Make a home emergency preparedness kit with all the essential supplies to aid you in case a disaster strikes your area.
Putting together a home emergency preparedness kit you hope never to use may seem like a waste of time and money. But when disasters happen that are beyond your control, you can take charge of how you respond.
Items for an emergency preparedness kit
Store all items in an easy-to-carry bag or suitcase that’s readily accessible. Make sure everyone in the family knows where it is and what it contains. If you need to evacuate your home quickly, here are the essentials you’ll need for a basic “grab and go” kit:
- Water: One gallon per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation; double if you live in a very hot climate, have young kids, or are nursing. Bottled water is best, but you can also store tap water in food-grade containers or two-liter soda bottles that have been sanitized. Factor in your pet’s water needs, too.
- Food: At least a three-day supply of non-perishables and a can opener. Pack protein, fruit, and vegetables, but make sure they’re in a form you actually like—it’s bad enough not to have access to fresh food without also having to subsist on nothing but canned tuna. Include treats like cereal bars, trail mix, and candy bars. Store food in pest-proof plastic or metal tubs and keep it in a cool, dry place.
- Flashlights and extra batteries: Candles are not recommended because there are many house fires caused by candles left unattended.
- First-aid supplies: Two pairs of sterile gloves, adhesive bandages and sterile dressings, soap or other cleanser, antibiotic towelettes and ointment, burn ointment, eye wash, thermometer, scissors, tweezers, petroleum jelly, aspirin or non-aspirin pain reliever, and stomach analgesics such as Tums or Pepto-Bismol, and a laxative.
- Sanitation and hygiene supplies: Moist towelettes in sealed packets, paper towels, toilet paper, garbage bags, and plastic ties. You might also want travel-size shampoo, toothpaste/toothbrush, and deodorant.
- Radio or TV: Keep a portable, battery- or crank-operated radio or television and extra batteries to remain connected in case the power goes out, as well as an extra cell phone charger. You can buy an emergency radio online from the Red Cross.
- Helpful extras: Duct tape, dust masks, a signal whistle, toys for kids.
- Cash: Have at least $100 in your kit.
Tailor a emergency preparedness kit to your needs
Along with the basics like food and water, it’s important to have what you need for your particular situation. You may not need extra blankets in southern California, but you do need escape ladders in case of wildfire. And you’ll want extra blankets to survive a winter power outage in Maine.
Update your emergency preparedness kit regularly
Replace all food and water approaching its expiration date. Replace batteries. You might pick a specific time each year to check, such as before hurricane season in the south or after Thanksgiving if you live in the north.
Buy a pre-made kit
As an alternative to making your own kit, you can buy a fully stocked kit from the American Red Cross. A kit with a three-day supply of essentials for one adult costs $50 to $70.
Here are some fire safety tips and stories behind recent blazes in honor of Fire
Malibu beach houses and mobile homes all burn down. Any home can catch fire
and any home owner can die in the blaze. In 2009, house fires caused 2,565
deaths, 12,650 injuries, and $7.6 billion in direct damage. Usually one or two
people die per fatal fire. But that’s not always the case. Last year, nine fires
resulted in 59 deaths. While these numbers symbolize staggering amounts of loss,
they are on the decline.
Some of the most devastating structure fires happened decades ago. On April
21, 1930, 320 people died in a fire in an Ohio penitentiary. Twenty-seven years
prior, 602 people were killed in a fire in a Chicago theater. Another 27 years
before that, 295 people died from a fire in a Brooklyn theater.
But arguably the most famous fire is the one that took down nearly an entire
city. From October 8 through October 9 in 1871, the Great Chicago Fire blazed
through the Midwestern hub, causing 250 deaths. The events in Chicago inspired
the creation of the first Fire Prevention Day on October 9, 1911.
we have Fire Prevention Week that lasts from October 3 through 9, sponsored by
the NFPA. To contribute to the awareness of fire safety and prevention, and to
mark this noteworthy anniversary, we offer readers a reminder of the deadly
power of fires and key tips for prevention.
In mid-September, a blaze awoke Nick Grisham, fiance of Big Brother star
Britney Haynes, in their Arkansas rental property. He escaped unscathed with the
couple’s two dogs, but the damage to the home is estimated at $50,000.
This all happened just hours before Britney appeared on the CBS show’s season
finale. No one told her about the fire until after the episode wrapped. The
cause of the conflagration is blamed on embers from a small backyard grill that
ignited a patch of grass. According to the NFPA, cooking fires cause 40% of
house fires and 36% of fire-related injuries.
Follow these tips to stay
- Position your grill away from siding, deck railings, and low-hanging
- Remove grease buildup in the tray below the grill regularly, as it could
lead to a fire.
- If you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the
- Keep anything that can catch fire (oven mitts, wooden utensils, food
packaging, towels or curtains) away from your stovetop.
Eleven people were rendered homeless in Manassas, Va., after a cigarette that
was discarded in a planter caused a massive fire that extended down a
residential block, several news sites reported. Fortunately only three people
reported minor injuries, but eight homes were damaged.
the No. 1 cause of house fire-related deaths. The NFPA estimates that nearly one
in four people killed in a house fire die because of smoking-related accidents
inside and outside the home.
Follow these tips to stay safe:
- When smoking outside, make sure the cigarette is fully out before tossing
- Indoors, use large, deep ashtrays on a sturdy table.
- Consider smoking fire-safe cigarettes.
Everyone throws clothes on the bedroom floor every once in a while. But the
act caused a dangerous blaze in a home in Lynchburg, Va., after clothes lying on
top of an electrical cord ignited, WSET-TV reported. An upstairs bedroom was
heavily damaged, while the rest of the home sustained smoke damage.
During an average year, electrical problems in the home cause 485 deaths
and $868 million in property losses, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
Electrical fires are most common during the winter months when people spend more
Follow these tips to stay safe:
- Do not use damaged or loose electrical cords.
- Avoid running extension cords across doorways or under carpets.
- In homes with small children, make sure your home has tamper-resistant
- Plug only one high-wattage appliance into an outlet at a time.
- Do not use bulbs that exceed a lamp’s recommended wattage.
No one is immune from the devastating affects of fire. TV star Ricki Lake’s
Malibu home was set ablaze after a couch caught fire while she refueled a
portable heater. She, her two sons and their dog escaped unharmed and
firefighters were able to quickly put out the flames, which reached 30 feet.
Residential heating fires occur most often in the winter months as
expected with the peak being in January and February.
Follow these tips
to stay safe:
- Keep anything flammable more than three feet away from heating appliances.
- Dissuade your children from playing around open fires and space heaters.
- Do not use your oven to heat your home.
- Turn off portable heaters when leaving the device unattended, including when
going to bed.
A 5-year-old girl started a fire that destroyed two mobile homes in Fort
Collins, Co., by playing with a cigarette lighter in her bedroom, the Coloradoan
reported at the end of September. Her mother had been asleep at the time the
Children are responsible more than 50% of the
intentionally set fires in the United States. Small children (preschoolers and
kindergartners) are most likely to start fires by playing with matches or
lighters, and they are also most likely to die in them.
tips to stay safe:
- Keep matches and lighters out of children’s reach and sight.
- Only use lighters designed with child-resistant features, and remember
child-resistant does not mean child-proof.
Simply observing Fire Prevention Week isn’t enough. Fire season lasts all
year. By observing and practicing even a few of these safety tips at home, you
can prevent fatal fire disasters from happening in your
Having an evacuation and communication plan, and making sure everyone knows
where to go in case of an emergency, can be the key to protecting your home and
Let’s face it — contemplating
catastrophe can be stressful. Some people even feel like they’re courting a
disaster by planning for one. That’s a natural response, but it’s not in your
best interest as a homeowner.
“Denial is a pretty strong emotional mechanism for trying to put yourself at
ease,” says Rick Bissell, Ph.D., a professor of emergency health services at the
University of Maryland, Baltimore. But, he cautions, “if you deny that a crisis
will ever occur, you won’t invest the time or energy in preparing to respond and
protect yourself, and you’ll likely be out of luck.” Part of that preparation
should include an evacuation and communication plan.
Think about escape routes in advance
It’s hard to think clearly when the floodwaters are rising. That’s why you
need to plan how to safely exit your house now, not when you’re panicking during
an actual emergency. The particulars of your plan will vary depending on what
kind of house you have and whether you live in Tornado Alley or quake-prone Los
Angeles, but here are some general guidelines:
- Have two ways to escape every room. Buy escape ladders for upstairs windows,
then practice using them.
- Check with local and state officials for regional evacuation routes. Learn
the safest way out of town, and keep maps handy.
- Designate a meeting place if family members are scattered. If the rendezvous
point is your house, also pick a second location, such as an office or
relative’s house, in case home is off-limits.
- Figure out how you’ll transport Fido; a house that’s unsafe for you is also
hazardous for your pet. Some communities designate a Pet Protector, a person
responsible for retrieving and/or caring for animals if owners can’t. The Humane Society is a good
source of information on disaster planning for your pet.
- Obtain a copy of your office or school’s emergency plan. If one doesn’t
exist, you could volunteer to create it,
helping safeguard your family and your community.
Designate a “communication commander”
An emergency can knock out telephone and cell service, so it’s important to
have a “communication commander” who can receive and relay messages between
family members. Choose someone out of your area whose phone service is less
likely to be disrupted, and give that person cell phone, office numbers, and
email addresses for everyone in the family. Each family member should carry the
communication commander’s contact info, too. Program it into your cell phone
address book and label it “ICE”—in case of emergency. If you’re disabled, an
emergency responder will search your phone for ICE contacts.
Use technology to stay in touch
Even when some communications methods don’t work, others might. For instance,
text messages can often be sent when other cell service is down; the government
and private companies are currently working on a nationwide text-based Emergency
Notification System. Here are some other technology workarounds that could help
in an emergency or power outage:
- Hook your Internet router to an uninterruptible
power supply (UPS) to keep online service running long enough to send out
emergency notifications. You can buy one for under $100 that will keep the
computer running for about 15 minutes after the power goes out.
- Keep a corded phone at home. In a power outage, cordless handsets are
useless. You can also buy a hand-crank or solar cell-phone charger, such as the
Sidewinder crank from Gaiam or the Brunton Solaris portable solar panel.
- If you get separated from your family but have Internet access, you can let
others know where you are with the Red Cross’s Safe and
Well program. On the homepage of redcross.org, click the “List
Yourself Here” button. “One of the staples at shelters now is providing
computers so people can get online and let people know they’re okay,” says David
Riedman, a public affairs officer with FEMA.
- Keep a battery-operated or hand-crank radio in your emergency preparedness
kit to get news and instructions.
Having a disaster plan does more than just keep your own family safe. It also
serves your community. “When an individual is prepared to handle an emergency
themselves, that alleviates a lot of the pressure on emergency response teams,”
says FEMA’s Riedman, freeing up emergency workers to deliver help to those who
need it most.
Wendy Paris is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared in This
Old House magazine and other publications. She keeps chocolate chips on hand in
case of emergency.