While I was growing up in Illinois, the afternoon sky would sometimes darken and the clouds turn a greenish-yellow hue. The wind would gust violently, the trees would begin to bend, and I’d be drawn to the windows to watch an incoming storm. My mom would yell, “BOY! Get away from those windows. You’re gonna get a shard of glass straight to the eye.” I wouldn’t listen, and she’d have to (I kid you not) drag me away.
Without fail, the power would go out and the tornado sirens would buzz. We’d retreat to the basement where I’d receive a well-rehearsed lecture about what to do during an emergency, and where to find our emergency supplies. At the time, I thought my parents were being a little paranoid with all those supplies, but as it turns out, they knew exactly what they were doing.
According to the American Red cross, a home emergency kit should contain the following items.
In case of an emergency
1. First aid kit: A comprehensive first aid kit is useful whether it’s being used to treat minor cuts or deep wounds. Of course, if it’s the latter, you should also seek additional professional assistance. But with a well-stocked kit, you should be able to mitigate the injury until help arrives. A Red Cross–approved first aid kit is recommended.
2. Fire extinguishers: You know, in case there’s a grease fire in your kitchen or an electrical fire in your garage. Placing extinguishers in key places, like in the kitchen or garage, could be the difference between having a house and not.
3. Flashlight: When the power goes out in the middle of the night and you can’t find your glasses (and after already stubbing your toe twice), you’re going to wish you had one of these near your bed. And if you’re looking for something hands-free, consider a headlamp — they work wonderfully. And don’t forget the extra batteries.
4. Emergency contact list: Keep a list of phone numbers of anyone you may need to contact during an emergency. This includes family members, neighbors, your kids’ school, the local fire and police stations, and so on. Be sure everyone in your family knows where it is, and don’t hesitate to include numbers you think you’ve memorized — you never know what you’ll remember during an emergency. And although these numbers might be stored in your smartphone, a hard copy’s always a great backup if your phone’s dead and the power’s out.
5. Hand crank radio: During large storms, my family would sit in the basement and listen to the radio for news that the storm had passed and it was safe to go upstairs again. Hopefully storms won’t take out phone or internet connections, but if they do, a hand crank radio will be extremely important. Additionally, many hand crank radios double as flashlights and even cell phone chargers, so they could come in handy no matter what.
In case of an extended emergency
6. Water: Whether you’re facing extreme weather or worse, you’ll want enough water to camp out in your house for a few days. That means at least one gallon per person, per day, for at least 3 days. Be sure to keep it in a safe, easily accessible location like a cellar or basement.
7. Food: The same goes for food. At least one gallon per person, per day … okay, I guess it’s not exactly the same. But you’re going to want 3 days’ worth of food per person, and it must be nonperishable (canned or dried foods). One great solution is MREs (meaning Meals, Ready-to-Eat). They’re highly caloric, can be eaten straight from the pouch, and have a shelf life of 5 years. Plus, the U.S. military uses them (so they’ve been tested in some pretty extreme conditions). Twelve 1,000-calorie meals cost about $75 and will feed 2 people for 3 days.
8. Generator: This is the most optional item on this list, and isn’t necessary in most cases. However, a quality generator can power your lights, internet, and refrigerator during an extended power outage. An entry-level generator runs between $400 and $1,000 and can power essential appliances using gasoline.
To avoid an emergency
9. Smoke detectors/fire alarms: These can be a lifesaver if a fire breaks out in your home. They’re designed to alert you before the fire does, giving you enough time to escape before it’s too late. Check the batteries twice a year to make sure they’re working properly.
10. Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors: Similar to smoke detectors, they alert you if levels of this deadly gas become too high. In the U.S., about 170 people die each year due to CO poisoning. To protect yourself from CO poisoning, make sure your appliances are installed correctly and never run a generator or use a gas camping stove inside the house.
11. Basic tool kit: This will come in handy, trust me. From repairing an overflowing sink to hanging posters on the wall, a good toolbox can help you make household tasks easier and fix a variety of items should they break.
So there you have it — 11 essential items for every home emergency kit. Want to cover all your bases? Find out which emergency supplies to keep in your car. And in case an emergency damages your home, you’re going to want great homeowners insurance from Esurance to back you up.