Are you prepared for an emergency while travelling?

My kids and I drove to San Diego from Phoenix last weekend for a family event. As any parent knows, it’s important to have water, snacks, games and extras of EVERYTHING in the car when travelling with kids. (Ever been caught without a diaper or baby wipes? Yea, been there. Done that. Won’t do it again.)

Little did I realize how important those extras would be.

I pulled into San Diego just in time for the large power outage (caused by human error in Arizona, no less). I knew something was amiss when I got off the freeway around 3:30 p.m. — every traffic light was out. At first, I thought it was isolated to that area. But as I got closer to the airport, where I was supposed to pick up my sister and husband, I turned on the radio.

The outage was everywhere. No one knew the cause. No one knew when the lights would be back on. And traffic was bumper-to-bumper.

Then the call came from my California relatives: Did I have enough gas to continue my travels after the airport (about 25 minutes away)? Yes. I’d stopped in El Centro, so I had half a tank.

Since I still had an hour before my sister’s flight arrived, I made a turtle’s crawl (remember, no street lights) to Spanish Landing, a park area across from the airport. The kids ran around and I used my phone to get more news.

My husband called. His flight was cancelled. My sister sent me a text message that she’d arrived, but was stuck on the plane for at least another hour.

I mentally went through the scenarios ahead of me: At that point, there was a possibility my husband could come in on a later flight. And with no gas stations working, I didn’t want to go far from the airport. I’d seen several hotels nearby. Figuring they’d run on generator power in emergencies, I rounded up the kids and drove to the nearest hotel so I could assess my situation.

I had plenty of water. I had some snacks, enough to get us through a few hours. I had cash, so I could purchase a few more supplies at the hotel. And if needed, I could get a room, let the kids play in the pool there and wait out the traffic.

I checked with a few emergency specialists and found out later that I had done quite a few things correctly. Here's some advice they offered: 

AAA Arizona’s Michelle Donati said every driver should be prepared for an emergency, whether it be traveling daily or on a road trip.

“A lot of time in summer, we see folks who don’t carry water,” Donati said. “When temperatures are triple digits, being out of gas can go from an inconvenience to being very dangerous, very quickly.”

If you’re taking a road trip, take a few gallons of water for you and your passengers.

Everyone should have an emergency kit in the vehicle, whether it’s homemade or purchased at a store or from AAA, Donati said. The kit should include repair tools (such as a screwdriver), flashlights, duct tape, a first aid kit and ponchos (yes, even in Arizona), she said. Extra batteries for the flashlight should be stored elsewhere in the car, she suggested.

Take a cell phone, she said, and remember the charger. It’s also a good idea have nonperishable food.

Cori Darnell, deputy chief of emergency management for Mesa Fire Department, said it’s helpful to carry some type of shade covering in the car as well, especially when driving across the southern Arizona desert. That way, if you have a vehicle problem, you won’t be roasting in the car or exposed to the hot sun’s rays.

Before leaving on a trip, get the vehicle checked, Darnell said.

“Really, before you do any kind of road trip, get the car serviced. Get the oil changed. Check the battery. Check the tires. Check the fluids,” she said.

Had the situation gone on for longer – did you see power was out for six days or more after Hurricane Irene? – I would not have been as ready as this time.

But I’ve learned a valuable lesson.

I choose joy

This blog first appeared in the East Valley Tribune.

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