Disasters can come in a variety of ways. You may face disease, such as the COVID 19 virus, that requires you to shelter in place or quarantine. You may need to escape a storm or wildfire that requires you to evacuate your home. Or maybe it will be something else. No matter your emergency needs, it’s a good idea to determine what you’re most at risk of in your area, and then create a plan and stock of supplies accordingly.
Humans can’t survive long without access to clean water. The first thing you’ll need in your emergency preparedness kit will be several gallon-sized jugs of water. Make sure you have enough to supply one gallon per person per day for at least 4 days. If you have a large family, consider investing in 5-gallon buckets with airtight lids that you can easily store in a basement or utility closet. If you bought sealed containers, it should have a use-by date on the bottle. If you stashed your own water, make sure to cycle it weekly.
Once the emergency season has passed, you can use the water in your garden. If you invest in a quality water filtering system, you may be able to use the water for cooking and cleaning. If it has an odor or a slippery feeling, discard it.
Food is going to be the next priority on your list. Canned and pre-packaged foods, especially fruits, make excellent emergency fare. Keep in mind however that many canned foods are extremely high in sodium (salt), which will increase your water intake, so look for foods that mention reduced- or low-sodium on the label. Seal foods like crackers and other snacks in plastic bags, then place them in plastic bins to reduce the risk of bugs or rodents getting at them. And of course, make sure to include a quality can opener specifically for your emergency stash.
Perishables can work in your emergency food storage as long as you are mindful of the shelf life. For example, hard-boiled eggs will keep for seven days if kept cool. Apples can last a long time in a breathable bag. Perishables will need to be cycled in and out of your emergency stash, so mark reminders on your calendar to prevent your food from rotting.
In addition, lay in a stock of basic supplies to cook. As we’ve seen with the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, part of the challenge includes having plenty of time with little to do. Avoid boredom by trying new recipes.
If there’s a risk of your water supplies running low, you don’t want to burn through it washing dishes. Pick up a pack of paper plates and plastic utensils. Make sure to stash several trash bags in your emergency kit as well. When preparing plates of food, take care to only dish out as much as the recipient can eat in one sitting. This will allow you to carefully stack your dirty plates, reducing food waste, odor, and trash bulk.
Just like you need food for your family, you will also need food on hand for your pets. The good news is that pet food generally keeps well in its own packaging. Naturally, you will want to avoid storing fresh food that requires refrigeration. However, even canned food and kibble needs to be occasionally cycled to prevent waste as your emergency season wanes.
If your pet needs medication, get an extra container for your emergency kit. You can use disposable bowls for your pet’s food and water, and make sure to count your pets when setting up your water storage system.
Managing human medication is critical to your safety. Some only need some ibuprofen to help with sore muscles from cleaning up after a disaster. Others need access to daily medications like insulin, or emergency meds such as an asthma inhaler. Although it may seem that medications can last indefinitely, many medications have a shelf life. If you stock a medication in your emergency kit, set up a reminder on your phone or calendar to cycle the product out to avoid health risks or waste.
Disasters are messy. If a tornado or hurricane hits your neighborhood, everything will likely be covered with wet trash. There may also be shattered wood, broken glass, and wet fiberglass insulation coating your belongings or those of your neighbors. To keep yourself safe from injury during cleanup, pack a small suitcase with long pants, socks, sturdy shoes, tees and at least one long-sleeved shirt to protect your skin during cleanup. Make sure to pack an oversized shirt so you can layer to protect you from cold winds. A facemask and a few bandanas can also protect you.
When packing your suitcase, add personal wipes, a toothbrush, waterless toothpaste, a couple of hand towels, deodorant, and hand sanitizer. A couple of rolls of toilet paper would not go amiss. You may not be able to get a shower for a couple of days, but you can clean up at the end of a long day and wash again in the morning before you go back to work. If you are a menstruating female or have them in your family, don’t forget to include an appropriate supply of feminine hygiene products as well.
Put a pair of sturdy leather sneakers or work boots in your disaster kit for each adult and make sure you have sneakers for each child in the house in the kit as well. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods are not only destructive. They are filthy. You do not want to be out wading around in floodwaters while barefoot or in sandals. If you do have to try to hike out of a disaster zone, wrap your belongings in the plastic trash bags from your food kit before setting out.
Make sure to pack sunscreen in your kit as well. The sunlight after a huge storm can be intense and you’ll likely be outside cleaning up. The last thing you want to add to the situation is sunburn.
Even a small solar kit with a portable battery can be a lifesaver in a disaster. From charging your phone to keeping your laptop powered up so you can connect to the outside world, a small solar power system can be stored in very little space and provide you with a great deal of security. Consider adding solar roofing to your home to provide you with constant power no matter the conditions.
If you’re not sold on investing in a panel and battery setup, consider getting a solar light with a separate panel and USB connection. Such a small panel will not cost much, and you can use it to power the battery in your cellphone for part of the day and power the light once your phone is charged. Consider getting a power brick you can also charge from a single solar panel. If the electricity is out for several days in your area, having access to a cell phone can greatly reduce your stress.
Everyone’s emergency season is different. If you live in tornado alley, don’t let the fuel in your car get below half tank from March to June. If hurricane season is your riskiest time, go out and pick up plywood to cover your windows in the off-season so you’re not paying a premium or stuck with no protection when the storms come. No matter where you live, get a lockbox and keep some ready cash for emergencies. If the card reader is down, you can still put gas in your car if you have cash in your purse. Make sure your oil is changed and that all your tires, including the spare, are aired up. If you have to go on a long road trip to escape a big hurricane, you don’t want to have to deal with a flat.
Stash blankets and cotton sheets in the back of your car so if you do have to get on the road, you can flip your seat back and get some sleep when you need it. The sheet will cover and cool you if it’s hot, while the blankets will keep you warm if it’s cool. Make sure to crack a window to keep humidity down.
Whether your emergency forces you to stay home or to get on the road, being prepared is critical. If your kids are old enough, get them thinking about smart ways to be ready. If they’re involved, they’ll likely handle the stress of the event in a much healthier manner.