After watching the destruction caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria the news is full of stories about families rushing to stores to stock up on supplies only to discover that all of the stores are sold out. It's apparent that most families are woefully unprepared for any type of disaster situation.

Not only do we need to prepare for natural disasters like power outages, hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, heat waves, but also for the ever-increasing number of terrorist attacks on our cities. You don't want to be scrambling for supplies at the last minute during an emergency.

With a bit of advanced preparation and purchasing of dual-purpose supplies, you'll be all set in case something unexpected happens.

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When it comes to preparedness, there are entire divisions at the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control dedicated to creating checklists and recommendations for you. Be sure to visit the links at the bottom for more resources.

Over the past 20 years, extreme weather events have been responsible for over 600,000 deaths and billions and billions of dollars in damage. While you will probably not end up dying in an extreme weather event or terrorist attack (the odds are in your favor), you may need to evacuate quickly or hunker down in your house for an unknown period.

 

The Go Bag

Every family needs a "go bag" which is a bag already stocked with essential supplies that you can grab in an emergency. Realistically, you need a go bag for every member of your family and possibly more than one if you want to store at your workplace and your home.

That said, one bag is better than no bag, so plan ahead and keep your passports/ID easily accessible so you can grab them and your go bag quickly.

 

Contents of your go bag

At the very least, your go bag should contain:

  • extra clothing (weather appropriate)
  • a flashlight/headlamp
  • water bottle
  • water filtration device (if not already incorporated into your water bottle)
  • identification (passports, visas, etc.) and
  • cash (minimum $500 in the local currency)

If you're living abroad, you might want cash in multiple currencies (e.g., USD, Euros, Kronor, etc. in various small and large denominations).

Extras might include:

  • pop-up tent
  • playing cards
  • small (!!) stuffed animals for the kids
  • sleeping bag(s) and
  • a multi-tool/survival knife.

Think about storing extra gas in containers if you can take your car or an escape route using bicycles if cars aren't an option.

 

Plan for more than one type of emergency

Your family plans will differ greatly depending on the emergency scenario and talking through each type of scenario is a good tabletop exercise in preparedness.

  • What will you do in case of a power outage?
  • Terrorist attack?
  • What if the highways are shut down or inaccessible?
  • Are the airports closed?
  • Will you hunker down at home or head to a nearby shelter?
  • Do you know where to find your nearest local shelter?
  • What if there's an emergency during school hours? Will you leave the kids there or pick them up?

 

Our own preparations

We've recently started stockpiling some canned goods that will keep for the next 12 months, and we plan to consume and replenish our stock on an annual basis.

As an aside, admitting you are even mildly prepared for an emergency will get you raised eyebrows and side eyes from friends who will think you are a nutty doomsday prepper. Don't worry, you'll have the last laugh when the lights go out.

Most of our items are camping/hiking items, and since we camp and hike throughout the year, they will be used more often than during emergencies. I feel like we are justified in purchasing these items and besides, dual-purpose purchases are my favorite (save that money).

I often take our travel chargers in my purse when we are out and about all day to keep my phone's battery topped up.

 

5 tips to increase your emergency preparedness:

 

1- Buy a portable USB charger to charge your phones and electronics when the power goes out

Power outages happen all of the time, and this is a helpful and easy item to purchase.

I suggest buying a charger (like the ones featured above) or another model that has two charging ports for more than one device.

Some chargers also come with a flashlight, and there are some lamps with integrated USB chargers.

Portable chargers are also helpful on everyday day-trips so grab a portable charger today if you don't already have one.

2—A good water filter

We need water to survive, and usually water quality or access is the first thing threatened during a major event. People need at least one gallon (~4 liters) of water per person per day to survive.

Store enough water for a few days but also purchase a good water filter for your household. While you're thinking through water filtration, have a plan in place for how you're going to get water.

  • Will you fill a bathtub full of water to be filtered later?
  • Do you have buckets that can store extra water?

We have this one in our basement.

It's also good to have a water bottle with an integrated filter for your go bag—LifeStraw integrated hiking water bottle.

3—Medical supplies

I have started carrying an old makeup bag full of Band-aids, alcohol swabs, and wet wipes and so far, on every outing with an old makeup bag with a small supply of necessities. Shockingly, ever since carrying around Band-aids in my purse, my kids have incurred more cuts and scrapes than ever before. Hmm...anyway.

You can create your own First-Aid kit like I did and fill a zippable bag with

  • Band-aids
  • Gauze
  • Steri strips
  • Blunt edge scissors
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Compression bandages
  • Latex gloves

Or purchase a travel First-Aid kit like this one

4—Battery-powered lantern

Yes, candles are good to have on hand, but they are a major fire hazard and you can't go to sleep with candles burning, so you need a source of light that is not flammable.

We purchased this collapsible, rechargeable battery-powered lamp that has a USB port for charging our phones. We can easily take this on our camping trips as it's small and light. Win-win!

Or go for the all-in-one solar, hand crank powered radio, light, and charging power station.

5—Extra food, toilet paper, and paper towels

You're going to get hungry during an emergency and you'll want options that you can easily heat up or eat at room-temperature. If you stock canned goods, keep a can opener nearby.

We stocked up on some goulash soup, peanut butter, honey, rice, beans, and tomato boxes. We're going to eat a lot of the same food for a long time—yay for emergency food!

Since stores will run out of necessities really quickly, you should have some extra toilet paper and paper towels in your stockpile. Also, don't forget the coffee!

In summary, the best part about stockpiling a few necessities and thinking through multiple emergency plans is that you can relax and reduce your anxiety about events beyond our control (something I sometimes struggle with).

 

Other resources

Be sure to listen to how Sundae Schneider-Bean handled a terrorist attack in Burkina Faso and how her family responded to an incredibly stressful situation. What decisions did they make?  Listen to our discussion here.

CDC's Emergency Preparedness Kit

This Washington Post personal essay, "We can't leave Florida but we can't stay either. Help us!" by an inadequately prepared family highlights how just a little bit of stockpiling would've made their situation much less stressful.

If you're waiting to stockpile on necessities during the emergency, you're a bit too late.

Also, if you live in a region with frequent natural disasters, you need to be prepared. For those of us living in areas where natural disasters occur infrequently, consider your stock of supplies as insurance that you can eat later on—the best kind.

We all experience random power outages, and it's really easy to purchase a few items to keep everyone safe and happy.

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