Thursday, March 24, 2011

Build Your Emergency Basic Supply Kit

Disasters hit quickly and often unexpectedly. Life can suddenly be turned around when basic services, like water, electricity, gas, sewage treatment, and telephones are suddenly cut off. You may have to drop everything and move quickly to get someplace safe.

Relief workers will be on the scene as soon as they can but even if they start working immediately, chances are that they will not get to you for several days.

You need to have your own basic supplies available and ready to get you safely through the emergency. FEMA recommends that you plan to take care of yourself for at least 3 and preferably 7 days before help comes.

Your emergency supply kit

Build or buy an emergency supply kit that works for you. At a minimum, here is what it should include:


This will be your first concern. FEMA says you will need one gallon per person per day for drinking and sanitary needs.

You should have enough water for at least three days. That means a minimum of three gallons of water for each person your kit will support. (If you plan to carry 16 oz. bottled water for example, you will need a total of 12 bottles for each person.)

Carrying this much water may seem daunting but it can make a huge difference to your safety and comfort during an emergency.

You may also want to include a small water pump in your kit. You can use this to purify water from the tap or other sources. Another alternative is to use water purification tablets to make water safe to drink.


Plan to carry at least a three day supply of non-perishable food. Consider calories, nutrition, ease of preparation, and weight when selecting food for your kit.

Cookies and easy-to-eat snacks may carry you through at first, but they won't maintain your energy over several days.

If you decide to use canned food, make sure to pack a can opener. This can be a good low-cost alternative, but will add to the weight you must carry.

Many companies sell a variety of relatively tasty and nutritious dehydrated meals. These are light to carry, but often require water and a heat source to prepare.

You can also purchase MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat). These are compact packages containing all the food you will need for a day. They are very similar to rations used in the U.S. Military and are formulated to be nutritional and have enough calories to keep a grown man going under strenuous conditions. MREs today come in a variety of flavors and include tasty treats, such as cookies and M&M's.


Include a battery powered or hand-crank radio and a NOAA weather radio. Have extra batteries for both.

Electricity and telecommunications are often the first things to go during a disaster.

The radio will help you get local announcements and stay current with what is happening. The NOAA weather radio is your best source of alerts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This is the agency that tracks weather events and sends out alerts for everything from earthquakes and tsunamis to hurricanes and tornadoes.


Pack one and include extra batteries. This can be your best friend when the electricity has gone out.

First Aid Kit

You never know what injuries might occur during a disaster. Your first aid kit should include standard items like bandages and antiseptic ointment. You may also want to include aspirin and non-aspirin pain tablets, antacids, eye drops, and insect repellent and antihistamine as part of your first aid kit.


Carry one in case you need it to signal for help.

Sanitary Supplies

Ask any relief worker and you will likely hear that toilet paper quickly becomes a precious commodity during emergencies.

Plan to carry toilet paper, moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties to take care of your sanitation needs.

Dust Masks and Temporary Shelter

Include one or more dust masks in case the air becomes contaminated. This can happen quickly when buildings are damaged. You may also want to add plastic sheeting or a space blanket plus duct tape. These can be used to create a temporary shelter, which can be especially important in colder temperatures.

Prescription Medications and Glasses

Make sure to include these and any other personal and health items that are specific to your needs.

Wrench or Pliers

Have a wrench or pliers handy in case you are home and need to turn off utilities to minimize or prevent leaks or fires.

Local Maps

These will come in handy, especially if your normal routes are blocked. Use them to locate evacuation routes or centers, or anything else that will get you to safety or comfort.

Cell Phone

This will be your best means to contact loved ones whenever service is available. Be sure to pack your cell phone charger as well.

Pencil and Notepad

Have these handy in case to need to make notes or exchange information with someone.

Personal Hygiene Items

A small pack of personal hygiene items can greatly improve your comfort. You will probably want a toothbrush and toothpaste. Consider whether you will need shaving equipment or feminine supplies. A small washcloth may also come in handy.

Multi-purpose Knife

The good old boy scout knife or its equivalent can be a lifesaver when the unexpected comes along. Toss one into your pack. You can then forget it until you need it.

If you are making your own kit, invest in a sturdy, comfortable backpack that will hold everything. Plastic bags, such as those used for kitchen storage, come in handy for keeping items inside your pack organized and protected.

You may also want to add:

You may want to add some of these items to your kit to meet personal preferences or special needs:

  1. Important family documents packaged in a waterproof container.
  2. Formula, diapers, and other special items needed for infants.
  3. Food and extra water, leash, blanket, and any other special supplies for pets you will take with you.
  4. Books or games to keep children occupied.
  5. A change of clothing

Your emergency supply kit should contain everything you need while still being compact and light enough that you can grab it and go in an emergency.

Assembling your own kit can lower your cost and also has the advantage of prompting you to think through what you might encounter and what you will need.

You can also purchase a ready-made emergency supply kit. They are available in many shapes and sizes. Click here for an example of one of the best.

Judy Downing is a freelance writer. For more information and tips about safety and emergency preparedness -- and about How to Live the LIfe You Want, go to

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