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Warning: The following is offered as suggestions based on personal experience. It is not intended to replace the advice of experts. When emergencies happen in your area, heed all official recommendations.
Be it hurricane, blizzard, tornado, or something else, it seems like there's always some kind of emergency around the corner that we're supposed to be preparing for. We know we're supposed to. We know it's very important. But other than looking at the advice of Ready.gov on what we should have handy, what exactly should we do?
Take yourself for example. You're not some extreme prepper trying to make sure you're ready for when the apocalypse comes and zombies attack. You're just a normal person wanting to prepare like normal people do. What are those options like?
I've got you. As someone who's lived through many a storm, car related, or other emergency, let me guide you to some supplies you can keep on hand so that you're the right kind of prepared without being weird about it.
Knowledge is Power
First up get yourself a copy of Just In Case: How to be Self-Sufficient When the Unexpected Happens. This book will teach you all you need to know about figuring out what counts as an emergency for you and how you, specifically, should prepare for it. For example, do you have health problems? Then a potential worsening of your health in and of itself is a possible emergency for you. In my case I have migraines, so making sure I have supplies on hand to manage the pain is part of my emergency preparedness as much as keeping supplies on hand for when a blizzard comes to town.
The one caveat about the book is that it's written with colder climates in mind so it'll tell you to do things like pack a sweater which might not be the best advice if you live in, say, Miami. But as long as you make the mental adjustment for your local weather you'll be fine. Definitely a book that's on my "must have" list for everyone.
Food and Water
Once again Ready.gov has the perfect starting list for food supplies. When you read it, one of the first things you'll notice is that they're talking about normal food. Yes, you could spend the money to stock up on MREs if you wanted to. But when push comes to shove do you really want to eat an MRE? Plus, think about what normally happens during emergencies in your area. Are you called upon to pack light and evacuate quickly with only the minimal essentials? Or are you more likely to hunker down at home while waiting for the power to come back on?
If MREs are more appropriate and recommended in your area by all means go ahead and spend the money. But most people are likely to find that their emergency needs are better served by real food that they would eat even if it wasn't an emergency. As you figure out what to pick, give preference to items that don't require cooking, like granola bars, or to things that can be heated up on a gas stove top like soup. This is because if a power outage comes you may find yourself without the use of cold items from your fridge, like milk for cereal, or a working microwave or oven.
This is especially important since this way you can rotate the food items on a regular basis by eating them as part of your every day life and replacing them with new ones. Also you can't discount the psychological benefit of being able to eat as you normally do when times are tough. We call it comfort food for a reason.
So for your food supplies, make a note of all the breakfast, lunch, and dinner appropriate shelf stable items you eat anyway and then keep extras on hand just in case. Easy enough!
The next issue is can you actually do anything with it? And what about water? So let's get into things you might need for that.
Where I live the first thing that happens in an emergency is that the power goes out. Guess what kind of stove I have? Yup, electric. So part of my emergency supplies is a small stove that I can use to cook. It doesn't take up much room and there's peace of mind knowing it's there when I need it.
WARNING: Not all portable stoves are rated for indoor use. Make sure to check that yours can be operated indoors if that's how you intend to use it!
This isn't food specific and should be something that everyone has in their homes regardless. But since we just talked about making sure you use a portable stove properly, don't forget to make sure you have fire extinguishers as well. They don't cost much and are still worth every penny. Look for extinguishers like this one which are ABC rated, which means they can handle fire types from paper to gas to electric.
They say keep bottled water handy in case of emergency but what if you don't have much room? Or what if you were caught off guard and unable to get to the store when the call to purify your tap water goes out? Keeping these water purification tablets on hand is a great way to take this worry off of your mind. The bottles take up hardly any room and this way you don't have to wonder about whether you measured out bleach properly.
Another way to handle the issue of space is to keep these collapsible water containers on hand. They fold down for storage and then unfold so that you can fill them up at home when you know you need to keep your own supply of water at the ready.
Don't forget that you need water for more than drinking. It's there to help with sanitation too, such as being able to flush your toilet. If you suspect you might be in a situation where you need a lot of water at hand and you have a bathtub to put it in, this container is just the thing.
Of course no emergency supplies are complete without a hand operated can opener. Don't get caught with plenty of food and no way to eat it.
Light and Power
Blackouts are emergencies in their own right and they're often one of the first things to happen when severe weather comes to town. Yes, you can keep candles and matches handy and you probably should. But there are plenty of ways you can be prepared for a loss of power without turning your home into a fire hazard. Here are things I keep in my own emergency supply kit.
No power means no TV, satellite, or internet. You have to go back to hearing about information the old fashioned way which means over the airwaves. The nice thing is that being in the modern age means that our emergency radios can multitask. This one is also a flashlight and a cellphone charger, and can be powered up by its solar panels or even a hand crank, making sure you're never fully cut off.
Note: Make sure you find in advance which radio station to tune in to. You want the extremely local ones for the most helpful information. The radio station that's the primary source for announcing school closings is usually a good one to pick.
Cell phones aren't luxuries these days, they're lifelines. And sometimes power can go down but texts can still go through. You want to make sure you can stay connected to the world without worry. Keeping portable chargers on hand does that. Frankly these are so useful and lightweight I keep one in my purse all the time. There's nothing like the heady sense of, well, power when you've been out for hours and you don't have to worry that your phone's going to die on you.
These LED tap lights are my favorite alternatives to candles when power outages come. They are small enough to easily tuck away into an emergency kit and to fit anywhere a candle would've gone. Extra bonus, there's no risk of fire and you can leave them on even if you're not in the room.
For more light, things like a camping lantern are a good pick. They can brighten up a whole room and, like the led lights, are safe to leave on and unwatched or to carry around without risk of burning anything (including yourself!)
These emergency flashlights require being plugged in in order to charge so they won't be as effective once they run out of power. However I still like them because they turn on as soon as the power goes out. I keep mine in hard to get to places where the plug is otherwise unused but the light can still be seen, such as in the space between my headboard and the wall. That way when an outage occurs I still have plenty of light to see by in order to get to my emergency supplies.
Last but not least, batteries. A good variety pack like this one will make sure you're not left without when you need battery power the most.
Health and Hygiene
Medical emergencies can happen at any time. Then there's the issue of sanitation. Did you know that in some buildings a power outage can mean no hot water, or even no water at all? Here's some things to help you stay healthy and clean when times are tough.
I find that these ready made first aid kits are cheap enough that they're worth it to buy as a place to start. Then you can keep the container as you use up the items and replace them with what's more relevant for your needs. For instance a home with young kids probably needs more supplies on hand for skinned knees, while my headache-prone self needs plenty of Advil.
They're not just for COVID. Face masks are good for preventing the spread of any airborne diseases, plus N95 style masks help with situations where there are particles in the air. Again check with your local officials for the best kind to keep on hand (such as what's best if fires are the most common danger in your area) but keeping a supply of masks on hand never hurts.
Much like with the masks, medical gloves are a great way to protect yourself and others from infection, particularly when it comes to doing things like cleaning wounds or unsanitary surfaces. They are inexpensive and can keep for years so well worth keeping handy. No pun intended.
Keeping your location as clean as possible is a good way to keep everyone healthy. If you don't have access to clean water, these disinfectant wipes can make a good alternative.
Not a replacement for 20 seconds of vigorous scrubbing with soap and water, but again if water is scarce then alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a good alternative. Make sure any kind you get is at least 60% alcohol or else it won't be effective.
Not being able to take a shower due to a lack of water can be such a demoralizer on top of the health factor. Plus those of us with disabilities sometimes have trouble taking a shower on what's an otherwise normal day. Using body wipes like these can help you stay clean even when you can't scrub down like you normally would.
Though dry shampoos can help with oily touch ups, if you're in a situation where you're without the ability to wash your hair for a week at a time you may find a no rinse shampoo like this one does the job far better. It gives you more of a clean than dry shampoo does, plus there's no concern about needing to make sure the powder matches the hair color of everyone in your home. Much like the body wipes, this is also a great one to keep on hand for people whose health or disabilities makes it hard for them to wash their hair.
The need to keep your teeth clean goes without saying. Make sure you're not forgetting your pearly whites without worrying about using up your clean water supply. The nice thing is these waterless tooth brushes are also great for when you're on the go, such as if you want to quickly brush your teeth while you're at the office (just don't do it at your desk though, ew.)
Whether it's your every day drive or a need to evacuate, there should always be room in your trunk for emergency supplies. Even if you belong to a roadside assistance service (which I do) there are still things that can come up that you need to take care of before help can get there, especially if it's inclement weather and you're forced to wait. These are all things to help keep you and your car from getting stuck on the side of the road.
Much like a first aid kit, an affordable roadside emergency kit is a great starting place for being prepared while on the go. Look for any kit which comes with a sturdy bag which can stay in your trunk and hold any other smaller "just in case" items you want to keep with you on the road. For example -
It's often recommended to keep an old towel or blanket in your car - and the towel especially has its place, particularly if you need to dry spills. But if you're worried about warmth or protection from the rain you might find, as I do, that Mylar blankets fit that bill better than a dusty comforter could. Plus they are more portable and easily slip into the earlier mentioned emergency bag in your trunk.
If you're driving in the middle of nowhere and the low pressure light comes on it can be really anxiety inducing, especially if you're like me. Even when you're in a city you may have to drive around to a few places before you find a gas station that has an air hose that's working, to say nothing of whether it's free or you have to scrounge for quarters to operate it. This portable tire inflator is affordable and works like a champ. It's also smaller than it looks. The shape makes you think it's the size of a backpack but it's much closer to the size of a shoebox. It may not be able to fit into your emergency bag but it won't take up much room in your trunk.
Not an emergency supply per se but a definite quality of life improvement. And it can come in handy if you're at the side of the road in the pouring rain trying to inflate your tires as quickly as possible. These valve stem caps stay on your tires and make it so that you don't need to remove them in order to check the pressure or add air. You simply attach the nozzle directly to the cap and ta da! Absolutely love them and am forever grateful to the stranger at a gas station who told me about them when he saw me struggling with keeping track of my tire caps on a particularly bad day.
This one is a bit of an investment. I won't lie, I got mine as a gift. But if you can afford it, it's worth it. It's a battery pack that lets you jump start a car directly. I've luckily never had to use it on my own car but I have used it for other people's so I can attest that it works and is very handy. You just have to plug it in every few months to make sure it's charged up, but that's easy enough to do. Another one that might not fit into your emergency kit but I keep mine in a reusable shopping bag so it's easy to carry back and forth when I have to charge it.
And that's all for now! Or at least it's a place to get started. If you have a dog in your home make sure to check out my list of Must Have Supplies since those come in handy for emergencies too, particularly the Mobile Dog Gear if you need to evacuate.
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