As this weekend officially kicks off the holiday buying season, its time once again to roll out my yearly (updated) preparedness gifts column.
Throughout the year I keep an eye out for inexpensive, yet useful, preparedness items that I give to friends and family for birthdays, holidays, and other occasions.
Starting in November of 2007 I began blogging on the idea that rather than giving out ugly neckties, holiday themed sweaters, or boxes of assorted cheeses we should be giving preparedness gifts (see Hickory Farms Will Hate Me For This).
Now when I impulse buy gadgets, at least I can call it research.
While I’m not endorsing any specific product or manufacturer, below you’ll find examples of some of the preparedness gifts I’ve either bought for myself, or for family and friends over the past few years.
These are items, I have to believe, that a lot of people enduring the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy (or any other disaster) would have been happy to have on hand.
My mania began in earnest in 2006 when I stumbled across a bin of `shake LED flashlights’ at a bargain closeout warehouse for .77 cents. I bought 40 of them, and all but two ended up as gifts or stocking stuffers.
A couple of years ago I ran across a deal on LED headlamps, and bought about 20 of them for $2 apiece. The following year, I found LED Cap lights (they clip to the bill of a baseball style cap) for $3 each, which I confess I like even better.
Hands free light can be a real plus in a crisis. These too ended up in a number of people's Christmas and birthday packs.
During the year I keep my eye out for bargains such as these, and stock up when I find things on sale.Several years ago I picked up a number of LED lanterns for $3 apiece at a closeout store. They are particularly nice, and run about 40 hours on a set of AA batteries.
But last year, I found a newer item; a combination LED lantern/flashlight that sells for about $5, and it is rapidly become my new favorite. Lightweight, versatile, and cheap. A hard combination to beat.
This year, I’m seeing a lot more variety in LED lanterns and flashlights, providing a lot more bang for the buck. Not only do LEDs run a long time on a set of batteries, unlike gas lanterns, they don’t pose a fire safety hazard.
Every home should have a battery operated radio, yet many do not. A few years ago I bought my daughter a combination windup-battery-solar AM/FM/SW radio for under $40, and she uses it every day.
Last year, I found a combination AM/FM Weather ALERT radio at a discount store for under $20. Again, every home and business should have an emergency alert radio.
A pair of the FRS radios, like the ones I highlighted in this blog, would make an excellent gift for many families, and can be had for less than $25.
This year I picked up a few single burner Propane stove units on sale for $10 each. Add a 1 pound propane cylinder (about $3) and you can cook for a week.
I’ve also picked up a few magnesium fire starters at $4 each, which will end up as stocking stuffers.
For Christmas a couple of years back I put together some first aid kits, and distributed them to a number of friends and relatives. You can either put one together yourself, or purchase one already assembled.
Living as I do in hurricane country, I’m always aware of the need to store water for emergencies. One of the items I’ve purchased for friends (and myself) are those collapsible 5-gal water carriers. For only about $5, you can store 5 gallons of water, and when not in use they fold up for storage.
Although a bit pricier, I’ve also purchased emergency water filter/purification systems for several friends over the years.
I’m particularly pleased this year to see the LifeStraw ® is now available in the United States and Canada; at just 2 ounces, this personal water filter will reportedly filter 1000 liters down to .2 microns.
Not bad for around $20.
Even MREs can make an excellent gift, and a couple of years back I found cases of them heavily discounted at my local Costco warehouse.
Battery chargers, or an inverter to turn any 12 volt battery into a 120 volt electrical source make wonderful gifts as well.
Three summers ago, on a particularly hot Florida afternoon, we had a power outage that lasted more than 6 hours. I wrote about it in Sweltering In Place.
While I was already set up with a 12 volt fan, my Sister and Father weren’t so lucky. . . . they ended up driving across town to sit in an air-conditioned restaurant for several hours.
The next day, I went out and bought them each a battery operated personal cooling fan, one that will run for nearly 24 hours on 4 D-Cells.
I paid about $12 each for them.
Something as simple, and as utilitarian, as a multifunction `Swiss’ army knife or a `Multi-tool’ makes a great preparedness gift.
Another inexpensive gift idea: For under $10 you can buy a box of exam gloves, and a box of facemasks.
Several years ago Joel over at Preparedness and Response came up with what I consider to be an excellent preparedness idea, giving USB flash drives to family and friends and instructions on how to back up their important papers and documents.
Inexpensive USB Drives start under $10.
He explains it in his essay Helping others prepare (Personal Preparedness), where he gives his rationale for going with the durable mil-spec and encrypted, but fairly pricey IronKey brand.
My thanks to Joel for a terrific idea.
And lastly, I've put together CD's of preparedness videos, along with copies of online manuals and preparedness guides. For the cost of a blank CD or DVD, and a little bit of my time, I've at least put this valuable information into my friend's hands.
I may just copy all of this info on to the USB drives I’m giving out this year instead of on CDs.
These are all useful, indeed, potentially lifesaving items, that most people simply don't think about needing until it is too late.
Giving them as gifts, instead of more traditional items, not only helps prepare the people you love and care about for an emergency, it opens the door for conversations about pandemic and disaster preparedness.
We need to cultivate a culture of preparedness in this country, and around the world.
We can start doing that, one gift at a time.
And one last reminder for the upcoming Holiday Season.
This year, when we think about ways to give back to our community, remember that more people will be relying on community food banks than in years past.
In addition to anything else you might do, this is a good time to go through your pantry and donate foodstuffs that are approaching (but not exceeding) their `use by' date.