When the COVID-19 pandemic reached North America, people everywhere rushed to their nearest grocery stores to stock up on essential items like canned food, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper.
As thousands of people across the country ransack grocery store shelves, one thing has become apparent: most of us are woefully unprepared for when disaster hits. But what happens if we find ourselves in an emergency situation and we aren’t able to leave our homes to get supplies? Do you have enough in your house to last several days, until help arrives?
Why Everyone Should Have an Emergency Kit
No matter where you live, you should always be prepared for an emergency situation. Whether it’s a massive snowstorm, and earthquake, extreme flooding, a hurricane, or a tornado, natural disasters can be hard to predict, and those who are not ready for them could be easily caught off guard.
Panic buying before an oncoming storm is a common sight in many US states. Images of empty grocery store shelves, just like those that have emerged during the current pandemic, are seasonal occurrences in many places. Unfortunately, this sudden surge in stockpiling and hoarding leaves many people with nothing. If you are unable to get to the store in time, you may be out of luck.
How to be Prepared in an Emergency
According to the American Red Cross, you should always have enough food, water, and emergency supplies to last for a minimum of three days, since it could take that long for help to arrive. It could, however, take up to two weeks for emergency response teams to get to you, so it is best to plan for that length of time .
The American Red Cross outlines three basic steps to create an emergency plan:
- Discuss with all members of your household how to respond to all types of disasters that are likely to happen in your area.
- Discuss how your household will work together as a team, and identify responsibilities for each member of the family.
- Practice as many elements of the plan as possible .
Whatever your plan is, it should always include an emergency kit or go-bag, and it should be customized to the types of disasters that you may be subjected to, as well as to the members of your household.
“What might make sense in one place might not be recommended in another,” says Frank Smyth, the executive director of Global Journalist Security, a hostile environments training and consulting firm .
When putting a kit together, variables could include how much money and in what currencies you’d like to store, whether you want to keep a bag at home and at your office, and how many people you’re packing for. Having elderly people in your home, children, or pets, will change what you need to have in your emergency kit.
What do you need to have in an emergency kit?
The following are the basic requirements for an emergency kit:
Water: you should have one gallon per day, per person. You should plan to have a two-week supply for home, and a three-day supply for evacuation.
Food: it should be non-perishable and easy to prepare. Like water, you should have a two-week supply for home, and a three-day supply for evacuation. In a large emergency, you may not have electricity, and so you might not be able to do any cooking. For this reason, food that can be eaten directly out of a can is your best option. Focus on calorically dense items like canned beans, tuna, chili, peanut butter, and canned meat, so you can satisfy your hunger with less food so your rations can last longer.
Flashlight: again, this is in the event that you have no electricity. You should also be sure you have an adequate supply of batteries on hand.
Battery-powered or hand-crank radio: most states have an official emergency radio station, and it is important that you can listen to it so that you know what’s happening, and are kept up-to-date with important developments.
First Aid Kit: ensure that your first-aid kit is well-stocked and that you understand how to use all of the items within it.
Medications and Medical Items: If anyone in your household has specific medical needs, you should have enough medications on hand or anything else they may need, for at least seven days.
Multi-purpose tool: tools like the ones in this list from The Wirecutter or the Leatherman New Wave can help with performing first aid, making fires, and repairing machinery or electronics. Some even come with can openers.
Sanitation and personal hygiene items: this could include sanitary towelettes, dust masks, bleach, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, paper towels, and feminine hygiene products like pads and tampons.
Copies of personal documents: medication lists or documents containing pertinent medical information are important, as well as a proof of address or the deed or lease to your home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies, and a document that lists your family and emergency contact information.
Cell phones with chargers: be sure to have solar or battery-powered chargers in your kit in the event that the electricity is out. Having at least one phone available so that you can contact loved ones, or call for help, is crucial.
Extra cash: ensure you have cash in all types of currency you may need.
Emergency blanket: sleeping bags can be heavy and cumbersome, so instead consider getting some Mylar thermal blankets. They are windproof, waterproof, and capable of reflecting more than 90 percent of your body heat. They are also inexpensive and easy to store.
Maps: you should have an up-to-date map of your area in case you need to evacuate [1,4,5].
Buy a Kit and Customize It
The Red Cross has a variety of emergency kits that you can choose from. A great way to start building your kit is to purchase one of these, and then customize it to your family’s needs. If you have babies or children, you will need to include items like diapers, infant formula or baby food, and games to occupy your kids.
If you have an elderly person in your home, make sure you have back-ups of any special items they may need, such as a hearing aid, glasses, contacts, medications, mobility devices, etc.
When you are building your kit, always consider which types of emergencies you are planning for, and ensure your kit will satisfy the needs of that particular situation .
Where you store your kit is important as well. If, for example, heavy flooding is common in your area, you shouldn’t keep your kit in the basement. You may want to have both a kit and a go-bag, in case you have to leave at a moment’s notice.
If the idea of putting a kit together sounds intimidating, consider starting early and building it gradually. Each time you go shopping, add a few extra canned foods to your grocery cart and add them to your stash. Keep the expiry dates in mind, and be sure to rotate them so they don’t go bad. Any time you remove an item from your kit, however, you should replenish it as soon as possible .
Always Be Prepared
While some of this may seem like an overreaction, the federal government expects everyone to be self-sufficient for three days during a natural disaster or an emergency situation. It is critically important, especially if you have dependents living with you, that you are prepared for the worst.
Visit the Red Cross for a complete list of what to include in your emergency kit, and check with your state government authorities so that you understand all of the risks associated with living in your area so you know what if there are any specific items you may need.
Keep Reading: How to Prep For a Quarantine
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