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— The fires hit close to home; a few friends were evacuated. "We took nothing with us," said Andra, "which wasn't the smartest. If the fire took our home we would have had nothing left." Helene packed her car with important items. "When the car was filled, we realized we still had not packed our china and silver. So we put them in the Jacuzzi. When we returned, the salt water in the Jacuzzi had ruined the silver. But our neighbors had lost their entire homes," she explained, "and our home was spared. A good reminder of what really matters in life," she added.

The topic got me thinking of what I would throw into my car if I had a few moments to evacuate. I also thought I'd better purchase a home emergency kit, something I could grab when evacuating and have at the house in case of a disaster like an earthquake.

Tama'ra Desatoff of Safety Max Corporation Emergency Preparedness Solutions ( www.safetymax.com ; 1-800-585-8506) filled me in on emergency home kits.

"People really don't think about emergency kits or don't really do anything about it until something strikes. And it has to strike close to home," she added. "When you have to evacuate, you just can't think straight. And sometimes you don't even have any time -- 'you have to go now.'"

Desatoff offered suggestions of items to have packed and ready to go. "If you take prescription medications, you want to have some current pills packed up as well as an extra set of glasses, some clothes, and toilet paper. Make copies of important phone numbers and important papers: birth certificates, IDs, mortgage papers, insurance papers -- because after the disaster, companies will want your account numbers. And you should assign one family member or friend who lives out of state as an emergency contact for the rest of the family to be able to get ahold of. That way, in the event of the phone lines being tied up, people can try to get through to that one person, and they can be a point of contact for everyone."

Then we talked kits. Safety Max sells a wide variety of kits for offices and homeowners. We focused on multiperson kits for residences. "I recommend either the Deluxe Emergency Backpack Kit [ $92.50 for the four-person] or the Deluxe Emergency Honey Bucket [ $89.99 for the four-person]," Desatoff suggested. Both kits contain similar items. As their names suggest, one comes packed up in a backpack and the other in a bucket. "The backpack kit is good to just throw in your car to have on hand in case you get stranded somewhere. The five-gallon honey bucket can be used as a toilet, so if we were to have another earthquake and they shut the water and electricity off [you have a toilet]. The kit comes with a 12-pack of liners to insert into the bucket for that purpose. The four-person honey bucket comes with four 2400-calorie food bars, which taste surprisingly good and have a five-year shelf life, as does the 24-pack of water that's in there."

For more water needs, the bucket contains 50 water-purification tablets. "People often buy gallons of water and store them for an emergency. If you ever needed to use them and the expiration date was bad, you can drop purification tablets in the water [to make it drinkable]. The tablets are usually used by backpackers, but they are nice to have in case of an emergency if you are unsure of drinking any water. The tablets help to eliminate certain bacteria." For cooking purposes, "the bucket comes with a camper stove and fuel tablets. The stove is a disposable stove, not something like a Coleman stove, and the fuel tablets are put in the center of the stove, and you light them for fuel."

The kit comes with four solar blankets, "which are the space blankets that retain 90 percent of your body heat, four ponchos, four dust masks to keep smoke and dust out of your lungs, and a battery-operated radio/flashlight/siren." It also has a 12-hour light stick, which "you snap in a few places and then shake. They are a lot thicker [than the light-up necklaces you see at Disneyland]; they light up a whole lot more, but they are still not as bright as a flashlight. But if it is dark, it is better than nothing."

Other items in the kit: a 54-piece first-aid kit, a utility knife, a pair of leather gloves, a gas-and-water shut-off tool, waterproof matches, pry bar, Wet-Naps, and a roll of duct tape. "The kit also has a five-in-one whistle," she explained. "If you hear people off in the distance but you can't yell loud enough, you can whistle to get their attention. Or if you are buried underneath walls and you can hear people outside looking for people... Say your lungs are compressed -- something is on top of them -- it is easier to blow the whistle than to try to yell. The whistle comes in a waterproof container; it has a compass and a flint so that you can start a fire. It also has a mirror to use for signaling. Even if you just had a CD -- if your car gets stranded -- or you are hiking and there is a plane flying over, flickering a signal to them with a mirror or CD will get their attention before anything else."

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