A Lesson of Hindsight: What to Pack in an Emergency Bag

By Megan Sehr on November 1, 2012

Last Friday, I was jolted awake by a 3:30 AM fire alarm in my dorm building, Nelson Hall at the University of Denver. My three suitemates and I grabbed our shoes and coats, hurried downstairs, and gathered outside with other Nelson residents.  Standing there with a light flurry of snowflakes falling around me, I realized I had left my cell phone, glasses, room keys, and car keys in my room.

I figured it would only be a matter of minutes before we would be allowed to reenter the dorm.  I thought that maybe it was a fire drill, or maybe someone had pulled the alarm.

An example of some basics to pack in an emergency bag. Photograph by fred_v at Flickr.

Thirty minutes passed, and we all moved into the dining hall of the adjacent dorm building, Nagel Hall.  Students fanned out around my suitemates and I, sitting on chairs and leaning against the wall.  I put my skiing coat on the floor, sat down on it, and waited for someone to tell us that we could all go back to our rooms.

An hour passed before we received any information.  A man from the fire department stood in the middle of the dining hall, and informed us that it would be at least another two hours before we could reenter the building.  Carbon monoxide levels were elevated, and the problem had to be located and fixed (at least, temporarily) before we could return to our rooms.

After a night/morning that involved cramming four people on a small futon and scraping ice off my suitemate’s car with my coat sleeve, students were finally allowed back into the dorm building at 9 am.  For six hours, I was blind (no glasses) and I was unable to receive updates about the carbon monoxide situation (no phone).

After a long morning of Friday classes, I received an email from my resident director suggesting I pack an emergency bag in case we were evacuated again that night.  Of course, I packed the bag, determined that I would have everything I needed in the event of an evacuation.

Fortunately, Nelson Hall was not evacuated again on Friday night.  However, that event taught me the importance of having a small emergency bag prepared.  Now, I keep a small bag packed with things I need in the event that I have to leave the building quickly.

In college, having an emergency bag is important in a communal living space.  In the event of an evacuation, it’s crucial to be prepared.  Referring to a list and my common sense, I have compiled my own array of some things to consider packing in your emergency bag:

Food and water: It’s unlikely that you’ll have to go without food and water for an extended period of time; however, it’s recommended that you pack 48-72 hours worth of food and water.  You can put in granola bars, crackers, nuts, or any other non-perishable food that doesn’t require preparation.

First aid and medication: If you take a medication, you should put 3-4 days worth of it in a Ziploc bag.  It’s also recommended that you put some sort of first aid kit in your emergency bag, in the even that there are disaster-related minor injuries.

Glasses, contact lens solution, and a contact case: Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way.  If you wear glasses, then you should put a spare pair in your bag or you should keep your glasses close at hand.  If you wear contacts regularly, then it’s a good idea to keep a contact lens case and a small bottle of solution in your bag.

A change of clothes: This can include underwear, socks, a shirt, a pair of pants (or shorts, depending on the season), and maybe an extra jacket or sweatshirt.  Remember to pack lightly.  You might have to carry your bag for a while.

Toiletries: This is anything you might need for 48-72 hours.  This can include a toothbrush, toothpaste, feminine products, deodorant, face wash, hand sanitizer, etc.  Getting travel-sized toiletries will help to save space in your bag.

A cell phone charger: Cell phones enable you to stay connected in the event of an emergency evacuation.  They can also help you stay updated on any new developments.  Taking a cell phone charger will allow you to stay informed in case you are evacuated from an extended period of time.

Spare car keys/room keys:  If you have two sets of car keys or room keys, it’s a good idea to put them in your bag.  If you need to drive somewhere, then you will have access to your car.  If you accidentally forget to grab your keys while you’re hurrying out the building, then you have a way to get back into your room.

Cash: Putting 20 dollars in your bag is crucial in case you can’t access an ATM or you forget your wallet.

This is only a basic list, and you can add whatever you think you might need in case of an emergency.  Preparing an emergency bag will save you time if you need to leave quickly, and you can be sure that you have the bare essentials in an evacuation.  If evacuated, also remember to grab important essentials like your wallet on your way out the door.  You don’t want to forget your driver’s license or your health insurance card in the event of an emergency. Don’t be caught off guard by unexpected events again; you won’t regret your preparedness when it happens to you.

Megan Sehr is a sophomore at the University of Denver, and she is majoring in International Studies and Journalism Studies with minors in History and Hebrew. She wants to go into international journalism, and is interested in Middle Eastern politics and culture. She loves writing, reading, poetry, Mad Men, and good discussions.

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