Updated on 04.15.13

Surviving a Natural Disaster

Trent Hamm

Iowa City flooding by Alan Light on Flickr!As I’ve mentioned before, my hometown was flooded during the Mississippi River Flood of 1993. It was a painful yet formative experience, as it showed me how incredibly powerful a united community can be.

One thing that’s been on my mind recently, in the wake of the 2008 floods in the upper Midwest and the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, is how many people are unprepared for devastation. When a disaster comes, whether it be flood, fire, a huge storm, or something else, many people simply flail in despair, unsure what to do.

“David” has an interesting question along these lines:

Would it be possible for you to cover the need to prepare for emergencies and what steps to take: situations (hurricane, blizzard, tornado, etc), essential supplies, money on hand, and places to get deals on necessities for preparation?

This is an issue I’ve thought about for my own family, and here’s the plan we have in place in case of any such disaster.

First, we keep our pantry full. I rotate the food in there on a regular basis to keep things fresh, but we don’t let the cupboards get low. In a pinch, we have plenty of supplies to get us through – canned foods, flour, bottled water and other beverages, and so on. We would not starve or die of thirst over the short term.

Second, we keep small amounts of cash both in the house and in the car. This enables us to easily conduct cash transactions if the credit card and ATM networks are down or in situations where we’re stranded.

Third, we have non-electrical supplies on hand. We have a radio that can be powered by hand crank, tons of candles and matches, and lots of blankets around. If the electricity goes out for a long period, we can all converge in the living room, camp out on the couch with blankets, and crank up the radio to find out what’s going on – no electricity needed. We also have some road flares that we can set off if we need to attract visual attention from rescue personnel at night.

Perhaps most important of all, we have a well-stocked first aid kit and the basic know-how to handle simple injuries.

The real challenge when it comes to thinking about disaster preparation for your family is that it’s easy to forget some things simply because we rely on basic services so much. If a major disaster befalls you, electrical devices won’t work. Cell phones won’t work. You might not be able to easily leave your home to acquire food or beverages. You may not have safe running water. You may have someone injured.

It makes both personal and financial sense to be prepared for a disaster. When I was young, I would have never believed that a flood could wipe out my hometown. Early this year, I would have never believed that Parkersburg, Iowa could be wiped off the map by tornadoes, or that Cedar Rapids, Iowa could be rapidly and largely submerged under flood waters.

It can happen. Don’t lull yourself into believing it can’t happen to you.

Here’s a checklist of the supplies that I would recommend everyone having on hand just in case of a disaster:
+ A first aid kit
+ Flashlights
+ Matches
+ Food that doesn’t require heat or electricity to consume, at least several days’ worth
+ Potable water, at least several days’ worth
+ A hand-crank radio
+ Blankets
+ Road flares
+ Cash, stored in multiple places, up to $200-300
+ Take a look at TSD’s fire safety and prevention resource

Any other suggestions from the readers?

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  1. Guilty as charged!
    My area of the country is not very apt to be flooded or victim of a tornado, but winter snow and ice storms are getting more and more severe.
    I don’t have nearly the supplies necessary to whther a long-term power outage, coupled with impassable road conditions etc.
    Thanks for the kick in the pants!

  2. Stacey says:

    Our area loses power often in the winter… We always have our generator nearby and store a few gallons of gasoline in the garage.

    It’s never been an “emergency” to lose power for a day or two(knock on wood), but it’s always tough when your well pump stops working! Keep bottled water on hand if you’ve got a well.

  3. Ken Deboy says:

    I would add – have a firearm and make sure both you and your spouse know how to use it. If there is looting or other criminal activity going on, you want to be able to protect your family and home.
    As you said, the phones might not be working, and even if they were, the police might be too overwhelmed to come to your assistance.


  4. Chris says:

    Trent – good post. I live in Houston and last had electricity at 4am on 9/13. You’re absolutely right: it’s very easy to be lulled into thinking it can’t happen to you. Thinking that had me straining to hear a Walkman (which I’d purchased after all the radios were sold out) as the front door was blowing into my house.

    Few additions to your list:

    -a razor. I use electric and it’s been dead for days. Just because you’re out of power doesn’t necessarily mean your work is.

    -fans or (in the South) a window AC unit – Stacey mentioned a generator. A cheap window unit from Home Depot makes a bedroom livable when powered by your generator.

    -coolers – you’ll be able to get ice, either from FEMA or the grocery. You’ll want somewhere to put it bigger than your freezer.

    You’ll probably get more Ike posts in response to this.

  5. A.M.B. A. says:

    Include a manual can opener/army knife. I would feel more comfortable having closer to $500- $1000 cash on hand. If you have a family and are “stuck” for more than 5 days, $200 won’t last long. Also, I have my important papers in a portable file box so I can just grab it and go. I hate the thought of the major hassle of getting replacements if I lost everything in a tornado or a flood.


  6. Kevin says:

    What about those of us that don’t use canned food for fear of the BPA in the can liners leaching into the food? I guess glass jars could be used but any other good ideas out there?

    I disagree entirely on the firearm issue. Chances are greater it will accidentally go off and harm someone in your own family than to serve as protection. But to each his own I guess. I would personally rather have someone loot my home than to shoot them over meaningless crap like a TV or stereo.

  7. Dorsie says:

    I’m in California, so our natural disaster is earthquakes. We have a tent, tennis shoes, a change of clothes, and playing cards in our emergency kit. Also, people with pets need to make sure they have the appropriate items in their kits to take care of their animals.

    Another big issue is contacting each other. Text messages are the best way to get in contact, and you should try to have a out of state person whom everyone can call to check in. A family meeting plan is also helpful. Who will get the kids from school? Who will secure the house and make sure the gas is shut off, etc. If you have a plan in place, you are more likely to be in control of a bad situation.

  8. Rebeckah says:

    I appreciate your posts so much. Thank you for sharing this great information! Hope you have a great day. God bless.

  9. Jon says:

    A generator (and gasoline, obviously).

  10. Desiree says:

    I am in Baton Rouge which got hit extremely hard by Gustav (not that the media would let you know it). We were without power for a week and there was no ice available. After our initial 12 bags melted we had to start throwing food away. So a generator to run the fridge is an essential.

  11. Desiree says:

    Kevin…Looters don’t just steal your stuff. They’ll bash your head in to make sure you are unable to stop them.

  12. KC says:

    I’ve always lived in relatively safe environments, but I’ve found no one is completely safe from disaster. Even a long term power outage for whatever reason can constitute a disaster. The easiest things to do for me are…

    –keep some cash on hand. I usually have a couple hundred dollars in my house that I just grab when I need cash. But I do keep about a $100 in small bills in my fire proof box. Small bills are necessary to buy things when there is no electricity for businesses to give you change. Believe it or not in a power outage many businesses can’t get to their money.

    –keep the gas tank relatively full. I don’t drive a lot so a half tank will last me a week or more, but if there is no electricity you can’t pump gas – so don’t ride around on fumes.

    –I keep water in the garage. Usually its in the form of 16 oz bottles that I eventually drink, but there is always some extra water in there. Not a gigantic supply, but enough for a day or two.

  13. Eagle Scout says:

    I HIGHLY recommend having a boy scout handbook with you as well. As an Eagle Scout, I can tell you that it is filled with extremely valuable information that pertain to “survival” type scenarios.

    If you had to forage for food, would you know what plants are safe to eat? If you have to build a makeshift shelter, do you know how? Can you start a fire if your last match goes out? Do you know how to perform first aid? The list goes on.

  14. KC says:

    As for firearms, read The Great Deluge, but Douglas Brinkley. You’ll see that it wasn’t just looting, but there were numerous rapes. Like Kevin, I don’t want to shoot someone over a TV, but over myself…I’m pulling the trigger, multiple times.

  15. karen says:

    A package of important documents, in a waterproof bag. Insurance policy, phone numbers (coins for calls) and pictures of family/pets with physical description, age etc..on the back, incase you get separated. Emotions run high and sometimes you can’t remember the simplest things.

  16. Hannah says:

    You touched on this briefly in your post, but I can’t stress enough the importance of storing WATER! Water is more important than food. The human body can go without food for a while, but without water your body will begin to shut down after a few days. Store clean water somewhere in or around your home. You can store it in 55-gallon drums, soda bottles, etc. And, in a dire emergency, you can purify and use the water from your water heater.

  17. peachblush says:

    Remember to keep a stash of any necessary medication. Aspirin and other pain relievers are nice, but if someone in your household has a serious condition that requires medication, having am emergency supply could be a life or death issue. I have worked in emergency preparedness for years and have seen needless deaths over and over because people don’t keep enough insulin (for example) on hand. It way take a while to build up a supply because of the way insurance pays. If nothing else, keep a written unfilled prescription on hand. The Red Cross can fill prescriptions, this often occurs in shelters. Generally doctors will supply patients with prescriptions for emergency preparedness, especially if the medication is not a controlled substance.

  18. Turk says:

    We live in a hurricane prone area and during the season we always keep our cars filled up with an emergency kit kept there also. Don’t forget your pets and keep extra dog and cat food

  19. Matt R. says:

    Great post. No matter where you live…in the desert, on the coast, in a penthouse apartment in the city, or in a log cabin in the woods, you’re not immune to disaster and you should make sure you’re prepared. The only person to blame if you’re helpless during a crisis is yourself.

  20. MB says:

    My plans are very similar to yours. I also have a “go bag” that I keep packed in the coat closet, which contains all the basic things I need in case of evacuation (change of clothes, extra first aid kit, toiletries, documents, duct tape, etc). There’s not too many disasters that might occur locally that would require evacuation, but I live near a major interstate and a major rail line, so some type of chemical spill is feasible. If an evacuation occurs, I want to be one of the first people on the road instead of leaving with the masses and getting stuck in traffic. Heres one list of things you might want in a go bag:
    I think some California government sites also have some good suggestions.

  21. spaces says:

    I wanted, but did not have enough, cleaning supplies: Specifically, bleach, paper towels and plastic trash bags.

    I live in Houston, and was joined at my house by some friends who live along the coast for Ike. Power was out for more than a week, and we didn’t have running water for a few days. Given this, cleaning up after the crew was difficult. Paper towels and plastic trash bags are not items I normally use — I use cloth towels and rags, and paper grocery bags. Laundry was impossible, as there was no power and no water, and hang drying was impossible as it was too humid for towels to dry without accumulating significant mildew. Paper bags were difficult to use because of water (humidity, and also that the humans were wet as we were attempting to clean up from damage caused by the storm).

    Paper plates also would have come in handy. Again, these are an item I do not normally use.

    A few things made the storm very bearable: Gas appliances. I have a gas stove and gas hot water heater, which function without electricity. So I was able to easily boil water when neither electricity nor water were available. When water came back on but electricity remained out, I was able to get hot water from the tap.

    A DC/AC power inverter. I had never used this device, which carries a frugal pricetag of about $40, before Ike. It runs a charge off of a car battery sufficient to power a few small things for a few hours. The car does not need to be running, but you do need to turn it on for a while every few hours to let the battery recharge. It allowed us to run the television, a fan, a light, a laptop and my DSL modem all at the same time (but that’s about all it could run). Strangely, DSL never went down during the storm. The inverter was especially handy for me the week after the storm — I work in a field related to the financal markets, and by the Monday after Ike work had gone completely bonkers and I needed to be putting in 15+ hour days. The inverter + working internet let me work from home before and after dark (the hours I wanted to be home) and during the citywide curfew hours.

  22. missy says:

    I live in northeast Ohio and we were unexpectedly hit with massive wind storms emmanating from Hurricane Ike. Many people around us were out of power for 2 days, and some people that I work with did not have power for 6 days. We were completely unprepared and nearly lost a whole chest freezer of food. More than anything we were frustrated that we were not prepared. So we are going to invest in a gas powered generator, 2 battery operated lamps, emergency cash, a 5 gallon gas can, and make sure we have plenty of batteries and flashlights on hand. We figure if we can cook and have refrigeration, we’ll be just fine. We are determined to not feel that helpless again!

  23. Karen M says:

    We live in Southern California and have had to evacuate several times because of fire. The first thing we grab is our fire- and water-proof file box, which contains all our important documents (medical records for the family and pets, insurance policies, bank accounts, CD copies of all our digital pictures, etc.). Then we grab our electronic equipment and chargers, which are all kept together in the same place all the time. (This is very important, as we know someone who was woken up at 2 AM by a knock on the door from a fireman, who told her to get her family out NOW. They left in their pajamas.)

    We also have pictures of everything in our home. We have never had to file an insurance claim, but this would help if it ever came to that. We update our picture file regularly, which is very easy to do with a digital camera.

    Also, have more than one evacuation plan. Last fall we had to evacuate due to fires. We drove over to a friend’s home about thirty miles away. By the next morning, that area was being evacuated! We helped them load their truck, and we all drove off to another friend’s. Oh, and it also helps to have a sense of humor. (My husband is better about that than I am, I admit.)

  24. Anna S says:

    INSURANCE! Flood, fire, earthquake, whatever. After the water recedes and the power is back on, how will you rebuild?

  25. Lisa says:

    to add the list of suggestions:

    We never let the house get low on TOILET PAPER. If we need to go to a shelter then I am bringing some with me.

    Also WET WIPES. When the water is not safe or the pipes freeze or the pumps fail, it is nice to be able to have clean hands.

    A written list of PHONE NUMBERS (out of state family, insurance companies, etc.) is in the 72-hour bags.

  26. Mary Jo says:

    I would add: an “old-fashioned,” analog, corded phone. Digital, cordless phones won’t work without power. I picked up one recently at Target for $6.

  27. BonzoGal says:

    Be careful with leaving important papers in files, safes, etc. inside your house. Just this morning I was reading news stories about home invasion robberies occurring around the Oakland, CA area that often include theft of files and safes- thieves are now actively looking for papers they can sell to others for identity theft. We keep our important papers in a safe-deposit box in another city, just in case.

    Also be careful with leaving cash in your car- stash it in a really hard-to-find place. Our car was broken into last month and the thieves looked through our glove compartment and trunk. Luckily the cash we’d stashed there was well-hidden in a little first-aid kit buried under the spare tire.

  28. Kevin says:

    Plastic tarps; duct tape (of course!); as someone else mentioned, a generator and at least 10 gallons of gas which has been treated with stabilizer; extra blankets or sleeping bags; plenty of potable water – at the very least, a couple of gallons per person; freeze dried food; med kits; extra Rx meds – at least several days’ worth; crank radio; extra cash stored in a location that won’t get blown away or flooded.

  29. Sunshine says:

    I think what you need would depend on where you live, too. I live in S FL (used to live in Homestead pre-Andrew) and my requirements are going to be similar, but different than someone living in New Orleans. My area may be severely damaged, but I won’t get flooded out like people of New Orleans did.

    So, what I’m trying to say, is take a look at your situation and don’t just think – “Oh, I’m gonna get hit by a hurricane and let me get X” Also think along the lines of if one lives near a river or a canal, etc.

    I have been hit by a few major hurricanes (Andrew, Katrina before she got super huge, and Wilma). I am always amazed by what a person can deal with when given the necessity.

  30. Vicky says:

    Hurricane Ike made a mess of our roof: we were running around all night poking holes in the ceilings and catching water in every available bucket, pot, and bowl. With that in mind, here are some more suggestions for hurricane preparedness.

    Well Before the Storm
    – Window board-up supplies. People were offering me $50 a sheet for my extra plywood
    – A gas can. There were none to be found once the gas crunch started..

    During the Storm – Must be able to find these in darkness when woken suddenly!
    – Work clothes
    – Flat and Phillips head screw-drivers
    – Knife or multi-tool
    – Shower curtain liners or other plastic sheeting
    – Water-resistant flashlight
    – Earplugs

    Immediately After the Storm
    – Notepad and pen
    – Camera
    – Battery operated drill with charged batteries
    – Batten strips
    – Tarps
    – Nylon rope
    – Tall ladder
    – Trash bags
    – Protective glasses
    – Work gloves
    – Crowbar
    – Hammer
    – Plentiful nails and screws
    – Car charger for cell phone
    – Road map

    Another thing I really appreciated was a set of those battery operated decorative candles. They could be left on throughout the house as navigational lights without fire danger and without wasting flashlight batteries.

    That’s just what we needed – your mileage may vary. We left town as soon as our roof was covered and our house was secured, allowing me to telecommute for the week while our power was off.

  31. Thanks for all the great tips! LOVE your blog.

    During the ice storms that hit Missouri two years ago, many people went for over two weeks in the dead of winter without power). We had tons of blankets but no back up for heating up food.

    So, my husband put his boy scout skills to use. By lighting three tea light candles and placing a can of soup a little above them we had hot soup in just minutes. (Loosely wrapping foil around around it speeds up the process) Though I don’t want to do it again, it was a fun memory!

  32. AJ says:

    Besides the preparations for staying at home during a disaster, please consider what you would need if you had to leave or were away from home when a disaster struck. There are lots of sites that contain great lists.

    (From memory) here’s what I have in a backpack I keep in my car trunk, along with several bottles of water, a fire extinguisher, crowbar, large flashlight, small tarp, poncho, a 4-pack of toilet paper, a roll of paper towels, a pair of good walking shoes w/socks, a change of clothes (T-shirt, flannel shirt, sweater, jeans), a warm blanket & a couple of old pillows:

    A large ziploc bag with medical supplies – antibiotic ointment, bandaids & bandages, medical tape, scissors, tweezers, eyewash cup, saline, aspirin, tylenol, antihistamine, anti-diarrheal, zantac, sleep-aid meds, needles & thread, razor, superglue, a first aid booklet, moleskin, ace bandage, some left-over percocet from a hospital stay, latex gloves, some face masks, small plastic bottles of bleach, alcohol & betadine.

    A couple of large ziploc bags with food prep supplies – anti-bacterial handsoap in plastic container, small can-opener/bottle opener, small plastic bags with salt, pepper, instant coffee, sugar, dry milk, oatmeal, instant rice, dry soup mix, dried fruit, nuts, koolaid, beef jerky, plastic forks & spoons, a few stainless forks, knives & spoons, a hunting knife, small plastic bottle of dishsoap, paper napkins.

    A ziploc bag of personal care supplies – antibacterial bathsoap in plastic container (yes, a second one), washrag, microfiber towels, comb, hairbands, feminine hygiene supplies, toothbrushes and toothpaste, sunscreen, shampoo, lipbalm, plastic trash bags of various sizes.

    A ziploc bag with emergency blankets, knit gloves, several pairs of warm socks, knit caps, lightweight ponchos and inflatable pillows, matches, fire starter, candles.

    A ziploc bag with notepads, pens, papers, sealable sandwich bags and a card of thumbtacks (for leaving weatherprotected messages on doors), several labeled pictures of each family member (to aid in locating separated family members), copies of important documents (prescriptions, important medical info like allergies, birth and marriage certificates, addresses and phone numbers of out of area family, health, car, homeowners & life insurance contact info, emergency contact info, etc.)

    In an outer compartment easy to get at: dust masks, eye goggles, flashlight, and heavy work gloves (for rescue operations), energy bars.

    A small battery operated radio. Some plastic bowls. A metal bowl with handles. A couple of push lights. A bag with batteries for these and extra batteries for flashlight. A roll of duct tape w/razor. Several large plastic trash bags.

    Probably some other stuff I’m not remembering.

    If I remember correctly, it cost less than $150 to put together two of these packs (one for another family) and although we’ve never had to use them to cope with a disaster, they’ve come in handy during long trips and once when I got stuck for several hours during a snow storm, and knew I had everything I needed to stay warm and comfortable in the car for as long as it took.

  33. luvleftovers says:

    September is National Preparedness Month. There’s a wealth of info at this website.


    It’s important to remember that disasters are not always natural. On 9/11 I got stuck in Manhattan. Fortunately, I was able to stay at a friend’s apartment for a few days. At the time, I wasn’t on any medications, but I do now for migraines. I always make sure I have at least 5 days worth in my purse at all times in case that happens again.

    And let’s not forget that horrible power outage of 2003…

  34. SP says:

    I live in a small apartment, so a lot of this is not realistic (a generator and 10 gallons of gas??). Even a full pantry or a big water supply is a challenge.

    But, I do appreciate the ideas

  35. Jessica says:

    Powdered Milk. It may not be exactly like milk but if you are running out of food and hungry, or if you want to stretch the food and feel full it would be great mixed with some water. I would also reccomend you have some sort of impliment that can cook over a fire. You can have a fire anywhere, you don’t need a generator. A barrel, the woods. Inform yourself about fire safety and have a grate or stand and maybe a dutch oven handy.

  36. Sarah says:

    I have another recommendation: Get CERT trained! CERT = Community Emergency Response Training, and this training is usually offered for free by local fire departments. The basic course teaches you how to be a community leader in the case of a natural disaster, and it covers everything from how to prepare yourself and your family to how to do search and rescue, how to triage people in case of mass casualties, how to support victims emotionally, etc. I found it absolutely fascinating, and would recommend it highly to anyone who is serious about getting prepared for the inevitable emergency. More info is here on their website: http://www.citizencorps.gov/cert/

  37. Stephanie says:

    Kevin – If you were in a life or death situation, the possibility of eating food that has been laced with BPA in an aluminum can pales in comparison to starving. Glass jars break. I guess you could dehydrate all your food into bags but emergency food is for EMERGENCIES. The MREs that some people keep are much more heavily preserved and God knows what the government specs are for food additives!

    I know that when I lived in Southern California that there are stores that put these kits together and charge a ridiculous amount for them. You can make a kit yourself much cheaper.

    Reading a book on survival will definitely help. Those are truly worst case scenarios and if you can learn how to purify water on your own, you are already ahead of the game!

  38. Pan_theFrog says:

    An entertaining place to get information on disaster preparedness: http://zombiehunters.org

    “When the zombie removal business is slow we focus our efforts towards educating ourselves and our community about the importance of disaster preparation. To satisfy this goal we host disaster relief charity fundraisers, disaster preparation seminars and volunteer our time towards emergency response agencies.”

    If you can’t trust the folks who keep zombies out of your backyard, who can you trust?

  39. Sid Simpson says:

    Before the storm is ever a thought, making a digital image record of your home, belongings, etc. can provide a lot of peace of mind. We did a long detailed stroll through with a video recorder and made sure to talk the whole time about what we were showing. We keep a copy of the disc in the safe deposit box and also have one at another relative’s house. Record made and saved with little clutter or output.

    This can actually be a fun activity for the kids to help with as they learn about the family history of heirloom items, etc.

  40. Anne Marie says:

    What about your other family members…your pets!? After the hundred of pets left homeless after Katrina, please don’t forget to stock, pet food, any of their medications, clean water, etc for your pet. Have them with your families supplies to pick up and bring with you in case of a swift evacuation. I would never leave without our pets!

  41. micdoy says:

    Provident living website has great info for emergency preparedness.

  42. Karen Taylor says:

    I just went thru Hurricane Ike and others growing up. Medication and important papers are a must if one is evacuated along with some photos and id (license/passport). Plus food/water for the pets. Plus propane or charcoal for grilling. They were urging the people who stayed behind in Galveston and surrounding towns to put their SS# on their arms so they could identify the dead bodies – they were under a mandatory evac but still some stayed behind.

  43. Nancy says:

    Register any electric medical device with your local electricity provider NOW (like a CPAP prescribed for severe sleep apnea). If your power goes out during a localized non-emergency event, you’ll be the first to be hooked back up based on medical necessity. This is especially critical if you live in a sparsely populated area, as they can be the last to get power returned. To prepare for an emergency situation, find out NOW where to go to find a reliable power source for the equipment. I learned the hard way; thankfully, no one died, but it could have happened.

  44. In addition to having an emergency kit and plan you can use the twitter/redcross channel to get up to the minute information during a disaster. You can also let friends and family know that you are “safe and well” via computer or cellular phone via the redcross safe and well website. See my post over @ labor and delivery and beyond about this very subject.

  45. Michelle says:

    My family has always spent a lot of time in the car. Whether it was for a vacation, running errands, or commuting back and forth to work.

    My mom taught me to always carry a small bag in the trunk with an extra set of clothing and tennis shoes.

    I have learned that on long road trips (4+ hrs) to take along our “mighty might”. It’s a small generator that you charge at home ahead of time. Has a radio, outlet, air compressor, and jumper cables.

    Other items I also keep in the car: a small multi purpose tool, flashlight, first aid kit, fire blanket, a large bottle of water, and a couple granola bars.

    The water and granola bars are contantly being rotated, as I have a young daughter who always has the munchies.

    One final note, I keep my outdated pair of prescription glasses with the first aid kit. This way, if something should happen while I am wearing contacts, I am still able to see. :)

  46. Michell says:

    The try the American Red Cross for your list. The ARC(www.redcross.org/BeRedCrossReady/)has a prepared list for all the different disasters.

    Here is what they suggest that you have in your kit.


    On the left side of this page (http://www.redcross.org/services/disaster/0,1082,0_501_,00.html) has a list of supplies for many different disaters (hurricanes, tornados, floods, winter storms)

  47. Laura says:

    A few people have said it but I really want to emphasize storing water. Red Cross suggests having one gallon per person per day. For washing, sanitation, and cleaning, drinking and food prep, we really use a lot of water. You run out of clean water and you’re in trouble.

  48. Vicky says:

    Kevin – As a matter of fact, we didn’t end up eating any of our canned food in the aftermath of Ike. Nothing intentional – it just worked out that way. If you have a gas stove or a grill you have lots of options. Many less delicate foods (read: not dairy) are fine on ice for a while: hot dogs, condiments, lunch meat, more sturdy cheeses, frozen vegetables. As the true perishables finish off you can use bottled pasta sauce, boxed or bagged pasta, potatoes, fruit and vegetables, bread, peanut butter, chips, rice, beans, pretzels, granola bars, power bars, raisins, powdered soups, Ramen, vacuum sealed tuna and chicken, some tofu, cookies, Pop-Tarts, oatmeal, couscous, nuts, tea, spices, cocoa, juice mix, jerky – lots of stuff.

  49. Kelly says:

    Flood insurance. I know it doesn’t help you get through the emergency itself, but afterward when you are trying to rebuild… it would have been a lot cheaper if we’d had flood insurance. FEMA people are friendly, but don’t count on their rules to help you out much. Our finished walkout basement was flooded in WA this past December, and FEMA said it wasn’t a primary living space, so we only got a few hundred dollars to help remove debris. All the remodeling costs came out of pocket since we had no flood insurance. That was an expensive disaster! And could trigger a major financial meltdown. No matter where I live in the future, I will have flood insurance! (or renter’s insurance, if you rent, should cover your loss!)

    Also, our hand crank emergency radio came with cell phone adapter chargers!

  50. DaveOR says:


    Always take a close look at instructions before you buy.


    Two different relatives cabins have a couple of CRANK flashlights. Both have had some quit working. Reading the instructions carefully – it turns out THEY NEED TO BE CRANKED AND CHARGED ON A REGULAR BASIS, EVER COUPLE OF WEEKS – or they die. I don’t know if they’re all that way or about the crank radios. If it doesn’t work in the emergency, you’ve put yourself at risk by not taking other precautions as well as wasting money on specialty equipment. I had no idea until I showed up at night, cranked and cranked, and had to hunt for other lights.

  51. Kate says:

    I live in earthquake country my girlfriends and I had lists of each other’s parent’s phone numbers and addresses. We’re almost all married now, but we all live far away from our families. If we could somehow contact each other, but not all of us had out-of-area ability, we could call each other’s folks to let them know we were okay (or not). This is a good idea for seniors, too – let your friends have your kids’ contact information.
    Another thing we all put in our earthquake kits: that time of the month supplies.
    I have an old pair of glasses, too – they’re not the current prescription, but if I have to crawl out from under the wreckage of my house, I’m not going to worry about the current pair on my nightstand.

    Also – for earthquake stashes – Rotate your supply! I actually had a can of green beans in mine a couple of years ago that was dated “11/99.” Holy cow!

  52. Kevin says:


    I was referring to freeze dried foods like those mentioned at the bottom of this post: http://url.ie/qga

    Not cheap, and I imagine you could make your own, but these are convenient and have a 7 year shelf life.


  53. Tradd says:

    If you’re in an area where evacauation, for any reason, is a possibility, get yourself a laptop computer. That way, you can easily take it along at short notice and not have to worry about lugging the big CPU of a desktop and dealing with all those cords, etc., if you’re in a rush.

  54. Michell says:

    Store important items in your dishwasher in an emergency to retrieve later. It has a watertight seal.

  55. Andrea says:

    If a storm is predicted fill your gas tank beforehand in case there is a power outage to the gas station.

    Have propane or charcoal for your grill. You may need a way to cook as your food defrosts.

    Paper goods… if you can’t wash any dishes.

  56. PetMom says:

    Both the Red Cross and US Govt sites have info on emergency preparedness and have checklists you can use to prepare.

    I think we’ve all seen that you should be prepared to take care of yourself for several days in the event of a disaster.

  57. Lajanessa says:

    This may sound weird to y’all, but wait till it happens. In our floods this year, the only stores open were Mexican and the only produce sellers were Hmong. Luckily our family speaks spanish, and our son had a list of food names in Hmong he got from school. The last thing you need when there are dozens of people clamoring for the same cans of soup is to ask for a translation. Keep a list of common phrases in other languages you might likely encounter in an emergency. Also quite helpful when the clean-up crews arrived. A friendly phrase or two in the native tongue got us priority service!

  58. Coral says:

    I made two copies of all my important papers–insurance companies, bank statements, credit cards, car titles and registration, Savings Bonds and travelers check, etc. Everything I need to re-establish our lives if a tornado/hurricane wipes out my house. We carry one copy in our RV when we travel. Our house was in the middle of Ike–and we weren’t there! We had everything we needed to prove insurance, etc. with us. In the event we lost the RV to fire/tornado/flooding, my parents have the second copies–sealed in an envelope. If we lost the RV, they could send the copies to me–and we would be back in business!
    And my computer and broadband card goes with us where ever we travel. Medicine is the most important thing in most people’s lives. Either carry an extra 30 days supply–rotated every few months or extra unfilled prescriptions. I carry a three-day supply in my purse–in the event something happens and we can’t get back home or to the RV.
    We try to be prepared as NO ONE is coming to help YOU if you live in a rural area! They only do that in the big cities where the media are standing around to take videos. Small-town USA is forgotten in emergencies!

  59. Sharon says:

    Save yourself a lot of grief and if you have a generator and gasoline, go to Home Depot or some such store and buy a good, safe gas holder. It will run you about $35. The cheap plastic ones will spill all of the gas if dropped. People have been seriously burned and died. Get the cans with the “deaf man” handle that will automatically close if you let go. And when you fill it, put it ON THE GROUND. Otherwise static sparks can build up and cause an explosion. Do not store gasoline in the house or anywhere near a flame source either. And NEVER smoke while handling gasoline.

  60. Sharon says:

    Save yourself a lot of grief and if you have a generator and gasoline, go to Home Depot or some such store and buy a good, safe gas holder. It will run you about $35. The cheap plastic ones will spill all of the gas if dropped. People have been seriously burned and died. Get the cans with the “dead man” handle that will automatically close if you let go. And when you fill it, put it ON THE GROUND. Otherwise static sparks can build up and cause an explosion. Do not store gasoline in the house or anywhere near a flame source either. And NEVER smoke while handling gasoline.

  61. michael bash says:

    As somebody once said (and a huge comment on America) – a manual can opener.

  62. reulte says:

    I’m never without my SAPK (Swiss Army Pocket Knife) except when I go to the airport or federal buildings. Knife, screwdriver (slot & philips), small saw(?) and, of course, a can opener. Also a cockscrew if you’re celebrating being alive.

    I would think that beef jerky or tuna would be an excellent emergency food . . . protein satisfies hunger better and provides more energy. Plus – it doesn’t require the manual can opener if it comes in packets.

  63. jessica says:

    If you have an infant or child, baby supplies are a must. This is where breastfeeding once again proves superior- no need to heat, mix or sterilize anything. The boobie is always safe! In Columbus Ohio my power was out for 4 days and I am thankful to still be nursing my toddler and I didn’t have to worry about whether she was getting adequate nutrition and hydration.

    Also, disposable diapers and wipes and plastic bags. If you normally cloth diaper, during a disaster you may not have electricity or water to wash with, yet those babies keep on pooping!

  64. karen m says:

    I lived in Charlotte when Hugo hit. We were totally unprepared. No cash, gas, food or water! But the thing I needed the most was Hand Sanitizer believe it or not. I had a 6 month old baby in diapers. In the end, my husband had to prepare the food and I stuck to doing the diapers. Great article and responses, gave me much pause for thought.

  65. Lucky says:

    Why did my comment get blocked? Perhaps you thought I was spamming or trolling, so allow me to present my comment in a less interpretable and entirely link-free manner.

    Canned bacon is funny and, for some, a reasonable survival supply to have on hand. Bacon, like candy, is a morale booster.

    Zombie preparedness is a joke, son. Those of us who want to be prepared, but don’t want to feel like crazy survivalists, sometimes refer to our supplies as our Zombie Survival Gear. It’s funnier than “Worst-Case Stuff.”

    Bug Out Bags are a darn good idea, and I’m surprised you didn’t mention them in your article.

    Come on guys, the surviving the apocalypse doesn’t have to be a drag…

  66. Georgia says:

    I started carrying, in my purse and car, a plati-coated list containing my naz, ph #, medications, allergies, blood type, and contacts naz & ph #’s. That way, if my disaster is a crash, emt’s can get my info immediately.

    I will start trying to load up on some of these items and make certain my important papers are in one place and protected. I live in NE MO and am prone to flood areas and tornados.

    Thanks, Trent.

    P.S. I keep telling people about this site. It has lots of useful info for all types of people.

  67. Georgia says:

    OOPS. I intended to mention that I type all this info on the computer, minimize it, copy, and seal in plasticoated sheets.

    I also do this to my personal telephone book. I don’t plasticoat it, just minimize. It’s about 8 pages long and it is kept in my purse.

  68. DaveOR says:

    A note on storing gasoline.

    Much of the country has upped the % of ethanol and many small portable engines;generators, mowers, chainsaws.. have developed problems with gas that is stored or left in them for even a relatively short period of time – a couple months.
    The problem is that small plastic parts – fuel lines, filters, tanks & carbs decay. This not the myth that lower levels had initially. I know a couple of people who tried to have their tools repaired and the shop said buy a new one, too many parts were damaged. Even gas treatment, specifically for storage, is not as effective as in the past. Either run it dry or consider using coleman fuel / white gas, it is more pure and doesn’t break down – I know that some fire departments do this as they have equipment that may sit for some time between uses.

    Again just some info so that all of your preparedness isn’t knocked out by one glitch.

  69. I see others from Houston have stopped by. I was surprised at how many people were unprepared. I know someone thought it strange that I saved some tubs of water for the toilets (we lost water pressure here for awhile) and cleaning. The other item which seemed to be in great demand after the hurricane was coolers. I kept one set of items in a cooler that I left closed, and another in my daily use cooler. Finding ice was hard, but afterwards, people had no where to store it.

  70. JReed says:

    Replacement cost insurance…it runs @ 100 more per year but it will replace what you had without depreciation.

  71. Jade says:

    As far as insurace goes… I know this sounds crazy but I live less than a mile from a major earthquake fault and they predict that we’ll have a 7.0+ quake on it anytime now. And despite that, we don’t have earthquake insurance. Waste of money really when you have a house covered in plywood and it’s anchor bolted to the foundation. The premiums are twice that of your usual fire insurance, and the deductibles are sky high.

    My dad did a lot of work retrofitting our house and he figures that if we have an earthquake so big that the damage to our house meets the deductible (I believe it’s 300,000 or some insanely high number like that) then the insurance company will have gone bankrupt paying off the claims of all the people who didn’t retrofit and their houses will have been completely demolished. Better to invest the earthquake insurance premiums wisely, maybe it will mean less money to rebuild, but at least you will have the money even if you don’t hit the deductible. Whereas if you bought earthquake insurance, it’s really just a donation to the insurance company.

    And with that in mind, if I’m home and our big earthquake hits then I’m grabing my digital camera and taking lots of pictures of the house to prove to the insurance company that the house was still standing after the quake. I suspect that, even though we have fire insurance, if there’s a fire somewhere else after the quake hits and it makes its way to our house then insurance company will try to argue that our house didn’t burn down, it shook down. So I’ll want to take lots of pictures to prove that the house did not shake down, and then bring the camera with me if we have to evacuate.

    But yes, we do have fire insurance at least. So whenever I throw a party my dad says he’s not worried about me burning down the house, as long as I don’t shake it down!

  72. SteveJ says:

    Lots of good stuff here, I’d just add two:

    Those bottle hand sanitizers, I wish I’d bought a boxful. We just got water back from Ike today and not being able to wash your hands is incredibly frustrating.

    If it’s something like a hurricane where you have days worth of notice (a rare luxury, I know), go ahead and do all your laundry well before hand. I was lending out clothes to friends because I had everything clean ahead of time. Unfortunately we waited a bit too long to start the dishwasher and I woke up to half clean dishes and a mostly empty hot water tank (would have been really useful for flushing toilets!).

    Oh and buddy up to your neighbor with a gas chainsaw if you don’t have one. Only your neighbors will be around to help you get that huge tree out of your street/driveway afterwards. Also useful for zombies as mentioned before.

  73. Macinac says:

    Most everything is already said by now, but here are a couple of extras: (1) I keep a statewide book of county road maps in the car (from De Lorme). This allows for finding alternate routes when roads are closed or impassable. (2) My Ford car has a keypad for unlocking the door, which allows access without a key; and I have an ignition key hidden inside. (3) Spam is a useful emergency food: high in energy and protein (and salt), will keep for years and years, can be opened without a can opener, and can be eaten without cooking.

  74. NYC reader says:

    I posted a question about emergency preparedness in Reader Mailbag #28, along with some of my ideas, so I’m really glad to see Trent has devoted an entire post to this topic.

    High on my list of foodstuffs are items that do NOT require additional water for preparation, and where heating is optional. Clean potable water will be in short supply in most emergencies, and folks shouldn’t count on being able to prepare foods that require additional water and a fuel source such as ramen noodles, pasta, rice, oatmeal, etc.

    It’s not just CLEAN water that will likely be available, a power outage can cut off ALL water. Electric pump for your well? Forget about water. Live in an apartment building higher than seven stories? No water for you either, even with that big tank on the roof; once it’s drained by gravity, no new water will be pumped to the tank.

    Fuel sources will be in tight supply, and if you have municipal water supply, there will likely be a mandatory boil water order. That will use up tons of fuel.

    If you have no electricity, many newer gas stoves won’t work because they have a safety valve that shuts off gas flow when there’s no power.

    Plan on using alternate heat sources for cooking, but note that if you’re in a car or an enclosed shelter, you can’t light a fire of any type because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

    If you’ve got some cans of Sterno (gelled alcohol fuel) and a few bricks, you can easily make a small efficient cookstove nearly anywhere.

    Find a flat surface. If it’s not inherently fireproof (granite countertop or metal stovetop, for example), put three bricks on the surface, laying them flat so you have about a 12″ square fireproof cookspace. Place two additional bricks on top of the brick cookspace; these will be the windscreen and will support the pots/pans. Place one or two Sternos (depending on the size of the pots/pans and what needs to be heated, a big pot of water needs two Sternos) in between the two bricks and light them. Place the pot/pan on top of the two bricks.

    If this is a winter emergency and you have no heat, those bricks will be a welcome source of heat, they’ll be nice and warm when you’ve finished cooking/heating. Place the warm bricks in your sleeping bag or under your blankets and crawl in to warm up.

    Repeat of my ideas from Reader Mailbag #28:

    My preparedness foodstock includes shelf-stable items that require no refrigeration, cooking, or special preparation. For the most part, they don’t require additional water for preparation, and I get most of them at Costco or Sam’s Club, so the prices are reasonable.

    Peanut butter, crackers, tuna pouches (no can opener required!), granola bars, ready-to-eat soups in juicebox packages (again, no can opener required), canned veggies (corn and peas), etc.

    I have a ziplock bag with a bunch of individual jams and preserves, saved from all those restaurant breakfasts.

    I favor the granola bars, but you might prefer Pop-Tarts or energy bars. Dry cereal is good, make sure it’s well-sealed in ziplock bags. Milk or soymilk in individual juiceboxes is good if that’s your prefererence.

    Kids like canned ravioli and Spaghetti-Os. Adults and kids might like canned beef stew.

    All of these require no water to prepare, and heating is optional.

    I have tea bags and instant coffee (can’t stand the stuff, but I figure I might be really desperate for coffee). Also water in both gallon jugs and individual bottles.

    Red Cross says you should have a minimum gallon/day per person for a minimum three-day event, I keep about 1.5 gal/day (because I drink a lot of water), and I plan on a week.

    Also disposable paper plates, bowls, cups, utensils (plan on no potable water or water at all to wash dishes).

    Heatsources are sterno (gelled alcohol fuel), candles in glass, bare candles, and a small backpacking stove with fuel.

    Of course, batteries, flashlights, radios, first aid kit, medications, instant hand sanitizer, toilet paper, hygiene supplies, etc. I have a small 4-cell AA/AAA battery charger that runs from both a car cigarette lighter and a wall AC outlet, along with some rechargable AA and AAA batteries.

    And CASH. Plastic is useless when there’s no power or communication. Cash requirements vary depending on one’s circumstances, but I think at least $100/person is the minimum to get through an emergency, maybe a minimum of $200-300 dollars for a single person or couple.

    With all these items, the key is to periodically use and replenish them so they are always fresh. Pick shelf-stable items you actually use on a regular basis, or would be willing to use (I never had canned veggies in the house, I eventually learned to use them in omelettes and soups).

  75. carolyn says:

    This has been a great discussion. I write an emergency preparedness blog, teach classes about preparedness strategies and have authored preparedness and food storage books. Just a few comments. One comment about food. Never add jerky, salted foods or foods that need to be reconstituted to your 72 hour kits. Sufficient water is rarely available if you are in a situation where you have to use the food in your kits. Jerky and salted foods will add to your thirst, not a good thing when you have no water. Alcohol, soda and coffee will also increase thirst.

    About maps. Take time now to mark several escape routes using various colors of highlighters. If a route is blocked this will make finding an alternative much easier and faster.

    I recommend glow sticks for lighting. After a natural disaster there are often gas leaks and open flames are not possible. Glow sticks provide light all night long without running down batteries.

    One last item, I always recommend a hand crank flashlight/radio combination that also uses batteries. Use the batteries for a short time and the crank option will work again. Some are also solar powered and need to be charged using the solar before their first use.

    If you haven’t seen my blog please check it out. I have a Seven Steps program posted every Monday and we do 7 things each week to be more prepared. I post tips daily and on Wednesday, tips for saving money.I hope you’ll visit. http://blog.TotallyReady.com

  76. Ty Brown says:

    This post reminds me why the LDS church teaches its members to keep a one year food supply storage. It can protect against natural and economic disasters.

  77. Jessica says:

    I live in Southern California, and during the Cedar Fires as well as the major fires last year, we had to evacuate- the second time for three days. During that second time, we had to evacuate our home within an hour of waking at four in the morning, to people on megaphoes in helecoptors screaming at us to get out of our homes and flee.

    A couple things I have kept in the shed, ready to grab at a moment’s notice since those experiences- cans of gas, freeze-dried food, easy-to-grab camping supplies, cookware, comfy shoes, socks, and sweatshirts for myself and my fiance, and medical/social security cards/birth certificates all on one ziploc baggie (which is, of course, hidden away.)

    I also have all of my photos online, so I don’t have to worry about grabbing family photos. I do, however, have all of my scrapbooks on one place so I can grab them and go.

  78. LIsa says:

    I have always been on board the “Be Smart, Be Prepared” mindset, but I have come to find out that very few of my family or friends are at all prepared for any kind of natural (or man made , for that matter) disaster. Many don’t even have a band aid in their house. Last year I bought them all crank weather radios and this year I have decided to get them all really good First Aid Kits….at least they will be somewhat more prepared. THis is going to cost me a bit of money, but I feel compelled to help them all(many with young children) be more prepared in the face of a crisis situation. I have been to two websites:

    http://www.beready.gov for ideas
    http://www.firstaidnmore.com to buy kits in bulk.

    If anyone else has any ideas how to stress the idea of preparedness to those who prefer to bury their head in the sand….HELP!!!!

  79. Mule Skinner says:

    Water Plan

    Your hot water heater contains drinkable water. You can test this by getting some hot water from your kitchen tap – don’t mix with cold – and drinking it. In my house this water has been through a water softener which changes the mineral content (calcium carbonate is replaced by salt) so it does not taste very good but it would keep you alive. Learn how to extract water from the hot water heater if the municipal pressure fails. (First thing to do is shut the water main valve to prevent contamination. Secondly, open a hot water tap upstairs somewhere. Thirdly, take water from the heater’s drain valve. The first few ounces will be ugly but after that it’s good. Test this out to make sure you know how.)

    A more elaborate plan would be to place a tank in series with your cold water tap. A non-working hot water heater could serve. If all of your cold water goes through it, this tank will be refreshed every day. Get a plumber to install it with isolation valves. You could probably find such a tank for free since it doesn’t need to heat. Just make sure it does not leak.

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