It’s easy to tell ourselves that emergency preparedness is for other, more organized (or paranoid) people. After all, it’s hard enough to get out the door each morning with lunches packed, let alone set aside time to prepare for a worst-case scenario. But we can’t always count on the lovely perks of civilization that make our lives run smoothly; during and immediately after a natural disaster, you’ll need to have essential supplies at the ready in order to stay warm, dry, hydrated, fed and informed. Preparing ourselves for a natural disaster doesn’t have to be overwhelming or confusing—and making plans we hope we never need can help us all sleep a little bit better at night. Simplify the process by checking out these basics, recommended by the American Red Cross, and then answer the questions that follow to customize your family’s emergency preparedness kit.
1. Stock emergency preparedness kit basics
The American Red Cross recommends that every household have these items on hand in case of emergency. Keep your supplies in a bag (except for the water and food, which likely won’t fit) at the ready and make sure everyone in the family knows where it is located; experts call this a “go-bag.” Keep a three-day supply of water and food packed near your go-bag, and a seven-day supply of medications and medical items. It might be helpful to package these items together in a bin or basket to separate it from your regular kitchen supplies. You will also want a two-week supply of food and water available at home in case you need to shelter in place during a natural disaster. Consider housing this supply in the basement or another non-kitchen location to reduce the temptation to dig into it when your usual grocery supplies are running low. Don’t forget to include any pets in your food-and-water-requirement math.
• Water—one gallon per person, per day
• Food—nonperishable, easy-to-prepare items (canned foods, vacuum-sealed dried foods, etc.)
• Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
• Extra batteries
• First-aid kit
• Medications and medical supplies (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, extra pair of contact lenses, syringes, etc.)
• Multipurpose tool (knife, can opener, screwdriver, etc.)
• Sanitation and personal hygiene items (toilet paper, deodorant, soap, feminine hygiene products)
• Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
• Extra cell phone charger(s)
• Family and emergency contact information (crucial when many of us no longer know phone numbers by memory)
• Extra cash
• Extra set of car keys and house keys
• Emergency blanket
• Map(s) of the area
2. Customize for your family
What you have on hand for an emergency depends on who lives in your household.
Babies: For infants, you will want to have crucial baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers) at the ready.
Kids: For older children, stock games and activities to divert their attention.
Seniors: Seniors or disabled people are more likely to depend on medication for comfort or survival. Don’t forget to pack medications and medical supplies.
Pets: Keep food, collars, leashes, medications, copies of medical records and carriers ready. Disaster shelters often cannot permit pets, so check the pet policy at hotels along your potential evacuation route. Check in with friends and relatives where you might shelter, and ask if pets are welcome in an emergency. Other options include boarding facilities, veterinarians and temporary care at animal shelters; call and ask about emergency shelter for pets during a disaster. When you know where your pet could stay during a disaster, make a list with 24-hour phone numbers and keep it with your go-bag.
3. Customize for your location
The kind of natural disasters you are likely to experience depends on your location, as will the type of supplies you need to brave the elements in your area.
Earthquake: Keep sturdy shoes and a flashlight near beds—in the event of a nighttime earthquake, your family will be ready to go.
Flood: Plan to pack rain gear, extra clothing, hats and sturdy shoes for each family member, and include insect repellent and sunscreen. Don’t forget to keep tools and supplies to secure your home handy, along with a camera so you can take photos of damage.
Hurricane: Have rain gear, work gloves and sturdy rain boots ready in case your family needs to evacuate. You may need tools and supplies for securing windows and doors.
Tornado: In the aftermath of a tornado, you will want long pants, a jacket, towels, sturdy shoes and work gloves.
Wildfire: Store household items that can be used as fire tools together in an easily accessible place. A rake, ax, handsaw or chain saw, bucket and shovel will help if you need to fight small fires.
Winter Storm: Sand, rock salt or non-clumping kitty litter can help make walkways and steps less slippery. Each family member needs warm clothing—coats, gloves, hats, boots. Extra blankets and sleeping bags are useful. Keep a shovel, snow boots, a blanket and some water in your car when a winter storm threatens.
Map It Out
In the event of a natural disaster that requires evacuation, it’s important to determine where you plan to seek emergency shelter. Would you head to the home of a family member who lives within driving distance but far enough away to likely be outside the range of the emergency? What if that direction or your standard route is blocked? Identify a few potential evacuation locations and alternative routes to get there. Make sure to include the full address, phone number and email addresses to reach these locations along with your emergency contacts.
• Phone lines can become overloaded during an emergency, so it’s important that your family has a plan in advance. Everyone in your household should know a location outside your neighborhood to meet in case you cannot return home or are asked to evacuate.
• Designate one person as the contact point, and have each member of your household call them. Pick someone out of town, if possible, because they may be easier to reach in an emergency.
• Write down emergency phone numbers on an index card, and have each family member store theirs in a backpack, wallet or purse.
The American Red Cross
Checklists for all types of emergencies, information about preparing for power outages, ideas for preparing schools and workplaces for emergencies and more
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Information about bracing for disasters
When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide for Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival by Matthew Stein
In-depth reading on emergency preparedness