FEMA’s Top 12 Emergency Items Analyzed by The Survival Mom

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fema 12 itemsThe 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.

Other helpful items are first aid books, wilderness survival medicine, and some medical reference books, such as a MerckManual and The Pill Book.

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

  • 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.

Sanitation Supplies

  • 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

  • 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?



33 thoughts on “FEMA’s Top 12 Emergency Items Analyzed by The Survival Mom”

  1. Thank you for this. Thinking of 2 months of sheltering in place is scary! I’m so ill prepared for that. Having two people living in a 1 bedroom place means space is of a premium, and water storage is my biggest failing.

    This post gave me an idea of the areas I need to at least start thinking about.

    1. If buying a gas mask make sure you can get current filters for it
      check out the RZ mask, not a real gas mask but may be what you really need

    1. I have the same question. Also need something for a toddler. Where have others bought their gas masks from? Any suggestions on what to look for? Thanks!

    2. Joyce Drena M.A.,L.Ac.

      Folks” in the know” tell me that.. the Israel type equipment..is the way to go..check it out on line since I forgot the web site.Hope this helps.

  2. This is not on FEMA’s list, but my suggestion is protection. Whether you agree with owning a firearm or not, in a collapsed society the most civilized people can become dangerous. Protecting yourself and your family will become a priority.

    There are many choices: firearm (handgun and/or rifle), knife, bow and arrow, sprays (pepper, bear, and even wasp), and a good self defense class are a few to consider.

    I, for one, don’t plan on being a ZOMBIE MEAL! 😉

  3. Water is on the low end of the scale. I drink more than a gallon a day right now .. that leaves none for washing. 2.5 gallons per day is what the military uses in the field as a yardstick and this is closer to reality. A whistle? Grrr … how about a shotgun and then you can get 12 gauge flares to pop in it if you are that worried about signaling.

    They totally forgot medicines. And how about documents? (Marriage, death, and birth certificates, house ownership, etc. — all the vital records stuff so you can rebuild after the disaster or prove you belong to the house you are sheltering in during a disaster.)

  4. Thanks, Lisa! This is a good thump upside the head. I’ve unfortunately been
    too complacent in the last year. Isn’t it funny how we sometimes drop that guard
    and forget to stay “alert?” This is a great reminder to get back to readiness!

  5. This list is great for starting the “I am a prepper, and here’s why I think you should be one too” We have pretty severe weather here, and it isn’t unusal to shelter in place as a result. You would think that more people would think ahead, but undoubtably, there will be a run on milk, bread and pop tarts (we noticed they go first, we don’t know why).

  6. The media has started running the 9-11 films again; coming upon another anniversary. Despite everything that I have experienced-earthquakes, civil unrest, riots, floods, etc-9/11 was the worst for me. At the time of the attack, I lived way up in the Sierras in a rather isolated community.The neighbors all joked that we would “hold them at the river” but I spent the next week waiting for a foreign invasion. So, time to start re-evaluating my preps.
    I purchased an emergency radio at Radio Shack that is solar, battery, and hank crank. It also can charge cell phones, lap tops, etc. I paid $49 on sale and I feel that it was a steal. My canned,prepackaged foods are in great shape but I need to buy more Mountain House. I personally love their plain canned meats like ground chicken or beef because with dogs, if need be, I could rehydrate it and feed it to the dogs. I have 50 pounds of Blue Buffalo kibble in a container and at least 5- 50lb.- extra bags in the wings at all times. Water storage is the worst for me. I need to break down and buy some professional type water storage containers and quit fooling around with cases of Dasani. I just wonder how the blue plastic holds up in a hot garage. Need some extra manual can openers-one is none and two is one. I am thinking of a composting toilet but wonder what the best features are. Don’t laugh! That baby could get a real work out in a SHTF scenario! 😉 Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed.

  7. An actual address book with phone numbers and addresses in it..you should ask your
    teenagers /twenty-somethings how many phone #’s and addresses they have committed to memory ….many of them rely on their cell phones’ speed dial so much that they haven’t a clue how to get a hold of anyone with out it

  8. Peep – You are correct in your observation of the fast moving Pop Tarts. In a recent Emergency Management course the topic was about what different businesses do to prepare for an impending emergency… hurricane, etc. Wal-Mart has a standard list of items it automatically orders when they know something is coming. A lot of extra Pop Tarts (specifically Strawberry flavored) are on that list. They can’t explain it either, but for some reason, there is a run on Pop Tarts so they are always ready for it!

  9. From living through three hurricanes in central Florida in 2004, I’d recommend the following if you’re surviving in a city:

    Gasoline: fill all your vehicles’ tanks, and if you have a generator, prepare for that. After the hurricanes power was down and gas stations either didn’t open or couldn’t take cards… and lines at the open stations were loooong.

    Cash: again, with the power down, you’re not going to be able to use your debit card, and ATM’s won’t work either. Banks may not open.

    Propane/charcoal: We were blessed to get our power back quickly, but others had to wait a week or more (and the further out you live, the longer you’ll wait). Friends with no grills, or no fuel for their grills, brought us their thawing freezer meat. We ate like kings and they got to eat as well… otherwise all that meat would have spoiled.

    Tarps. If this is a weather event, there will be use for a tarp. If there is a use for it, everyone in your city will need one. There is no way there will be enough.

  10. Don’t forget, you normally have between 50-80 gallons of water stored at your house right now…. when the SHTF, go and turn off the gas, electricity and water line coming into the house. Now, when needed, open your hot water heater’s drain line on the bottom of the water heater and hopefully you will have water. That is of course if you drained it once a year to get rid of the calcium buildup in the bottom. Hope this helps.

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  13. James McDonald

    Having two water filters, one for two people that you can carry, and another one for where you are staying at. Filtered water will be a barter item! Just don’t trade at your house. Do it at another location.

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  20. This is a good basic start list but a galleon of water a day per person which would include drinking,cooking,sanitation and anything raises an eyebrow in concern especally in warmer states. For the lady who asked about gas masks good reliable masks these days are any modern US,British,Canadian,German or Israeli. Try to avoid the russuan masks as they normally use a 60 mm threaded filter and may be hard to find where as the nationalities mentioned use 40mm NATO standard threaded filters BUT the canadian masks use 60mm threaded but adaptors turning the mask from 60mm threaded to 40mm Nato standard threaded can be bought for a few dollars online

  21. If you buy a crank radio/charger, test the charger on your phone and/or equipment. I never could find one that actually charged my iPhone despite the claims, and added a crank charger just for that task (I tested that, too.)

  22. I HAVE Work with FEMA trained by FEMA as a CERT VOLUNTEER … ON WEAPONS They strongly believe that only Police and National guard are the only ones to have weapons PLEASE NOTE that even if an Fire Dept. Personal and/or high rank Officer shows up with permit for side hand It will be FORCED to surrender the weapon If FEMA VIP is there and saying so
    Yes on the hand crank Radio that the Red Cross sale will charge most smart phones but it will be hours of hand cracking to do this
    Solar charging am/fm Radios with usd plugs will less work for the owners having extra Batteries and two different types/ ways to charge your gear you never know a family member / friend of family will be demanding to recharged their kids DSL machine to keep the Brat SOME WHAT HAPPY FOR 12 MINUTES

  23. Love the article and thinking of many items to add. I have a red cross radio, but have no idea how to use the solar charger with my phone.

    The 5 gallon bucket toilet is nice idea. For comfort I’ve read that some people take a section of a pool noodle, slice it lengthwise and use it to make the bucket more comfy. Nice idea, eh?

    Pets. Have plenty of water and food for them. If ‘shelter in place’ is necessary, have disposable or washable potty pads and make sure your pets is comfortable with using them ‘before’ a SHTF scenario. Trying to teach a pet a new potty routine amidst chaos isn’t gonna be fun. Set up their own ‘bob’ (bug out/in bag) with essentials: bowls, food, meds, vet records, microchip info, water, poop bags, toys, sweaters, extra leash and collar with tags, and whatever else you want. Have a separate can opener for their food cans. Have a crate and teach them to go into it, so you’re not fighting it in a SHTF scenario. Being prepared with your pets will make keeping them with you and alive much easier. 🙂

    I’m not new to prepping. I’m new to ‘doing’ preps. Lots to learn and do. Thanks for the info!

  24. Beverly Mcdaniel

    A couple of large bags of garage floor absorbent is cheaper than kitty litter, plastic bags about 13 gallon if you use the unflshable toilet or smaller if you use a 5 gal bucket can work as a sanitation station. A bag of lime from the building supply controls odor if sprinkled on the waste.

  25. Candles and tea lights are great but I was also concerned about having open flames so I started collecting candle lanterns. They are decorative and affordable and can be picked up at yard sales, Walmart, online, or any garden store. I started telling family and friends that I collect them so now I receive them regularly as gifts. Instead of being someone with loads of ceramic pigs I have lots of lanterns, enough for a few in every room of the house and patio.

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