How to build a disaster-proof home survival kit

By Gordon Williams 

A crucial element of preparedness is having enough emergency supplies on hand to get you through a disaster. And while the risk of wildfires is waning, colder weather increases the risk of winter storms and home fires. But exactly what items should be in your emergency stockpile? What constitutes a disaster-proof home survival kit? 

For answers to those questions, we turned to such expert sources as the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the University of Washington Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan. Here is their best advice for building a home survival kit that will see you through any disaster that life throws your way. 

Start with Red Cross, which lists these 15 “must-have” items for a home survival kit: 

  1. One gallon of water per person per day — for at least three days, but a two-week supply would be better. 
  2. Non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food — again for at least three days, but 14 days is better. Check every three months and replace any items nearing their “use-by” date. Keep cooking utensils and a manual can opener with your food supplies.  
  3. A flashlight for each person in the home. 
  4. Battery-powered or hand-cranked radio.
  5. Two sets of fresh batteries for each device that uses them.  
  6. A deluxe first aid kit.  
  7. A seven-day supply of all medications and medical items used by the family.   
  8. A multi-purpose tool, including at least a knife, awl, screwdriver and something for opening cans and bottles. 
  9. Toilet and personal hygiene items. 
  10. Vital personal documents including birth certificates, passports, insurance policies, powers of attorney, living wills, lists of medications and pertinent medical information. 
  11. Cell phone and charger.
  12. Family and emergency contact information. 
  13. Extra cash (since ATM machines may not be working).
  14. A blanket for each family member.
  15. Maps of the area, in case you need to relocate.  

That’s the “must-have” list. The Red Cross adds more items that you would add if they make sense for your situation. That would include pet supplies (leash, carrier, food and bowl), baby supplies (food, diapers, formula, bottles), games and puzzles to entertain the kids, extra set of house and car keys, work gloves, scissors, liquid bleach (for emergency sterilization).  

FEMA has its own list, at ready.gov/kit. Here are items FEMA suggests adding to your kit: 

  • NOAA weather radio, with a tone alert that sounds when there is an emergency broadcast you need to hear. 
  • Whistle to signal for help.
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape, to seal your home against wildfire smoke or volcanic ash, or for emergency repairs after a home fire.
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties — for emergency use if there are no toilet facilities available. 
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off home gas lines or propane tanks.
  • Matches in a waterproof container.
  • Mess kit (paper plates and cups and plastic utensils).

University of Washington Emergency Management endorses all the above items and reminds you to keep your important documents in a waterproof container. Ask each family member if there is any special item they would need in an emergency — maybe a child’s must-have toy or blanket, immunization records for the dog, a spare pair of eyeglasses, back-up batteries for a hearing aid, materials for emergency repairs to dentures. 

Once you have created your home survival kit, what should you do with it? “Keep the kit in a designated place and have it ready in case you have to leave home quickly,” says the University of Washington Emergency Management website. “Make sure all family members know where the kit is kept.” 

If it’s a home fire, or a fast-moving late season wildfire, grab whatever you can and get everyone to safety. If you have been ordered to evacuate, and have organized your kit properly, you should be able to gather up everything and leave the house in less than 10 minutes.

If you are sheltering in place, settle down and make the most of your foresight in building a disaster-proof home survival kit.

American Red Cross Northwest Region

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