Be prepared: Emergency kits can save lives

Posted: Tuesday, November 01, 2005

It was easy to ignore the fact that Alaska's winter was just around the corner, given the unseasonably warm weather we have had.

However, despite attempts to suppress any thoughts of snow, Kenai Peninsula residents are now staring blankly at frosted windshields and heading off to scratch around the tool shed for ice scrapers.

Here are a few tips from the experts that make a good deal of sense, especially here in the far north.

Before winter hits, have a mechanic inspect your vehicle from grill to tailgate. Check the battery, antifreeze, wipers and windshield washer fluid (you'll use a lot), the ignition system, thermostat, lights, flashing hazard lights, the exhaust system, heater, brakes, defroster and oil level.

Take a critical look at your tires. If they lack sufficient tread to grip the road surface, little else about your car or truck matters.

Avoid splitting your Visa card. Make sure you have a good ice scraper. Also, keep an extra pair of gloves in the car.

Another good practice is to keep at least a half tank of gas during the winter season.

Plan long trips carefully and pay attention to road alerts. Take along warm clothes. You won't need them if your heater's working properly, but if you get stuck somewhere, you'll be praising your self-reliant Alaska nature as you don a few extra layers. Take some water and munchies, too.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends a winter car kit items you should have in your vehicle during the cold season, especially if trips may take you far from home and, for periods of time, far from shelter. These should include:

Flashlights with extra batteries

A first-aid kit with pocket knife

Necessary medication


Sleeping bags

Newspaper for extra insulation

Plastic bags (for sanitation)


Extra sets of mittens, socks and wool caps

Rain gear and extra clothes

A small sack of sand

A small shovel

Small tools (pliers, wrench, screwdriver)

Booster cables

Tire chains or traction mats

Cards, games and puzzles

Brightly colored cloth to use as a flag

Canned fruit and nuts

Manual (nonelectric) can opener

Bottled water

FEMA recommends staying in your car. Don't go in search of help unless it is visible within 100 yards. The risk of getting lost is real.

Display a trouble sign. Tie that bright cloth to the antenna and raise the hood. Run the engine occasionally to keep warm about 10 minutes per hour and run the heater. Beware of the danger of carbon monoxide. Make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of snow and open a downwind window slightly.

For more information about surviving being stranded, visit FEMA's Web site at for their hazards fact sheet on winter driving.

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