groceries In 2005 alone, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has declared more than 100 major disasters and emergencies in the US. Among these was Hurricane Katrina, which left thousands of Americans stranded with no food, water, or electricity.

What would you do if a disaster struck close to your home, and you were instructed to evacuate or “shelter in place” (remain in your home until further notice)? Are you prepared to meet your family’s needs until help arrives? Since local officials and relief workers are not able to reach everyone immediately, FEMA suggests that you should have enough food, water, and other supplies on hand to survive on your own for at least three 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 (e.g., duffle bag, small trash can) 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 one gallon of water per person per day for drinking and sanitation. The average person needs about one-half gallon of drinking water each day, but individual needs may vary. Children, nursing mothers, and ill people need more water. 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 ( 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 (e.g., well water), add two drops of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to the water.

For anything other than commercially purchased bottled water, replace the water every six months.


Each member of your household should have a three-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
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • Crackers
  • Canned juices
  • Nonperishable pasteurized milk
  • Vitamins
  • Food for infants, if applicable
  • Pet food, if applicable

Regularly take inventory of the foods in your kit and replace those that have expired. And, lastly, don’t 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 (e.g., several layers of a cotton t-shirt) 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:

  • Two pairs of Latex gloves (or other sterile gloves if you are allergic to Latex)
  • Sterile dressings
  • Cleansing agent/soap
  • Antibiotic towelettes
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Burn ointment
  • Adhesive bandages
  • Eye wash solution
  • Thermometer
  • Prescription medications (periodically rotated to account for expiration dates)
  • Prescribed medical supplies (e.g., glucose/blood pressure monitoring equipment)
  • Nonprescription drugs (e.g., pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacid, laxative)
  • Tweezers
  • Petroleum jelly

Special Needs Items

Certain people may need special supplies during an emergency. Babies may need formula, diapers, bottles, powdered milk, towelettes, and other such commodities. 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 (e.g., pacemaker) including style and serial numbers.

If you or someone in your household undergoes a complex medication regimen (e.g., injectable medications, nebulizers, dialysis), 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 batteries (not expired), a whistle, cash or traveler’s checks, sanitation supplies, and copies of important documents (e.g., driver’s licenses, credit and insurance cards). 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.

A Basic Checklist

A basic disaster supplies kit should include:

  • Three day supply of water (one gallon per person, per day)
  • Three-day supply of nonperishable food
  • Three 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 (see above)
  • Wrench or pliers
  • Sanitation supplies (e.g., moist towelettes, toilet paper, garbage bags)
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • WhistleExtra 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 two-week supply of food and water in your home, but at least a three-day supply should be kept in a portable container so it can be taken with you if you are evacuated.