UPDATED: Apr 7, 2020
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Emergency situations often strike without warning, cutting off access to food, power, and even shelter. Being prepared for a disaster requires taking steps in advance to ensure the safety of you and your loved ones.
In order to stay safe, it’s important to keep an easily accessible emergency kit in both your car and your home, create and share an emergency plan with your family, and understand what kinds of disasters you might face in your area and how to respond to them.
Make an Emergency Kit
An emergency kit should contain everything that you’ll need to make it through a crisis. This can vary depending on your needs or the needs of your family, the kinds of emergencies you might find yourself in, and the resources available to you.
However, the golden rule of these kits is the following: create an emergency kit that should be enough to keep you safe until help can reach you.
The period of time that it might take for emergency or disaster services to reach you will often vary depending on the circumstances. It’s a good idea to set aside several different items, each designed to satisfy a particular role.
However, there are some general items that every emergency kit should contain:
- Water – You may not be able to access water. Since water is one of the most critical components to survival, your emergency kit should contain enough to help you get through a disaster situation. The Department of Homeland Security recommends one gallon per day per person, for at least three days.
- Food – Non-perishable food comes in right behind water in terms of importance. Although it’s possible to survive for a longer period of time without food (compared to water), regular meals will help to keep your energy, morale, and focus up. In a survival situation, it’s much better to have plenty of energy, in case you need to make your own way to safety. Good food items include canned foods (with a can opener) or specially prepared long-lasting rations, such as MREs (meals ready to eat).
- Radio – A battery or hand-crank powered radio is essential for you to stay up to date on any rescue efforts that are being mounted, if necessary. If you are caught in a weather emergency, you can use your radio to stay up to date on conditions, so you’ll know when it’s safe outside again.
- First Aid Kit – Disasters can easily result in personal injury. However, in disaster situations, you can’t always rely on a trip to the doctor’s office or the hospital to clean up your wounds. Untended, even minor injuries can develop into serious problems. A first aid kit can help you manage wounds until it’s safe to get professional medical attention.
- Whistle – In many emergency situations — such as a blizzard or landslide — emergency response crews may have difficulty finding you. A whistle can help you indicate to these people where you are, so they can rush to your aid.
Emergency Kit at Home
An emergency kit in your home can help you to get through disaster situations where you are unable to leave your residence for an extended period of time. Under these circumstances, you shouldn’t count on having access to utilities.
Blankets may be important if you are at risk of being stuck in cold weather without power or some form of heating system to keep you warm, as well as flashlights (with extra batteries) or lanterns with fuel and matches.
It’s also important not to get caught up in the appearance of safety in your home. Don’t assume that you’ll have access to food and water.
Tap water may not be available and electricity will probably be out, causing your cold food items to go bad and leaving you with few options for heating up or cooking food.
Remember, in an emergency situation, your house may only be able to offer you moderate shelter from the elements.
Everything else that you need should be available in your emergency kit, which should be stored in a part of your home that’s easily accessible no matter how conditions outside are.
Try to make your kit (or kits) as portable as possible, so that you can carry your supplies with you in case you need to evacuate.
Car Emergency Kit
If you find yourself in an emergency situation in the home, it’s a safe bet that your neighbors are facing the same emergency. Home emergencies can be caused by things like weather disasters, regional environmental hazards, or other issues that affect a large area.
This is sometimes the case for cars — certain weather disasters can pose serious trouble for people on the road, even if they are practicing safe driving — however, it’s also possible to end up in a roadside emergency that affects only you.
This might include accidentally sliding off of the road far from any major cities or commonly-used travel routes.
In these emergency situations, you can’t always expect someone on the outside to know of your needs right away like FEMA might for a weather emergency that leaves you trapped in your home.
For this reason, a car emergency kit should contain everything that you’ll need to survive for several days, but also everything that you might need to make your own way to safety or to call for help.
A cell phone with batteries and a cell phone charger can help here. A spare pair of good walking shoes (if you don’t normally wear such shoes) that can take you to the nearest town where you can get help, assuming conditions are safe for you to travel on foot.
A space blanket for warmth (as you can’t rely on being able to start your vehicle), a first aid kit, jumper cables, flares, and the materials necessary to change a flat tire are all crucial components.
Essentially, your car emergency kit should allow you to survive in your car or leave it behind, as the situation demands.
Emergencies on the road are especially unpredictable since they can sometimes happen in perfectly clear weather conditions without warning. You should always carry an emergency kit in your vehicle.
Additionally, putting together an emergency kit upon buying a first car is an excellent safety practice for new drivers.
Travel Emergency Kit
Nobody wants to think about an emergency situation arising on vacation. After all, that’s supposed to be the time when you relax and set aside such worries. However, planning for a potential emergency while away from home is essential for having safe and fun travels.
Your travel emergency kit should assume that you will be stuck in a foreign country or unfamiliar area during a disaster situation, without knowing when help might arrive.
In addition to the critical survival items that we mentioned above, a travel emergency kit should contain local maps, a cell phone that operates on the regional network, and copies of all of your travel documents.
Unfortunately, travel emergency kits often need to be more portable than an emergency kit that you keep at home or in your car, so you may need to cut back on certain items.
Some things — like a certain amount of food and water — may be something that you can buy in your host country, and only if you plan on leaving the major population centers.
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Make a Plan
One of the worst things that you can do in an emergency is to panic. In order to avoid panic, create a plan that you can follow in disaster situations.
The Department of Homeland Security recommends that any emergency plan responds to these four questions:
- How will I receive alerts or updates about an emergency?
- How will I get to shelter in a disaster?
- What are the potential evacuation routes available to me?
- How will I communicate with my family in a disaster situation?
The DHS also recommends that you consider needs specific to your household when planning for a disaster.
These may include things like prescription drugs requirements in your household, family members with disabilities or medical needs, or how many children in your family will be taken care of in a disaster.
Your plan should also address how you’re going to get out of a disaster scenario:
- For disasters at your home, this may involve waiting for updates from FEMA or other government agencies.
- For emergencies in the car, it may involve roadside assistance from your car insurance company.
- For travel emergencies, it may involve making contact with local authorities and, eventually, reaching out to your embassy, if you are in a foreign country.
Once you’ve developed your emergency plan, discuss it with your family, household, or anyone else who might share an emergency situation with you.
Consider What Happens After an Emergency
Making it through a disaster situation is only the first step in responding to an emergency. Emergency planning should also leave you with an idea of what you might do after a disaster has passed.
By planning for the future, you can help yourself get back on your feet and go through life a little more relaxed, knowing that a disaster won’t cripple you or your family.
Post-disaster planning will vary depending on the kinds of disasters that you might find yourself in. Some people may need specialized services such as hurricane insurance, as a way of responding to a very unique kind of disaster that might affect them.
These are specialized insurances because each type of disaster is different. For instance, hurricanes, which often reduce fatal crashes, have different hazards than tornadoes or blizzards. These might require a more specific type of insurance.
Other disasters may be covered by more generalized response tools, such as a comprehensive automobile insurance policy that covers repair or replacement for a vehicle that has been through a disaster scenario.