A natural disaster can disrupt the lives of average citizens, and having the right supplies when it hits can mean the difference between life and death. Assembling these supplies in advance is the key to success.
If you’ve ever lived in a community that was in the path of a hurricane, you’ve seen the empty shelves and crowds at local supermarkets. Panic buying is a poor alternative to an organized plan of action, with many supplies unavailable by the time you get to the store.
But where to start? Lists of recommended items are long and sometimes so detailed that you mind just explodes at the thought of gathering it all. You can’t finish if you don’t start, however; begin to accumulate a few items each month and you’ll be much more likely to weather the storm.
I split my personal supplies into three types: short-, medium-, and long-term. A typical short-term event would be, say, a blizzard or other event that takes you off the grid for just a few days or not at all. A medium-term event could be the aftermath of a major hurricane, where weeks may go by without electricity. A classic long-term event would be an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), where years may go by without power.
Preparing for any emergency involves knowing who you will be responsible for. If you have family with special needs, consider extra supplies tailored for them. Infants and children require even more thought when gathering supplies, like formula and diapers. Older members of your family may need items to keep them safe and healthy, like extra medications, adult diapers, or walkers.
The categories of items you’ll need (called “preps”) don’t really change with the length of time off the grid, but the quantities and variety do. The amount you stockpile depend upon what event your community is most at risk to experience.
Just the mere fact of not having enough drinkable or “potable” water puts you and your family in danger. Knowing how to turn unsafe water into drinkable water may save your life. Knowledge is the greatest power, but having supplies will make that knowledge work much better.
If you need to leave your house, consider making “go bags” for each member of the family, including pets. Keep them lightweight and easily carried. Look for compact items, like energy bars and small water filters (Lifestraw and Mini Sawyers are examples).
Here’s a list of useful items grouped by category:
Water: Just the mere fact of not having enough drinkable or “potable” water puts you and your family in danger. Knowing how to turn unsafe water into drinkable water may save your life. To avoid dehydration, have at least 1 gallon of drinkable water per person, per day. Have a way to store water and methods to make water safe to drink through filtration, and purification. You can use plain, non-scented, household bleach, at 12-16 drops per gallon, to help purify water (filter first if needed). Be sure to wait 30 min for the bleach to take effect, then shake to aerate which makes it taste better.
Food: Most municipalities recommend you have at least 3 days of food. This is somewhat arbitrary; I suggest at least 7-10 days, as loss of power can easily last longer. Get non-perishable food and have a manual can-opener. Some freeze-dried foods come in packets that last for 15-30 years and only require boiling water to prepare.
Warmth and Shelter: Have ways to start fires (outside only) to stay warm, cook food, and boil water. Get tents, tarps, rope and paracord. Learn how to make shelters and seal off roof or window leaks. Have extra plywood for doors and windows in case of a hurricane; taping windows is no longer recommended.
First Aid: Have at least a basic first aid kit and OTC medicines to deal with common injuries and illnesses seen in the aftermath of disasters, such as cuts, bleeding, sprains and strains, diarrhea, pains and aches, colds and flus, etc. Don’t forget prescription medications for those with chronic medical issues.
Hygiene: In order to stay healthy, you must keep your family clean. Get extra toilet paper, paper towels, buckets for washing, moist towelettes, feminine supplies, and supplies for waste disposal (like garbage bags and ties).
Lighting: Have ways to light up the night. Get flashlights, of course extra batteries (rechargeable are better), solar lights, crank powered lights (power discussed later). The medic should consider a head lamp to keep both hands free.
Whistle or Loud Sound Producing item: Have a method to make a loud noise to alert emergency response personnel to your whereabouts.
Tools: Get multiuse tools, like the Swiss army knife and Leatherman. Have a wrench to turn off utilities, some duct tape, an axe, and a saw. If you are in a flood zone, place the axe and saw in your roof space to aid you in escaping to the roof. An escape ladder may be necessary if you are getting out of a roof or higher than a 1-story building. Make sure you know where the fire extinguishers are and that they are not expired.
Communication: Text messages will be delivered easier than voice in some circumstances. A CB radio, Ham radio (you need a license), and two-way radios are good to have. To keep updated on the news and emergency bulletins, have a battery and hand-crank radio with NOAA Weather tone alerts. Don’t forget the extra batteries.
Power: If the electricity is out, you will need a way to recharge batteries and other items. Solar panels along with a solar storage “battery” can help. There are several on the market. Small solar charged battery storage products are lightweight and can recharge a cellphone or power a radio. These may be best for your “go bag”. Generators that use gasoline must be outside and far away from open doors and windows, to avoid being overcome by fumes.
ID and Important Document Storage: Back-up all computers on external hard drives (more than one). Put important scanned documents on an icloud account (which you can then access anywhere later), and on memory USB sticks (several). Place them in different locations like a water/fire-proof safe, in a bank safety deposit box and mail to a trusted relative). Store documents in small waterproof containers for your “go bag”. Include insurance policies, driver licenses, passports, birth certificates, and photos of every room of your house (for insurance purposes).You can also email these scanned documents to yourself for later printing. Don’t forget ID and passwords for accounts, I write mine in a way only I can interpret (for safety).
Money: When we talk about a power outage, there may be another loss of power: purchasing power. If the electricity is out stores will not be able to process credit cards or make change. Have cash on hand in small denominations. Keep small bills and coins in a waterproof case/bag, and consider a little silver as well.
Evacuation: Your GPS may not function, so have maps and a compass to help guide your escape. You may end up in an area you are not familiar with.
Plan routes of escape for fires and flooding and make sure each family member practices drills and has a specific meeting point. As mentioned earlier, each person should also have their own personal “go” bag with appropriate items, including the kids and pets.
Writing Tools: You may want to document events or communicate with others, so having pens, pencils (and a sharpener) and notebooks should be considered.
Distractions and Fun: Stress is not good for people long-term. Get some playing cards and a book with rules for lots of different ways to play games. Put an extra toy or favorite stuffed animal in your child’s “go bag”. Get some board games, puzzles and hobby craft supplies. (Don’t focus on the disaster and all the horrible details with your children; keep it light if you can.)
Consider the needs of kids and pets
Pets: Have extra pet supplies including food and medications. Have a way to get them out of the house safely if needed. Few people know that hotels cannot refuse to rent you a room during officially-declared states of emergency just because you have a (small) pet, but don’t expect them to let your family goat or chicken in the room. Have a plan for larger pets if possible.
Knowledge is power, but having supplies will make that knowledge work much better! Have a survival library in print books (not digital) with the knowledge you don’t have right now; A flashlight or fire is all you will need to read them in the dark.
Amy Alton, ARNP
Amy Alton ARNP
Find lists of medical items you should have, and a lot more information, in the 2017 Winner of the Book Excellence Award in Medicine “The Survival Medicine Handbook: The Essential Guide for When Medical Help is Not on the Way”.