What to Have in a Disaster Preparedness Kit

Updated on October 4, 2017

Natural disasters can strike anywhere anytime

Whether it's a hurricane, earthquake, fire, or flood, a natural disaster can leave you literally powerless for days or weeks. It's wise to prepare for a disaster in advance since these events can sometimes occur without any notice. A disaster preparedness kit can be a lifesaver.

Creating a Disaster Preparedness Kit (DPK)

Many survivors of natural disasters agree that food is low on the list since most of us have enough food in our pantries and calories stored around our waistlines to last at least a week or more. More importantly, they say, is the ability to communicate. When power goes out, so do cell phones, computers and the ability to access the internet. In an emergency, you'll want to find out about local shelters, where to find emergency assistance and how to reach loved ones. After that, water and a way to stay warm are critical. Most of your items can be kept in a portable file box or plastic container with a lid. Being prepared will help you stay calm when and if disaster strikes. Above all else, try not to panic.

Phones may only work for a short time during a disaster

Communication Essentials for Your DPK

  • Cell phone charge banks. These inexpensive phone chargers can be kept in a purse or backpack in case cell phones die and electricity is out. Keep a charged unit in your DPK.
  • Download a walkie-talkie app, such as Zello. It will turn your phone into a two-way radio, however, the app still requires internet access or cellular data to function.
  • A pre-arranged meeting place. Talk with your family about where you will all meet up if members are not home during an emergency and they can't be reached. Will everyone try to get home? Where will you meet if you can't get home? Write down the location and keep it in your wallet in case panic keeps you from remembering clearly. Keep a copy in your DPK.
  • A battery-operated transistor radio with extra batteries.
  • The phone number of a neighbor if your relative lives a distance away. If cell phones are working but you can't reach your loved one, call the neighbor and ask them to check on your friend or relative.
  • A set of walkie-talkies. Ideally, have one in every car and one at home in case cell towers are out. Plan what channel you'll use ahead of time and keep the channel number in your DPK. Many inexpensive walkie-talkies have a range of up to 16 miles.
  • Fresh batteries in all sizes.

Keep a minimum of a gallon of water per person per day

Food and Water Essentials

  • Water: One gallon per person per day. The American Red Cross recommends you have enough on hand at home for two weeks should the water supply be cut off or become undrinkable. Water is necessary for hydration and sanitation. You don't need to have the water in your DPK, but know where it is stored.
  • Food: Again, this is low on the list but it is wise to have some non-perishables on hand that don't need cooking. Good ideas include peanut butter, canned meats and fruit (and a manual can opener), and nutrition bars or drinks.
  • Special Dietary Needs: Some people require digestive enzymes or other specialized items, such as infant formula or gluten-free food. Prepare as needed.

Be smart about staying warm during a power outage

Warmth and Light

  • Flashlights: Ideally one per person and one per room. Flashlights are preferable over candles since candles can injure or start a fire. Solar-powered or hand-crank flashlights don't need batteries. Keep these in your DPK and resist the urge to take them out when it's not an emergency.
  • Solar lighting: If you have portable exterior solar-powered lights, bring them indoors at dusk.
  • Firewood: Make sure your chimney flue is open if you burn wood indoors for heat. Even if you don't have a wood-burning fireplace, you can create an outdoor rock fire pit and burn fire wood to stay warm.
  • Matches: Enough to last two weeks.
  • Emergency Space Blankets: One per person. These windproof, waterproof, heat-conserving space blankets are lightweight and inexpensive. Keep them in your DPK and another one in your car.
  • Don't use a propane heater or a gas or electric stove or oven to try to stay warm. These could be lethal.

Other Ideas to Keep You Safe and Sound

The American Red Cross, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), and Ready.gov have other suggestions to help you prepare for an emergency. Keeping a supply of life-saving medications such as epinephrine, heart medications and asthma inhalers as well as ID information and a basic first aid kit in your portable DPK is essential if you need to grab and go quickly.

Some things you might not think about:

  • Keep a Bible or paperback book in your DPK in case you're away from home and without electricity for a while. Sanity saver!
  • Have some cash on hand. In case of a power outage, credit card readers won't work.
  • Don't forget Fido! If you are in a flood zone, do you have a way to tote Toto along? Stash some extra canned dog/cat food in your DPK, too.

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