My wife and kids think I go overboard in lugging around emergency supplies. I move kits, water, food and coats from one vehicle to another, crowding our trunks and delaying our departures on family outings.
On the other hand, I probably should do even more. Paul Auerbach’s textbook, “Wilderness Medicine,” for example, recommends 10 “essential” items that all of us should carry with us on outdoor trips: Navigation device, sun protection, illumination, repair kit with tools and power, first-aid supplies, fire starter, nutrition, hydration, insulation and shelter.
Recently a couple in Northern California found themselves off-road with no such equipment. The man died, the woman survived with frostbite. With a few essential survival items, the outcome would likely have been better.
Do you have an emergency kit in your car? Consider some scenarios in which it might be helpful: earthquakes, fires, natural disasters, civil unrest, bad weather and mechanical breakdown.
I heard one expert on emergency preparedness point out that a simple emergency kit might be assembled from a plastic container, with blankets, water, food and a few essential items. Something is always better than nothing. Though my own “kit” is sometimes in pieces, I try to travel with these survival tools:
Water: In addition to some fresh water in a canteen, I bring a few bottles.
Food: Enough to get me and my kids by for a day or two.
Medications: It is wise to keep a supply of essential medications in one’s kit or glove compartment. This is particularly critical for those under treatment for chronic conditions. Consider hypertension, diabetes, thyroid insufficiency, etc., as examples.
Flashlight: My rechargeable flashlight came in handy recently when my vehicle overheated at night. If you cannot see, you are really fairly helpless.
Gloves: I hate getting my hands bruised up or cold, especially when I need to check my engine, or carry things in cold weather.
Wrench and pocket tool set: I am not a tool guy, but I carry a few devices.
Medical bag: Mine contains doctor’s equipment. Even a few bandages are quite useful, perhaps with splints and surgical tape. I also carry Band-Aids in my wallet, which is a habit I picked up as a youth. They come in handy from time to time.
Boots, coats, hats: These articles battle hypothermia. I usually throw in a few extra coats for my wife and kids. I keep running shoes in the car in case we have a breakdown when I am wearing shoes not suitable for walking long distances.
Lastly, we discuss emergency preparedness as a family. I taught my kids the Morse code abbreviation for the international distress signal SOS: Three dots, three dashes, three dots. Many people still recognize this signal if pounded out on an automobile horn, or signaled on a flashlight.
The experts, I am told, generally recommend staying with your vehicle if your car gets stranded off road; subject to common sense. Global positioning devices, of course, are great if they work, but the Auerbach book recommends a compass and map as well, since electronic devices often fail when they become wet.
I like keeping my emergency supplies in my vehicle, since it is usually near me at all times. Other approaches may work better for you. Some companies assemble emergency kits in advance. These kits must, however, be periodically updated with fresh batteries, fresh water and fresh food supplies. There are, in fact, companies and websites devoted entirely to crisis survival strategies. I am not that devoted to preparedness, but I still plan on crowding our family vehicle with a few essential supplies.
Scott Anderson, M.D., Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Clinical Professor of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology, UC Davis. This column is informational, and does not constitute medical advice.