It’s never a bad idea to maintain a survival kit, or make sure the one you already has is up to date and fully stocked. Even if you’re not in a particular disaster zone, fires and other natural disasters can happen anywhere. Hopefully you’ll never need it, but if you ever do, you’ll be glad you had it.
Ready Made Emergency Kits
You can buy ready-made survival kits at a lot of online and offline stores. Any of these are a great start. That’s right – “start”, because they aren’t necessarily going to contain everything that you and your household will need, and we’ll get to that in more detail later.
You’ll notice some of the ready-made survival kits specify they’re for a certain number of people, or a certain type of emergency (earthquake, hurricane, etc.) or for a certain number of people for a certain number of hours. Most kits are designed to give you about three days’ worth of food and water, by which point rescue workers will most likely have reached you.
These kits – or some of their components – have to be replaced every few years, as the food and water have a shelf life. I like the ones that are in the form of a backpack. Grab it, strap it on, and go with your hands free. If you really want to be prepared, you could have more than one kit – up to as many as your family can carry out the door.
There are survival kits especially designed for cars and for the needs of pets. If your pet isn’t a dog or cat, you’ll have to make your own. It’s a great idea to have a kit in every car, in case you find yourself having to evacuate in a hurry – then you have at least one kit with you, no matter where you are when disaster happens.
Aside from food and water, these survival kits contain some first aid tools for patching up scrapes, warming anyone who’s in shock, etc. Most contain LED lights for finding your way in the dark, radios that can be powered by handcrank or solar (so no worries about batteries wearing out) and mobile cell phone chargers with universal adapters for any phone, also powered by handcrank, but note: these adapters usually require a car charger kit rather than a charger that plugs into an outlet. Make sure you have one for your phone, and keep it in your kit. These kits also contain sanitation supplies to help you keep clean.
How many survival kits should you have?
- Essential: one near the front door or most likely exit you would use in an emergency.
- Arguably essential: one in the car. If you’re out driving around and you have to take shelter wherever you are when a hurricane/earthquake/forest fire prevents you from getting home, it’s comforting to know you have some supplies. Kits designed for cars include tools that can help if something happens to your car, which is also important in an evacuation situation. Also, they can come in handy in non-emergencies when something goes wrong with the car.
- Optional: one in every bedroom. If you don’t keep a full kit under every bed, at least have a small crowbar under there. They’re good for breaking windows for escape or prying open doors that get stuck in earthquake situations or can’t be used in a house fire.
What to add to your kit
I mentioned above that the ready-made kits are just a start. Why? Because you, your household and any pets you have may have additional needs.
- If the people in your household take any medications, stash a 3-5 day supply of each medication – carefully labeled with expiration dates – in your kit (or each kit if you have more than one). Always use these pills and replace them before they expire. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about how often your medications should be replaced and/or need them to write you a refill a bit sooner than usual to collect the pills you need for your stash.
- Contact info! Keep contact information for all family and friends on waterproof paper in your kit. This stuff will survive being underwater. Also write down your insurance contact info – your account numbers, the phone numbers, the name of your agent. The sooner you’re able to make a claim, the sooner your life can get back to normal.
- Essential papers. You should store original birth certificates, property deeds, wills, living wills and so on in safety deposit boxes or a similar off-site, secure space. But if it looks like you may lose your home, copies of these documents in your kit may prove invaluable. If you need to apply for FEMA aid, for example, you may need to prove you’re who you say you are, and that you own your home and that it’s insured. (You could keep the papers on a flash drive in a waterproof case; nowadays, anyone needing to see them is likely to have access to a computer even if all power is down in your area.)
- If anyone in your household has food allergies, make sure the MREs or food bars in your kit are safe for them to eat. If not, find food items suitable for your allergy-sufferer and stock the kit with them. Remember to use these and replace them before their shelf life expires.
- Pets. There are some good kits online for dogs and cats, but you may want to make your own anyway – and if you have more “exotic” animals like birds or lizards or even bunnies, you’re pretty much on your own. You’ll need:
- A leash, travel cage, etc. – something to contain a frightened pet and keep it near you where you can protect it, and also restrain it enough to keep its panic from distracting you when every second might count.
- Poop bags or fresh bedding for caged pets. Bedding is going to be a heavy item to carry, so only pack enough for a few days.
- A 3-5 day supply of food. Remember to replace this every now and then, before it expires.
- Talk to your vet about first aid supplies specific to your pet. For example, you may only need bandages for dogs and cats, but birds bleed quickly and need styptic pencils to staunch the flow. There are also sedatives which a vet might recommend stashing if there’s any concern a highly strung pet will be especially hard to handle in a panic.
- Entertainment supplies. Bring some playing cards, travel games or puzzle books – something distracting to do while you’re waiting for help. Some of the ready-made kits come with these items, and it’s essential to keeping up morale.
- Cash. Thanks for mentioning this in comments, Westomoon! It’s a great idea to have some cash on hand – a few hundred, if you can manage it – in your survival kit. In case of a local disaster, ATMs and credit card machines may be down, and cash may be the only way to get goods from shops.
I know this isn’t a pleasant topic, but knowing you’re prepared makes it much less scary.