Home. It means many things to us, but one of its most important qualities is “safety.” Your home emergency kit can keep you and your family safe in a wide range of disasters, from an ice storm that knocks out power for a week to a toxic chemical spill that requires immediate evacuation or sheltering in place.
The list of everything that goes into a complete kit can look intimidating – and expensive. Fortunately, appearances can be deceiving. The following list breaks down our suggested items by categories, which you can use to prioritize your own needs and budget. We’ve also provided some resources for assembling a complete kit with a few planned purchases every week.
Information and Communication
There’s a reason social media web sites (Facebook, Twitter, and others) have become such a focus for disaster workers. In an emergency, people want information – where they can go to be safe or get bottled water, whether loved ones are safe, how they can help others, when life will return to normal. Isolation is stressful and being able to gain awareness of a situation or account for family members is a high priority. These items can help.
- NOAA weather radio – see our separate page on these devices.
- Portable AM/FM radio – whether it runs on batteries, solar power, or a hand-cranked dynamo, you can use this to tap into news broadcasts even when the power is down. Some models also can receive the NOAA weather radio channels.
- Smartphone – the information equivalent of a Swiss army knife, a smartphone’s utility is limited only by the apps you decide to install on it. Check out our technology-related blog posts for some suggestions.
- Emergency charging for personal electronics – that smartphone is useful only as long as you have power for it. Consider an external battery, a solar charger, or another option that doesn’t rely on wall power to extend its endurance (and check out our tips on extending your battery).
- Whistle – when all else fails and you need to signal for help, a whistle’s piercing note carries much farther than a shout and requires less breath.
Damage Control and Cleanup
If your home sustains damage during a disaster, one of your first priorities should be to contain the problem so it doesn’t worsen. Once that’s done, cleaning up debris can help prevent further injuries.
- Fire extinguishers – one for the kitchen, plus one for each other room (garage, workshop, den with fireplace) where flammable materials are stored. Tip: mount each extinguisher at the entrance to the room so you won’t have to run past a fire to get to it.
- Adjustable wrench or gas shut-off tool – if your home uses natural gas, know how to shut it off at the meter. Caution: once you do this, you’ll need gas company assistance to turn it on again.
- Leather work gloves – take care of your hands.
- Safety glasses – not all lenses are created equal. Look for safety glasses with side shields and the ANSI Z87.1 impact protection rating.
- Sturdy shoes or boots – keep these next to your bed or in your tornado sheltering location (along with a spare pair of socks). After a midnight catastrophe, you won’t want to walk across debris barefoot.
- Chlorine bleach – for cleaning up potentially infectious substances.
A lot of disasters involve power outages. Once we spend a few days in those conditions (or camping), we realize how much of what we do depends on electric lighting. The following gear can substitute for your usual lamps and ceiling fixtures.
- Flashlights – and don’t forget plenty of extra batteries.
- Headlamps – like flashlights, but they strap to your head and leave your hands free for work. What’s not to love about that?
- Chemlights – otherwise known as glowsticks or lightsticks. They don’t give off heat and can’t spark, so they’re ideal for situations where there may be a fire hazard.
- Glow bracelets – relatives of chemlights. These aren’t the best for area illumination but they’re great for navigation. Loop them around door handles, your boots, or other things you may want to be able to find in the dark.
A note on traditional emergency light sources: while it’s hard to beat the warm, flickering ambiance of candles or a kerosene lamp, any source of open flame is a fire hazard. Be very careful if you choose to use these, particularly if you have children or pets who may not understand the danger they pose.
In a large-scale disaster, you may be on your own for several days – no water pressure, no electricity, no stores. Having a good supply of your body’s most basic needs can make the difference between emergency and inconvenience. For our constituents in Fayette County, we recommend a minimum three-day supply, with a stretch goal of a week (remember how long it took to restore power after our last couple of ice storms?). If you live in a remote area or one that’s under threat of unpredictable large-scale disasters (e.g., earthquakes), your local emergency management agency may recommend having two to three weeks of supplies on hand.
- Bottled water – at least one gallon per household member per day. Don’t forget to include pets.
- Food – choose foods that are temperature-stable and have a long shelf life. If buying unfamiliar foods or brands, taste-test to be sure you’ll want to eat them. Bear in mind that staying warm in a power outage requires additional calories, as does heavy manual labor such as debris clearance.
- Food preparation – if your emergency foods require more extensive preparation than opening a can, you’ll need a way of heating them. Look at camping stoves (cautionary notes about open flame apply here, too) and military-surplus chemical heaters.
- Hand-cranked can opener – and about those cans…
- Picnic supplies – if water service is interrupted, disposable plates and utensils may be better than using your limited emergency water supply to wash dishes.
Health and Hygiene
If you don’t take care of yourself, you increase the chances that an otherwise-trivial injury or illness will render you unable to take care of your family, friends, or pets. These components of your kit can help keep you healthy through the worst of an emergency.
- First aid kit – and a Red Cross first aid class so you know how to use everything in it.
- Medication – whether it’s over-the-counter or prescription, be sure to have a week’s supply on hand in case you can’t get to an open pharmacy.
- Copies of prescriptions – so you can refill your medications through alternate services if your regular pharmacy is shut down.
- Pre-moistened wipes or towelettes and other personal hygiene products – so you can stay clean and refreshed even with a limited water supply. Having a full travel/shaving kit ready to go can help if a hotel or shelter stay is necessary.
- Spare glasses or contact lenses – just to have a backup.
Staying warm, dry, and protected is a high priority in any situation. If normal utilities or emergency services are overwhelmed or unavailable, being able to self-shelter can literally be a life-or-death capability.
- Extra blankets or sleeping bags – one per family member, in case you need to relocate – or just need extra warmth.
- Space blankets – another option for warmth, these fold down into very small packets when not in use. You may look like a baked potato but you’ll be comfortable!
- Space heater and fuel – in a winter power outage, being able to heat even part of your home can make a huge difference in comfort. Be sure to follow all safety precautions for the device and fuel you choose.
- Plastic sheeting, duct tape, scissors, and towels – for sealing a room in case a chemical emergency forces you to shelter in place.
If your home or possessions are damaged or destroyed, having complete and up-to-date records can speed the process of financial assistance and insurance settlements. Document everything – as we say in our office, “if you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen.”
- Fire- and water-resistant lockbox – to help your documents survive catastrophe. Everything else on this list should be placed in this container.
- Copies of insurance policies
- Passports, Social Security cards, and other personal identification
- Wills, medical powers of attorney, and other legal documents
- Titles to house, vehicle, and other titled property
- Photos or videos of household contents – store digital copies on a CD, DVD, or flash drive.
- List of serial numbers for firearms, electronics, and other serialized items
- Spare cash – in a widespread emergency, ATMs and credit card processing may be offline.
- Spare house and car keys – just in case.
- Books, games, puzzles, and toys – because for both kids and adults, sometimes the worst part of an emergency is the waiting.