Be honest: if a disaster strikes today, are you ready? Can you and your family survive for at least three days with no utilities or ability to get food and water?
For most of us, the answer to the above questions is "No." The expense of a disaster kit when all added up, especially for larger families, can seem very daunting and out of reach of our budgets. It doesn't have to be though. By breaking up your purchases over several months, you can actually make putting together a well-stocked kit quite affordable - and then if disaster strikes, even if your kit is not complete you'll at least have some critical items to get through the initial crisis period.
Download our tip-sheet Your Disaster Kit [PDF, 166Kb] for a printable checklist of items that every basic disaster kit should have, as well as suggestions on how to make it manageable for your budget. If you prefer, we also have a printable Disaster Kit Checklist [PDF, 149Kb] with all the same items in an easy-to-use one-page format, without being broken down by month. In adddition, some vendors provide supplies for disaster preparedness. Examples of such vendors include:
Remember, 3-5 days is a minimal guideline; many disaster relief organizations now recommend that your kit be able to supply your family's needs for at least 9-12 days, as it may be a week or more until disaster workers and emergency personnel are able to reach those affected by a major disaster.
• Water - one gallon per person per day for 3-5 days; for a four-person family this is 12-20 gallons. A case of 1/2 liter bottles is enough for one person for 3 days.
• Spare prescription medication - ask your doctor for samples or an extra prescription, and keep it in your kit. Each month when you refill your prescriptions, put the new medicine in your kit and use the spare, to keep the medicines fresh.
• Spare eyeglasses - whenever you get a new pair, put the old pair (in a hard case!) in your kit; the same goes for dentures if possible.
• First aid kit
• Utility wrench or crescent wrench (for shutting off gas)
• Non-perishable food (preferably that doesn't need cooking), such as canned foods, granola bars, jerky, "disaster food" bars, etc., as well as "comfort" foods such as cookies or candy - enough for each person for 3-5 days
• Hand-operated can opener
• Portable AM/FM radio (battery-operated, solar, or hand-crank)
• Spare batteries if needed
• Bleach - for treating water from non-bottled sources; avoid frangrances and additives
• Flashlights (one for each family member) or glow sticks (several for each family member). Flashlights don't have to be fancy, and can often be picked up for as little as a dollar.
• Spare batteries if needed
• Baby/toddler care items (if applicable), such as diapers, wipes, formula, etc. (make sure to rotate them out as your child grows)
• Feminine supplies (if applicable)
• Change of clothes for each person - these can be older, worn-out items; instead of throwing them out or donating them, stick them in your kit. Make sure to rotate them out as your kids grow, and don't forget socks, underwear, and jackets!
• Comfortable walking shoes or sturdy boots - again, these can be older items
• Fire extinguisher - ABC is preferable; get the biggest one you can afford and reasonably manage (see our fire extinguishers page for more information)
• Blankets - solar blankets (the ones that look like giant pieces of foil) can be picked up for under two dollars apiece, and will keep you warm in the winter and protect you from the sun's heat in the summer. They also take up very little space in a kit and can easily fit in a pants pocket.
• Toilet paper and plastic bags for waste disposal - newpaper bags and produce bags from the grocery store work well for this purpose. Make sure you have plenty in your kit for each person in your household.
• Pet food and care items, if applicable (see our page on animals and disasters for more information)
• Waterless hand sanitizer
• Paper plates, plastic cups, plastic utensils, garbage bags, and paper towels
• Comfort items such as toys, books, stuffed animals, board games, etc.
• Storage totes to put it all together. These should be water-resistant (a duffel bag won't protect your kit in a flood) and shock-resistant in case your kit gets bounced around in an earthquake or aftershock. Keep the items inside sealed in plastic bags to protect against bugs and condensation. You may wish to get several smaller totes rather than one large tote to make your kit easier to manage and move if necessary, especially for larger families.
Months 11 & 12
• Any other items you might need or want, such as sleeping bags, a multi-tool, work gloves, duct tape, a generator/fuel, camp stove/fuel, etc.
In addition to the items above, try to put $5 or $10 cash (or more) in your kit each month, as often times after a disaster it's cash-and-carry. Small bills are best as the few stores that might be open may not be able to make change.
For more information, visit the following websites (links will open in a new window):