Do you remember the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the L.A. riots? Have you flipped on the news and seen the recent California wildfires? Do you know someone who has experienced economic catastrophe and job loss? Have people in your community experienced fires, tornadoes, chemical spills and other localized disasters? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that bad things do happen to people and communities in America. It’s time to make sure that your family is prepared for an disaster with an emergency supply kit.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the first step in preparing for disaster is to get an emergency supply kit together to ensure that you have basic supplies for your family to survive a disaster and its immediate aftermath. At a minimum, FEMA suggests that people have emergency supplies to allow them to survive without assistance for three days. Families who are serious about being prepared stockpile enough for far longer. Many such “preppers” keep far more supplies on hand and some have laid the groundwork to live in a self-sufficient way for far long longer.
As you assemble your disaster kit, FEMA urges you to think about your basic survival needs: “fresh water, food, clean air and warmth.” While every family needs to customize their kit to their location and the threats they are likely to face, here are some of the basics that every family needs. Here is a checklist with a dozen things to consider when assembling your family emergency supply kit:
1. Water. Water is absolutely essential for survival. Every member of your family needs at least one gallon of water each day for drinking and sanitation. You also need extra water for your pets. In the event that you run out of water, you’ll also need a means of purifying water. You can treat water by adding 16 drops of liquid household bleach to each gallon of water using a medicine dropper. FEMA cautions that you should not use color-safe or scented bleach or any bleach containing additional cleaners. Serious preppers stockpile additional water supplies, have cisterns for the collection of rainwater, or have access to wells.
2. Food. FEMA recommends every family keep at least 3 days worth of non-perishable food for each family member and your pets. Preppers keep stockpiles of canned or dehydrated food, know how to can their own vegetables and fruit, and are often able to add to their food supplies by hunting, gathering, fishing, and farming. Of course, if you are relying on canned food, make sure you have manually operated can-openers in your kit. Families with small children or infants will need to keep appropriate food, formula, and other supplies for kids.
3. Medical Supplies. Every family needs to have a first aid kit tucked away in their emergency supply kit. But, your family also needs additional medical supplies including their prescription eyeglasses and a stockpile of any prescription medications that family members need. Experienced preppers also recommend having common over-the-counter medications available to deal with aches and pains from overexertion during the disaster and for handling diarrhea and stomach upset from the anxiety that often accompanies a disaster.
4. Sanitary Supplies. Civilization doesn’t truly end until you run out of toilet paper. FEMA recommends that you keep personal hygiene items, wet wipes, and feminine hygiene products in your family’s emergency supply kit.
5. Utensils. You’ll need paper plates, cups, napkins, and plastic utensils for your meals. You’ll also want to have a means of cooking food without electricity. If it is safe to go outdoors, you can use a grill, barbecue, or camp stove.
6. Tools. FEMA recommends having wrenches and pliers available so that you can turn off the utilities coming into your home. If you are sheltering in place, you will want to have tools and supplies available in order to make some emergency repairs to your home. For example, hurricane survivors often patch their damaged roofs with big blue tarps and prevent additional water damage to their homes.
7. Communications Gear. You’ll need a hand-crank or battery-powered radio in your emergency supply kit so you can receive information about the disaster and recovery efforts. FEMA recommends a weather radio with a tone alert. Walkie-talkies can provide short-ranged communications between family members. You’ll also want to be able to charge your cell phones. You’ll also want to have a flashlight and whistle for each family member so that you can signal rescuers in the aftermath of a disaster.
8. Batteries. In the absence of electricity from your power company, your family will need lots of batteries to power all of your communications gear, lanterns, and flashlights.
9. Fire Extinguishers. Property damage, spotty utilities, and improvised cooking and lighting arrangements can be fire hazards. You’ll need fire extinguishers handy for an emergency and it’s aftermath.
10. Fresh Air. Many people laughed when FEMA recommended that families stockpile duct tape, dust filter masks, and plastic sheeting in order to seal themselves inside their homes in the event of a chemical attack. However, in 1988, Saddam Hussein attacked the Kurdish town of Halabja with chemical weapons that killed three to five thousand people and injured another seven to ten thousand people in the initial attacks. Thousands more people died in the aftermath from the complications of their injuries and birth defects caused by the chemicals. Al Qaeda terrorists have experimented with chemical weapons and may be able to create some types of chemical weapons. In October and November of 2005, scientists recorded extremely high mold spore concentrations in flood-ravaged New Orleans. Spore concentrations inside some homes reached 645,000 mold spores per cubic meter of air. It simply makes sense for families to take some precautions to shelter in place and safeguard their air quality as needed.
11. Warmth. FEMA recommends a variety of supplies to keep your family warm. Each person should at least have an appropriate sleeping bag or warm blanket. You’ll also need matches in a waterproof container so that you can light a campfire or grill if you are camping outdoors. If you live in a cold climate, you’ll need additional gear to keep warm.
12. Cash and Documents. In the aftermath of a disaster, electronic banking may be unavailable and ATM machines may be without power. Your family will need cash to buy goods and services. You’ll also need essential documents such as home inventories, insurance papers, and contact information for friends and relatives. Essential documents should be kept in a waterproof container or sealed plastic bag.
The completeness of your planning and your preparations will make a big difference in your family’s ability to survive and recover from a disaster. While this list is not exhaustive, it can be a starting point for your disaster preparations. For more information, check out ready.gov and emergency preparation forums and websites. Authorities advise Americans to maintain a smaller disaster kit for their vehicle or office and to make sure that they have gas and a well-maintained vehicle in order to evacuate if needed in an emergency. In this era of uncertainty, it makes sense to be prepared for disaster.
Halabja Poison Gas Attack. Wikipedia. (
“Study Finds High Mold Levels in Post Katrina New Orleans Air Returning Residents At Risk For Serious Respiratory Ailments,” Environmental Health Perspectives. Press Release, June 15, 2006.
“Al Qaeda bungles arms experiment,” Eli Lake, Washington Times, January 19, 2009.