In my house, we have a first aid kit, a few canned goods and bottled water in the pantry, but not much else by way of emergency prep, I’m afraid. I know that my family can better prepare for an emergency.
When my neighbor Jen invited me over to see her “audit” her natural disaster emergency kit for expiration dates and such, I figured it was a chance to give the process some good thought, learn from her and plan to do a better job in our own home.
Jen has supplies to last her family of three at least 72 hours, which is the recommended length of time you should be prepared to be self-sufficient in your home in case of emergency.
Jen’s family is prepared if the electricity, gas, water, sewage treatment and phone service is cut off for weeks. They’re also prepared in case they need to evacuate on a moment’s notice. They keep backpacks ready to fill with sleeping bags, clothing, and basic supplies.
“I started preparing the kit after Hurricane Katrina,” she says. “We were living in Atlanta at the time and Katrina was not that far away. Katrina made me realize that a disaster can strike anywhere and it’s better to be prepared than not. Having the emergency kit ready makes me feel that a disaster would be less devastating to my family because we would have the essentials to get us through.”
Jen’s main resource is the book "Preparedness Now!" She says it sometimes touches on the extreme survivalist scenarios, like having to live in abandoned buildings, but it is also extremely practical and helpful for people living in urban areas, who need think ahead and stockpile the necessities even when space is an issue.
Her preparedness kit consists of two large bins—one for general supplies and another for food and cooking tools.
The supply bin holds the first aid kit and a stockpile of emergency blankets and diapers that she had for when her daughter was younger, but will now keep for her baby on the way.
She also has water (1 gallon per person per day), extra water bottles, ear plugs, safety goggles and dust masks, waterproof poncho, battery-operated lantern, water purification tablets, tarp and garbage bags, sunglasses, waterproof match case and matches, bungee cords and rope, headlamps, and batteries.
In a separate plastic bag, she has travel bottles of basic grooming supplies (deodorant and the like). She also keeps hand-cranked emergency radio with flashlight in the bin and big buckets and trash bags just in case the water and sewage treatment services are out of service for long period of time and they have to create their own outhouse of sorts.
To cover the windows and keep out pollution, she has plastic sheeting and duct tape.
Jen also keeps about $200 in cash in the bin, as well as copies of important documents like insurance policies, identification, and bank account records. And they have wrenches and pliers next to the gas and water handles so they can quickly turn them off.
Food and Cooking Tools
In the food bin, Jen keeps a camping mess kit with stove and fuel, plastic bowls, plates, spoons and cups, and three-days worth of food (multiplied by the number in the household). She stores things like tuna fish, Ensure, canned goods with popup lids, electrolyte drinks, coffee, comfort food like peanut butter and jelly, crackers, chocolate and freeze-dried food (just add boiling water).
She has two ”ready-to-eat” meals, which are the military “rations” that will feed one adult for an entire day. She says they are expensive, but not a bad idea to have on hand. And she has energy bars and other snacks stored in individual plastic bags.
Auditing the Kit
One of the main tasks for auditing the supplies on the day I visited was to scan the use-by and expiration dates on food and prescriptions, as well as batteries. In the first aid kit, they keep children’s ibuprofen and Benadryl, and adult Advil, as well as laxatives and other basic medicines that all need to be current.
Jen says she tries to check her supplies every six months or so. She runs down her lists and marks if she needs to replace something or add something new—like age-appropriate games for her daughter. When Jen checked, almost all of the food and most of the over-the-counter medicines had expired.
I am so impressed with Jen’s efforts and diligence in maintaining her disaster kits and I vow to do the same. You can find an excellent checklist on the FEMA web site for how to prepare your own kit.