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Essential family emergency kit checklist

Is your family prepared for an emergency? Floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, winter storms, long power outages and wildfires are all examples of natural disasters and emergencies that could affect your family and your home at any time.

Don't let an emergency catch you off guard.

Don't let an emergency catch you off guard. While one can never be one hundred percent prepared, these tips will help keep your family safe for at least a three-day period following an emergency situation.

The Basics

Don't let the thought of assembling an emergency kit overwhelm you. It takes time and money to put together adequate emergency supplies. First start with the basics.

  • One gallon water per person for three days
  • Three-day supply of non-perishable food per person
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight When buying food items, try to choose foods that people in your family will enjoy so that in an emergency situation they can have food that is familiar to them. Children, especially, will be comforted by familiar foods.

Make sure to include a hand operated can opener in your kit so that you can easily open canned goods. And if you’re including food that needs to be heated in order to be edible, like pasta and rice, you’ll need a propane camp stove. Of course, there are many options that are ready-to-eat, can be eaten cold if need be, or are simple just-add-water dishes.

Note: While having a three-day supply of food and water is a good start, The Red Cross recommends that you have a three-day supply of food ready to take with you in case you have to evacuate your home, and a two-week supply for your home.

Extra Supplies

Beyond the basics such as food and water, think about what else your family might need if you could not go to the store for at least three days. Three days doesn't seem like very long, but if you have an infant who needs diapers or formula, you want to make sure that you don't run out during that three-day period. You also don't want your pets to go hungry. Here are a few examples of extra items you might include in your emergency kit:

  • Personal hygiene items
  • Three-day supply of pet food
  • Baby formula
  • Diapers
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Multi-purpose tool
  • Activities for kids
  • Map of the area
  • Extra cash -Lantern, candles and matches or lighter -Battery-operated radio

Important Records

You should keep copies of your important records in your emergency kit so that they can be taken with you if you ever have to evacuate your home. The last thing you want to do when disaster strikes is spend hours on the phone tracking down important records.

Copies of insurance policies, bank account statements, birth certificates, immunization records, passports, etc., should be stored in waterproof containers. You can download a free financial record organizer from the FEMA web site.

First Aid Kit

Every family emergency kit should include a first aid kit. You can either purchase a pre-made kit, or assemble your own. A basic first aid kit should include:

  • Sterile gloves
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Burn cream
  • Adhesive bandages
  • Thermometer
  • Prescribed medications
  • Pain reliever
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers

It is a good idea to have a book that describes first aid techniques just in case you ever need it. It is even a better idea for at least one person in your family to be familiar with CPR and first aid. Most communities offer CPR and first aid classes.

Car Emergency Kit

Of course, you aren’t necessarily going to be home when encountering a major problem, so you should keep an emergency kit in your car, too. This will be a smaller version of your home emergency kit, and can be kept in a backpack or duffel bag.

Make sure to keep snacks and bottles of water in your car, in addition to a first aid kit, flashlight, hand sanitizer, large garbage bag, kleenex, pen and paper, etc.

If you have room in your car, it is also a good idea to keep a sleeping bag and/or old blanket in the car in case your car breaks down during the winter time. You should also have a small tool kit, jumper cables, and spare fuses. Of course, a AAA membership can help in most circumstances... so long as roads are passable and the nearest service vehicle isn’t far away!

Maintaining Your Emergency Kit

Store canned food in a cool dry location with no direct sunlight. Boxed foods need to be stored inside of secure containers so that pests and rodents can't get into the boxes.

Rotate foods and use them before they expire, replacing them with new items. Water should be used and replaced every six months. Make a point of “shopping” from your food stash every few months so that you never have to worry about stored food getting too old.

Every year it is a good idea to reevaluate your family's needs and make any necessary adjustments to your emergency kit. For instance medication needs may have changed, or your children may no longer wear diapers. It is a good idea to keep your emergency items in a container that is easily transported, such as a clean garbage can with a lid, or large plastic bins. That way if you need to leave your home you can take all your supplies with you.

Family Disaster Plan

Does your family know what to do in an emergency? Similar to a fire escape plan, you also need to have a family disaster plan. Have a designated place outside your home to meet.

You should also designate a location just outside your community where your family can meet in case you are not able to return home or your town is evacuated for any reason. Map out two or three different routes to get to the designated location in case roads are blocked or congested with traffic.

Talk to your family about their responsibilities in an emergency situation. Give everyone an assigned task so that everyone knows what to do if an emergency arises. Explain that everyone should work together as a team to complete their assigned tasks.

Make sure that everyone in the family has emergency contact information stored in their cell phones. In addition, keep a list of important phone numbers in your family emergency kit.

These guidelines will help get you on the right track when assembling your family's first emergency kit. For further reading, make sure to check out the Red Cross web site, which has a lot of great tips and ideas so that you can get more information you might need to keep your family safe should an emergency or disaster situation ever occur.

Note: Content contribution from Jessie Flesner, who writes for about a wide variety of health care industry issues.

Contact: Marv Dumon at

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