Preparing for an Emergency: A Disaster Supply Kit

mental magazine family therapyIt can be difficult to know what to do if a disaster strikes close to your home and you are instructed to evacuate or shelter in place (remain in your home until further notice). You need to be prepared to meet your family’s needs until help arrives. Since local officials and relief workers are not able to reach everyone right away, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) suggests that you should have enough food, water, and other supplies on hand to survive on your own for at least 3 days.

The Basics

A disaster supply kit should contain the basic items you may need until help arrives. These items should be packed in a portable container so that if authorities instruct you to evacuate your home, you can take it with you. All members of your household should be aware of the kit’s location.


You should store 1 gallon of water per person per day for drinking and sanitation. The average person needs about ¾ of a gallon of drinking water each day, but individual needs may vary. Children, nursing mothers, and ill people need more water per pound. Very hot temperatures can double water needs.

The safest way to store water is to keep commercially bottled water in its original, unopened container. Alternatively, you can store tap water in food-grade water storage containers or sterilized plastic soft drink bottles, but not milk or juice bottles or cartons. These containers should be washed thoroughly with soap and water. Plastic soft drink bottles should be sanitized by adding one teaspoon of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to a quart of water, swishing the container with the solution, and then rinsing it with clean water. If you are using water that is not treated with chlorine, such as well water, then add 2 drops of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach, such as Clorox, to 1 quart of water. Refer to the instructions on the bleach for instructions. For anything other than commercially purchased bottled water, replace the water every 6 months.


Each member of your household should have a 3-day supply of nonperishable food that does not require refrigeration, cooking, water, or special preparation. You may also need special foods for infants, people with special dietary needs, and pets.

Consider storing a combination of the following:

  • Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, and vegetables
  • Protein bars
  • Dry cereal or granola
  • Peanut butter and jelly
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • Crackers and cookies
  • Canned juices, milk, or soup
  • Sugar, salt, and pepper
  • Candy
  • Instant coffee and tea bags
  • Vitamins
  • Food for infants, elderly persons, or those with special dietary needs, if applicable
  • Pet food, if applicable

Regularly take inventory of the foods in your kit and replace those that have expired. And do not forget to include a can opener in your supply kit.

Clean Air

In some emergencies, such as an explosion or biological terrorist attack, you may need to filter the air you are breathing. For this, a facial mask or dense-weave cotton material can be worn snugly over your nose and mouth. You can purchase fitted facial masks in hardware stores.

If you are instructed to stay in your home, taping up your windows, doors, and air vents can help seal off a room from outside contamination. Therefore, your kit should include heavyweight plastic garbage bags or plastic sheeting, duct tape, and scissors.

Finally, a high efficiency particulate air filtration (HEPA) filter fan can help remove dander, dust, molds, smoke, biological agents, and other contaminants, but cannot stop chemical gases.

First Aid

You can help care for injuries using supplies that are included in most basic first-aid kits. But life-threatening emergencies require care from medical professionals, so if someone has stopped breathing or is bleeding severely, call for help.

You should have the following items in your first-aid kit:

  • 2 pairs of Latex gloves or other sterile gloves if you are allergic to Latex
  • Sterile bandages in different sizes
  • 2-inch sterile gauze pads (4-6)
  • 4-inch sterile gauze pads (4-6)
  • Hypoallergenic adhesive tape
  • Triangular bandages (3)
  • 2-inch sterile roller bandages (3 rolls)
  • 3-inch sterile roller bandages (3 rolls)
  • Scissors
  • Cleansing agent/soap
  • Moistened towelettes
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Antiseptic ointment and/or spray
  • Safety pins
  • Thermometer
  • Tongue blades (2)
  • Prescription medications—periodically rotated to account for expiration dates
  • Prescribed medical supplies such as glucose/blood pressure monitoring equipment
  • Nonprescription drugs pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids, and laxatives
  • Tweezers
  • Needle

Special Needs Items

Certain people may need special supplies during an emergency. Babies may need formula, diapers, bottles, powdered milk, towelettes, and other items. Elderly people and people with disabilities or medical conditions may need extra eyeglasses, hearing-aid batteries, wheelchair batteries, a list of prescription medications including dosages, and a list of medical devices, including style and serial numbers. If you or someone in your household has a complex medication regimen, talk to a healthcare provider for help with emergency planning.

Other Necessities

Your kit should include changes of clothing and footwear for each member of your household, warm blankets or sleeping bags, a flashlight, a battery-powered radio or television, extra fully-charged batteries, a whistle, cash or traveler’s checks, sanitation supplies, and copies of important documents. If you live in a cold climate, pack warm clothing, including hats, mittens, scarves, coats, and extra blankets. Talk with all of the members of your household to decide what else you might need during an emergency.

Away From Home

Since you do not know where you will be when disaster strikes, having a few items at your office and in your car is advised. At your work, pack a small grab and go container with a supply of food and water, as well as comfortable walking shoes in case you are evacuated. In your car, a supply of food, water, first-aid supplies, flares, jumper cables, and seasonable supplies can help meet your needs if you are stranded.

Putting It All Together: A Basic Checklist

In closing, here is a quick list of what a basic disaster supplies kit should include:

  • 3-day supply of water—1 gallon per person, per day
  • 3-day supply of nonperishable food
  • 3-day supply of prescription medications
  • Dust masks or cotton t-shirt
  • Plastic bags or sheeting
  • Duct tape
  • Scissors
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Battery-powered radio or television and extra batteries
  • First-aid kit and manual
  • Wrench or pliers
  • Sanitation supplies—moist towelettes, toilet paper, garbage bags
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Whistle
  • Extra clothing and shoes—include warm clothing for cold climates
  • Kitchen utensils
  • Can opener
  • Copies of important documents
  • Cash or traveler’s checks and coins
  • Special needs items (see above)
  • Pet supplies, including food and a leash or carrier
  • Other unique family needs

You may want to consider keeping a 2-week supply of food and water in your home, but at least a 3-day supply should be kept in a portable container so it can be taken with you if you are evacuated.


American Red Cross
Federal Emergency Management Agency


Canadian Red Cross
Government of Canada


Are you ready? guide. Federal Emergency Management Agency website. Available at:
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Accessed May 21, 2020.
Basic disaster supplies kit. Federal Emergency Management Agency website. Available at:
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Accessed May 21, 2020.
Emergency preparedness. Build a kit. United States Department of Homeland Security website. Available at:
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Accessed May 21, 2020.
Food. Federal Emergency Management Agency website. Available at:
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Accessed May 21, 2020.
Water. Federal Emergency Management Agency website. Available at:
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Accessed May 21, 2020.
Last reviewed May 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 5/21/2020

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