The FEMA website lists basic items that should be in every emergency kit. This is helpful information, and as I was reading the list yesterday, I added a few thoughts and tips of my own. FEMA’s list items are italicized.
- Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
This is the bare minimum, especially if you live in a climate that is hot and humid. You’d be surprised at how quickly a gallon disappears! Washing face, sanitation, some laundry, drinking, food preparation…water goes fast. Since water is, basically, “free”, don’t scrimp on your water storage. Re-filled 2-liter soda bottles stored under beds, on the floors of closets, behind the couch, will all add up.
Have at least a couple of different ways to purify water. Bleach has a limited shelf life but since it’s so inexpensive and readily available, do keep at least one bottle on hand at all times. Write the purchase date on the bottle, and every six months or so, buy a new one and use the bleach in the older bottle.
It’s also smart to have a larger system that can purify larger amounts of water quickly and smaller portable purifiers for emergency kits, bug out bags, and outdoor activities, such as camping, hunting, and hiking. Some of the brands I’ve used and own are PurifiCup, LifeStraw, Berkey water systems, SteriPEN, and Katadyn products.
- Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
Non-perishable means these foods do not require refrigeration and if they can be eaten without being cooked, that’s even better. Some simple items to have on hand are dried fruit, peanut butter, pilot bread, nuts, energy bars, canned tuna and chicken, and MREs. You can find a longer list here.
Even though these foods may not require cooking, you should still have a couple of ways to heat water and cook food. Food in the freezer and fridge goes bad after just a short time once the temperature rises above 40 degrees. That’s going to be a whole lot of wasted meat, in particular, if you can’t grill it or cook it with a camp stove, over a fire pit, etc.
I recommend having a solar oven of some sort to take advantage of sunny days. Solar ovens don’t require any fuel at all, although the cooking time will be longer than an electric or gas stove/oven. I own a Sun Oven and recommend it because it is so sturdy, simple, and yet well-designed. Additionally, have another method to cook food, one that uses dual fuel, if possible. The Stove Tec Rocket Stove and EcoZoom stove both have this feature, but there’s no need to spend a lot of money. Check Craigslist, eBay, second hand stores, and yard sales for various types of camp stoves. Just be sure you have stored a large amount of the fuel required, be it wood, propane, butane, or charcoal.
Battery Powered / Hand Crank Radio
- Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
Rule of thumb, you can never have too many batteries. A shortwave radio is worth the money as it would be extra helpful in a long-term power outage or after a catastrophe in which lines of communication are destroyed. Not knowing what is going on outside your own property line or neighborhood is highly stressful. If you have methods of receiving information, you’ll be able to make the smartest decisions possible in the midst of chaos.
- Flashlight and extra batteries
A single flashlight is hardly enough, and families with children know all too well how quickly flashlights disappear. You should stock up on all light sources! Headlamps, lanterns, LED are preferable. Buy light sticks for kids. Even solar path lights can be brought in at night and used for light.
Lighting candles may seem like an easy and cheap way to go, but be very, very careful with open flame candles. Very few of us are used to having open flames around the house, and adding a fire to an existing emergency is no way to find out whether or not the local firefighters are on duty or not.
First Aid Supplies
- First aid kit
A first aid kit is so not enough. Buy the best and most fully equipped kit that you can afford but just as importantly, take a first aid and CPR class, and then take a refresher course every year or so. Knowledge of home remedies and medicinal herbs should also be included, and it would help to know who in you neighborhood has medical training, e.g. a vet, an EMP, nurse, etc.
Stock up on over-the-counter medications. Costco has large bottles of ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and other OTC drugs at very reasonable prices.Think about the medications, treatments, ointments, etc. that you reach for most often and then begin stocking up on extras of those items.
If someone in the house requires insulin or something that requires refrigeration, have a plan for keeping that medication cool!
- Whistle to signal for help
Okay, a whistle can’t hurt. Keep one in your car, in each emergency kit, in a Bug Out Bag, a Get Home Bag, a vehicle emergency kit and your kid’s backpack. They can be helpful if you are ever stranded, trapped in rubble, or are lost in the wilderness. Teach your kids the universal distress signal (3 shorts, 3 longs, 3 shorts) in case they are ever in need of help.
- Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
A dust face mask may be better than nothing but if the air around you is actually contaminated, it isn’t going to help a whole lot if it doesn’t fit tightly to your face, and dust masks do not. It is better to invest in an actual gas mask. Keep the dust masks handy for emergencies in which dust, not contaminated air, is the problem. They’re inexpensive and can be purchased at any home improvement store.
If you’re not used to wearing a face mask, practice wearing one every so often to get used to the feeling of near-suffocation, or at least that’s how they feel to me.
Regarding the plastic sheeting and duct tape, well, ask yourself what type of scenario might cause you to need a gas mask, plastic sheeting for windows, doors, and vents. Your answer is likely to be a scary one, e.g. nuclear attack, an accident at a nuclear power plant, airborne pandemic. These are worst case scenarios but it’s worth taking time to consider how you might help your family survive.
And, regarding, “shelter-in-place”, the government has already let us know that in case of a nuclear attack, we’re on our own. You’d better be equipped to stay in your home for weeks, perhaps longer, without any outside help. You’ll need a good supply of uncontaminated water, 2-3 months worth of food, alternate sources of energy, and a lot more.
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
Most Americans don’t realize just how much we depend on our convenient indoor plumbing. We have no idea where the water comes from or where it goes when we drain a sink or flush a toilet. In a big enough crisis, you may be on your own to provide this service.
At the bare minimum, have a couple of 5 gallon buckets to use as toilets, water, sawdust or kitty litter, room spray and plenty of heavy-duty plastic bags. Line the bucket with two of the plastic bags. You’ll have to take the filled bag outside and start with a new one each morning. This is where hot water and sanitation play a big role. We don’t want to see a return of cholera or dysentery, and this is one more reason for having a way to heat water. It will go a long way toward killing nasty microbes. (I go into greater detail on this topic in my book. Every mom knows that dealing with poop and pee is just part of the job.)
You might as well start stocking up on bars of soap, hand sanitizer, and keep in mind that the bleach you have stored for water purification makes an awesome cleaner when diluted with water (1/4 t. bleach and 2 cups water).
Wrench or Pliers
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
Know where these tools are and how to turn off gas and water. In fact, you should have extras of these tools specifically for this purpose, placed in a location that everyone in the family can find. You should know how and where to turn off your neighbor’s water, gas, and electricity as well.
Manual Can Opener
- Manual can opener for food
Make sure you have several backups! Since the food we store for emergencies often is canned, you definitely don’t want to be opening those cans with a hammer, screwdriver, or power drill!
- Local maps
Look for detailed maps. Plan several evacuation routes going out in all directions not just from your home but also from your place of work. If a crisis happens to the north, you’ll need a plan to evacuate in another direction. Also, maps of surrounding states might be helpful. Laminate these maps and mark routes with sharpies.
Remember that in a crisis, circumstances change by the moment. A road that is clear one minute may be blocked by floodwater or trees the next, or authorities may decide to barricade that particular route. Have several different routes and destinations in mind.
Cell Phone with Charger
- Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger
Communication and lack of information will almost certainly occur, throwing our Information Age population into a panic. Definitely have a backup charger, and remember that text messages get through when phone calls can’t. People outside of the disaster area will be helpful in providing information you may not be able to get but you’ll need a way to contact them. Amateur radio (HAM radio) will likely be the best source of information, unless the operator’s radio equipment is damaged.
FEMA goes on to list other items, but these are at the top of their list. What do you think of their list? What other items would be on your life-and-death emergency list?