The Bare Essentials: Preparing For An Emergency

In preparing for an emergency or natural disaster, it is important to think first about the basics of survival: fresh water, food, clean air and warmth. Keep the items you would most likely need during an emergency in an easy to carry container such as a covered trash bin, plastic tub or duffle bag. Make sure everyone in your household knows where your emergency supplies are stored. Select an out-of-area relative or friend to serve as a contact person in case members of your family become separated before, during or after an emergency and make sure everyone in your family knows how to contact this person.


Remember people and pets can survive longer without food than they can without water. You will need at least one gallon of bottled water per person/pet per day to last a minimum of 72 hours. Store water in plastic containers with tight fitting lids. If the water supply is in question, it is best to have the tools necessary to ensure water, which may be contaminated, is safe to consume. There are many methods to treat water, although none are perfect. According to the Department of Homeland Security, it is best to use a combination of these treatments to ensure the safety of water.

  • Filter water by using a piece of cloth or coffee filter to remove solids.
  • Bring water to a rolling boil for one full minute. Cool the water and pour it back and forth between two clean containers, to improve the taste.
  • Chlorinate water by using 16 drops of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Let the water stand for 30 minutes. If the water smells of chlorine, it is safe to use, if it does not add 16 more drops. If after 30 minutes of sitting the water still does not smell of chlorine, discard the water and start over with another source of water.


Having at least a 3-day supply of non-perishable, healthy food on hand will help keep energy at the needed levels to sustain your family in a challenging situation. Avoid salty foods, as they will make you thirsty. Select foods that you and your family will like, require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking, and little or no water. Include a manual can opener, bowls, cups and eating utensils. The food designated for an emergency should be kept separate from everyday food, so when emergency strikes the food supply is always ready. Everyone in the house should be familiar with the location of the food and understand when it is to be utilized. Pick a storage place away from heat and be sure to note the “use by” date when storing. Check the supply of food at least every six months to ensure freshness. If the “use by” date is approaching, use the food in one of the next meal plans and replace it with a fresh supply. The following is a list of basic food items to have on hand in case of an emergency.

  • Instant oatmeal
  • Granola bars/nutritional bars
  • Canned meat/tuna, soups, vegetables
  • Dried fruits
  • Unsalted nuts, trail mix, hard candy
  • Crackers stored in metal tins
  • Nut butters
  • Jelly
  • Powdered or canned milk
  • Canned juices or beverages
  • Instant coffee, tea or cocoa
  • Vitamins
  • Comfort/stress relief foods

Other Emergency Supplies

Equally important to have on hand are general supplies, which will prove useful in the case of an emergency.

  • Flashlight with extra batteries, candles
  • Crank or battery-powered radio, with extra batteries
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Whistle
  • Extra clothing for all family members, blankets, sleeping bags
  • Face masks, plastic sheeting, duct tape and scissors to seal off outside contamination. Choose a small interior room in your home as a “shelter-in-place” refuge in the event of outdoor contamination. In an emergency, cut plastic sheeting several inches wider than the openings they cover (doors, windows, vents) and seal all edges completely, taping off the corners first. Consider cutting sheets and labeling them beforehand so you are ready quickly in an emergency. Time may be critical!
  • Medications for people and pets, eye glasses, contact lens cleaner, hearing aid batteries, needle and thread
  • Items for babies such as formula, diapers, bottles, and pacifiers
  • Paper towels, toilet paper, garbage bags, bar and liquid soap, moist towelettes
  • An outside grill or camp stove
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Photocopies of identification and credit cards
  • Cash and coins
  • Local maps, compass, paper, pens, pencils
  • Card deck, books or other items to relieve stress and boredom
  • First aid kit. If you do not have a first aid kit, the Red Cross suggests assembling one on your own. For more information on building a first aid kit, visit

This list of suggestions is just the beginning of encouraging individuals to reflect on how prepared their family would be to handle a disaster. We must be responsible for our own preparedness in a situation which could drain local resources. By preparing our own families to sustain themselves during such hardships, we develop a sense of independence and ability to withstand difficult situations.