After 20 years as an army paramedic, Andrew moved to Vanuatu, where he and his family lived through ten tropical cyclones.

It was here the importance of being ready really hit home.

“When you’re in a real-life disaster, with bits of your roof are blowing off, it shows you how crucial it is to be prepared for a disaster,” he says.

Since then, Andrew has spent two decades with New Zealand Red Cross, working in disaster recovery and emergency management.

A simple way to get prepared is to create a getaway kit for under your desk. This will ensure you can make it home safely when a disaster occurs, he says.

“When something happens, there’s going to be no transportation out there – that’s been proven during the last earthquake in Wellington. A lot of people did have to walk home.”

Andrew’s own getaway kit includes water, snack food (including one of the most vital survival items – chocolate!), a head lamp, whistle, pocket knife, rain jacket, high visibility vest, a wind up radio with a cord to charge his cellphone, batteries, warm clothing and hiking boots.

He also makes sure to carry a snack, water and a torch, which can also double as a power source for his cellphone, on his way to work each day, just in case.

Andrew admits his stash is quite comprehensive, but there are a few essentials everyone should have close to hand, ready to go in an emergency situation.

The most important things to include in your getaway kit are:

  • A torch, so you can see and be seen at night
  • A radio to stay up to date with emergency information
  • A raincoat and good walking shoes – you could have to walk home, and high heels might not be the safest or most comfortable option
  • Water
  • Food and snacks marked with an expiry date, replaced as required
  • Spare doses of any medication you take

Supplies, supplies, supplies

While a getaway kit will help you get home safely, it’s also important to make sure you have the right supplies once you get there.

"Every household should have an ample supply of fresh water, three days’ worth of food for family and pets, torches, batteries, a radio and a first aid kit", Andrew says.

It’s also worth considering how to protect your valuable items, such as photographing important documents and saving these electronically, so they can be accessed even if your home is destroyed.

Thinking about disasters and emergencies might sound gloomy, but getting prepared can also be a lot of fun.

Andrew points to communities in Christchurch that organised competitions to find the best outdoor toilet. Emergency preparedness can also offer opportunities to form better relationships with neighbours.

He suggests organising a neighbourhood meeting to take an inventory of what’s available on your street, before the items are needed during a disaster.

“It’s helpful to know who has tents, who has a gas barbeque, and where everyone can gather for a daily debrief during an emergency event,” he says.

“If you’re well prepared, you can turn a disaster into a good neighbourhood experience.”