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Pack It Up: Get Your Emergency Gear Ready

Michele Lerner

If you live in a hurricane-prone area or have experienced a natural disaster in the past, you may already have some emergency supplies on hand that can see you through a few days without power or drinkable water. Unfortunately, emergencies can come in a variety of forms such as a flood, a fire in your home or community, or a blizzard that keeps you isolated from your neighbors.

Emergency preparedness requires a plan and the right supplies that can make it easier to shelter in place, grab-and-go if you’re told to evacuate, or to stay safe if you’re traveling by car.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends having supplies that could help you survive for at least three days without power, drinkable water, or the ability to cook.

First, Organize Your Supplies

If you’ve ever tried to pack for a serendipitous trip in under an hour, you’ve probably realized that the things you need are scattered throughout your home. Chances are you may even have forgotten something essential like sunscreen. Now add to that scenario the stress of an impending mega-storm or the aftermath of an earthquake. Clearly, advance planning can help.

Not only do you need to gather supplies, but also you should keep those supplies together and in place where every member of the household can find them. You can pack a duffel bag or backpack with supplies that you’ll need if you evacuate and keep a similar bag in your car. Or you can buy a ready-made kit such as the Ready Freddy Survival Kit, available from Amazon, Costco, and other retailers.

You should also have a place in your home to store items you’ll need if you are able to shelter in place. A designated pantry or closet shelf or an area in your basement (if you have one) would be best. A section of your garage could work, depending on weather conditions in your area. You don’t want to find that excessive heat or freezing temperatures have compromised your supplies, particularly any medicines.

While you should assess the specific personal needs of you and your household members, including pets, to determine what should be added to these lists, here are suggestions from the American Red Cross and FEMA about what your emergency kits should include:

When You Have to Evacuate

  • You should have a seven-day supply of all your medications packed in your to-go kit. Check the expiration dates periodically in case you need to replace the medicine with a fresh supply.
  • If you wear prescription glasses, consider keeping an extra pair with your emergency kit. If you wear nonprescription reading glasses, stash some extra pairs in each of your emergency kits.
  • First aid supplies. There are a variety of prepacked first aid kits available from retailers and directly from the American Red Cross, or you can make your own. Basic supplies include bandages, a thermometer, an instant ice pack, antibiotic ointment, aspirin or ibuprofen, first aid instructions, and a blanket.
  • Bottled water. Bring a three-day supply with you; for your household, the daily supply equals one gallon per person per day.
  • Food: Bring a three-day supply of non-perishable foodthat you can prepare easily since you may not be able to cook. For example, FEMA suggests cans of ready-to-eat meats, fruits and vegetables, nuts, granola bars, dry cereal, peanut butter, crackers, and canned juices. The FEMA list also mentions “comfort foods,” which presumably means some chocolate or candy to relieve stress. You may want to limit the number of cans you bring since they can be heavy if you need to walk with your supplies.
  • Manual can opener, unless you have all cans with pull-tab tops.
  • Flashlight and batteries.
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio. You’ll need a way to get essential information about the emergency situation.
  • Emergency blanket.
  • Emergency contact information and copies of personal documents. You should keep a sealable plastic bag with a copy of essential documents such as your medical information including medications, your birth certificate, your passport, insurance information, and your deed or lease to your home. You also need to put a list of contact information for family members and emergency services in that bag — not just on your cell phone — in case it stops working or runs out of battery life.
  • Cell phone and chargers. Bring your charger so that, when power is restored, you can recharge your phone. If you have a car charger or a portable cell phone power bank, bring those, too.
  • When the power is out, ATM machines and credit card machines won’t work, so you’ll need cash to be able to purchase supplies.
  • Multi-purpose tool. A Swiss Army knife or something similar can help meet a variety of needs.
  • Your toothbrush. A toothbrush, toothpaste, some soap or hand sanitizer, and other personal hygiene items are easy to keep in a “to-go” bag and will be prized possessions if you have to evacuate.

When You’re in the Car

You should have emergency supplies in your car at all times, whether or not there’s a potential natural disaster in the forecast. These supplies should be in place in case of an accident or unexpected event, such as a flash flood or a mudslide that keeps you from returning home.

Your car’s emergency kit can be kept in a plastic bin with a lid or in a backpack in the trunk of your car and should include many of the same items as your home evacuation kit, such as:

  • First aid kit
  • Bottled water
  • Non-perishable food
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Emergency blanket
  • Emergency contact information and copies of personal documents
  • Cell phone car charger
  • Multi-purpose tool
  • Personal hygiene items

You should also make sure you have jumper cables and emergency flares in your trunk.

If you live in a colder climate, keep an ice scraper and cat litter in your trunk for ice and snow.

When You’re Sheltering in Place

If you’re at home, you’ll have access to things like your medications, first aid supplies, and personal hygiene items, but you could face an extended period without power or drinkable water. In that case, you should be prepared with the following supplies:

  • Bottled water. You can purchase the water bottled or store it in your own sealed containers. Aim for one gallon per person per day. It’s best to keep a two-week supply in your home, particularly if you live in an area prone to hurricanes and tornadoes. Keep in mind that even bottled water can get old, so it’s best to replace it every six months.
  • You should keep at least a two-week supply of non-perishable food in your home.
  • Manual can opener
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio

Special Supplies for Special Disaster Situations

If you live in an earthquake-prone area, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adding work gloves and sturdy shoes to your emergency supplies, plus a whistle to signal that you need help and tools to help with clean-up efforts.

If you live in a hurricane-prone area, you should forgo the tape on your windows for a wrench to help you shut off your gas and water, and plastic sheeting or a tarp in case you need to cover a damaged roof or other area of your house.

If you live in an area with potentially severe winter weather, make sure you have the appropriate tools to shovel snow and have rock salt on hand to melt ice and snow. In addition, make sure you know how to shut off your water in case a pipe freezes. Keep adequate supplies of blankets and firewood for your fireplace or wood-burning stove available in case a power outage eliminates your source of heat. You also may want to consider purchasing a generator if you live in an area that loses power frequently.

If tornadoes are common in your region, be alert for changes in the weather and have an idea of where you can take shelter. You may want to designate a safe room in your home, such as in your basement or an interior room on the first floor.

The American Red Cross says floods are among the most common disasters in the U.S. In addition to the standard emergency preparations for any disaster, you can prepare your house by creating barriers to water, such as a berm if your local zoning permits it; check your plumbing valves or hire a professional to check them to avoid backed-up drains; install a sump pump; and prep for an impending storm with sandbags.

Extra Supplies That Can Be Helpful

In addition to these supplies, think about what else your family could need.

If you have grandchildren in your household, you’ll need supplies for them, possibly including diapers, baby food, formula, and bottles.

Don’t forget your pets: You’ll need pet food, a carrier or leash, and a bowl for your dog or cat.

Some of the nice-to-have extra items to keep in your car and in your to-go kit include lightweight board games, a deck of cards, and crossword puzzle magazines to relieve boredom if you’re stranded in a shelter. If you have grandchildren with you, pack some age-appropriate activities for them, too.

Preparing for an emergency requires an initial burst of activity to purchase and determine how to store your supplies. Next, you’ll need to schedule a biannual check-up on your supplies to review expiration dates. While this may seem like a burden, planning for the worst can give you peace of mind that you’ll be ready as possible to handle emergencies that come your way.

READ MORE: How to Keep Your Home Safe in Strong Winds

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