You don't need to live on the San Andreas fault or in Tornado Alley to know that you have to be ready for anything. Disasters can strike anywhere, any time. And they do. Being prepared is essential to keep you and your family safe.
All sorts of agencies, from the American Red Cross to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, have tips on how to be ready. Here are 10 essentials to have ready if a disaster strikes and you're trapped in your home. (And experts suggest you keep a smaller version of an emergency kit in your car, too.)
1. Food and water
Having a few gallons of fresh water and some canned goods stashed away should be as automatic as having a bed in a bedroom or a TV in a family room. Floods, snowstorms, earthquakes — all sorts of natural and man-made disasters can leave us trapped. FEMA suggests a three-day supply of non-perishable foods as part of every household's emergency kit, and at least a gallon of water for each person, per day (for drinking and for sanitation). Salt-free foods — they won't make you as thirsty — and canned goods high in liquid content are best. Remember to stock up on plenty of food and water for the family pets, too. And never forget the manual can opener.
2. Batteries (and chargers)
For phones, for flashlights, for lanterns and for radios, stock all sorts of batteries, in every size you need. For devices with batteries that have to be charged — phones, especially— keep a spare battery and charger in your emergency kit. You'll need to check on everything every year, to make sure your batteries are still fresh.
3. Radio, cellphone and whistle
It's a good bet that your cellphone will be somewhere around you in an emergency. Good. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 20 percent of all Americans use social media for alerts and warnings. So your cellphone (and fresh batteries/chargers) will be crucial. In case cellphone service goes out (now we're talking an emergency!), having a battery-powered radio nearby, tuned to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association weather station, is important. Finally stick a whistle in your kit, too. Just because.
4. A communications plan
FEMA and the Ready.gov initiative have a useful printout for kids and parents to keep with them in case of emergency. The "Family Communications Plan" has a place to list phone numbers for everyone in the family, plus a key out-of-area contact, too, in case there's trouble with the local phone service. Those contacts all should be established as you're making your kit. Then put the list in your wallet or another place you can get to when you need it. A tip: Texts often have a better chance of getting through during an emergency.
5. First-aid kit
You can buy these ready to go, or build one yourself, but every household needs one. It should include, according to Ready.gov, sterile dressings, antibiotic wipes and ointment, burn ointment and sterile gloves. Plus: adhesive bandages of all sizes, over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen or aspirin and other prescription medication your family may need, like heart drugs or asthma drugs or insulin. You can also add antacids, laxatives and anti-diarrhea medicine, scissors and tweezers, too.
6. Dust masks
If you're stuck in a basement (or in a car) in close proximity of others, dust masks (or surgical masks, if you will) can go a long way toward keeping you healthy. Whether it's nasty stuff blowing in from outside or your loved ones sniffling and sneezing next to you, the cleaner the air you breathe, the better off you'll be.
7. Plastic garbage bags
They're not just for garbage. They can be used as plastic sheeting around windows and doors to keep water or other elements at bay. They can be used as a toilet in a pinch. You can keep clothes and food dry by storing them in garbage bags.
8. Duct tape
So many critical uses: to waterproof around a door or window ... to seal garbage bags … to repair torn stuff ... twisted, duct tape makes a suitable clothesline to hang wet clothes ... with plastic bags and duct tape, you can make a nice shelter ... in a pinch, you can use duct tape (carefully) as a bandage or a sling. It's a good idea to have a couple rolls on hand.
An adjustable wrench, a few types of adjustable pliers and a hammer. (You may need these to turn off the utilities if you're stuck in your house.) And don't forget a good pair of scissors, a knife or two and a pry bar.
Even if it doesn't get very cold where you live, put blankets in your emergency kit. They can be used for pillows or cushioning or for just plain comfort. It's especially important to keep a couple of old ones in your car in case you get trapped there.
These are just the essentials for any good disaster kit. FEMA has a checklist of other items you may need, depending on your circumstances.