9/11 forced thousands of New Yorkers to endure horrible conditions during a traumatic time. Be prepared. 
Natural and man made disasters can force offices full of workers to evacuate. In big cities a disaster may also affect public transportation. In an emergency, you may be on your own and forced to improvise. Here’s how to create an Urban Emergency Evacuation Kit that you should store at work in the event of an emergency to keep you safe and prepared.
- Evaluate where you work and how far you live from work. Don’t think of it in regular transportation terms. Ask yourself what you would do if you had to get home without the use of a car or public transportation during an emergency.
- Discuss with your family what you may do in an emergency if they can’t reach you by cell phone. Discuss your options and what scenarios would be practical. Knowing what your actions may be will enable them to assist even if you can’t communicate during the emergency.
- If your family hears of an emergency, they may be able to pick up your kids, meet you at a meeting place, or be ready to spring into action when they get your call, text, or third-party message. Have a family action plan.
- Coordinate with your co-workers and exchange ideas for creating individual jump-and-run bags ideal for your situation, urban area, and workplace.
- If you work with someone who also lives near you, discuss in advance and plan on using the buddy system to get home together.
- Have them pack a bag so you each have supplies.
- Talk to management about turning kit-making into an office social or emergency planning exercise. Get permission for everyone to bring their items, pack them as a team, and make a store trip for forgotten supplies.
- Use a large, canvas, water resistant backpack with several compartments and padded shoulder straps. A waist strap will help distribute weight and make the bag easier to carry long distances.
- Since you won’t use this daily (and aren’t buying for day to day durability) you can buy an inexpensive one from a discount store, military surplus store, dollar store, or even from a local thrift store. Offer a young relative a few bucks for their left over bag from last school year. It’s all right to get one used or even with childish designs. Think function over fashion.
Buy reflective tape. Visit a fabric or athletic store or look online for reflective tape. Buy 1-3 yards as you will add it to your backpack and other items if necessary. It’s usually sold in rolls and is 1″ wide or wider.
- Add the reflective tape to the exterior of your backpack. Use fabric glue to attach it if you don’t sew.
- Attach the reflective tape to the back of the bag and the front straps.
- Be generous with the tape. It may make you visible to drivers or emergency workers.
- Save the leftover tape. You’ll need it for other projects.
- Get a poncho or other rain gear that compacts nicely. Use something you already have if it is adequate. If you buy new, look for a brightly colored material (safety yellow is an option). This can protect you from the elements on a long walk, provide shelter, and (with the tape) identify you to drivers.
- Add reflective tape to your poncho since wearing it may cover your backpack.
- Pack the folded poncho in your backpack. If it doesn’t fold into itself (as many do), you can compress it into a small bag to keep it out of your way.
- You can also wrap thick rubber hair bands to compress it. Those will also come in handy to keep long hair out of the way during the emergency. (Hair in the eyes can obstruct vision in addition to being frustrating.)
- Get a space blanket. You can buy Mylar sheets (so-called space blankets) at hardware or camping supply stores. They are large, lightweight, waterproof and exceptionally thin. They come tightly packed (about the size of an ace bandage), and should be left in their original packaging until you need to use them. (They’re very hard to refold once opened.) Because Mylar reflects heat, it can be used to retain body heat in extreme cold or to reflect away heat in extremely hot conditions.
- Pack a whistle in your backpack. A whistle will make more noise with less effort than yelling if you become trapped. The higher pitch will also carry better than your voice.
- Pack a pair of athletic shoes in your back pack. In case of an emergency, you may have to run or walk long distances in unpredictable conditions. You don’t want to do that in heels or stiff leather work shoes. Your safety may depend on moving quickly and traveling efficiently on foot. Athletic shoes are an absolute must in every person’s grab-and-go work kit!
- Don’t use a new pair, as these can cause blisters; pack a pair that is broken in but not worn out, if possible. Even a worn pair is better than wingtips or heels.
- Women should not pack dress flats or just a “comfortable” pair of shoes. Do not pack sandals! Pack athletic shoes with shock absorbing soles. If you don’t have any, you should buy some and wear them a few times before adding to your bag.
- Many athletic shoes have reflective trims but you can add more. You should still have some tape left over from the poncho and backpack.
- Pack cotton crew athletic socks that are appropriate for your athletic shoes in terms of thickness.
- Avoid low cut socks, as they don’t protect your heels when walking long distances.
- Women who wear skirts and dresses may benefit from packing knee high athletic socks to provide additional coverage for the legs.
- Stuff the socks into the shoes so as to conserve space and keep your footgear together.
- Create a small first aid kit using a quart or gallon size zipping storage bag. Label your bag. You can even add a piece of the reflective tape to make it easier to find if you drop it or are looking for it in a dark pack. Include the following items:
- Adhesive bandages: A few of each size will do. Pack mostly the 1″ since they work well for blisters. Bandages that are foam instead of fabric offer more protection for blisters and can still be used for other first aid.
- Antibiotic first aid ointment.
- Benadryl or other antihistamine: Emergencies are not a good time to have an allergic reaction.
- Epi-pen if you have been given one by your doctor for severe allergies. They’re usually willing to write prescriptions for several so you can keep several available.
- Prescription medication to last a day or two in a well-labeled container. If your medication changes, you need to update your kit. Be very specific when labeling describe the pill (or whatever), the dose, and what it treats. Don’t forget an asthma inhaler if you are an asthmatic. You may be walking and air quality could be questionable.
- Pain killers, such as aspirin. Look in the travel/trial size section of stores for small bottles.
- Ace bandage: is great for rolled ankles or can be used to immobilize a limb.
- Latex or vinyl gloves (if you are allergic to latex) are a must. You could be around injured people or need to treat someone with your first aid kit.
- Anti-bacterial hand gel for cleaning up.
- Wash cloth or hand towel: can be used for clean up, wiping a sweaty brow or signaling.
- Find a travel/trial size of saline solution (or contact lens wetting solution) and include it in your kit. Flushing eyes may be necessary for contact lens wearers or for anyone in dusty or polluted air. It can also be used to irrigate a wound.
- Assorted gauze or other first aid items. You can use additional quart or gallon size plastic storage bags to keep items dry and organized.
Pack a small flashlight. Find at least a small or medium flashlight or head light and make sure it has fresh batteries. You won’t get a warning on a massive power outage or evacuation. A flashlight is a must.
- Avoid penlights: they’re too small and dim and their batteries die quickly.
- Look for a small to medium light that takes AA or C batteries. It depends on how much space you have, your needs and how much weight you can tolerate. Lightweight plastic flashlights are great. You don’t need to spend a lot but make sure it works.
- There are many newer, pocket-sized LED flashlights on the market that are less expensive (check discount), more durable (no bulbs to burn out or break), and produce more light per set of batteries.
- Shakable flashlights have become popular but test its reliability, working time, and brightness before you rely on it in an emergency. If it takes too much of your energy to work, it won’t do you any good.
- Head-mounted torches (headlights) are more versatile and practical than hand-held torches (traditional hand flashlights).
- You can go full size (D cell) if you have room and can stand the weight.
- Add some leftover reflective tape to your flashlight, especially if it’s black. It will save you from feeling around for it or having to dump your bag. It will also make it easier to find it it’s dropped.
Pick up a dust face mask from your local hardware or paint store and add it to your kit. They only cost a few cents. If you need one, you really need one.
Pack a map of your city which includes streets and public transportation (subway stop) information. You may be forced to detour, disembark a train early, or take an alternate route — finding yourself in unfamiliar territory. Always keep a map to find the best way to your destination.
- Write down a list of emergency contact numbers. Cell phone service may be down or your phone charge may not last. Consider keeping the numbers of friends or family near work, in between work and home, and someone who could pick you up and offer shelter. Keep the numbers stashed in your kit. Phone traffic may be heavy and connections hard to come by, so don’t rely on calling information first. Your memory of numbers may also be strained in a stressful situation, so keep things written down.
- Consider a portable charging unit for your phone. There are solar and wind-up chargers available. Others often use a few small batteries and convert the power to give your phone a small charge. Check travel sites, mobile phone supply stores, or airport kiosks.
Hide cash in your bag, but not too much. You can often hide it under the sturdy cardboard bottom. You can use this for transportation or to buy food or drink. Don’t forget to include several quarters should you need to use a public phone and be able to find one.
- Don’t keep a lot of cash or advertise what you keep in your bag. You don’t want your stash pilfered by a dishonest co-worker, customer or cleaning staff.
- Pack a small pack of tissues and moist wipes. It may provide dual use in case the restroom facilities lack proper supplies. Think of the different things you may encounter on the way home. Every city and its facilities are different.
Add a all purpose pocket tool or Swiss Army knife. There are too many ways to use one of these to begin to list them all.
- Hydrate and nourish! Water is heavy to carry but you will need to have plenty available. You’ll also need high calorie snacks.
- Keep at least one sealed bottle of water in your bag, pack more if you can stand the weight.
- Refillable bottles as often as you safely can in an emergency.
- Pack granola bars, protein bars, etc. that are high in calories and carbohydrates and store well long term. Food is not only necessary for energy, it can be great for morale. Dried fruit is also an excellent option.
- Peanut butter (assuming you’re not allergic to peanuts) comes in handy tubes, is an excellent source of protein, and does not require refrigeration or cooking.
- If your children are at a nearby day care or you will be evacuating with them you should bring enough food and water for them as well.
- It’s better to have too much than too little. You can always give some away.
Tune in! Look for a small, battery operated FM transistor radio for your bag. These can be found in discount stores or electronic stores for minimal investment. All local radio stations will begin emergency broadcasting if there is an emergency in your area. Make sure it has fresh batteries and is turned off before adding it to your bag.
- Add a luggage tag with your name and contact information to your bag. If possible, add some form of identification inside your bag such as an old employee ID. You may have left behind your handbag.
- Tape an extra house key into the bottom of the bag underneath the cardboard bottom (with your money). If you leave a house key, don’t add anything to identify it as such. Even better, hang a combination lockbox from your home door (if allowed;) with a spare key in it. These are $30 at a hardware store and also come in handy anytime you or a family member accidentally lock yourself out or if you need to call a neighbor to enter your home when you are away, and you won’t need to risk losing a spare stored elsewhere. An additional advantage is that if you don’t carry a spare key in your emergency kit, you can put your address on a luggage/ID tag attached to it. A spare car key could also be helpful depending on your situation (or in a magnetic wheel-well box – these really work!).
- Resist the urge to tap into your bag for a bottle of water, band-aid, etc. Keep the kit intact and only open it to check medication expiration dates, check or replace batteries or replace dated food.
Pack your bag and store it in a locker, under your desk, in a filing cabinet nearby, or somewhere else it can be grabbed in a hurry. If in doubt, grab it.
- Take it for fire drills and other alarms. Keep it handy when news has reached you of an emergency in your city.
- You may not realize you are in a evacuation situation until you’ve been separated from your kit.
- In large cities, earthquake or tornado prone areas, and large office buildings, it is wise to be a little paranoid.
Renew your kit regularly. Set a reminder on your phone or computer to check your bag every few months. You might want to check twice a year (perhaps when you replace your smoke detector batteries or set clocks forward or back for daylight savings time), use family birthdays as reminders, or set the reminders on your desktop calendar. At least check once a year on a reminder date, such as September 11th.
- Check the perishables (batteries, food, and first aid items) for expiration, leaking, or borrowing. Verify that maps and phone numbers are all up-to-date. Check for brittle gloves, missing items, operation electronics, and anything else that could go wrong that you wouldn’t want to face in an emergency.
- Send an email to your home computer with a list of items you’ll need to restock it, or print your list. You may not remember once you leave the office.
- Buy a metro card or public transit pass and keep it stashed in your bag. If you get to a station that’s operational you can skip the ticket counter or not have to worry about finding cash or exact change.
- If you have a slightly larger back pack, you may have room to stash your handbag or a wallet inside. Don’t concern yourself with briefcases and laptops, just get what you need to survive on the streets for hours. For the NYC blackouts many were attempting to travel with books, files, briefcases and non-essentials. They were throwing these away or asking strangers and business to hold the items with some success.
- Lip balm and sunscreen are also extremely handy to have.
- When coordinating with co-workers see if anyone has extra items at home they can contribute to a community box for your kit making day. Someone in your office may have kids and plenty of used backpacks, an extra poncho or even some extra batteries or band aids. It adds up.
- Try adding a piece of duct tape or medical tape to the on/off switches of flashlights and batteries. You don’t want to accidentally rustle the bag under your desk and turn the item on. You’ll have dead batteries when you need them.
- If you work in flood prone areas or areas known for drainage issues, you should keep a pair of appropriate waterproof footwear.
- Keep batteries in store packaging as placing batteries in devices allows them to slowly discharge. Have scissors or your multi-purpose or Swiss army knife to cut open the package or store batteries in a marked plastic bag.
- Consider adding a pair of safety glasses to your kit. These can be especially helpful to prevent foreign matter, dust, blood or other irritants from your eyes. These can be purchased at some drug stores, safety supply, construction supply or medical supply stores. You can also find them online. They are inexpensive and many can be placed over everyday glasses.
- Think about your climate and add to your kit to allow you to travel more comfortably in areas with severe and possibly dangerous temperatures.
- If you live in a severely cold climate area, you could also add a pair of sweatpants, hats, thermal underwear or other cooler weather wear. Something super warm may be needed instead of fashionable to and from work wear. You could pack a larger pack.
- If you live in a hot weather climate where exposure and heat could be harmful you should think of packing a lightweight shirt, shorts, a hat and additional water.
- You may not need to buy everything at once. You can probably borrow from your home medicine cabinet and tool box to get started. Instead of buying full sized products you should visit the travel size section in your local drug or department store for other items. The packaging will be small and easy to pack.
- Managers, if there’s extra money in the budget consider giving your team items to enhance their bag. Encourage kit refreshing and reward your team with gift cards to discount stores, flashlights, first aid kits or even just cater snacks while they are putting their kits together.
- A mechanical pencil, a notepad and a book of matches or lighter would be smart additions to the kit.
- With Blackberry, iPhone and smart PDA’s you will have accessibility and mobility and can safely leave the office without hauling laptops.
- Reverse the batteries or use another method to prevent the flashlight and radio from coming on when not in use. You don’t want to rustle the bag and unknowingly turn on the item and drain the battery.
- If you are packing multiple battery powered devices, try to choose ones that use the same type of battery. You can then pack an extra set that works for both and will be able to trade off in the devices.
- Keep the bag in your locker or under your desk. Don’t keep it in an underground parking garage as you may not have time or the access to retrieve it. If you can, stock an extra kit more appropriate for your car.
- Laptops, expensive jewelry and furs could make you a target for robbery. Consider leaving what you can at work and traveling with less ostentatious looking items.
- Consider making it a staff team building exercise. Do this instead of an ice cream social or happy hour.