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Organizing an Emergency Kit

August 5, 2013

Having an emergency kit, let alone an emergency plan is not something we think of having or regularly updating. But emergencies do happen and sometimes more often than we wish. Here in Toronto, we have had a lot of extreme weather fronts hitting us – mainly involving rain. Recently a month’s worth of rain fell in about 6 hours and as a result, there was major flooding and blackouts. Where I lived had a blackout for about 8 hours and in the days and weeks after there were rolling blackouts as the heatwave continued.

Urban living is a complex structure of agreements, systems, and environments.

All the supermarkets and stores in my neighbourhood were also affected and it took them a couple of days to get back up and running. There was nowhere locally to eat out or buy food – locally – for about 30 hours. Though it was extraordinary to witness such a dramatic weather front, I was merely inconvenienced more than anything. I got off quite lightly. I am not elderly, sick, homeless, nor do I live in a basement. Urban living is a complex structure of agreements, systems, and environments that are all inter-related.

I checked in on my neighbours to make sure they were okay – they were – just minor leaks. I work with charities that care for the most vulnerable in our society. They have systems, processes, and environments that help them cope and sustain their work in unexpected emergencies. They and their clients will still be seriously impacted but because they have to plan for emergencies they are better prepared than the average person on the street.

And this got me thinking. What should someone who lives in a built-up urban environment have in their emergency kit? How should they keep it? Where should they keep it? How do you maintain it? I am part of an on-line group for emergency and disaster relief management specialists and I decided to put the question out to the group: What should go in an emergency kit when you live in a built-up area in a city? The most amazing dialogue followed. These professionals are from all over the world. At the end of this post I have a section called Resources – these are sites that have more information on preparing for emergencies.

People who live in cities do not have the space for storing a comprehensive emergency kit. So how I have approached this is in stages. The first being to plan, the second to prepare a kit and included in this kit is a list of all the other things that might be necessary to grab from your home on short notice. Customise this list to your needs and reality. If you live in a condo, on the 20th floor you are not going to need a shovel but you will need comfortable running shoes if you have to walk down the emergency exit stairs. Familiarize yourself with what is on this list and commit to keeping everything that is on it in the places you say they are being kept. I was once in a high rise condo in an earthquake and the building started swaying. Knowing what to do and where to get everything needs to be automatic – if you have to “think” about it you won’t be able to recall. It is also a good idea to have a small kit in your car with you too.


  • Plan how to meet or contact your family in an emergency… cell phone, text, email… for example, if you find yourself in an emergency, send a text – it will alert your closest of kin and EM will be able to identify where you sent it from so it will act also as a GPS for emergency services. Maintain regular communication with your family so you generally know where they plan to be. Just pretend it is 1965 and cell phones and GPS units are not in everyone’s hands.
  • Know all exits in the home.
  • I’d also recommend getting to know your neighbours so that you’re all aware of the resources available to you within the neighbourhood.
  • Know who of your neighbours is vulnerable and/elderly so that they can be checked in on and/or helped.
  • Make copies of important documents: Birth and marriage certificates, passports, Medical information, licences, wills, land deeds and insurance. You might want to put them in a safety deposit box or give them to friends and family who live out of town.
  • Make sure you have a working carbon monoxide detector (VIP – this saved my life once!) and smoke detector.
  • Make sure you have a fire extinguisher.
  • Know-how and where to turn off your water, electricity, and gas in your home. If you rent then ask your landlord.


  • Make sure your kit is easy to carry and everyone in the household knows where it is. Keep it in a backpack, duffle bag or suitcase with wheels, in an easy-to-reach, accessible place, such as your front hall closet.
  • A detailed paper map of your area in the city and a city map.
  • Portable crank/windup radio for news and instructions.
  • Crank/windup flashlights will reduce the need for batteries, which can deplete during storage if their supply is not fresh.
  • A whistle. The best choice, a dog whistle. K9’s can hear a dog whistle at some distance and they are easier to blow.
  • Water – at least two litres of water per person per day; include small bottles that can be carried easily.
  • Food that won’t spoil, such as canned food, energy bars and dried foods (replace food and water once a year)
  • Manual can-opener
  • First-aid kit
  • Extra keys to your car and house
  • Some cash in smaller bills, such as $10 bills and change.
  • Contact information (with pictures of the family members – recent- is a good idea and also remember pictures of pets so you can help identify them and show ownership).
  • A list of anything you might need to grab from the house and take with you (personalize according to your needs), and where it is kept (for quick grabbing), such as prescription medication, infant formula, equipment for people with disabilities, food, water, medication for your pets or service animal, change of clothing and footwear for each household member, sleeping bag or warm blanket for each household member, toiletries, hand sanitiser, garbage bags, toilet paper, water purifying tablets, basic tools (hammer, pliers, wrench, screwdrivers, work gloves, dust mask, pocket knife), and duct tape (to tape up windows, doors, air vents, etc.).



Free Professional Organizing Advice for you!

We could all use something to look forward to right now.  I want to do something that will add value to your life, that would help you during these confusing and challenging times. When you are organized there is less chaos, less overwhelm. An organized home can bring you a sense of calm, ground you, and help you feel more in control. It is one of the things that we can influence and control despite what’s happening in other areas of our lives or communities.


I am offering a “mini organizing consult” for free, share it with your co-workers, family, friends, on Linkedin, post it on Facebook, or Instagram, or Twitter. Let everyone know because I want to give back and help you. Now is when people really need it.

All you need to do is complete this FORM, attach a photo of 1 area in your home or office that you need organizing help with. Every week I am going to choose at least one person to work with. Here are a couple of readers I have helped already:

1 comment

  1. To conclude your request for information on disasters on LinkedIN, may I suggest that preparing for and survival following serious accidents & disasters does not take long.

    The check list to go on a week long out door camping trips has about all of the things one needs.

    Disaster recovery and insurance claim management is a very different issue. Under severe stress consumers always start in the middle and have to work their way back.

    I am a former member of NAPO NYC NAPO National and have personally managed thousands of disaster recoveries.
    To see what consumers really need to do to cover their Assets go to or
    I will be interested in your feed back on this and other issues.

    BTW.. I am the guy in NYC who created
    Ron Alford
    Founder The DISASTER MASTERS. 1980

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