Lessons learned on preparedness

Published 10:45 pm Thursday, June 28, 2012

After having lived about six years in Hurricane Central, also known as the Florida Panhandle, and making it through two blizzards in Washington D.C. after rarely seeing snow growing up, I understand the importance of an emergency kit.

When Hurricane Ivan rolled through Destin, I evacuated with two cats and every important photo and document I owned. The condo I was renting was just fine upon my return, but the Gulf front neighborhood had suffered damage and the kitties and I were displaced for about two weeks.

Power was out all over the area. Gas was scarce, and I wished I had packed more deodorant and toothpaste instead of lease agreements and tax information.

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By the time the next storm passed through, I was more relaxed by the Gulf and decided to camp out at the newspaper I was working for at the time. The building had a generator and a place to crouch down in case of severe weather. The cats stayed in the pressroom with a few other evacuated animals.

My emergency kit for that storm consisted of stick deodorant, toothpaste, baby wipes, spray deodorant, Febreeze, Tide pens, hand sanitizer, soap, shampoo, waterless shampoo and anything else I could find to keep me smelling fresh.

I’d learned a lesson the time before and scanned all my important documents and photos and backed them up with digital copies.

I moved to D.C. in 2009, having lived in Alabama and Florida my whole life. Besides one trip to Colorado and one to Washington State, I’d only seen snow flurries.

So when the local meteorologists began to predict snow shortly before Christmas, I was ecstatic! I’d made plans to visit a friend a couple of miles from my apartment after work for dinner and snow fun. The snow was falling harder than expected, so I slept on the couch.

The next morning, the world was covered in white. It was beautiful and still coming down. My friend piled sweatshirt after sweatshirt on me until I felt like the little kid in “A Christmas Story” who complains about not being able to move his arms.

I started on my trek home, walking in knee-deep snow in most areas. I passed by a grocery store, not thinking that I should probably pop in. When I trudged up my front steps about 30 minutes later, I remembered, I was out of bread and pretty much everything else that could have made my first blizzard more bearable.

A trip around the corner to a small neighborhood grocery store left me with the understanding that D.C. folks were way more serious about stocking up than Florida folks were – I didn’t think that was possible. The shelves were empty and stayed that way for a week because roads couldn’t be cleared for deliveries.

The cats were not pleased at their lack of dining choices that included mashed potatoes and spaghetti.

Now I have an emergency kit that stays stocked no matter where I am. Part of the contents come from expert recommendations, others come from personal preferences.

Inside a larger plastic bin, there’s a small medical kit I put together myself with bandages, allergy medicine, pain reliever, anesthetic cream, bug repellant and other common items. Then I have a small bag filled with hygiene-related products and toilet paper because, hey, if my house blows away, I still have to look good for the news crews that roll into town. A small tool kit is a must, coupled with batteries of all sizes, flashlights, including a hand-cranked one and a battery operated radio and non-perishable food. A set of pajamas and another set of clothes are tucked in the side of the big plastic bin that holds everything. There are also sandwich bags, paper towels and trash bags. And I don’t forget about my furry friends who have survived many a weather emergency with me. Collars, leashes, food, water and collapsible bowls complete the kit. We even have a little extra to share with the animals that may have been left to fend for themselves.

The kit stays put. I check the battery expiration dates and replace food each year, but nothing else comes out. That way, if anything, even the Zombie Apocolypse, happens, we’re ready to run out the door – smelling pleasant all the way.

Next weekend is a tax-free holiday for emergency preparedness items. Both Troy and Pike County are voluntarily participating.

The tax-free holiday runs from 12:01 a.m. July 6 to July 8. A list of exempt items can be found at revenue.alabama.gov. Just click on the “severe weather prep” icon.

 Robbyn Brooks is a senior staff writer. Contact her at robbyn.brooks@troymessenger.com.