Emergency Preparedness Kits

I wanted to make this topic short and simple. I really did. But the more research I did, the more complicated it got. I could give you an over-simplified checklist and say “ta-da! You’re prepared!” But it wouldn’t be true. Thinking through what you need to set aside for an emergency will take some work on your part.
Lots of websites have checklists and recommendations for kits, but here’s the problem with generic checklists – what KIND of emergency is it? Shelter in place? Evacuate? With or without electricity? What if the emergency happens while you’re out and can’t get home to grab your kit? What if you’re home but don’t have time to pack the car, because you have to (literally) run for your lives?
Great, you might be saying, then why make an emergency kit at all? What’s the point? Because preparing for everything might not be realistic, but preparing for nothing isn’t the answer, either. In this article we’ll discuss how to find the right balance for you and your family..

Break it Down
As with any complex problem, the first step is to break it down into manageable pieces you can work with more easily.
Think about the different emergency scenarios that are likely where you live – a house fire, natural disasters, terrorism, civil unrest, etc. Next, think about the variables that will impact each scenario –

• Location – will you shelter at home or evacuate?

• Electricity – is a power outage likely?

• Duration – for how long are you likely to be affected? Hours? Days? Weeks? Indefinitely?

• Services – is a breakdown in social services likely? Will you be able to get medical attention, make phone calls, shop for supplies?

• Warning – how much time will you have to prepare? Will there be time to fill prescriptions, buy food, and pack the car? Or will you only have minutes (or less) to take action?

The worst-case scenario is having to evacuate without a safe destination, with no electricity or internet, indefinitely, with a complete breakdown in social services, and with little to no warning. Those sorts of apocalypse scenarios take the most preparation, but are also the least likely. For most of us, a natural disaster is far more likely, and far less daunting to prepare for.

Step 1. Critical Emergency Supplies
If you’re a nerd like me, you’ll make a grid with your most likely disaster scenarios across the top and the variables down the side, and fill in the grid with the supplies you would need in each situation. When I did that, I immediately saw common items that could be needed in nearly all situations.

• First aid kit
• Matches/Lighters
• NOAA crank radio
• Emergency blanket
• A tarp or two
• Flashlight (crank, or with spare batteries)
• Small selection of tools, blades, duct tape, zip ties
• Fireproof/waterproof document folder with key personal documents
• Basic personal hygiene items: comb, toothbrush, bar of soap, wet naps, hand sanitizer

Gather these items in a single tote and keep it easily accessible. Leave some empty space for things you'll have to grab in the moment -- cell phone chargers, bottles of water, medications, pet food, a change of clothing.

Step 2. Plan for Your Most Likely Scenario
Once you have the critical emergencies covered, take it one step further. Here are three examples to help you think through this exercise and figure out the most likely emergency scenario for your family.

If you live in Florida, your most likely emergency scenario is probably a hurricane. That would involve evacuation, with a possible duration of weeks before you can return home (assuming you have a home to return to). If you heed the warnings you should have time to prepare. You will most likely be evacuating to an unaffected area, so electricity and social services should be available (although the evacuation itself could be a little hairy). Given all of that, what should your emergency kit include?

If you live in Minnesota, your most likely emergency scenario is probably a blizzard. That would mean sheltering at home, with time to prepare. A power outage is highly likely, with a duration of days, possibly a week or two if extreme. While social services won’t be completely broken, they will probably be severely delayed or unavailable in the immediate aftermath. Given all of that, what should your emergency kit include?

If you live in Kansas, your most likely emergency scenario is probably a tornado. That means sheltering in place with probably only minutes to prepare before it hits. You might be separated from your emergency kit during the event, but could possibly access it after the immediate danger is over. A power outage is virtually guaranteed, and social services are likely to be severely delayed or unavailable in the immediate aftermath. If your home is unsafe after the event, you will have to evacuate. Given all of that, what should your emergency kit include?

Step 3. Put Theory into Practice
After all of this research and thought (and nerdy Excel grids because I’m a big fat nerd), what did I choose to do for my family? We are a two-person one-dog household in northern Illinois.
• We collected the critical supplies from the list in Step 1 above, plus a spare leash and collapsible food bowl for our dog, and a couple boxes of ammo for each of our EDCs, into a tote labeled “emergency supplies”.

• Taped to the inside of the tote’s lid is a reminder list of additional items to grab from around the house if we are evacuating – cell phone chargers from the bedroom, the documents folder from our safe, medications, dog food, bottles of water, wallet/purse.

• In our fireproof/waterproof documents folder, we keep our birth certificates, passports, marriage license, vehicle titles, a list of our key friends and family phone numbers and addresses, copies of our home/auto insurance policies, other important phone numbers and account numbers, and a memory stick with our family photos.

• If we have to evacuate, I assume we both will have our legal utility knives and EDC firearms already on our person when we grab this tote.
The document folder still worries me a bit. I don’t like having an identity thief’s wet dream all in one folder, but I have to weigh that risk against the situation we would be in – displaced from our home, our home possibly destroyed, while we need to file insurance claims, deal with banks, prove ownership of assets, and possibly prove our own identities.
With critical emergencies covered, next I considered the most likely disaster scenario given where we live. Our most likely scenario is an extended power outage while sheltering at home, probably in the winter during a blizzard. Here is what we’re doing to prepare for this, in addition to the emergency supplies listed above:

• We are accumulating supplies specifically for an extended power outage, to supplement what is already in the emergency kit – solar lights, large capacity power bank, candles, crank and battery flashlights, batteries, matches. Since it’s likely to be a cold-weather outage, we’ll also include a few mylar emergency blankets and some HotHands® warming packets. We are also weighing the pros and cons of a generator.
• Because we’re on a well and therefore wouldn’t have water during a power outage, we bought three 5-gallon water jugs that we keep full of water all the time. Every few months we re-fill them with fresh water. I also make a point of always having a case of individual water bottles in the house; I pick one up whenever I find them on sale.

• We already have a 5-gallon bucket “toilet” with human waste bags for camping; I realized that since we’re on a well, using this during a power outage means we won’t have to reserve water for flushing the toilet.

• We have a gas stove, so cooking without electricity won’t be a problem. I make sure we always have a few of those long butane lighters around the house to light burners, and a good variety of canned goods (that don’t need extra water to prepare) in the pantry.

If you’ve come this far, congratulations! You’ve taken important steps to protect your family during an emergency. If you have the space in your home and the motivation to do more, keep going – gather supplies for additional types of disasters, both natural and man-made.