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Do You Have a Family? Then You Need an Emergency Kit

Jeffrey Bruno

Kathleen M. Berchelmann, MD - published on 10/27/14

Quick and easy tips to make sure your family won't suffer from a lack of foresight

When a category 4 tornado hit St. Louis in 2011, ripping the roof off our airport, I was home alone with three children and 7 months pregnant with my 4th. Yet I knew we were safe in our fully stocked tornado shelter. No, we don’t have a bunker in our backyard, we have a family emergency kit in our basement. Being prepared for an emergency is neither difficult nor expensive, but it does require some advanced planning, especially for families with children.

Have you put together a family emergency kit?  I’ll get you started.

If you search online for pre-made emergency or disaster preparedness kits, you’ll find overpriced kits full of things you are unlikely to need, and things that expire and require replacement. This market profits off fear-mongering, and if you search too long your may find yourself wondering if you need to equip your family to survive volcanic eruption. Before purchasing a solar-powered chain saw and building your off-the-grid cabin, start with this simple list from FEMA, with my added comments:

1)  Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days for drinking and sanitation.We just bought a few 5-gallon water cooler jugs that are sold for office water coolers. We also have a water bottle for each member of our family, labeled with their name.  Another option is just to buy a case of disposable water bottles. Every time we do this, though, someone starts stealing from our emergency stash for everyday use …

2)  Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food.It’s hard to justify spending money on food you probably will never eat, so I’ve merged our family’s emergency food supply with our commitment to donate food to a local food pantry. Every November I go grocery shopping for our emergency food bin. I spend about $100 for my family of 7. I have one plastic bin full of non-perishables, plus a can opener. (I threw in a bottle of wine and a cork screw, too). Each year I go through my bin, donate the year-old food to a local food pantry, and replenish it with new supplies. Most canned goods (i.e. tuna) are good for at least two years, so I am able to safely donate it. Even if we never use our emergency food supply, I can feel good about donating $100 of canned goods to a food pantry each year.

3)  Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both. We bought this item online – we found a hand-crank powered gadget that is a radio, flashlight, and cell phone charger. It has batteries and a hand-crank as a back-up in case your batteries die. There are many similar models available, ranging in price from about $10-$35. Our kids found this item so exciting that they played with it until it broke. We didn’t tell them we bought a new one – it stays with the rest of our emergency supplies on a high shelf in our basement.

4)  Flashlight and extra batteries.If your hand-crank gadget in #3 has a flashlight, you may not need another. Ideally, though, you’ll need a flashlight for every member of your family. We have a set of camping headlamps that we keep in our bin of camping gear, right next to our emergency kit.

5)  First aid kit: Every family needs a first-aid kit in their car – if you don’t have one, check out my article and video on how to build the essential family first aid kit. Keep your family first aid kit in the car so that you’ll always have what you need when you need it. If you keep a first aid kit at home, you won’t have it when you are out and about.  If you keep it in the car and you need something while at home, you can always go out a get it. I do have a mini first-aid kit with some Band-Aids and antiseptic wipes in our emergency kit in the basement.

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