A carefully assembled disaster kit serves two very valuable purposes-it can make life bearable when you need it and provide great peace of mind when you don't! Basic disaster kits shouldn't require a lot of time, money or effort to put together, so if you don't have one at the ready in your home, there's no time like the present to start getting it together. Chances are you already have a good idea of how to stock your kit, but you can also use the following list of items to make sure you don't forget anything important.
The contents of a well-stocked disaster kit vary depending on the needs of your household, but there are certain "non-negotiables" that belong in any kit. Before you consider adding other comfort or convenience items, be sure you have these disaster kit basics on hand:
- Food and water (store a three-days' supply of non-perishable food and water, allowing one gallon of water per family member per day)
- Pet food and water for your pet
- Infant formula and diapers
- Prescription medications and glasses
- Radio (battery-powered or hand-crank)
- Cell phone (with chargers, inverter or solar charger)
- Flashlight and batteries (Be sure you buy the correct size batteries for your flashlight!)
- Wrench or pliers (for shutting off utilities)
- Manual can opener
- Whistle (to call for help)
- Dust mask (to filter contaminated air)
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter-in-place)
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties (for personal sanitation)
- Maps of your city/region
Depending on your own or your family's individual circumstances, these "secondary" items may be considered important but not absolutely necessary. That said, with the "must-haves" listed above forming the core of your disaster kit, you might add other items for greater comfort and convenience during a crisis, especially if you have children. Let this list serve as a guideline for including items that can make a disaster situation a little easier to bear for everyone:
- Cash or traveler's checks and change
- Important documents like copies of insurance policies, identification and financial records - in a waterproof, portable container; check out the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit for more information
- First aid book or other emergency-related informative or instructive material; free information is available from ready.gov (see Publications) on creating a family emergency plan and readiness issues for seniors, pet owners, people with special needs and more
- Sleeping bag or other bedding appropriate to your area's climate
- Change of clothing appropriate to your area's climate
- Matches stored in a waterproof container
- Feminine and personal hygiene items (toothbrush/toothpaste, toilet paper, etc.)
- Paper towels and disposable cups, plates and utensils
- Paper and pen or pencil
- Books, games (card games take up little space) and puzzles for kids
The first-aid kit
Being able to administer basic first aid can often help prevent a minor injury from becoming a major one and help keep the injured person more comfortable. With these items on hand, you're better equipped to stop bleeding, prevent infection and reduce pain and discomfort:
- Sterile gloves
- Sterile dressings and adhesive bandages
- Cleansing agent/soap and antiseptic
- Antibiotic and burn ointments
- Eye wash solution (may be used to flush eyes or as general decontaminant)
- Thermometer, scissors and tweezers
- Petroleum jelly or other lubricant
Daily prescription medications (insulin, heart medicine, asthma inhalers, etc.) also belong in your first-aid kit. Rotate medicines in and out of your kit periodically to prevent them from expiring without being used. You'll also need any prescribed medical supplies, like glucose or blood- pressure monitoring equipment. Finally, include commonly used over-the-counter medications such as aspirin or non-aspirin pain reliever, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids and a laxative.
Safeguarding your kit
Disaster kit preparation doesn't end when you have all your supplies assembled--there's a little maintenance involved too! Your disaster kit will do you little good if the contents are damaged or spoiled when you go to use them, so take care of the kit that may sometime take care of you.
Your canned food should be stored in a cool, dry place. Discard any cans that become swollen, dented or otherwise appear damaged. Put boxed food in tightly sealed plastic or metal containers to preserve freshness and keep pests out. Be sure to use foods before they spoil or expire, and replace used or discarded food as necessary. A good rule of thumb is to replace your stored food and water supplies every six months, although canned goods will often keep for far longer. Know the age of your supplies by labeling containers with the initial storage date.
Put all of your disaster kit items in airtight plastic bags (you might want to make individual kits for each member of your family), then put the bags in portable containers. A clean, empty trashcan, large backpack, or duffel bag should work. If you're using a cabinet or shelves for storage, keep newer items in the back and older ones in front to help ensure they'll be used before they expire. You might want to pick an easy-to-remember day each year to reassess your family's needs and add new items as necessary.
You'll find detailed information on emergency preparedness at both Military OneSource and the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Ready website. We often talk about a convenient item or service being a "lifesaver," but in an extreme situation, a disaster kit can truly be a lifesaver to you and your family.