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Emergency preparedness begins with roll of duct tape

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By Sarri Gilman
I was returning from a meeting with community members in Monroe, riding in the passenger seat, when my friend's car made a horrible sound.
I looked at Karri Matau while she drove along U.S. 2. The car sound was deafening. I wondered if she was the last face I would ever see.
"Karri, is this it?"
She assured me she was pulling over. We jumped out of the car and circled it looking for the problem.
Seeing nothing, I got on my hands and knees and saw the manifold cover, or the "bottom part" of her car, had become loose and we had dragged it, making the terrible sound.
Together we were able to unfold the crumpled piece. Half of it was partially attached, the other half hanging.
Karri appraised the situation and said, "Let's get something from my trunk to fix this."
I followed her to the trunk feeling doubtful that we would find a way to "fix" anything.
Boy, was I mistaken.
Karri peered into her trunk and started pulling out backpacks. I wondered if she had pillaged a bunch of kids on their way to school.
Karri, what are you doing with all these backpacks?
She passed me a pack.
"Start looking in there for something to fix the car."
I found cans of tuna, peanut butter, cans of soup. Before I finished going through the pack, she pulled it away.
"Wrong pack," she said.
She opened another pack and out came four tinfoil blankets.
"What are these?" I ask.
"Polar shield emergency blankets." she said, "in case my car breaks down and it's a long cold night," she said without blinking.
Under the tinfoil blankets is a bag of maps, a Radio Shack AM/FM radio in its box, new. Still in the package, a magnesium fire-starter tool.
I continue unpacking backpacks: emergency germicidal drinking water tablets, a package of baby things, warm winter socks, baby socks, bottles, clothes for her boy and her baby.
"Karri, what is all this for?"
She explains that we live in an earthquake zone. She keeps her car fully equipped in the event of a disaster. Main roads may be out; the maps are to help her find alternative routes.
Everything is in backpacks in case she has to carry things. She has sneakers and extra clothes for her family, as she may be in high heels during an emergency.
There is food for seven days. Of course, there are flashlights, bags of batteries; she has left no stone unturned.
I look at her, bewildered, thinking about my own car.
I have a nail file, perfume, a bag of dog food for my Chihuahua and supplies for a board meeting.
Yes, if there is an earthquake, I will be already prepared to have meetings on the side of the road while eating dog food. If you want to talk about the disaster, I'm your girl.
Karri dug out her tape. "Here it is," she said. "Never go anywhere without duct tape."
"Never go anywhere without duct tape."
I feel like I'm Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, repeating this like a mantra.
"Never go anywhere without duct tape."
Karri tapes the errant car part back in place and we are back on the road.
Karri explained that when she was a child, her family's house burned down. All they had left were the clothes they were wearing at the time. She has kept a car prepared for disaster for the past 20 years.
I was so impressed that she could get this car taped together I vowed to get my car ready for emergencies.
You would think that with my Red Cross training, my past experience in shelter operations, my trauma work, I would be the one with a car ready for anything. But I'm not.
It took this moment with Karri and her Armageddon car trunk to hear my wake-up call.
I went home and wondered how many people are driving around with duct tape in their trunk. My extensive research of my Facebook friends is conclusive: Lots of people carry duct tape.
If an earthquake hits, I'm going to need more than duct tape. Karri packed her trunk using a variety of lists. She recommends that people begin by going to the American Red Cross website. I think the best list contains the items I found in her trunk; I took pictures.
My favorite thing was a toy plastic hatchet. She said it was on the way to the thrift store.
I said, "Keep that. It could make you look menacing from a distance, and then you won't be attacked with two small children and all these backpacks."
Of course, Karri would prefer to have useful items, not toy plastic ones.
Start with duct tape.

Sarri Gilman is a freelance writer living on Whidbey Island and director of Leadership Snohomish County. Her column on living with meaning and purpose runs every other Tuesday in The Herald. You can email her at
Story tags » Emergency Planning

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