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.
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.
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.