.

Speaker 2: Jerry designed his biological fortress specifically to keep pathogens out, but he’s not just concerned with contaminants. He is also worried about people.

Melissa Harris-Perry: Yes I know. It’s paranoid porn, but in our early forties a lot of us felt a little paranoid. It was my wife Eagle Scout who finally convinced me that reality TV was a bad disaster preparedness strategy. We used my quarantine and [unintelligible 00:00:50] the paranoia of preparing to work on a real plan of action for our family, friends and neighbors in the event of a serious weather event. Do you have a go-bag if you need to pack? Do you have an essential kit prepared? Have you thought about what you would bring and what you would leave? Otherwise, relax. We got you. Get out your notepad and get ready to take some notes.

Tricia Wachtendorf, director of the Disaster Research Center and professor of sociology at the University of Delaware, is here to give us some advice on preparing for an emergency backpack.

Tricia, welcome.

Tricia Wachtendorf: Hello, thank you for having me here today.

Melissa Harris-Perry: Let’s get started. What should everyone have in their bag or emergency kit?

Tricia Wachtendorf: One of the things I like to think about with a kit or backpack is that it has a lot of flexibility. Some of these things may be best stored in a backpack or whatever we think of when we Googling the word go-bag, but other things can be strategically placed in your car, if you have one, or in a desk drawer if necessary. If you go to FEMA or the Red Cross or your state’s emergency management agency, but there are 10 general categories that I talk about or usually think of.


At the top of this list should be information and documentation. Copies of our ID, personal and pet vaccination records, financial information, insurance information, prescriptions, then have a backup accessible if you forget or lose it, even if it is encrypted somewhere, is vital.

Second, if you happen to evacuate in your vehicle, do you have any supplies? It’s a spare tire, the names of your roadside assistance plan, a full tank of gas, jumper cables, flares, the kinds of things we really should have in our cars on a regular basis, and sometimes not. .

Third, have money on hand, if you can. Sometimes people lose their credit card or they are in an area where the power is out and they cannot use their Apple Pay or their credit card.

Medical supplies and hygiene items, such as first aid kits, as well as prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Some people have health or disability issues that they live with. Assisted technology equipment, if required. Diapers, a few rolls of toilet paper, non-perishable food and water. Clothing and warmth. A blanket and pillow are good items to have as light survival blankets. The radio for some updates and some lighting, like a flashlight or those glow sticks or matches.

Three more. There are items like a pad of paper and pens that can come in handy, especially if your phone dies. A card game to pass the time, and if you have kids something to keep them entertained is really important. Have your cell phone, extra chargers, adapters, sometimes even an old phone or tablet in your carrying bag.

Then the last category is to think about unique circumstances, hand sanitizer and wipes. This is especially true now. Having extra masks is really important. Also other unique circumstances like, is there a baby in your house? Do you have pets in your household? A lot of research suggests that people often delay evacuation because of their pets. Lots of different things we can start to think about to make sure our family is safe if we have to leave during a very stressful time.

Melissa Harris-Perry: First of all, it’s an amazing list. I like this. What about the aspects of communication, planning? What if the weather event strikes, or disaster of some kind strikes while the children are in school and the adults are at work. Maybe the older parent is home for the day. How do we make sure we have a plan in addition to the items we need?

Tricia Wachtendorf: Often in the disaster research community we say that the planning process is more important than the plan itself. This is true if you are talking about a community, if you are talking about a household. Having these conversations in your house, where do we have the go-bag? What’s inside ? Have we updated it recently? What are some things we can have offsite? I mentioned this aspect of the important documentation. If you have a close family member where you can have a jump drive and you have this information scanned, this is going to be very important if you cannot get home on time. Having some of these items near the door where everyone knows they can just grab them and go, is key. If there is only one member of the household who knows it, it won’t really help if, as you said, grandma is at home looking after the grandchildren while someone is missing.

Melissa Harris-Perry: And the neighbors? Should we have the same conversation with our floor in our building or our block in our neighborhood?

Tricia Wachtendorf: These types of links that we build, again, are very important. When you start to think of someone in the hallway or next to you who might need some extra help so they can check in and make sure they’re okay, but sometimes it’s also knowing what others resources someone might have that might be able to help someone who doesn’t. Does anyone need someone else to bring extra things in their car if they only have one and their neighbor has two? Does anyone need help going down the stairs or the elevator carrying the things they have?

One of the things that is also related is thinking about our home and how that connects with others. There are a lot of people who will rely on others to evacuate them. Maybe you have an elderly relative who lives across town, who lives alone, but he won’t be able to evacuate himself. Do you have what they need? Did you work with them to collect stuff that is in a closet by the front door, the back door? Trying to understand who could count on us and how we can be of help.

Melissa Harris-Perry: I think one of the biggest lessons I’ll take from this conversation is the idea that the process is as important as the plan itself. How worth it to have these conversations and not to assume that, oh, we’ve never had a disaster before, but rather to say that we need to think about it and talk about it and create this process. It should not create paranoia. It may just create preparation.

Thank you very much, Tricia Wachtendorf, for discussing this critical issue with us. Tricia Wachtendorf is Director of the Center for Disaster Research and Professor of Sociology at the University of Delaware. Thank you.

Tricia Wachtendorf: Thank you.


Therese: This is Teresa from Kingfisher, Oklahoma, and we’ve been responding to natural disasters for years. My response plan for ordinary natural disasters is to take shelter in place and wait for service to be restored. I would like to say I have a go-bag ready if needed, but I haven’t made it yet.

Jérémy Larson: Hi. This is Jeremy Larson. I live in Dallas, Texas. The winter storm of last year had alarmed me that state leaders were so ill-prepared to help their own citizens. We were literally left in the dark. Since then, we’ve bought bottled water, clay pots, and candles to help keep us warm in the event of a power outage. It was a real eye opener and a disappointment, period.

Alex Lawler: I really don’t have a plan. I’m not sure what my community’s disaster plans are, but I don’t really live in an area where there is flooding, tornadoes, forest fires, or earthquakes. The biggest problem we face are lizards and snowstorms, in which case most people squat [unintelligible 00:08:44] does the job. Alex Lawler, mentor, Ohio.

Jeanne: This is Jane in Tigard, Oregon. I think it’s very important to have something organized in any community. I belong to an HOA neighborhood of 93 townhouses. I am a member of the cert and I need to update my skills. I think the most important thing is that the heatwave in June taught us a lot. However, there is much more to various disasters. For example, I’m really surprised how many people have no idea how to turn off the water or gas in their own homes. It’s actually scary.

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