Back after our apartment was hit by a tornado in 2011, I wrote a post about what we had in our emergency kit (in fact, the photos in that post were taken in an apartment we were squatting in as temporary housing). More importantly than just the list of items, that posts contains what we learned by going through an actual emergency with the kit—what we added, what we changed, and what we used. Even though our emergency kit wasn’t perfect, I was so thankful to have that resource during the stressful time post-tornado. We saw firsthand how stressful it was for our neighbors who weren’t prepared (and in fact, lent out more than one item in our kit to them).
But now, our life is dramatically different from when I first wrote that post. Back then, we lived in a small apartment, in the city. We had only one pet, and we certainly didn’t have a little baby running around. Then, our emergency plan meant that in most situations (fire, tornado, earthquake, environmental disaster, terrorist attack), we were going to leave our apartment and the city. In almost all situations, it was safer for us to pack up in the car, and head south to my parents’ house in the country. That made our emergency kit easy. We packed the bare minimum in an easy-to-transport bag.
But that’s not our situation anymore. As our life gets more complicated (owning a house, more pets, having a baby), our emergency kit needs to get more complicated, too. And in fact, our entire emergency plan is now multi-faceted. I know this all may sound like overkill to some folks, but the peace-of-mind of knowing we’re prepared is absolutely worth it to me.
I think the key to figuring out your emergency plan and kit is accessing your situation. Figure out what you are at high-risk of going through. We’ve figured out, shy of the zombie apocalypse, there are three types of events that could logically happen to us. Obviously, we live in tornado-central, so tornadoes are a biggie for us. Secondly, as we learned this past winter, it’s entirely possible for us to get dumped on with a metric ton of snow, lose power, and not be able to leave our house for a week. And thirdly, everyone is at risk for a house fire.
Your list might be different. You might live in a flood-prone area (we don’t). You might live on a fault line (we do, but it’s not a huge risk to us). You might live in a major city that is susceptible to environmental spills or terrorist attacks (we don’t). You might live next door to a nuclear plant (we don’t). I think the key to having a really great emergency kit is figuring out what emergencies you might need it in. And of course, you can go as crazy with thinking about the scenarios as you feel is necessary. We’re not crazy about it. Yes, I realize that there is a chance that the entire financial system will collapse, roving gangs of zombies will come to eat us, and some foreign dictator will spray the entire country with some superbug. But I have no interest in revolving my life around planning for those extremes. But I do want to be prepared for the realities of our situation. And the reality is, we sometimes get hit by big snowstorms, fires happen, and we’re apparently tornado magnets.
Based on our risks, we decided to stick with the easy-to-transport bag idea, but just expand it to include a more comprehensive selection of items then we had before.
We store this bag on our main floor, in a cabinet equidistant from all the outdoor doors, so it’s easy to grab if we can in a fire, but also near the basement stairs entrance so we can grab it as we head down to take shelter for a tornado. Forecasting has gotten pretty decent in the past few years, so we usually know at least a few hours a head of time if we have a high chance for tornadoes, so I also tend to put my purse and the diaper bag right next to the basement door on those days, too.
It sounds like a ton, but we manage to keep it in a small duffle bag. Easy to grab and go. It includes:
- A pair of shoes and socks for both Craig and I—we just picked up cheap, sturdy shoes from the Goodwill
- Work gloves (2 pairs)
- Backup glasses for both Craig and I—if you don’t have backups, you can get $7 glasses from Zenni Optical
- Backup keys to both the car and the house—see how we used our car as home-base post-tornado here
- Glow sticks (2)
- Hand crank weather/AM-FM radio
- Water (2 liters)
- Protein bars (6)
- Hand crank flashlight
- Ponchos (3)
- Emergency blanket
- First aid kit—including baby-specific items, like Children’s Tylenol and adult meds like Excedrin, Pepto, etc.
- Feminine hygiene products—trust me, stress does crazy things to your body
- Toilet paper
- Travel size deodorant
- Toothbrush and travel size toothpaste
- Baby wipes
- Cloth diapers (2)—we might switch these to disposables
- Baby blanket
- Onesies (2)—in the next size up from what she’s currently wearing
- Baby hat and socks
- Formula samples and bottle—we’re exclusively breastfeeding, but I have no idea how stress/emergencies can affect supply, so I figure better safe than sorry and put these in there. If nothing else, some other parent might be able to use them during an emergency if we don’t need it.
- Washcloths (2)
- Travel size Dr. Bronner’s—used for hand soap, wash clothes, etc.
- Small bottle of bleach and eyedropper—can be used for water purification in a pinch
- Ziplock bags
- Plastic grocery sacks
- Collapsible bowls for pet food and water (3)
- Kitty food—in a ziptop bag
- Puppy food—in a ziptop bag
- Extra leash and collar for Puppyface—this was mega important for us during the tornado
- Pillow case—to quickly grab Kittyface
- Dust masks (3)
- Leatherman tool
- Matches in waterproof container
- Disposable camera—to document things for insurance
- Backup charger for our cell phones—we both have iPhones, so it’s the same charger
- Accordion folder with copies of important paperwork
- Emergency Financial First Aid Kit
- Insurance polices (life, car, homeowner’s)
- IDs (driver’s licenses, Craig’s green card, passports, birth certificates)
- Puppy and kitty’s vaccination records
- List of emergency contact info
- $20 cash (in small bills)
- Photos of entire family (including pets)—good for if we get separated
- Basic first-aid how-to guides
- Paper and pen
It’s not going to last us through a week out in the wilderness, but it will definitely help us get through the first few hours after an emergency. It sounds like a ton, but it’s actually pretty compact. I can easily carry it.
We also have other survival-y items stashed in the basement, where we would be hanging out in the event of a tornado, or if for some reason we needed to stay in place during an emergency. Our overflow pantry is in the basement, plus a spare fridge and freezer packed with food. We also have a bunch of good-for-if-the-zombies-come gear stashed in the basement with our camping goods—camp stoves, sleeping bags, tents, backpacks, flashlights, etc. We don’t really have an emergency kit in the basement, but there are a lot of things that could come in handy in the event of an emergency down there. Basically, just as long as we have access to most parts of our basement, we could live down there for an extended period of time relatively comfortably. Although I really don’t see that happening except in a crazy extreme emergency.
I know this all sounds like overkill, but it’s actually a pretty modest emergency kit. We’re not stashing years worth of food or water. We’re not preparing for every single bad thing that could ever happen, but we are being realistic about that bad things that are in the realm of possibility with where we live. And we’ve worked really hard to make sure our emergency kit is compact and don’t really impact our day-to-day lives—but still leaves us feeling prepared for the most common emergencies we could face. If you have less room, you can make a smaller kit. If you have more threats, expand your kit.
We usually go over and restock our kit once a year (normally right around early spring—before tornado season hits). We’ll switch out expired food, replace anything that isn’t working well anymore, and update any paperwork that needs it. Now that we’re a family of three, we’ll need to do it a bit more frequently to make sure Baby J’s needs are met—obviously she’ll need bigger clothes, different food, etc. as she grows.