Getting ready for the unexpected in Austin


I know that this isn’t my usual post for A is For Austin, but between the storms in the Northeast and the earthquakes in Utah, it seems like being prepared is a really good idea.

Whether it’s a fire, flood, hurricane, tornado or ice storm, when the unexpected hits here in Austin, will you be ready? Experts say that in a crisis, it usually takes about three days for people to either reach safety or for help to arrive. So being prepared with the things you need for those first 72 hours only makes sense.

That’s why I decided to take a step away from my usual reviews to offer some advice on putting together a 72 hour kit for you and for your kids. Sure, there are books about what to include and what to leave behind (I know…I wrote one!) But in reality you can put together a simple three-day kit without spending days researching it.

Ready?  Here’s a checklist for simple 72 hour kits for kids or adults

I know it’s kind of long.  But don’t let that throw you. The list has suggestions for kits for kids, for teens, for babies, and for adults. And just in case an emergency keeps you in your house instead of heading out, I’ve also included things you should have on hand in case weather makes it impossible to get out.

Most of the things on the list are easy to find around Austin. Some you may want to buy online. Not sure where to look?  Here are some suggestions for where to find the basics for your kits without spending a fortune.

BackpacksGoodwill and Salvation Army are great places to find good backpacks for really low prices. Expect to pay from $5 to $10 for a full-sized backpack in good condition. If possible, choose a backpack with separate zippered sections — it makes it easier to keep things organized.

Camping gear – When it comes to things like space blankets, camp stoves, emergency tube tents and high density food bars, head for your local REI , (there are several around Austin) Bass Pro (the nearest one is in San Antonio) or Cabelas (head to Buda, TX for the closest one to Austin.) Yes, you might find cheaper prices at some discount stores, but the quality might not be there. An emergency situation is not a time to cut corners.

Sleeping bags and tents – You can get a compact emergency sleeping bag at almost any outdoors store, like the ones mentioned above. But if you want to get a real sleeping bag or tent that will last, start with Academy Sports.  They have good prices, and several Austin area locations. If money is tight, head for the thrift stores to check for sleeping bags. I usually see several decent ones each time I’m at Goodwill, and they’re usually under $15.

Multitools, pen knives, scissors and more – If it’s something that might have been confiscated at the security checkpoints at the airport, odds are it’s available at the State Surplus Store in Austin.  Go here for multitools, basic tools like screwdrivers, and emergency supplies like Swiss Army knives, all at seriously low prices.

The little things – Before you pay a lot for the small things in your 72 hour kit, check out Dollar Tree. They’re a great source for kids books, coloring books, emergency candles, inflatable pillows and small sized-toiletries. There are plenty of locations around Austin, so it’s easy to find one near you.

A word of caution…avoid buying crayons or toys made in China. Yes, they’re cheap, but they may also be toxic, so skip those, even if it means paying a bit more somewhere else.

If the budget is super-tight, consider printing coloring pages from your computer and stapling them together. Saving the crayons from restaurants after your kids color is another way to stock your bags for little or no cost.

Healthy food and drink choices – If you’re facing the stress of an evacuation or a storm that makes travel impossible, the last thing you need to do is add to your stress by filling your bags with junk food. Austin is fortunate to have several wonderful places that offer healthy, compact choices in food and packaged drinks. Try Whole Foods, Central Market or Sprouts for tasty, healthy snack bars, dried fruit, juice pouches (or boxes) and ready-to-heat packaged meals with less salt than grocery store brands (important when water may be limited.)

Outdoor clothing – If the weather is cold (admittedly a rarity here in Austin, but without proper clothing, even the 50’s can feel cold), having warm clothing can be life-saving. But if cost is an issue, try some of the area’s better consignment and thrift stores.  My favorite is Buffalo Exchange, where they consistently offer incredible choices for a fraction of even the discount stores.

Water pouches and MREs – Water and food are essential for survival, but commercial packaging designed for kitchen use are often too bulky or heavy for 72 hour kits. Using water pouches instead of bottles, and adding some MREs to your pack can lighten your load and make those three days more bearable.

I haven’t found a reliable in-town source for these in Austin, so I recommend you order them from a reliable online store like Emergency Essentials.A case of 64 of them is under $20.00, so it’s an affordable choice, too.

If you do order online, sticking with a trusted source helps you avoid damaged or spoiled food — a problem with some online “survivalist” websites.

What’s in your own four walls — Odds are, a lot of what you need is already in your own house. Look around for small toys, a cuddly stuffed animal, an extra blanket or some ready-to-eat snacks. Put some extra crayons into a plastic box, and give those scuffed shoes another life as your backup pair for emergencies. You may be surprised at how much of your needed emergency supplies won’t cost you anything extra!

Tips and ideas:

  • Use plastic zipper bags to keep things together, and prevent leaks. Those vacuum storage bags are great, too, if you have them.  Just check them once in awhile for leaks to prevent one “re-inflating” in your backpack!
  • Check clothes and shoes every 3-4 months to make sure they still fit and are appropriate for the season
  • Don’t underestimate the power of a familiar toy to a child in a scary situation. Buy a extra of a favorite and keep it in the bag in case there’s no time to grab the well-loved toys
  • Twice a year, check food and drink for expiration dates, leaks, crushing or other damage. I like to have an “eat the treats” party with my kids when it’s time to update or replace the food and drinks in the bags
  • Store the bags in a area of your home where you could grab them in at a moment’s notice. Avoid high temperature storage, as that will destroy food and other items (melted crayons are no fun!)
  • Consider making a duplicate bag for your car, in case an emergency strikes when you’re not near home. Most of the items in an emergency bag are also good to have if your car gets stranded.
  • If your kids are little and go to daycare or a babysitter, consider keeping an extra kit there.
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