Disaster planning was absent in many homes along the Gulf Coast, and that lack of preparedness for the Katrina tragedy sure has focused attention on the subject among our friends.
"Do you have a generator? A wood stove? Got a stock of bottled water and canned foods?" they ask.
It is unlikely that we will have the kind of tidal waves and flooding that New Orleans had, but we sure get blizzards and ice storms, and -- remember -- Western New York does lie over earthquake faults.
This suggests that we outdoor folks ought to be better situated to handle emergencies than some of our neighbors, and if we are not, well, shame on us!
All of us own flashlights, lanterns and similar lighting devices. We should keep fuel and batteries around for their use, because we won't be able to get to the store to replenish supplies when the Big One hits, whatever Big One we might get.
Many of us have sleeping bags, tents and probably have some sort of cooking apparatus. I have a neat one-burner Coleman that will run on fuel siphoned from my gas tank -- should the fuel bottle become empty. By the way, I consider stoves and lanterns that use unleaded gasoline a lot better proposition than propane tanks or propane fuel cartridges for just the reason stated above.
A good portable radio and spare batteries seems to be the next smart item to keep on hand.
Should we have some sort of inundation and the water supplies (or the snow) is tainted, water purification tablets or a camper's water filter is probably a good idea to have in the kit.
All this stuff is relatively cheap, readily available at a wide variety of outlets and ought to be on hand.
The fancier among us might choose to buy prepared backpacking meals, but -- as many experienced campers do -- we always relied on the packaged stuff that just needs water. These meals are available at the supermarket. In our camping days we tore off the bulky cardboard packaging and labeled the inner pouches, but if these emergency rations are in a pantry you don't need to go that far.
Of course you can open cans, too -- if you have a manual can opener for when the electricity fails!.
I'm a big believer in a decent home first aid kit, not one of the tiny pre-packaged items -- although they are better than nothing. You want a lot of gauze pads, bandaging tape and maybe a clean bandanna or two (to fashion slings, tie on temporary splints or use as tourniquets). A variety of Band-Aids, burn and disinfectant ointments or sprays ought to be in that kit, too. Use a decent size plastic box to hold it all and label it clearly so it can be found and taken along when needed.
People who need special medication ought to keep plenty on hand in that kit, too, and make sure that it is clearly labeled for use in an emergency, as in, "You have been ordered to evacuate!"
This is all basic Boy and Girl Scout training. But I always wonder at seeing the stunned survivors of disasters who complain that they don't have any way to cook.
After Andrew hit Florida some years ago, my fellow outdoor writers were amazed that no one thought to salvage wood -- there was a lot of it -- and build a fire.
Which reminds me: pack some matches (preferably waterproof) and a disposable butane lighter in that emergency kit, too. Plastic zipped bags are handy for storing those till needed.
Having said all this, I plan to overhaul our camping gear and check on supplies over the next few weeks, as the news coverage slows and before the shock of reading about the disaster wears off, making us put these preparations on the back burner.