Here in Toronto we have had a lot of extreme weather fronts hitting us – mainly involving rain. Recently a month’s worth or rain fell in about 6 hours and as a result there was major flooding and blackouts. Where I lived had a black out for about 8 hours and in the days and weeks after there were rolling black outs as the heatwave continued.  All the supermarkets and stores in my neighbourhood were also affected and it took them a couple of days to get back up and running. There was nowhere locally to eat out or buy food – locally – for about 30 hours. Though it was extraordinary to witness such a dramatic weather front, I was merely inconvenienced more than anything. I got off quite lightly. I am not elderly, sick, homeless, nor do I live in a basement. Urban living is a complex structure of agreements, systems, and environments that are all inter-related.

I checked in on my neighbours to make sure they were okay – they were – just minor leaks. I work with charities who care for the most vulnerable in our society. They have systems, processes, and environments that help them cope and sustain their work in unexpected emergencies. They and their clients will still be seriously impacted but because they have to plan for emergencies they are better prepared than the average person on the street.

Toronto floods 2013

And this got me thinking. What should someone who lives in a built-up urban environment have in their emergency kit? How should they keep it? Where should they keep it? How do you maintain it? I am part of an on-line group for emergency and disaster relief management specialists and I decided to put the question out to the group: What should go in an emergency kit when you live in a built up area in a city? The most amazing diaglogue followed. These professionals are from all over the world. At the end of this post I have a section called Resources – these are sites that have more information on preparing for emergencies.

People who live in cities do not have the space for storing a comprehensive emergency kit. So how I have approached this is in stages. The first being to plan, the second to prepare a kit and included in this kit is a list of all the other things that might be necessary to grab from your home on short notice. Customise this list to your needs and reality. If you live in a condo, on the 20th floor you are not going to need a shovel but you will need comfortable running shoes if you have to walk down the emergency exit stairs. Familiarize yourself with what is on this list and commit to keeping everything that is on it in the places you say they are being kept. I was once in a high rise condo in an earthquake and the building started swaying. Knowing what to do and where to get everything needs to be automatic – if you have to “think” about it you won’t be able to recall. It is also a good idea to have a small kit in your car with you too.


  • Plan how to meet or contact your family in an emergency… cell phone, text, email… for example if you find yourself in an emergency send a text – it will alert your closest of kin and EM will be able to identify where you sent it from so it will act also as a gps for emergency services. 

 Maintain daily a conversation with your family so you generally know where they plan to be the next day. Just pretend it is 1965 and cell phones and GPS units are not in everyone’s hands.
  • Know all exits in the home.
  • I’d also recommend getting to know your neighbors so that you’re all aware of the resources available to you within the neighborhood.
  • Know who of your neighbours is vulnerable and/elderly so that they can be checked in on and/or helped.
  • Make copies of important documents: Birth and marriage certificates, passports, Medical information, licences, wills, land deeds and insurance. You might want to put them in a safety deposit box or give them to friends and family who live out of town.
  • Make sure you have a working carbon monoxide detector (VIP – this saved my life once!) and smoke detector.
  • Make sure you have a fire extinguisher.
  • Know how and where to turn off your water, electricity, and gas in your home. If you rent then ask your landlord.


  • Make sure your kit is easy to carry and everyone in the household knows where it is. Keep it in a backpack, duffle bag or suitcase with wheels, in an easy-to-reach, accessible place, such as your front-hall closet.
  • Detailed paper map of your area in the city and a city map.
  • Portable crank/windup radio for news and instructions.
  • Crank/windup flashlights which will reduce the need for batteries, which can deplete during storage if their supply is not fresh.
  • A whistle. Best choice, a dog whistle. K9’s can hear a dog whistle at some distance and they are easier to blow.
  • Water – at least two litres of water per person per day; include small bottles that can be carried easily.
  • Food that won’t spoil, such as canned food, energy bars and dried foods (replace food and water once a year)
  • Manual can-opener
  • First-aid kit
  • Extra keys to your car and house
  • Some cash in smaller bills, such as $10 bills and change for payphones
  • Contact information (with pictures of the family members – recent- is a good idea and also remember pictures of pets so you can help identify them and show ownership).
  • A list of anything you might need to grab from the house and take with you (personalize according to your needs), and where it is kept (for quick grabbing), such as prescription medication, infant formula, equipment for people with disabilities, food, water, medication for your pets or service animal, change of clothing and footwear for each household member, sleeping bag or warm blanket for each household member, toiletries, hand sanitizer, 
garbage bags, 
toilet paper, 
water purifying tablets, 
basic tools (hammer, pliers, wrench, screwdrivers, work gloves, dust mask, pocket knife), and 
duct tape (to tape up windows, doors, air vents, etc.).