The recent Times Square bombing attempt reminded me to revisit our disaster preparedness plan. My partner Bryan and I live in New York City and first created ours in 2005, the year beginning with George W. Bush’s second term, North Korea claiming nuclear weapons, Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking — and Katrina.  Survival was the big theme. So we downloaded a template off the web, opened a bottle of pinot noir, and ordered in dinner to create it. Looking now for that file on my MacBook Air (an update since the iMac then), I considered how much has changed for us in five years. Bryan and I have both switched jobs twice, we have three more nieces and nephews, we have cycled through a dozen housekeepers, the Chinese restaurant from which we ordered that night has closed (a victim of the credit crunch) and our two-bedroom apartment’s value has doubled — and halved. Updating our emergency plan, five areas revealed how else life can move on.

1. Communication

In 2005, we insisted on having separate wireless carriers in case one went down. But then the iPhone came out in 2007, and we both giddily switched to AT&T without a second thought. I bought off ebay matching Barbie two-way radios as a precautionary back-up, but during 2009’s financial meltdown, I donated them for the tax deduction. New phone chargers and batteries for all our portable devices including flashlights and radios also had to be considered. I checked the freezer and found a row of AA, AAAA and C batteries. Urban legend says the cold keeps them fresh. Why no D batteries? They’re ugly.

2. The Contact List

Phone and email information for family to contact during the first hours of any emergency didn’t need much updating except for cousin Jeremy who obviously no longer works for Lehman Brothers. My parents would likely be at the slots in Atlantic City, and Bryan’s folks would be upstate playing golf. Our siblings would be at work, home, or soccer matches. There were new people to add, however and a few to drop. I moved friends without kids to the top of the contact priority list, not out of prejudice but for basic efficiency. During a chemical or biological attack, I cannot afford the time to hear about nanny troubles or Hebrew School. Plus, kids ooze germs and Suze Orman always says health is your most important asset.

3. Food and Water

When I assembled our original emergency “Go bag,” we hadn’t yet joined the farm-to-table movement. Now I obsessively read food packaging labels and avoid anything with more than five ingredients. The Coast Guard-approved food rations in our Go bag had not only expired, but they had potassium sorbate, pantothenic acid and copper! I needed to somehow find nut-free, gluten-free, chemical-free and animal-cruelty-free shelf-stable foods to replace them. The two emergency gallons of water we kept in the basement also were gone. It wasn’t our co-op’s flood last year that ruined them, but that scandalous article about Fiji Water. I threw our two bottles out before another magazine said bottled was fine. I need to go to Whole Foods.

4. Luggage

The Go bag itself was a sensible and sturdy knapsack kept in the bottom of the coat closet, ready to flee. I recently turned 40, however and knapsacks now seem too juvenile, the way ironic t-shirts create the illusion I stay out past midnight to “party.” Fortunately, I found a great vintage duffle bag at the American Red Cross Store which comes packed with supplies. Inside the bag however there was also my zipped Jack Spade portfolio case holding copies of important documents. The problem here was less that both our driver’s licenses and passports had expired; replacing them would take minutes. The issue was the zippered sleeve itself. In 2005, Jack Spade was eclectic hip; now straight guys buy the brand and it’s sold through Zappos. I’d rather use a paper clip and a Ziploc.

5. The Meeting Place

Assuming we would need to leave Manhattan, the plan was still for me to pick up our dog Ezra from day care, go home, grab the emergency bag and unplug the appliances. Bryan would get the car (then an SUV, now a Mini), pick us up, and then we could argue over which tunnel to exit the city.  The overpriced Chelsea parking lot we use now requires Bryan to call an hour before and have the parking card with him. Even in a surprise crisis, the manager would insist we should have called ahead and he’ll get our car when his guy gets back from lunch. At least we won’t need cash for tips.

The consistencies in life, however, are reassuring. The book I’ll bring is still the one I didn’t finish in 2005, just now on the iPad. An emergency $100 is packed and another $100 is scattered in places throughout the apartment I can’t remember. We still plan to drive North towards my sister’s and his parents, both of whom have generators — unless Indian Point is the problem. Then, we’ll head to my folks in New Jersey who like cats more than dogs, but they are near the Short Hills Mall. We’ll probably need some stuff.

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MAT ZUCKER is chief creative officer of a big ad agency in New York City, but more importantly is a small time writer of memoirs, essays and fiction on the side. He has published in The New York Press, Our Town, The West Side Spirit and nthWord and is currently the advertising correspondent for The Faster Times. Cornell graduated Mat with a B.A. in English/Creative Writing. One vaguely interesting thing about Mat is his Oral Allergy Syndrome, which prevents him from eating apples, pears, peaches, plums, berries, carrots, cucumbers, celery, nuts, snow peas, tomatoes and red wine — though gratefully not white. He lives in Manhattan with his partner Bryan and their dog Ezra Pound and tweets regularly. He is from Springfield, New Jersey, but you're sure to hear plenty about that.

14 responses to “When Your Life Moves Beyond Your Emergency Plan”

  1. Don Mitchell says:

    Welcome, Matt.

    It’s a good kit you’ve put together.

    But no gas masks? I’m serious. My son and his wife live in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan and I got them masks — put in a drawer, remember that it’s there, and if a dirty bomb goes off, grab and wear. A decent mask with an NBC (nuclear-biological-chemical) filter is not much more than $100.

  2. dwoz says:

    You’re missing the Starbucks prepaid gift card in that kit.

    Because you know, the dog will get thirsty during your exodus.

  3. This is excellent.

    Absolutely loved it. All of it. Cracking stuff.

    Welcome to TNB, hope you post again soon…

  4. Gwyneth says:

    Mat, you have a Mini? What color? So does Cristella (British racing green), and I’m sorely tempted to steal it from her driveway half a mile from my mom’s house. The beautiful simplicity of my own emergency plan is since I wouldn’t want to live in a world where New York got blown up, and New York’s always the first place people try to blow up, living here means I don’t need to do anything at all.

  5. Erika Rae says:

    It’s slowly dawning on me how ill-prepared I am for a disaster. This is going to require some thought…

    Fun post. Good luck tracking down that scattered $100!

  6. Mindy Macready says:

    I think if the dog could speak, it would want to go to Italy.

  7. dwoz says:

    I’ve decided to revamp my disaster preparedness plan too.

    I went down to Home Depot and bought an outdoor lock-box, so if I have to evacuate in an emergency, I can leave the check for the landscaper there, and not have to worry about paying him late fees or giving him house keys. I trust him but I don’t trust his crew.

    Mindy, I thought Ezra preferred Paris?

    • Mindy Macready says:

      Ezra preferred humping II Duce’s leg…sure a trip to Paris is a must all that pussy poodle.

    • Mat Zucker says:

      That’s kind of brilliant about the lock-box and leaving a check for the landscaper. There’s a whole area of disaster planning around proactive bill payment one can consider. Plus you can be subjective and pay your favorites (dog walker, landscaper, MINI dealer, hair stylist, Xmas tips for mailman and sanitation workers) and NOT pay your least favorites (utility bills, health insurance).

      When they realize everyone else got paid and they didn’t, they’ll sure get the message about customer service!

      • dwoz says:

        It’s really amazing, walking around a Home Depot. For such a big store, you’d expect a bit better selection.

        Couldn’t find any Belvedere, or Grey Goose, or even, gasp, Ketel One. Finally, after a lot of searching, I did find some Smirnoff, and wouldn’t you know it was right where one would expect to find it, with the rest of the paint thinner.

  8. Simon Smithson says:

    I always kinda liked D batteries, actually. I like the way they stand out from the pack, with their square shoulders and tough-but-fair frontier attitude.

    A well-planned kit, but who can plan for the changing time? Not David Bowie, and therefore, not anyone else either.

    Welcome to TNB, Mat!

  9. Joe Daly says:

    Unlike Simon, I agree that D batteries are ugly. I keep them in the bag until I get home, just in case I run into someone I know.

    Man, this brought me back to the post 9/11 discussions that my then-girlfriend and I had living just west of Boston.

    “Well, I mean, if they go after Boston, we’re far enough away that there wouldn’t be radiation, right?”

    “Oh, totally. I mean, what, like with all the cities in the northeast, they’d go after Boston?”

    “Well, they probably would- big seaport.”

    “Shit. Well, we live in Watertown. What, like a bomb’s going to hit here? Doubt it.”

    “Still, let’s drive into Maine if the shit goes down.”

    Etc., etc. We should have had more fun with it like you did, with the Barbie radios.

    Welcome aboard!

  10. Matt says:

    I was in Hurricane Katrina, which really helped me develop a sense for what I’d need and wouldn’t need in an emergency like that–it all basically amounted to the necessities I can carry on my person as I move from place to place. After I moved back to California, I set myself up with a kit I can just grab and go–just in case something happens.

  11. Marni Grossman says:

    Welcome! Such a funny piece! Such an auspicious beginning!

    And thank you for alerting me to the fact that D batteries are outre. News I can use, for sure.

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