15 Emergency Preparedness Items You Need to Have Packed and Ready To Go
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Emergency preparedness is an important part of self-sufficiency, and self-sufficiency is a natural part of homesteading, so naturally the topic of preparedness (aka. “prepping”) comes up often in the modern homesteading community.
But as homesteaders, we tend to talk mostly about being prepared, well, at home! We grow and preserve our own food, stock our pantries to the hilt, save seeds, learn to DIY and make do or do without. Some of us live off grid or heat our homes with wood, raise our own meat and collect rainwater for the drought season. You could say that us homesteaders are more prepared than anyone if disaster were to strike… at home. But what if we had to leave our house and homestead behind?
We may not like to think about it, but the reality is that many of the emergency situations that we should be prepared for are things that would most likely force us from our homes.
I live out west on Vancouver Island. As climate change intensifies, we are seeing hotter, drier summers year-over-year, which means more and more forest fires threatening our communities. California just had its deadliest and most destructive wildfire season in history. Just one of the wildfires -the deadliest in California history- levelled an entire town, killing at least 88 people and destroying nearly 14,000 homes.
But wildfires aren’t the only type of disaster that could make people have to pack up and leave. Every year hurricanes force thousands of people from their homes from the Atlantic down to the Gulf of Mexico (and even parts of the Pacific), and cyclones threaten homes and communities in other parts of the world.
Here on Vancouver Island, we’ve also got a major earthquake fault line just off our coast, and while earthquakes happen without warning, communities on the west coast of the island are on tsunami evacuation warning should an earthquake occur in the Pacific Ocean.
In addition to natural and climate-related disasters, industrial disasters, chemical spills, threat of war and even spread of disease could also cause people to leave their homes.
So what do you take with you if you have to leave?
In general, every household is expected to be able to care for themselves for at least three days following any widespread disaster. But many people (dare I say most) aren’t prepared even for one, so when disaster does strike, these are the people rushing the grocery stores and clearing out everything on the shelves. Don’t be one of those people!
Get prepared ahead of time and pack your emergency bag now with these 15 emergency preparedness items you should always have packed and ready to go.
1. Important Documents
- Birth certificates
- Marriage certificates
- Social security/social insurance cards
- Insurance policies
You should have all of these important documents (or at least copies of them) packaged together and accessible in case you need to grab things and go quickly.
Either have them packed in a bug out bag or at least have them in an envelope or clipped together somewhere that is easily accessible. And make sure they’re somewhere you won’t forget about! The last thing you want in an emergency is to waste precious time searching high and low for something like this.
- 1 litre per person (bare minimum… 1 gallon is better)
You should have a 1 litre bottle of water per person at the very least to last everyone in your family until you get somewhere safe.
FEMA recommends one gallon per person per day. Of course it can be tough to pack around (or even pack up) that much water, so you should at least have away of accessing fresh water no mater what. I highly recommend investing in a Lifestraw personal water filter to filter out contaminants from questionable water sources.
Each person in our house has a Lifestraw Go water bottle, which can be filled before leaving home and refilled -even with contaminated water- and provide filtered, clean drinking water.
Ideally, you should have enough food to get you and your family through at least three days in case of emergency. Make sure you have a bug out bag (and/or your vehicle) packed with non-perishable snacks and food that requires little to no cooking, tools or mess to clean up.
Some ideas are:
- granola bars
- beef jerky
- trail mix
- dried fruit
- fruit leather
You could also pack some instant noodles that come in their own cup for cooking. It may not be the healthiest thing in the world, but it will fill you up and provide a hot meal in a pinch as long as you can access some boiling water. (Make sure to pack some utensils if you will need them).
Home-canned goods like pickles and apple sauce could be packed up at the last minute, but it’s not advisable to store home-canned goods for “bugging out” because temperature fluctuations could affect their safety if stored in a hot vehicle trunk or in a backpack. Plus, since canning jars are made out of glass, they run the risk of breaking.
You can also dehydrate your own food. If you want to make sure you are packing healthy, shelf-stable dried food, you can make your own fruit leather, dried fruits and veggies and even beef jerky at home with a food dehydrator.
I have an Excalibur Food Dehydrator and I absolutely love it. It’s a bit of an investment up front but well worth the money you save in the long run by drying your own food (not to mention the health benefits).
4. Basic First Aid Kit
Any emergency supply list should always include at least a basic First Aid kit. You can purchase one that’s pre-assembled like this one, or you could build your own.
If you build your own First Aid Kit, you should include:
- Sterile gauze/field dressing
- Medical tape
- Alcohol wipes (for sterilization)
- Tensor bandage
- Roller bandages
- Latex gloves
- Abdominal pads
- Any other specialized emergency medical supplies, such as an EpiPen or an asthma inhaler.
You should also take a First Aid course if possible so you know what to do in event of an emergency. You can search online for First Aid courses near you.
5. Pet Carriers/Supplies
While not everyone has pets, many of us do and they’re part of our family, so we will obviously take with us if we are forced to flee. Having pet carriers and supplies ready and easily accessible will save a lot of time in the event of an emergency.
You should have:
- Pet carriers
- Bowls (to eat and drink from)
- Blanket or towel
- Leashes & collars
We have two rabbits and two cats. They all have carriers ready to go and a bag of supplies full of pet treats, bottled water, bowls for them to eat and drink from and some freeze dried pet food that’s light and easy to pack around.
If you have livestock (and a way to transport them), make sure you have a plan for loading them into the vehicle and do your best to bring along some food and water for them. In some cases it will be difficult if not impossible to save all of your livestock. If this is the case and you can’t get them to safety in time, a last resort might be a method called “sheltering in place.” This basically just means that, rather than evacuating, you decide whether to confine livestock to a safe area or cut the fences and open the gates so that they can run if needed. Basically, if you can’t take them with you, give them a fighting chance.
6. Baby Supplies
- Bottles and formula (if not breastfeeding)
- Change of clothes
- Warm pyjamas
- Receiving blankets
- Snacks (if older)
Again, this one doesn’t apply to everyone, but if you have a baby or toddler, you should also have a diaper bag packed with supplies.
7. Extra Clothing
Having some extra clothing packed doesn’t seem like the most important thing on this list, and while it probably isn’t, it will be a huge comfort and relief to be able to put on a clean shirt and a new pair of underwear until you can get somewhere where you can clean your clothes and/or get some new clothes. Also, if you get wet or need to layer up or down, having extra clothes could go from being a comfort to a necessity.
Aim for the following for each family member:
- 3 pairs of clean underwear
- Extra t-shirt
- A couple pairs of socks
- A warm hoodie or sweater
- Sensible shoes (preferably closed)
It may sound obvious, but fleeing your home is not the time to wear your heels, boots with lots of laces or go barefoot! Make sure you have sensible shoes ready to slip on at the door.
8. Pillows & Blankets
Another great comfort when away from home is to have some warm, comfortable blankets and pillows of your own. This is especially true if you need to sleep in your vehicle, and even more so if it’s winter.
Keep a big, warm blanket in each of your family vehicles, big enough for the whole family to huddle under together. And keep some pillows in cases with handles (like the cases you can buy them in) so you can either store them in vehicles or grab and go quickly.
Of course, if you have enough warning you can also just bring the ones from your bed. But if you’ve only got 5 minutes to grab and go, you’ll be glad to have some packed and ready.
If any family member is on prescription medication, relies on an inhaler, insulin, an epipen or has any special medical needs, you need to make sure you have potentially life-saving medications with you when you leave home.
While I wouldn’t recommend packing these ahead of time as you might need to use them and they don’t store well long-ter, you should keep all medications organized and together in an easily accessible spot.
As for non-prescription medications, you could stash some pain reliever (like ibuprofen or acetaminophen) in your first aid kit. Aspirin isn’t a bad idea either. It could save someone’s life if they’re having a heart attack.
Also, I hate to even put this on here (especially under medication), but if you are a smoker, have an emergency pack in your bug out bag. I’m an ex-smoker, so as much as I don’t advocate or encourage smoking AT ALL, I also know what it’s like to be one, and how smokers turn to cigarettes in stressful times. A major disaster is probably not the best time to try quitting. So don’t smoke. But if you do, stash an emergency pack and a lighter.
Here’s a sample list of what you should have ready in your bag:
- Toothbrush (per person)
- Hand sanitizer
- Toilet or tissue paper
- Tampons or pads (because of course it will be “that time” right in the middle of a major emergency)
- Hair brush and ties for long hair
- Nail clippers
- Towel (or at least a hand towel to dry off)
11. Full tank of gas
Gas is one of the first things to run out during an emergency (especially an evacuation), and if you don’t have enough you won’t make it safely to your destination.
You should always try to keep your gas tank at least half-full in case of an emergency. As soon as you hit the halfway mark on your gas gauge, fill up. This way you’ll never run out of gas even if it’s not an emergency.
You could also store a jerrycan of gas in your garage, but don’t expect it to last indefinitely. Oil degrades over time and if it’s left to sit for too long you might find that when you fill your tank it fails completely. And don’t store it in your vehicle! I did that when my gas gauge was broken and I could smell gasoline every time I got in my car. The fumes are not healthy. Store it in the garage and rotate and replace it regularly.
12. Survival Kit + Tools
Every bug out bag should contain some basic survival gear. Even if you know you’ll be going to stay with family or at a shelter where you’ll be taken care of, there are so many things that could happen that could require the use of some very basic survival gear.
Likewise, you might need some basic tools and parts in case your vehicle breaks down, your path is blocked by fallen branches or a plethora of other reasons.
Here are some basic items you should have with you
- Flashlight (headlamps are great too)
- Lighter, matches and flint (you can’t have too many ways to start fire)
- Road flares
- Pocket knife
- Jumper Cables
- Spare Tire
- Axe (or at least a hatchet)
- Bungee cords
- Firestarters or dry material to start fire (I keep a Ziplock bag full of old dryer lint in my bug out bag to start fires with)
TBH, you should have these things in your vehicle all the time in case of a breakdown, flat tire or any other roadside emergency.
This is more important than you might realize, especially if you have kids! Pack a few lightweight items to keep younger family members occupied and take their mind off the situation. Consider packing one or more of the following:
- Colouring books and crayons
- Journal and pen
This can be a HUGE morale booster for the whole family.
Also, if you end up at a shelter or somewhere where you will need to wait the disaster out, having a deck of cards with you can help to pass the time.
14. Emergency Cash
In a disaster, there’s no guarantee that bank or debit machines will be working, so it’s super important to have some cash on you in case you need to purchase anything.
Aim to keep at least $100 of emergency cash in an envelope, either in your bug out bag or hidden somewhere in your car (or both!).
Having a checklist that you can refer to can help you make sure you don’t forget anything on your bug out list. You could either have a physical checklist that’s been written or printed out or a digital one on your phone that you can access and check quickly (without needing internet access, because you might not have internet access in an emergency!)
Keep your printed checklist somewhere easily accessible (no sense in wasting your precious time searching for a checklist on top of everything else). Put it up on your fridge or on a cork board where every family member can see it and knows where it is. Go over it in a family meeting and make sure everyone knows what to do in event of an emergency.
In order to truly be well prepared, you need to make sure the whole family is on the same page and ready to work together.
How you prepare is up to you
There are many more things I could include on this list, and of course depending on how much time you have to evacuate or bug out, you might be able to pack up more or less.
Other factors such as the size of your vehicle, whether or not you have a camper or trailer, or whether you even have your own vehicle at all and how large your family is will obviously dictate exactly how much you can and should bring with you.
This is a basic list of things you should consider packing up ahead of time and having ready to go in case you ever need to evacuate your home for any reason. But only you know what actually makes the most sense for your own family and situation.
At the end of the day, how you prepare is up to you. But do be prepared. Never think it can’t or won’t happen to you, because it can and does happen to people just like you all the time.
And don’t expect anyone else to take care of you and your family. While disaster situations often prompt an outpouring of support and goodwill from others (and yes, even from the government), there are often so many people affected by large-scale disasters that there has to be some level of personal responsibility on behalf of everyone.
And remember to help out your fellow humans and animals if and when possible too. We’re all in this together.
Wishing you homemade, homegrown, homestead happiness 🙂SaveSave
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Thanks a lot for listing everything! It’s definitely very important to have an emergency survival kit. Also, if you’re bringing a flashlight, then you should also have some extra batteries.
I love this list! I also like to make sure I have a list of emergency contact information, insurance phone numbers, and emergency restoration service numbers.
Very good just hope many people take your advice. I have many more things in my BUG OUT camp trailer. Keep up the good work.
If you have half a brain, these are common sense items with a few just excess baggage when RUUNING. Playing games is excess weight and volume. When you are on the runs you should be teaching your children.
Thanks for your comment! I respectfully disagree, however. Keeping morale up is a HUGE part of dealing with any emergency or stressful situation, especially for children. I’m a teacher as well, and my school requires parents to pack bags with extra clothes, snacks and games and toys for children to go in our emergency kits in case of an earthquake, fire, lockdown or (fill-in-the-blank). Also, many times we are not talking a full on zombie apocalypse here, but a wildfire, earthquake or something else that forces us from our homes and sees us not on the run, but in our vehicles stuck in traffic trying to make our way out of the area. Having games on hand is an excellent way to help pass the time and offer a positive distraction when dealing with the stress of this type of emergency situation. But of course this list can be tailored to suit your specific needs. Feel free to toss the games if they are weighing you down:)
I agree with the playing games. Backpacking sized games: deck of cards, Cribbage board, Farkle, and Adult Coloring book with colored pencils. Minimal weight but hours of fun and family focussed. We have met fellow travelers who would hunker down for a game of Farkle. LOL Love the list of things to prep for emergency. Water is the most cumbersome thing to have on hand for me. We are a family of 3, plus 2 labs, 4 cats, 1 cockatiel, and 2 horses. Freeze-dried food for pets is the best take away for me. Have you ever tried to locate cats in a stressful situation? Like you, crates are kept by the main exit door and blankets are cleaned between uses. An extra leash (with waste disposal bags) and a harness (they wear collars) are tucked inside with a clean blanket. Most recent shots records are laminated and attached to crates. We are homesteaders too. I dislike pre-packed food, but it does have preservatives and space saving packaging, so we rotate through it, in moderation. If we had to go to a shelter, we would want at least 3 days of self sufficiency while services are organized. Medicine boxes and backpacks are color specific to family member. Learned this when DD was small and who’s box/bag was who’s= stressful. Our animals would make a government shelter likely impossible, but it is less stressful to be prepared. DD was raised this way, so her household is also prepped. Thanks for the great article, Anna.
Yes, I do really believe games and distractions are important in a stressful situation! They may not be priority number one, but it really doesn’t hurt (or add much weight) to throw a deck of cards in your bag. What is Farkle? I must look into this! The freeze dried food seriously cuts down weight, and I have tried feeding it to my cats at home and they like it. It’s always best to get them acquainted with a new food like that in their normal environment as they may not eat it if they’re already stressed out. I can imagine water would be extra difficult if you have large livestock like horses, etc. in addition to a fairly large family to keep hydrated. That’s why I love having our Lifestraw water bottles because then we am always refill without any worry of the water not being safe to drink (or at least the risk is minimized big time). As for locating cats in a stressful situation, I have learned a lot about this as we lost a kitty when she ran from an accident when we were moving to our last house. My husband rolled out truck and trailer and the animals were inside. She took off into the woods and despite months of searching, we never found her. It was the most traumatic experience of my life, let alone hers. But I learned a lot about animal (specifically cat) behaviour from that experience. My best advice would be to familiarize yourself with your cats’ usual hiding spots so you know where to look if they’re hiding. Stay calm yourself as your energy will rub off on them. Have their favourite treats on hand to coax them out if need be and when you get them in the carrier, cover it with a towel or blanket if you can. Keeping them from seeing out helps keep them calmer. And never let them out of their carriers until you’re somewhere safe and secure as they likely will bolt. Sometimes you have to learn things the hard way. I’ll never forgive myself for not being better prepared when our kitty went missing. But I did my best at the time. Still hoping she magically turns up one day. It’s been just over 3 years now. Lucky we all survived though so I count my blessings every day and take pride in being as prepared as possible from now on.
Children are going to freak no matter what you do and if they can see or hear the problem there going to know that something is defiantly wrong and when you try to distract them with sum card games.