The Comfort Kit! An emergency kit for modern living

You know you’re all grown up when you finally start procrastinating preparation for natural disasters. I did for years! And then you know you’re getting downright quadragenarian when you finally actually have an emergency kit. I’m really not all that big on actually surviving, though. Any situation bad enough to threaten my survival is probably going to make life so unpleasant for so long that it’s not clear to me that I am actually interested in surviving it.

Comfort, though — now that’s another matter altogether. Seriously, most “emergency preparedness” is not about survival at all, but about maintaining some modicum of comfort and sanity (“first world problems”) in the aftermath of a super inconvenient earthquake. (Earthquakes are the only serious natural disaster concern in Vancouver.) As long as my wife and I have water and a few cans of soup, we’re going to survive. The only question is how much will we suffer while things get back to normal? Will we, for instance, be able to keep our iPad charged for long enough to watch season 3 of Game of Thrones? I certainly don’t want either of us to fail to survive unnecessarily from a preventable infection or a large but patchable “hull breach,” so we do indeed have plenty of hydrogen peroxide, gauze, and medical tape in a red nylon bag in the hall closet. But mostly we have a comfort kit, not a survival kit. And much of it is about storing power. Lex Friedman described the frustrations of his family’s life without power in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy: “With great power comes great responsibility; with no power comes a house of pain.”

My first attempt to put together an emergency kit was in about 2006. The main result of that was that, in the event of an earthquake between 2008 and 2012, we would have had a large bin full of power bars so far past their best-before dates that we could have used them as bricks for reconstruction, or perhaps thrown them in self-defense during the food riots. “Starving marauder at 2 o’clock!” Thwap! “Now he’s trying to eat it, the poor devil!”

Even the bottled water was expired when I finally got around to checking on the kit. (It didn’t even occur to me that bottled water could expire. Is that a real thing? Expired water? What goes wrong, exactly? It starts to taste so much like plastic that its imputable? Do things grow in it? And if it wasn’t antiseptic to begin with, do I want to know that?)

And the bandages! I had stocked the kit with bandages that were probably a little decrepit even back in 2006. By the time I checked them in 2012, most of them had degenerated into little paper packets of sticky residue.

Still, the original disaster kit wasn’t a complete disaster. It also had some half-dead D-cell batteries, a couple fully evaporated camp stove fuel cannisters, a dust mask, and a Swiss army knife!

In the summer of 2012, I set out to restore the dignity and utility of our kit. I’ve worked hard on this! And spent quite a bit. For about four months I went on shopping trips every couple of weeks solely devoted to this. I spent about $2500 on stuff that is mostly useless to us unless Vancouver has a Very Bad Day.

Here are some selected lessons I’ve learned:

Incredibly, all this and more is still just the tip of the iceberg. “Being prepared” is a bottomless pit. There’s really no limit to how far you could take it, even without worrying about survival. If you were truly serious about post-disaster comfort or survival, you’d have to build a posh bunker in wilderness, heavily provisioned with food, good booze, fuel and of course a complete copy of the Internet. And then you’d build three more, for redunancy.

A couple things I still want to deal with…