Building an Emergency Supply Kit

Several years ago, I wrote an article on emergency supplies everyone should have in their home. At that time, my list was quite simple – I was new to home ownership and I was focused on the basics.

Over the years, my emergency supply kit has grown and grown. It now exists in a few tubs in our garage, with some of the water-sensitive items inside waterproof containers.

Here’s our current list. The list was generated from several sources, with the main source being the list from FEMA. Along with the items, I have a few tips on how to acquire them inexpensively.

Vital Items
These items are essential parts of anyone’s kit.

Water The goal is to have one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation. For our home, that’s fifteen gallons, which takes up a lot of space.

Non-perishable food Three days (at least) of non-perishable food is key. This doesn’t have to be healthy food, so ours mostly consists of granola bars, nuts, and similar things. We buy these things on sale occasionally, then rotate them out of our emergency storage.

Battery-powered radio These can be found pretty cheaply. Make sure that it has access to the weather radio bands, and a USB socket is also useful.

Flashlight Just wait until you see a sale on them. I suggest having one good flashlight and a few small LED lights. I’ve seen some with USB sockets, too, which can be useful but isn’t wholly necessary.

Extra batteries Make sure that you have extra batteries that are compatible with the radio and the flashlights.

First aid kit In an emergency, you should have supplies on hand in the event of a minor medical crisis. It’s easy to just buy a kit, but you can also assemble one yourself. I recommend the first aid kit guide from the Red Cross.

A whistle Why? What if you need to signal for help? Don’t rely on your own ability or your family’s ability to whistle.

An adjustable wrench Why? It might be vital for you to turn off utilities, as you don’t want a gas leak or sparking electricity around. You should know how to do this.

Prescription medications If you take a prescription medication, you should make sure that you have several days of that medication stowed away in a waterproof bag. As many of you know, I take Synthroid (as I have since birth), so I have several pills in an old prescription bottle in there.

Sleeping bags and blankets We don’t actually keep these with our other emergency supplies (for space), but we do have sleeping bags for each family member very close by, along with extra blankets. If you find yourself with an old blanket or two, emergency preparedness is a great use for them.

Secondary Items
The items on this list are important to varying degrees, but I would make sure I had all of the above items before putting any of these aside.

Dust masks If there’s an earthquake (among other potential disasters), it’s going to be dusty and there’s a reasonable chance that some of that dust could be toxic. It can’t hurt to have a few dust masks on hand if you find them on the cheap.

Wet wipes Baby wipes work perfectly. You just want something simple to help keep yourself clean when there may not be easy access to a shower. Again, sales are the key.

Garbage bags You’re going to produce waste. Don’t just throw it around. Keep it contained. An easy way to do this is to just take some of the bags out of a bulk purchase of garbage bags and include them in your kit.

A can opener If any of your non-perishable food is in cans, you’ll need a can opener. These can easily be found secondhand – I found one at a yard sale for a quarter.

Maps A printed map of your area can also be useful. You can print out a city map from the website of most cities, plus you can often obtain free state maps at rest stops.

A cell phone with a charging device It doesn’t need to be a current phone. You just need a method of charging it. Some flashlights and some battery-powered radios have a USB port on them, so if you have one of those and a charging cable, you can charge a phone enough to make a 911 call, which you can do on any phone.

Pet food and water If you have a pet, make sure that you have food for them and that you have potable water for them as well. A small bag of pet food stowed away can be a great idea.

Cash and change This enables you to make small purchases if necessary.

Copies of insurance policies and identification This will make it much easier (and likely less costly) if you need to make an insurance claim in the aftermath of a disaster.

A small container of bleach Bleach can help you make drinking water potable (adding sixteen drops of bleach to a gallon of water will kill most harmful organisms in it) and it can also help with cleanup. You can fill a small container out of your own larger bleach bulk purchases.

A fire extinguisher If a disaster occurs, fires may happen due to any number of reasons. A fire extinguisher can help extinguish small fires.

Matches (or another simple firestarter) You may have reason to start a small fire for warmth, in which case a firestarter is a good idea. We keep items like this with our camping gear, which happens to be close to our emergency supplies.

Changes of clothing A change of clothing can be a good idea, though not entirely necessary. It can certainly help with health issues and can be a good use of clothes that are well worn.

Mess kits This includes plates, forks, spoons, and other items to eat with. Again, this is a great use of beat-up old items that you would have otherwise discarded.

Feminine hygiene supplies I can’t comment on the usefulness here, of course, but this seems like it would be an essential supply for adult women. As with other items, this can easily be stocked out of a jumbo purchase of such items.

Pens These can be useful for annotating maps, writing notes, or signing documents. I often collect pens at parades and other such events.

Children’s entertainment items After a few hours of handling a disaster, my children would get bored – and that would likely mean that they would become a distraction to the work that would need to be done. A selection of material to entertain them – books, paper, crayons, and so forth – is a very good idea. Yard sale items can be perfect here.

Whew! That’s a pretty thorough list!

You don’t need to collect all of this stuff at once, but it’s useful to have a list like this around. When you have the opportunity, it’s a smart move to set these items aside in a tub in a relatively-easy-to-access place in your home. Also, if you consider some of these items to be unnecessary, it’s up to you as to whether to include them or not. (Our list is close to complete, but the items are stored in a couple different places.)

The point is that a little bit of preparation can make surviving a disaster much easier and much less costly.

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