In elementary school, most Americans practiced evacuating in case of a fire, taking cover under their desks in the event of an earthquake, and other drills meant to keep students safe in a natural disaster or emergency. But if that’s the last time you thought about what you would do if disaster struck, you might be in trouble.
Thankfully, there’s still time to prepare yourself for the unexpected. Experts at the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency recommend that everyone create an emergency supply kit. In fact, some preppers actually put together two kits: an emergency supply kit to keep in their home and a go bag to take with them. For the purposes of this article, we’ve included things you’ll need for your go bag in the overall emergency supply kit. Pack them in a separate backpack and keep it with your emergency supply kit, so you can just grab it and go in case a natural disaster or other emergency requires you to leave your home.
Stacker compared recommendations from the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other experts to compile this comprehensive list of what you need to pack in your emergency supply kit. Read on and as the Scout Motto says, be prepared!
Since the human body is nearly 60 percent water, we can’t live without it. Setting aside enough water for an emergency is the first thing you should do. Prepare one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days. Don’t forget your pets, either!
Though humans can survive for much longer without food than without water, you should set aside at least a three-day supply of nonperishable food in your emergency kit. Make sure you have enough food to feed every member of your family at least three meals per day, and again, don’t forget your dogs, cats and other pets.
Since canned goods such as fruit, vegetables and soups have a particularly long shelf life—some remain fresh for up to five years—they’re a natural choice for your emergency kit. Make sure you set aside a manual can opener, too, so you can open them without using electricity.
In the event of widespread power outages, you might not be able to turn on the TV, check the internet or call emergency hotlines to find out the latest information. A hand-crank or battery-powered radio, however, will allow you to tune into official broadcasts with crucial updates.
Ensure that you also have a radio that receives NOAA Weather Radio, a nationwide network of stations that broadcast continues weather information from the National Weather Service. Many of these radio receivers come with a “standby” mode that allows you to keep the radio on silent and emits a tone alerting you of any new broadcasts.
If the power goes out for an extended period of time, you’ll need a flashlight to navigate your home and the outside world. Pack it in your go bag in case you need to leave home in a hurry.
Natural disasters and other catastrophic events can be extremely dangerous—you might be injured, your family might be hurt or someone else you meet might be in danger. Since you can’t say for sure whether hospitals or emergency rooms will be open in an emergency, store your first aid kit in your go bag to be sure you have all the supplies you’ll need. In addition to the standard bandages, antibiotic ointment and antiseptic wipes, you’ll need a variety of medical supplies—the Red Cross has the full list.
You might need extra batteries for your radio or for another piece of equipment. Regardless, it’s a good idea to keep several sets of several different sizes in your go bag so you’re prepared for anything.
In a disaster or emergency, you might need to signal for help. The best way to do so without the guarantee of a cell phone? Blowing a shrill safety whistle.
Biological weapons, nuclear warfare and other environmental disasters can contaminate the air outside, making it necessary to shelter in place. Before you seal off your home from the outside world, put on the dust mask to protect yourself from contaminated air.
If you do need to shelter in place in your home, office or another building, you’ll have to seal off the windows, doors and air vents. You’ll want to attach plastic sheeting that’s 2- to 4-centimeters thick to every opening to keep the air inside clean and safe to breathe.
Keep a few rolls of duct tape in your emergency kit so you can securely seal your home off from the contaminated air. Tape the corners first, then tape down the edges. Though it’s best to use thick plastic sheeting, you might have to improvise with whatever you have on hand.
In a power outage, you might not be able to rely on your kitchen to heat meals. Keep some matches in a waterproof container in your go bag so you’ll be able to cook meals over a fire in a true emergency.
If you do need to build a fire, it’s important that you keep a fire extinguisher on hand in case it gets out of control. It could prove to be life-saving equipment.
Without running water, you won’t be able to shower or even take a sponge bath. Pack moist towelettes in your go bag so you can practice proper hygiene.
Even if you aren’t sure if you’ll be able to take a full bath or shower, you should still pack essential toiletries in your emergency kit to keep your body as clean as possible. At a bare minimum, make sure you have soap, feminine hygiene products, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Here’s where it gets a little gross. In the aftermath of a disaster, modern plumbing may not work and you might need to improvise. Proper sanitation is important, so ensure you have plenty of garbage bags to dispose of waste.
Plastic zip ties can be useful in many emergency situations, but you’ll need them to cinch garbage bags full of waste closed to prevent contamination.
One of the first things you should do after a natural disaster or other catastrophe is shut off your home’s natural gas, electricity and water lines. Sparks from circuit breakers and other electrical equipment can ignite gas leaks, leading to potentially life-threatening explosions. Make sure you have the wrench or pliers you need and teach every family member how to shut off your gas meter, circuit breakers and water lines.
Shut your eyes for a moment and try to imagine a map of your neighborhood and city. It’s tough without your phone or car’s GPS, isn’t it? Buy paper copies of local maps and keep them in your go bag so you can navigate your surroundings without cell phone service.
Most people never leave home without a cell phone, so keeping one nearby in case of emergency isn’t a problem. Store a spare charger in your go bag, though, so you can recharge your phone easily.
All the chargers in the world won’t help you power up your smartphone if the power goes out. Consider buying a spare battery pack and storing it in your emergency kit.
Disinfecting water before drinking it is crucial; after a natural disaster or emergency, tap water might be contaminated with bacteria, viruses and other toxins. Boiling water will kill pathogens, bacteria, viruses and protozoa. However, if you don’t have a stove or another heat source to boil water, you can disinfect it with a few drops of unscented bleach. To be safe, keep bleach and an eyedropper in your emergency kit, but only use it to disinfect water if officials direct you to do so.
Keep a supply of any prescription drugs that you or your loved ones take regularly in your go bag. It’s also a smart idea to include a list of which family member takes what dose of what medication.
Consider packing other medications you take regularly, such as pain relievers, antacids, cold medicine and anti-diarrhea medicine. You might be very thankful to have it in your go bag when you can’t easily get to a pharmacy.
Anyone who wears glasses or contacts should keep them in their go bag; after all, being able to see clearly might be crucial to your survival after an emergency. If you have a spare pair of glasses, store them in your go bag in case something happens to your usual pair.
If your family includes little ones, you’ll want to devote an entire go bag to supplies for infants and toddlers. Don’t forget formula, diapers, baby food, diapers, baby wipes, blankets, clothing and other essentials.
Make copies of birth certificates, passports, Social Security cards, driver’s licenses, insurance policies, bank account records and other important documents and store them in ziploc bags or another waterproof container. Keep this folder of documents in your go bag so you won’t have to scramble to look for this information if you have to leave home in a hurry.
Better safe than sorry, right? Remember to pack a spare set of car keys, house keys and any other important keys in your go bag in case you lose your usual set.
Survivalists often worry about our financial system’s reliance on computers: If a mass power crash wiped out our system of card readers, how would we pay for things? For this reason, it’s a good idea to carry some cash in your go bag. Store at least $100 in cash in a spare wallet in your go bag to be safe.
Photocopy your credit and debit cards and keep these copies with your other important documents in your go bag. That way, you’ll at least be able to pay for things online by typing the card number if you lose the physical card.
Throw a notepad and pen into your go bag, too. You never know when you might need to leave a note or draw out a map for someone.
Every household should have a plan for what to do in case of emergency, including an established meeting point that is familiar and easy to find. Write down all of this information and stow it in each family member’s go bag so no one forgets.
If you need to take your go bag and leave your home, you might be exposed to the elements. Pack rain gear like folding ponchos, travel-sized umbrellas and waterproof jackets in your go bag so you can stay dry in wet weather.
Also known as space blankets, lightweight Mylar blankets reduce heat loss by reflecting the wearer’s warmth back toward the body. If you’re forced to seek shelter in cold conditions, a Mylar blanket could prove invaluable. Store one in your go bag just in case.