I live in a city.
I have a grab-and-go bag with the kinds of emergency supplies you sell, and I'm looking to get it more and more complete. My first aid kits are sources of amusement to my sedentary coworkers, and yesterday's big find was a pocket-sized crank-powered flashlight that will never need batteries. I keep a reflective blanket and some super-absorbent cloths for drying, scrubbing, washing, and cushioning, some disposable wipes for when there's no water for washing, survival food, a spare bottle for water, money, and maps.
But when the day comes, if it ever comes, that I have to grab my emergency bag, shove the cat into the carrier with the spare food and water, and bolt, I may very well end up not halfway up a mountain with not another human being in three days' travel, but in a shelter, with 500 people who have just experienced disaster, and may not have packed emergency bags.
When I started planning my emergency kit, I started thinking about what survival means in a setting like that. In a shelter, I wouldn't have to start a fire - in fact, I probably wouldn't be allowed to - but there are other issues which arise.
Survival means not just maintaining existence, but thriving. Being able to sleep restfully. Having a solid, rational basis for hope. And it means having positive interactions with the people around you. There are animals, like tigers, which are solitary and territorial. They do not require each other for survival, and thrive when they are well apart. And there are social animals: bees, ants, otters, lions...humans. Survival in an urban disaster that throws me into close quarters with other people, wrecks my privacy, and threatens all of us with a dull, numbing despair involves more than my trusty first aid kit and reflective blanket - though it requires that, too.
And that's why, next to the 'grab-and-go' small duffel bag I keep with my poncho, my lighter, my waterproof pouch with indelible pen, my multiple lists in different places of all the phone numbers I may need, and next to the cat-carrier with spare food and water in it, I've got a third emergency bag, and that's my shelter kit.
Nothing in my shelter kit runs on batteries. Nothing is expensive. There's nothing in it I'd be angry to lose or have broken. It's not there to supplant the services of the shelters themselves. It's there to have things to offer, as and when I can. And so my shelter kit has multiple combs and picks and hundreds of tiny hair elastics. (If you followed - or were involved in - the Katrina aftermath, one of the most engaging and normalizing activities kids were spending hours on was doing each others' hair.) It has six or seven well-worn, used paper back novels with my name along the spine to increase the chance of them coming back, in order to go out again to someone else.
It has a dozen individual-sized dispensers of hand-sanitizer, and I'm working on a way of packing up as many containers as possible each holding a week's worth of vitamin and immune-boosting supplements, because if there's a better place to get sick than a shelter, I'm having a hard time thinking about it.
Survival Kit for a Shelter
My survival kit for shelter has several 8-crayon boxes of cheap crayons, and flimsy coloring books and scrap paper, and there are pencils with erasers and crosswords, word-finds, and sudoku puzzles. $10 can buy a lot of sparkly, pretty plastic beads, and a whole lot of string - useful to have in any case - to string them on. I've got $0.79 25-piece jigsaw puzzles, and a lot of packs of cards.
I remember, 20 years ago, being told that if I went to Russia, I should take blue jeans and panty-hose with me to trade with. That's not what I'm talking about here. I'm not packing these things with the idea that I'll get them back, or that they'll buy me any favors, any more than I think I can provide for all the needs of everyone I end up with. I absolutely can't. It's not my job, and it's not within my capabilities.
Homo Sapiens are a Social Being
But I can do something, and what I can do, I will do, because humans need each other, and because once food, shelter, warmth, and safety have been taken care of, we're still not done.