Every disaster is different, which is why every disaster kit will be unique. What you or your family may face will vary, but plan-ahead thinking is always a wise idea. We have put together a thorough list of disaster events and simple items to consider having on hand should one of these nightmare scenarios become your reality. 

Just Imagine for a Moment…

The worst has happened. Your family is moments away from suffering through the effects of a natural disaster. It is the first time you have experienced the visceral feelings of uncertainty, danger, and fear that overwhelmingly dilute your rational thinking. News anchors are issuing serious warnings; your children are scattered about town at different schools, and out-of-state family members are blowing up your phone which you are desperately trying to use to gather local information. The grocery stores are emptying by the minute, and traffic rivals the worst holiday congestion with emotionally distraught, enraged drivers endangering everyone on the roadways. It is difficult to battle the dull panic this situation has created.

Why Have a Disaster Kit?

For most American families, there is a high chance that when disaster strikes, your family will be separated from each other by Monday through Friday jobs, school, and activities. Disasters are hardly convenient enough to happen when everyone is home together. How much comfort would a bit of preplanning provide for your loved ones should a disaster force them to be separated from you? A kit prepared in advance, on a normal day when you are clear-headed and thoughtful about what to include, can be a true asset should the unthinkable occur.

What Do I Put in a Kit?

Your kit should contain the items you will most desperately need during the first 24  hours of a disaster. Because many disasters involve flooding of some type and mud whether from hurricane rains, tsunami waters, raging storms, or plumbing lines broken by earthquakes, sturdy footwear and a waterproof jacket are useful. A flashlight with a bright beam is always handy, and a basic first aid kit is a must. Here we will break down what you may want to consider having in your kit. 

The Bag 

Selecting a way to contain your disaster kit is the first step. This can be as small as using a traveler’s packing cube or as large as a hiking backpack. Small and portable is generally better because you are more likely to keep it with you (or somewhere nearby). Invest in quality because when it is time to use it, the bag will need to be able to handle dirt, mud, grit, scuffs, maybe a bit of broken glass, and general abuse.

Minimalist First Aid Kit 

I’ve been in emergencies multiple times where I needed to use my first aid kit. Time and time again the only things I used were sterile gauze squares and self-adherent wound wrap. Stopping the bleeding, protecting the wound from additional bacteria, and stabilizing the injured person for transport to medical help is all you need to be prepared for. Also, the perfect kit is about the size of a hand and contains band-aids, sterile gauze squares, a roll of 2 inch self-adhesive, nonwoven bandaging wrap, and a pair of tweezers to remove splinters or shards. Additionally, if you have room, add individually sold, properly labeled packets of an over-the-counter pain reliever.

Flashlight 

Power outages accompany many disasters, so a flashlight is wise to have. Opt for a bright LED light that takes a common-sized battery. Also, it might be best to leave the batteries new in their packaging so corrosion does not ruin the interior of the light. During disasters I have found the hands-free convenience of headlamps to be the most useful.

Prescription Medicines

You should keep prescription medicines regularly refilled. Anticipate pharmacies being sold out and closed for up to a week after a disaster. I have seen a mother trying to get life-saving medication for her child after a hurricane, and no amount of screaming on the phone could get that medicine trucked into our ransacked, flooded disaster area. You must be prepared in advance. 

Your Customized Disaster Kit

Assess the types of disasters your area might be prone to experiencing and plan accordingly. The above four itemsa sturdy bag, first aid kit, headlamp, and prescriptionsshould be included in every kit. In addition, these checklists can help you start assembling a well-thought-out, helpful bag:

Disaster Type: HURRICANE or TSUNAMI

Preparing for flooding and emergency home evacuation.

– Kit Recommendations

  • Sturdy bag 
  • First aid kit 
  • Headlamp 
  • Prescriptions
  • Quality rain jacket
  • Mud boots/rain boots to protect feet from contaminated floodwaters
  • 2 full changes of clothes (fast dry athletic or outdoor work type ideal)
  • Laundry detergent and dryer sheets for 1 load of laundry per person
  • Roll of quarters for coin-operated laundry
  • Travel toiletries for a 3-day trip (tooth care, hair care, comb/brush)
  • Phone charging cord
  • Sturdy work gloves (for returning to the damaged home after the storm)
  • N95 masks (for returning to the mildewed, flood-damaged home after the storm)
  • Anything you would need if you were evacuated to a hotel room an hour away from home

Before You Go, Grab…

All vital documents in jumbo Ziploc bags (to protect them from rainwater), digital backups, small valuables, pets in welded wire or hard plastic carriers and their pet kits (see the bottom of this post).

What You Don’t Expect

Food and water tend to be brought in by rescuers, so having kits full of food is not usually necessary. A well-stocked pantry, a packed bag, and an evacuation plan are usually all you need. If you are evacuated to a hotel, some toiletries will be provided, but laundry detergent usually is not. 

Disaster Type: WINTER STORM

Preparing for loss of power/heat.

– Kit Recommendations

  • Sturdy storage bag/container 
  • First aid kit 
  • Headlamp
  • Prescriptions
  • Reliable source of light: lanterns, flashlight, oil lamp, etc.
  • Batteries for 1 week
  • Several long-burning candles
  • Brand new box of matches and/or new, full grill lighter
  • Propane camp stove with propane fuel canisters for cooking during power out
  • Large water storage container
  • Easy to prepare food and snacks for 1 week
  • Hand warmers
  • Axe (if needed for firewood)
  • Battery-powered radio
  • A way to charge your phone

Before It Happens, Grab…

Enough groceries to last 7 days and have the cooler handy to place outside if power to the refrigerator goes out. Keep firewood and a propane heater with propane or extra coal/pellets on hand for your backup heater type.

What You Don’t Expect

Without power, you won’t get water. Store 40 gallons indoors for drinking, cooking, and washing hands/dishes. You also must prevent the water from freezing. 

Winter Storm Car Kit

Ice scraper, snow brush, small/collapsible shovel, warm gloves, winter clothing, hand warmer packets, blanket, flashlight, jumper cables, reflector, road flares, rock salt/sand/kitty litter, first aid kit, water, and non-perishable snacks.

Disaster Type: TORNADO

Preparing For loss of electricity and home damage.

– Kit Recommendations

  • Sturdy bag 
  • First aid kit 
  • Headlamp 
  • Prescriptions
  • Quality rain jacket
  • Tennis shoes
  • Sturdy work gloves (for clean up after the storm)
  • N95 masks (for clean up after the storm)

What You Don’t Expect 

Tornados happen so suddenly that the best preparation is to keep the room where you will seek shelter free of clutter at all times with a flashlight waiting. Keeping a large tarp, a box of felt roofing nails with plastic washers to secure a roof tarp, sheet plastic, duck/gorilla tape, and basic tools can help you shore up home damages quickly to stop further loss. 

Disaster Type: WILDFIRE

Preparing for an emergency home evacuation.

– Kit Recommendations

  • Sturdy bag 
  • First aid kit 
  • Headlamp
  • Prescriptions
  • N95 masks (to protect lungs while driving through smoke)
  • Map with 2 or more possible escape routes
  • 2 full changes of clothes (these should be long sleeve and pants with 100% cotton or wool. Do not use synthetics).
  • Sturdy boots
  • Leather work gloves

Before It Happens, Grab… 

All important documents, digital backups, and easily carried valuables like pictures and meaningful jewelry/heirlooms.

What You Don’t Expect

Pack an evacuation bag of your favorite clothes and valuables as soon as you hear of nearby wildfires. You may be forced to evacuate even though your home will be spared.

Disaster Type: EARTHQUAKE 

Preparing for the possibility of being injured and separated from family without means of communication.

– Kit Recommendations

  • Sturdy bag 
  • First aid kit  
  • Headlamp  
  • Prescriptions
  • 2 full changes of clothes appropriate for the season and weather
  • Sturdy shoes or boots
  • Leather work gloves (protect hands from glass and debris)
  • Expanded first aid kit with SAM splints for immobilizing broken limbs and fingers

Before It Happens… 

Tape a whistle under any large table you may seek shelter under in case of entrapment. Own a shovel, pry bar, and fire extinguisher. Plastic sheeting and duck/gorilla tape will allow you to secure broken windows.

What You Don’t Expect

Power lines, cell towers, water, gas, and other utilities will be down after a significant earthquake. Have a plan to collect your children from school after a quake.

Workplace Disaster Kit

Often called a Get Home Bag, this kit should have the items you need to handle a short-term emergency while at the office. The perfect bag would be small enough to fit in a desk drawer or under the seat of your car but have enough room to hold a pair of tennis shoes similar to a gym bag.   

– Kit Recommendations 

  • LED Flashlight
  • Tennis shoes
  • Socks good for long distance walking
  • Change of clothes (workout clothes are ideal)
  • Hair tie/baseball hat (if desired)
  • Sturdy refillable water bottle
  • 7-8 inch pry bar (if your office building has an elevator where people may become trapped)
  • Minimalist first aid kit

Disaster Kits for Children 

School backpack space is at a premium right now and is a great kit for your child. Additionally, these are the items that could help her stay calm, follow her teacher’s directions, treat any accidental scrapes, and be prepared to safely evacuate the school building, even in foul weather.

– Kit Recommendations

  • Small, single battery LED flashlight
  • 1-3 band-aids (the type with antibiotic ointment embedded in the pad)
  • Packable rain jacket
  • Children’s gardening gloves (to protect hands from earthquake debris)

Pet Disaster Kit 

Pet stores keep less inventory than grocery stores and sell out quickly. A kit for your companion animal(s) will keep them comfortable and give you peace of mind. Animals will not be emergency evacuated by government agencies unless they are in a welded wire or rugged plastic kennel. Consequently, it is wise to have one, even if you do not regularly use it. 

– Kit Recommendations 

  • Small plastic organizer with a locking lid in which to store the items
  • 3 days worth of canned or dry food, rotated yearly (kibble goes rancid after 9 months)
  • Manual can opener (if needed)
  • Disposable paper bowls for food and water
  • Disposable spoons (to scoop out wet food)
  • Bottled water, rotated yearly
  • Plastic lid to cover open canned pet food (optional)
  • Index card with your pet’s microchip numbers
  • Scanned copy of rabies vaccine certificate

Optional: A fresh collar and tag with multiple phone numbers clearly engraved (PetTags4Less.com has metal tags for under $2)

If You Have a Cat 

A portable, emergency litter box can be made by filling a short, rectangle lidded storage container with kitty litter and burying a new, inexpensive litter scoop in it.

Now Imagine Again

Something has happened, and you feel concerned but calm. Now, your family is well-prepared, and each person has a small kit with them for this type of situation. You can now focus on soothing your loved ones and helping others. The disaster was very unfortunate, but you are already in the process of bouncing back.

It is our hope that these lists will help you quickly and efficiently prepare for whatever circumstances you may have to face with confidence! 

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Tay Silver is a writer, graphic designer, avid gardener, chicken keeper, and experienced hurricane survivor. She and her husband live outside of Houston, Texas.