Organizing for disasters: your emergency preparedness supplies

What goes into an emergency preparedness kit? As Erin has noted before, FEMA can help you with this and the American Red Cross can help, too.

If you’re interested in creating your own kit, the following are three specific things to think about as you assemble it.

Food and water

You may have heard advice like: “A good rule of thumb is to have supplies for about 3 days, or 72 hours.” That advice comes from the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management. Both and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have repeated that advice, recommending at least a three-day supply of water per person.

Other sources indicate that 72 hours worth of supplies is a bare minimum. The Southern California Earthquake Center, in its brochure “Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Territory,” recommends that you have enough food and water for “at least 3 days and ideally for 2 weeks.”

FEMA’s guide entitled Food and Water in an Emergency (PDF) advocates for more supplies, too.

If an earthquake, hurricane, winter storm or other disaster strikes your community, you might not have access to food, water, and electricity for days or even weeks. … Store at least one gallon per person, per day. Consider storing at least a two-week supply of water for each member of your family. If you are unable to store this quantity, store as much as you can.

The American Red Cross has made a distinction between the supplies you need if you’re evacuating versus the supplies you need if you’re staying where you are. They recommend a “3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home.”

Emergency lighting

I’ve had clients tell me they were holding onto candles as an emergency supply — but that’s a really poor idea. As the CDC has indicated:

Home fires are a threat after a natural disaster and fire trucks may have trouble getting to your home. If the power is out, use flashlights or other battery-powered lights if possible, instead of candles. If you must use them, place candles in safe holders away from anything that could catch fire. Never leave a burning candle unattended.

I’ve heard people suggest getting a headlamp, so you can walk around with your hands free, which sounds like a good suggestion to me.

Landlines with corded phones

In day-to-day use, many of us rely on our cell phones, and many people are getting rid of their landlines. If you’re lacking power, a landline using copper wire, in conjunction with a corded phone, may work when no other phone will. Tara Siegal Bernard wrote in The New York Times about this in more detail. She noted that 911 services works better when the calls come through on a landline rather than a cell phone.

There are additional advantages to having a landline during an emergency. If your local cell phone network is overloaded after an earthquake, your landline calls might still go through. If you need to evacuate your home and you have a landline with an answering machine, you may be able to call home to find out if your power is back on; if the answering machine picks up and your home is still standing, your electricity is back.

7 Comments for “Organizing for disasters: your emergency preparedness supplies”

  1. posted by Leslie on

    Don’t always count on landlines. While I had a corded phone, we were without power for 3 days during a fire, because it was a “digital” phone line, not only did my analog phone NOT work with the system, I wouldn’t have been able to make a call as my phone access went down with the power.

  2. posted by Maggie on

    I live in Hong Kong and, while we have typhoons (the same as hurricanes), we are fortunate to have a very robust electricity supply. Power might be cut out in the sticks, but in the city/suburbs there isn’t even a flicker.

    We do however keep a few torches handy if the unexpected does happen, and we each have a headlight from camping to use if need be.

    Water storage is a problem as we live in a small apartment. We could maybe have a few days worth.

    We don’t have a landline but we’ve thought about getting one again because the mobile phone lines overload when there is a typhoon and you just can’t get through.

  3. posted by Abby on

    A couple of thoughts about disaster planning.

    Three day really is a bare minimum. After Hurricane Ike, there were people in the Houston area without power for several weeks. It wasn’t just water or food but being able do things like wash clothes.

    There are solar powered chargers (think phone. flashlight and radio). The hand cranks are fun but your arm gets tired.

    This is something I wrote up about disaster planning for you and your pet.

  4. posted by Andrea on

    One thing we have in our kit, which people tend to laugh at till they see how we use them, is good quality glow sticks. Often, when the power goes out, people end up outside. Even in less severe emergency cases people always seem to head out of doors in a black-out. We use the glow sticks as necklaces, or even strung together to make a criss cross vest so that we are *very* visible to cars , etc, in the dark (which can be very very dark indeed.) And, if there are gas leaks, or whatever, they are perfectly safe.

  5. posted by Deborah Goodman on

    I’ve also read somewhere that you can use your solar-powered sidewalk lights in the house in case of a power outage. 🙂

  6. posted by Laura on

    Don’t underestimate the water. Last winter we were without potable water for several weeks, which meant no drinking, washing, or anything like that. Be sure to have wet wipes (regardless of your age) for personal hygiene. Paper plates, napkins, and plastic silverware also helped. Also, microwave food was a lifesaver as there were no dishes to wash.

  7. posted by install gas heater on

    A home that has experienced any kind of natural disaster must be checked thoroughly for any gas leaks that could have occurred. Earthquakes can dislodge gas lines, water and silt can destroy gas control valves or twisters can cause tress to fall and damage natural gas tanks. After any serious event a thorough inspection for gas leaks should be conducted before declaring a home safe.

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