What to Have on Hand for Emergencies

It's not possible to predict when a disaster will strike. But it is possible to take precautions that can help your family get by in case of evacuation, loss of power, natural disaster, worldwide epidemic (pandemic) or terrorist attack. The following information will help you understand what supplies are essential to keep on hand and how to obtain them.

The Defense Commissary Agency

Through its "What's in Your Closet" campaign, the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) urges military families to keep their homes well-supplied for emergencies. For more information, go to DeCA's Disaster Preparedness web page.

Water and food

Water and food are vital emergency supplies. You can start preparing for emergencies by stocking up on water and nonperishable food items during sales or by buying in bulk. Make sure your food and water are easy to carry, easy to find and easy to store.

  • Keep plenty of water on hand. The American Red Cross suggests stocking a one-gallon supply of water per person per day for at least seven days. Store water in airtight containers at room temperature. Small containers are easier to carry than large jugs.
  • Keep additional water if you live in a warm climate or if your household includes babies or young children, a nursing mother, someone with a medical condition or pets.
  • Store a three-day supply of food for everyone in your family. Remember to keep a supply of food for pets, too. Nonperishable foods that you can store easily include
    • Nuts and dried fruits
    • Baby food, powdered formula
    • Peanut butter, granola or breakfast bars
    • Canned fruits and vegetables
    • Canned meats or beans
    • Canned pasta or other carbohydrates, for energy
    • Snack foods like crackers and pretzels
    • Long-life foods, such as MREs or dried meals

Other items

Prepare individual bags of important supplies for every family member and make sure they are easily accessible. Some emergency items can be kept in a bag in your car. Make sure you at least have:

  • Vitamins, special foods or any medications for family members with specific needs (most commissaries or military shopping centers have long-life nutrition supplements, which can help sustain your family if you are without food.)
  • Can openers and plastic ware
  • Flashlights and batteries
  • A battery-operated radio so that you can listen to emergency news alerts
  • First-aid kits (Having several small kits is a good idea in case family members are separated during the emergency.)
  • Small blankets and thermal clothing, especially if you live in a cold climate
  • Diapers and sanitary items
  • Safety masks, available at some installations, which cover your mouth and nose and can help you and your family breathe cleaner air during some emergencies
  • A small generator (Follow safety guidelines and never use a generator indoors.)

It's a good idea to keep certain items, such as vitamins, medications or special dietary supplies, separate and easy to grab. You can make small bags for each family member. Make sure they are waterproof. Simple plastic bags with handles can be doubled or tripled for easy handling.

Your car

You and your family may not be at home when an emergency happens. It's important to keep your car maintained and to keep certain supplies on hand at all times.

  • Have routine oil changes, tune ups and tire rotations often. Be sure all fluids are replaced when needed.
  • Don't let your gas level get low. Never run your car on empty, or with a small amount of gas. Keep a half tank of gas in it at all times in case of an unexpected need to evacuate. Gas stations may be closed during emergencies and unable to pump gas during power outages.
  • Keep an emergency supply kit in your car, including:
    • A first-aid kit
    • Spare change (in case you need to make phone calls and don't have a signal for your cellular phone)
    • Bottled water in case you are stuck in traffic (in the case of evacuation, for example)
    • Nonperishable food
    • If you have a young child, or a family member with special needs, make sure you have any necessary supplies in the trunk
    • Sanitary items, including toilet paper
    • A list of important phone numbers
    • Maps of evacuation routes, especially if you live near a coastline or an area that is prone to earthquakes or tornadoes, or might be a target for terror attacks

A family plan

Above all else, having a clear family plan is key to keeping your family safe during emergencies.

  • Be sure family members know where fuse boxes are in your home. Keep a flashlight handy near fuse boxes in case the power goes out.
  • Teach your family members procedures for natural or other emergencies. Do they know how to prepare for a hurricane? Where do they go in case of a terrorist attack?
  • Make sure your family members know how to communicate when everyone is in different places. If you have older children, do they have emergency cell phones in case you are separated during an emergency? If not, make sure you arrange a meeting place and an alternate meeting place in case of heavy traffic or road blocks.
  • If you have young children, find out how well your child's school is equipped to handle emergencies. How will they contact parents? Where will the children be taken to in case of an evacuation, storm or terror threat?
  • Give everyone a kit. Make individual kits for family members with food, water, medications and safety items.


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