What would you do if you lost power for a day? What about a nasty storm knocking out transport to your area for a week? What if you had to evacuate your home because of a wild fire?

A little emergency preparedness can go a long way. Spending an hour or two today, along with a few dollars, can make sure that you have less to worry about in the event of an emergency. And if you’re worrying about a bad storm or a wild fire, I think that any peace of mind that being prepared can bring you is worth the effort. You don’t need to spend a lot of time worry about emergency preparedness, but making it a part of your plans makes sense. Heck, you back up your hard drive on a regular basis, right? That’s basic emergency preparedness right there!

Planning An Evacuation Bag

I’ve read about people keeping a go bag for every occasion — from wilderness rescue to a bird flu pandemic It’s up to you how far you want to go, but I’ve focused on stocking a bag that will get me through some basic emergencies. I’m working on the assumption that, after a point, I’ll have access to my (or someone else’s), tool shed, pantry and other stuff and can work with those items when I run out. No sense hauling around more than a first aid kit when you can stock a good number of emergency medical supplies at home.

So what do I think is important in an evacuation bag?

  • A basic first aid kit
  • A map
  • A flashlight with spare batteries
  • A blanket
  • At least one change of clothing, with extra underwear and socks
  • Soap and a few other basic hygiene supplies.
  • A coat
  • Medication — a supply of both prescription and over the counter drugs
  • A recent back up of important computer files
  • Copies of important documents, such as birth certificates and Social Security cards
  • An inventory (for insurance purposes)
  • A list of important phone numbers
  • Snacks
  • A deck of cards or other entertainment

Since I’m self-employed, that recent back up of my computer files is especially important. If I had to leave my files behind me, it could be very difficult for me to rebuild my business later on. I know that I can’t lug my filing cabinet along on an evacuation, but I can take a USB drive or a DVD. I’ve also added family photos and other important files to my backup. If you have something that you can’t bear to leave behind, add it to your evacuation list — you may need to make a list of things to pick up on your way out the door, and keep it with your bag.

Home Preparations

There are any number of emergencies that could keep you stuck in your home or in your immediate area. The most important step you can take towards preparedness is stocking your pantry — even keeping a little extra food in the house can make the difference between having to go out in a blizzard or being able to wait it out.

The expert opinions on what to stock at home vary widely. Recommendations to have 1 gallon of water on hand per person are pretty consistent. But beyond that, there are a variety of options. Depending on where you live and your circumstances, some recommendations include stocking up a year’s worth of food. If that’s your inclination, this calculator is a good start. It does assume, however, that you have a good working knowledge of your own kitchen.

Storing a year’s worth of food is outside of the realm of the possible for some of us — I don’t know where I could put 750 pounds of flour in my apartment, let alone other foods. I generally try to have about two weeks worth of extra food on hand at any given time. I try to add a few more canned items to my pantry, along with other non-perishables each time I go grocery shopping. As to what to store, I recommend sticking as close to your usual diet as possible. Stocking up on canned beets doesn’t make sense for those of us who hate beats.

Beyond food, having a more extensive first aid kit on hand is worthwhile. I recommend thinking big: go beyond the roll of medical tape and the gauze pads. I’m slowly adding items as my budget allows, but my goal is to be able to keep going through at least minor medical emergencies. That means that I want a couple of cans of chicken broth, rubber gloves and a splint all on hand. Deciding what should be in your home’s kit can depend on who you life with, where you live and what Nature is likely to throw at your state. Good starting points include Jim McDonald’s jump kit guide, MSNBC’s home flu kit and Ready America’s first aid kit. If you can get even some basic medical training (many employers will pay for employees to get CPR training, and there are a number of free classes available at community centers), it’s worthwhile. There are also a couple of good books worth picking up: the Merck Manual and Where There is No Doctor are both good options.

Emergency Preparedness in Everyday Life

Once you’ve started making some plans for emergencies, it’s worth making them a part of your regular routine. If you’ve laid in some canned food or bottled water, make a point to make it a part of your meal plans so that you keep replacing it with new. Putting a reminder to go over your plans or check your supplies on your calendar is a great idea. For some people, once a year is plenty. For others, a go bag might need to be updated a bit more often. I’ve read about families who put together evacuation bags just in case, and then just put them in a closet for a few years. When they next checked on them, their children had outgrown the packed clothing by several sizes.

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