If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that emergencies happen — and in the most unexpected ways. While it’s not every day that a pandemic hits (and we hope not to see that happen again), crises can happen closer to home at any time, which is why home emergency preparedness is so important.
“You will want an emergency kit in your home for the obvious reason, should you lose power or suffer a natural disaster,” said Robert Martin, a Wisconsin-based residential mortgage specialist with Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation (Fairway owns Home.com). “What you will want in this kit can vary depending on where in the country you reside.”
Sudden storms, floods, or power outages can create panic, and it can be difficult to think about the essentials when they happen. Having an emergency preparedness kit ready beforehand will help you act quickly, and it can alleviate stress and allow you to stay calm when you have to make tough decisions.
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“Disasters can happen to anyone at any time, and it gives you and your family a peace of mind knowing you are prepared with basic first aid needs,” said Natalie Graver, vice president and emergency manager at The Olson Group in Alexandria, Va.
You want to have enough supplies packed and in a go-to spot for everyone in your family, including pets. In the event of a sudden storm or wildfire, you may not have time to run to the pharmacy for medication refills or to stock up on certain foods, which is why you want to have an emergency stash ahead of time.
“In my house, we take emergency preparations very seriously,” said Catt Fleetwood, a branch sales manager with Fairway, who is based in Wake Forest, N.C. “We have a family of five, and my husband is the champion of providing us all with bug out bags and trauma kits.”
A “bug out bag” contains essentials for a few days of travel that you can grab quickly if you have to evacuate your home. It can include food, water, clothing, shoes suitable for walking long distances or hiking, a portable radio, and first aid supplies, among other necessities. You can purchase bug out bags online or prepare your own.
But equally — perhaps even more — important than being ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice, is being prepared to weather storms, outages, and natural disasters at home.
Here’s what to include in your home emergency preparedness kit, according to Ready.gov.
Emergency preparedness kit essentials
- Non-perishable food
- A can opener
- Daily medications for family members and pets
- Rescue inhalers, for those with asthma
- Battery-powered cell phone chargers
- Battery-powered or hand crank radio
- Extra batteries
- Dust masks
- Hand sanitizer
- Face masks
- A whistle you can use to signal for help
- Sleeping bags or warm blankets
- Sanitary items and toiletries
- Wet wipes for personal hygiene if the water is turned off
- A wrench for turning off utilities
- Games and activities to stay occupied while waiting for help or the utilities to be turned back on
- A basic tool kit
Fleetwood said she and her family keep a one month’s supply of non-perishable food for everyone in the home, including their pets. In addition to food, water, and other essentials listed above, the Fleetwoods also have a water filtration system and portable stove, along with matches or another implement to start a fire, and emergency thermal blankets.
Their bug out bags contain many of the same items as their at-home emergency preparedness kit, with some additions.
“That’s a similar kit with a few more things added like tarps, poncho, boots, duct tape, paracord, multi-tool, survival knife, hunting rifle,” Fleetwood said. “We are not so much preppers as preparers.”
It can seem tempting to simply buy a 3-month supply of emergency food that comes in a big bucket at your local warehouse store. But think twice before you do.
Unless you’ve opened up the kit and eaten everything in there, you may find out the hard way that your family can’t or won’t eat the food.
Food kits contain high amounts of sodium and preservatives. That’s how they can last for years or decades on the shelf. But the ingredients are different from what you’re used to eating. And you may find out the taste is harsh as well.
A better plan is to compile a list of foods you already eat – ones with great shelf life like canned foods, dry cereals and pasta. Do a big shopping trip and store these in a safe place. Then create a rotation system to work these items into your regular meal planning, while replacing them with newer items.
You’ll save money compared to buying a big kit that you may throw away someday, and even better, you’ll know you’ll be able to eat the emergency food you’ve taken the time and money to prepare.
What you need in either a home emergency kit or a bug out bag may depend on where you live.
“You never know what life or the weather will throw at you,” said Sandy Krestan, a Phoenix-based senior loan officer with Fairway. “Growing up in the Midwest, my parents always had an emergency kit in the basement,” The couple things that were also always in there were a couple decks of cards and a radio.”
Midwesterners at high risk for tornadoes may want to identify a spot in the basement likely to be safest during bad storms and make sure that area is stocked with emergency materials at all times.
Homeowners in parts of California or the Pacific Northwest that have a high wildfire risk will want to ensure they have a bug out bag prepared, with plans for how they will evacuate and where they’ll go if a fire comes too close to their properties.
Related reading: How to Protect Your House From Wildfires and Other Climate Hazards
Wherever you live, think through all the potential threats — tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, or other circumstances that could create emergency conditions in your area. Then build your emergency preparedness kit, and your contingency plans, based on those.
Think, too, about your daily routines and needs — how might they be disrupted and how can you prepare for that?
“Being prepared for the unknown is critical,” said Joe Pessolano, a Fairway branch sales manager in Clayton, N.C. “I’m not a Doomsday prepper, but it is important to be prepared for the unexpected. What if we didn’t have access to cell phones, power, television?”
Discuss with your family what you’ll do if you need to leave your home due to an evacuation. Where will you go? What will you bring with you? It’s a good idea to communicate with extended family or friends about your plans so they know how or where to reach you in an emergency.
Day to day, it can be difficult and frightening to think about worst case scenarios. But preparing for them now is critical to weathering a crisis safely when it happens.
Having a plan, and the supplies you need, to protect yourself and your family in an emergency will give you peace of mind and enable you to act swiftly and smartly when every second matters.