Living on my own after college, I didn’t give much thought to emergency preparedness. I was focused on making enough money to pay my rent, pay my other bills, and keep myself fed. Lately, though, it seems impossible to avoid thinking about natural disasters.
Hurricanes, floods, tornados and earthquakes seem to happen somewhere in the world almost every day, and the news is full of stories about how many homes have been destroyed and how many people have been affected. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I was very conscious of the fact that earthquakes (even just little ones) happen here on a regular basis. I stocked up on bottled water in an attempt to prepare for the “big one”—and then I never gave emergency preparation much more thought.
After all the natural disasters recently, I started wondering, is that old bottled water still drinkable? I took it out and realized it’s stamped with an expiration date that passed five years ago. Then I did some Googling. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the FDA considers unopened bottled water to have an indefinite shelf life, but it can pick up tastes and odors over time. In other words, it’s probably still fine to drink in an emergency, but it might not taste fresh.
I’m planning to replace those three-gallon jugs of water this week, because in an emergency, the last thing I want to be dealing with is bad-tasting water. Before I go grocery shopping, I wanted to know how much water I really need to have on hand.
The CDC recommends storing at least one gallon of water per day for each person and each pet. They suggest having at least a three-day supply of water on hand, with a two-week supply being ideal. Just in case you need more water, you’ll also want to store a small container of unscented chlorine bleach, a medicine dropper, and a print-out of this fact sheet on how to make water safe to drink.
What else belongs in your emergency preparedness kit?
A way to carry everything
Depending on the size of your kit, you may be able to use a backpack, duffle bags, or portable containers with lids. Pack the essentials, and store them in a place where they are easily accessible in case you have to hit the road in a hurry.
This helpful DHS list suggests including a three-day supply of foods that are easy to make and don’t require cooking or refrigeration. Include things like granola bars, peanut butter, dry pasta, canned juices and soups (and of course, an old-school can opener that you crank by hand). Make sure you’re packing stuff you’ll actually eat, and include a few comfort foods. Keep some utensils in your emergency preparedness kit, too.
Health and personal care items
Pack the basics, such as cleaning supplies, soap, a spare toothbrush, toothpaste, a first aid kid, tampons, toilet paper and baby wipes—and then think about your specific needs. If you have contact lenses, pack a spare lens case (or spare lenses if you change them daily) as well as any related liquids for cleaning or storing lenses. Pack a back-up pair of glasses. Are there other health products and medications that you need regularly? (If you have to evacuate in a hurry, be sure to bring any prescription medications with you.)
If you have pets, don’t forget to consider their emergency preparedness needs. For my dog, I need a supply of food and water, a couple of bowls for him to use, a few rolls of poop bags, his harness and leash, and a few of his favorite toys. I would also bring his carrier.
Your phone and a list of important phone numbers
When weather forecasters predict that a serious storm may affect the area where you live, make sure your phone (and portable charger, if you have one) is fully-charged. Make a list (on paper) of your most important contact numbers, and keep them with your emergency preparedness kit. During an emergency, phone service may not be available or lines may be jammed. If the towers are damaged, you won’t have a signal. The FCC asks the public to limit cell phone use during emergencies to avoid network congestion.
Keep in mind that text messages may go through even when a phone call won’t.
Additional emergency preparedness supplies
Other things you may need during a natural disaster include an emergency blanket, a towel, a multipurpose tool, a flashlight, extra batteries, and a hand-crank radio. (If you have a car, you may want to keep this part of your kit in the trunk, in case an emergency occurs while you’re on the road.)
A full tank of gas
If you have a car, and you know a big storm is coming, don’t leave your gas gauge on empty. If local residents are ordered to evacuate, there will be long lines at gas stations, and you can avoid that wait by planning ahead.
Again, if you know a storm is coming, don’t assume you’ll be able to use your debit card or credit card. Have some cash in your wallet in case the power goes out.
How else can you prepare for an emergency?
- Back up your data regularly.
- Test your smoke alarms once a month. If they aren’t working, change the batteries.
- Have a plan for where you go if you are evacuated, and familiarize yourself with the evacuation route in case your GPS and travel apps aren’t working.
- If you know a flood is coming, move electrical items and valuables to a higher level, and put your personal documents in a waterproof container.
- To prepare for an earthquake, secure anything that may fall if your home shakes. This includes tall furniture such as bookcases that can be fastened to the wall with nylon straps. Identify the safest place to take cover in each room of your home.
- If a hurricane is heading your way, bring loose objects like patio furniture and potted plants indoors. During the storm, stay away from windows, in case the glass breaks.
- If you live in an area prone to tornadoes, make sure you know of a safe place that you can get to quickly. If you live in an apartment building or work in an office building, ask your building manager about the safest place to go for shelter.
- Get trained in first aid and CPR, because emergency preparedness isn’t just about staying safe yourself. You’ll want to be able to help others, too. Keep an eye out for free training sessions in your area, or sign up for a class through an organization such as the YMCA or Red Cross.
As someone who scares easily, I find this stuff hard to think about, but I know how important it is. If a little voice in your head is saying, “But Lisa, I don’t have the money to go buy all this stuff right now!” don’t panic. And don’t just close this tab and hope for the best. Instead, do what you can, and take it step by step.
Bookmark this page to use as a guide, and build your emergency preparedness kit over time. Maybe the next time you’re in the grocery store, you can buy one jug of bottled water to keep in the back of a cabinet—and maybe on the next trip, you can grab another jug or a few cans of food. In an emergency, you’ll be glad you did.
Do what you can, and take it step by step.
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