SURVEY SAYS: Do You Have Some Unused Emergency Gear?

September 1, 2011 ( - Having undertaken a bit of a last minute preparatory scramble ahead of Hurricane Irene’s arrival myself, I’ve newly resolved to stock up for the next one.  

However, despite my recent column (see IMHO:  Hurricane “Forces”), it’s not as though we are unprepared for “disasters.”   

The reality is that in my household we have, over time, acquired some things after one particularly bad disaster or other – that we have dutifully moved with us from house to house – but have never actually had occasion to use.   

This week, I asked readers if YOU have a piece of emergency supply/equipment at home that you have bought – but never had an occasion to use?   


The responses were pretty well split – though there were definitely more in the acquisition camp.  Just over 36% said they hadn’t made one of those acquisitions, and 4.9% weren’t sure (about the purchase or whether they had ever used it, I’m not sure). 


On the other hand, 38% had made such a purchase, another 16% said they had made more than one, and while the rest opted for “other”, they were also in the purchase category (though one explained that, while they were certain when they bought it that they would never use it, they turned out to be wrong”). 


Now, as for those acquisitions, a few items showed up consistently; generators were a common item, as were batteries, water, and MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat).  Here’s a sampling: 


MREs.  Hubby can't wait to dig into them when they are close to expiring 

Wind up flashlights, radios, fire extinguishers, and probably many expired cans of food stuff. 

Fire extinguishers. And thank God we've never had to use one. 

A wind up alarm clock. Don't know why I ever bought it and better still, don't know why I kept it. But it was very handy when we lost power for two days and eight hours (but who's counting?). Only problem was that when the alarm went off, it was louder than a station house fire bell and sent the cat to the ceiling! The only humorous event of the storm. 


Battery Back up for Sump Pump" 

Several years ago, when my girls were in grammar school, we worked together as a family to build an "Emergency" kit. We had a plastic tub with a small, battery-driven radio, extra batteries, candles, matches, first aid supplies, water treatment pills, "space" blankets, small sewing kit, some "camping" utensil kits...tht kind of stuff. Never have used it. We moved it with us from house to house, and state to state...until this last big move to Alaska.  We left our family emergency kit to the daughter still living "down below", and will have to build a new one...geared to colder weather, of course. 

A gallon of baby-friendly water that my wife said we just had to buy for our then one year old.  Now it's been several years since we bought it and I'm scared to drink it and scared to throw it away. 

Crank radio/tv/flashlight. 

I bought some cast iron pans so I could cook on top of our wood stove if necessary. 

Mylar blankets, water, extra clothes and shoes I keep at work (we are in earthquake country). 

Purchased a fire escape ladder for the upstairs bedroom 


Backpack full of emergency supplies including first aid, MRE's and the like.  We also have a case of water available at all times. 

A generator that my husband HAD to have! 

Batteries, flashlight, solar power flashlight, solar power radio, water, canned food, matches, first aid kit, utility knife, fire extinguisher, light sticks, power bars, thermal blankets 

Years ago, I made an emergency kit in case of loss of power due to tornados/bad thunderstorms.  This kit was placed in a safe corner of our basement. When we moved 10 years ago, the kit was moved and placed in our new basement.  I ran across the emergency kit a few months ago and decided to check the contents.  The emergency kit contained, among other things, bottled water, powdered baby formula, a spare baby bottle and diapers.  I started laughing as our youngest is now 18 years old.  Luckily we never had to use the emergency kit in the years since the kit was created. 

We have a roll-up ladder to get out of the 2nd floor in the event of a fire.  My father-in-law (from New Orleans) keeps a hatchet in the attic.  He says if the house gets flooded, we could hack our way through the roof if we have to. 

Well, we've used the generator several times, so that doesn't count. But there is an enormous collection in the basement of things I don't think I want to know about, including water and MREs and other "only my husband knows for sure" items. 

"Earthquake Preparedness Kits for my home and cars 

Fire extinguishers" 


Thank God I haven't had to use the fire extinguisher! 

A box of 9 "D" cell batteries for a small b/w TV bought to use when we lose power - the TV is long gone and we never did use it or the batteries.  So what do you do with 9 D cell batteries these days (assuming the power hasn't drained all away by now)? 

We have used the one piece of emergency equipment we have purchased - a generator.  Thankfully, it keeps our sump pump running when the electricity goes out.  A flooded basement is not something we want to deal with. 

Fire extinguisher. 

Fire extinguisher...and I hope I never have to. 

I bought four fire extinguishers years ago and I am happy to say I have never need to use one. 

Hand crank radio; lots of first aid kits; extra water 

Fire Extinguisher (thank goodness!), Space Blanket (those foil like sheets to keep you warm), and my husband is into collecting stuff in a plastic crate:  Water, bleach, t.p., Meals Ready to Eat, etc. 


Well, I have a generator that is hooked up but needs servicing, so it didn't work for this storm, and um, have never actually used it.  I am getting it serviced next week and WILL USE it going forward. 


Battery lanterns 

Camp stove that uses small propane tanks 



Camping supplies/rations" 



A Red Cross Emergency Back Pack - filled with just about everything you need to survive in a winter storm in your car - I now live in FL.  Highly unlikely I will ever use it now. 

I'm not exactly sure what it is (some kind of special radio?), which is maybe why I can't find it. My wife insists we bought it though. 

But my favorite was the reader who shared “In one of my premature senior moments I bought an ELECTRIC chain saw. I'd share more but this one should suffice.” 


Now, I also asked readers to share any applicable stories about them, as well as comments on disasters, disaster preparations, and/or preparations for disasters that aren’t quite disasters: 


Sadly I don't. Living in Southern California I really should have an earthquake kit but I don't. I really need to get on that. 

I wish the phrase "ride it out" could be banished from the English language.  Normally is said by knuckleheads who say 

I bought a crank radio/flashlight/TV from a popular box store that I was certain would never get used. That weekend the lights went out for 2 days and the family gathered around the radio listening and playing with the flashlight by taking turns at the crank. It was one of those charming events. 

"We bought a generator when we lost power in an ice storm years ago.  We have used the generator many times over the years.  Since we bought the generator, I haven't been forced to try to cook on the woodstove, so the cast iron pans have never been used.  Luckily I bought them used at a second hand shop.  I also used to keep several gallons of water in milk jugs in the basement.  The jugs got old and cracked and leaked.  I haven't replaced them lately, maybe I should.  Our boys were in the Boy Scouts and they were taught that you should always have food and water on hand for 3 days." 

When we first bought the house in 1978, it was the first time we had lived in a two-story house.  Since the house is older (circa 1910), we felt that we needed a way to get out of the house if the house was on fire on the first floor.  We moved back to NJ and took the ladder with us (one-story home).  When we relocated back to OR, it came with us again - back to our 2 story home in OR.  The movers had lots of comments concerning it's usefulness in a one-story hour. 

In the category of emergency supplies that have been used, you can count our small fire-proof safe which holds passports, cash, computer back-ups, a video record of the rooms in our home and other "important" papers.  Can't tell you how easy it was to grab that safe when the evacuation call came and know that everything was in one place. 


We are not organized enough to provide for disasters.  We do own flashlights, but that completes our list. 

I'm usually "prepared" whether it was for earthquakes when I lived in CA or tornados when I lived in the Midwest or Y2K, or hurricanes now that I am back on the East Coast.  I think the Y2K preparations were the most frustrating. Despite all my consciousness, Isabel caught me off guard.  It's challenging but I think I am getting better at sorting out. Still, I think we might be a little hungry about now if we were still without power and a food source. 

I live in earthquake country (northern CA). I'm also a dedicated camper. So I figure we can always eat food left over from a camping trip & use our camping gear if we have to. 

We live on the west coast and, because of the high potential for an earthquake, we've made a concerted effort to be prepared in case of the "big one".  All our emergency supplies (the batteries, water, and food) are rotated every 6 months.  This means that what we don't end up using due to an emergency, we start consuming, or is given away.  We have enough on hand to shelter-in-place without outside help for 7 to 10 days.  Our family also has an emergency evacuation and/or shelter-in-place plan.  We also have an emergency contact number to call outside of California for each family member to call to report where they are and if ok.   Those of us living in earthquake country are drilled all the time (especially in the workplace) to be better prepared then most in the event of a natural disaster. 

It is always better to err on the side of caution.  I have heard some complaints that Hurricane Irene turned out to be a non-event, not the great cataclysm predicted.  The complainers are just lucky and should be thankful that they are not among the many whose lives were turned completely upside down. 


"The food in the kits gets ""yucky"" eventually and has to be replaced.  Thank goodness I haven't had to use them!!" 

While living in one of our past houses, we had bought one of those big plastic tote containers and filled it with bottled water, canned food (and a can opener!) first aid and other supplies that might come in handy in the event of a tornado or other disaster that would shut off power and prevent commerce.  We stashed it in the basement and felt good about it being there.  When we sold the house and were moving, we decided to leave it there so that the incoming homeowner could have it. 

Our most common disasters are snowstorms, which I don't want to even think about at this time of year! 

My son went to a two-week class called "Safety School", which included an extensive portion regarding surviving a fire.  He was so scared we purchased a couple of fire extinguishers. 

Having once lived on the gulf coast, we acquired some things, such as a generator, chain saw, camping equipment (lanterns, cook stove, etc.) that we probably wouldn't have purchased otherwise.  Most of it we ended up using anyway for camping vacations and trimming trees. 

After the storm season of 2004 (direct hits from Charlie, Frances, Jeanne, all within 6 weeks) and losing power over and over, we bought a generator.  Best hurricane repellant for Central FL since then (knock on wood) but we do fire it up from time to time to make sure the oil and gas are fresh...speaking of wood, we spent that summer with the windows boarded shut.  Won't do that again. 

Here were my favorites: 

Growing up in the 60's, my father was a WWII vet, so he insisted we be prepared for "the big one," whatever that was.  So under our stairs in the cellar, he built a pantry that was stocked with every type of food that came in a can.  20 years later, the food was still sitting there. By then, I can't imagine that my mother didn't make him throw the crap out--after all, if we were, indeed, hit by "the big one," would we actually think of EATING that food? Cans with rust all over them?  I think not.  Maybe she left if there, knowing that if she threw it all out, he'd just replace it and it would be MORE waste! 

Sept 2009 - Hurricane force winds hit the Ohio Valley and we lost power in our neighborhood for over 4 days.  We must have been on a priority line and got our power back within 8 hours.  But we saw lots of neighbors cooking out each day.  It was actually a great event for the neighborhood. 

My husband bought a generator because he was tired of the electricity going out.  It was not a "whole house" generator but it was pretty big and would have run everything except the central air/heat.  The next time we had a power outage, we did not use it because he was afraid of annoying the neighbors (they are loud, especially when everything else is quiet).  I made him sell it after that. 


Camp stove that uses small propane tanks ... actually acquired back in the days when I was young enough to think sleeping on the ground in a tent was fun (yeah, what was I thinking?). This week I have had occasion to use it for the first time in two decades (am I dating myself?). We have had no power since wretched Irene blew through on Sunday and it is now Wednesday ... day four ... no hot water ... no hot showers ... but thank heaven for that stove and an ancient battered percolator coffee pot we do have HOT COFFEE! To that I say amen. I'll deal with the rest but I need my caffeine. 

Whatever you have --- test in advance!  Our year-old generator never left the box; we tested it the night before Irene's visit and found a crack in the gas tank.  Fortunately easy to fix.  Worked for working for friends who have been out of power for 4 days. 

Favorite "disaster" item (you didn't ask but i thought I'd share anyway  is a crank radio.  I crank a handle and can get information.  Unfortunately sometimes my arm gives out before I get to the power restoration updates. 

But this week’s Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who offered this insight:  “Laying down fully opened ironing boards will not divert a torrent of water from entering your basement window(s).” 

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!