On a scale of 1-10, how prepared are you for an emergency?
Your answer should at least be an 11.
Disasters can happen when it's most inconvenient—you could be grilling burgers, in the middle of your honeymoon, or worse...making an offering to the porcelain throne during one.
Being prepared is your best shot at survival. And to be prepared, you need to know your risks, make a plan, and build your stockpile of emergency essentials.
To get you started, here’s our disaster and calamity guide:
What Are the Types of Emergencies to Prepare For?
Extreme weather, a virus outbreak, or war can leave you without food, water, electricity, and other basics for days or even weeks if you don't plan ahead. Resources will be scarce and you'll be left to fend for yourself.
Emergency preparedness isn’t rocket science; basically, it's the steps you need to take to ride out a disaster and keep yourself and your family alive. It includes the plans you put in place and the supply of emergency essentials you gradually built.
These are the threats you need to gear up for before it's too late:
- Hurricanes: Hurricanes aren’t your average storms. Carrying winds of 74 mph or higher, violent downpours, raging thunderstorms, and storm surges, they can wreak havoc on everything along their path. Picture absolute damage to power poles, trees, and homes as well as long power outages.
- Earthquakes: While Southern California folks seem to take the brunt of earthquakes in the US, there are still millions of Americans who live in areas where the tremors are powerful enough to cause damage. Quakes are dangerous because they can’t be predicted.
- Wildfires: These usually start small and go under the radar—until all hell breaks loose. They occur in areas like prairies or forests. While lightning strikes can cause some pretty nasty wildfires, plain ‘ol human stupidity can start some of them, too. Wildfires spread swiftly and can cause serious damage and death.
- Extreme Winters: Frostbite, car accidents, carbon monoxide poisoning, and hypothermia caused by winter storms can be brutal or even deadly. Kids, gram and gramps, and sick folks are especially at risk. Extreme winter can also damage your home’s pipes and foundations.
- Tornadoes: Caused by intense thunderstorms, a tornado is one of nature's most catastrophic forces. This violent rotating column of air’s got winds that can pick up a speed of up to 300 mph. It can uproot trees, decimate huge buildings, and throw cars like they're toys.
- Floods: When waters start rising rapidly, there are many things to worry about. Besides the obvious drowning, there're hidden dangers like broken glass, floating belongings, and other debris. Plus, there's the little issue of downed power lines.
- Droughts: Call it global warming or another effect of human negligence, but could you really live in a world without even a single drizzle of rain? Heck no. Droughts cause a slow, painful death of hunger and thirst.
- Volcanic Eruptions: When a volcano erupts, it can trigger earthquakes, tsunamis, and flows of mud. If those aren't bad enough, its toxic ashes can compromise the water supply and even damage your lungs.
- Tsunamis: Tsunamis are ginormous ocean waves that happen as a result of other natural disasters like volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. With waves that could be as high as a 9-storey building, they can easily drown thousands of people.
- Pandemics: A pandemic can cause widespread infection and death to thousands—or even millions—of folks across the globe. Plus, there are the social, economic, and political implications. The only solution is to find a cure or vaccine, but that can take months or years to develop.
- Other Emergencies: Besides natural disasters and pandemics, other emergencies to prepare for include nuclear accidents, EMP attacks, shootings, terrorist attacks, and riots. While these seem like stuff out of a bad Michael Bay movie, it pays to be ready for whatever the universe throws your way.
Now that you've got an idea of how these disasters can jeopardize your home, your family, and life as you know it, it's time to prepare for 'em. Here’s a checklist that can help:
Emergency Essentials and Preparedness Checklist
Step 1: Know Your Risks
While natural disasters happen everywhere, some places are more prone to certain disasters than others. Run a search on Google to find out if your area's prone to tornadoes, earthquakes, or hurricanes.
If you've been living in the same area for years, then you probably observed a pattern. Remember it. What months are drought season? Flood season? Wildfire season? Some disasters are likely to occur in specific months.
Then, think about the other risks. How high's the crime rate in your area? Is there a chance of looting or riots? Can your home protect you from these? Or do you need to up its defenses some more?
Identifying these risks will help you develop a realistic plan that can keep you alive and comfortable during natural disasters or man-made catastrophes.
Step 2: Have a Discussion with Your Family
D’ya have folks living with you? Sit 'em all down and hold a family meeting to discuss the need for an emergency preparedness plan.
If your family members aren't gung-ho on your prepping plans, explain why gearing up for disasters is literally a matter of life and death. Make an entire presentation if you have to—anything that would get ‘em to see the light.
These are some of the things you need to discuss with your family:
Public Alerts and Emergency Warning Systems
Be familiar with your area's public alert and warning system. In the United States, we've got FEMA's Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS). IPAWS gives the public access to verified, life-saving information via television, radio, and mobile.
Where's the Nearest Shelter Located?
In case you're forced to evacuate your home, you'll need to know where to find shelter. Now, you've got different options here. You could either crash at a friend's or relative's place, book a hotel room, or stay at a designated evacuation shelter.
But if you've got the time and resources, scope out a bug out location to ride out the disaster's aftermath.
Plan Your Evacuation
No discussion on emergency preparedness would be complete without mentioning an evacuation plan, or what us preppers like to call a bug out plan or get out of dodge plan. No matter what you call it, this plan should include:
- Areas you can evacuate to in a disaster (if you've got pets, make sure they're welcome there)
- How you’ll leave
- A travel route and alternate routes to your evacuation areas (whether by car, on foot, or both)
- A place for your family to reunite in case you were separated during the emergency
- A full tank of gas or backup fuel
- Go bags for each member of the family
- An emergency kit for car getaways
What to Do During an Evacuation
The first instinct you'd probably have during an evacuation is to panic. You're not a robot, so it's definitely natural to have that reaction. Been there, done that.
It helps to know what to do ahead of time. This gives you a leg up over most people.
Here’s what you need to do during an evacuation:
- Listen to your radio for instructions
- Grab your emergency case or bug out bag
- Evacuate early enough to avoid traffic and severe weather
- Don't forget to bring your pets with you, if you've got any
- Be mindful of road hazards like downed power lines or washed-out bridges
- If you've got time to spare:
- Call, email, or text your contact to let them know where you'll be headed (more on this later)
- Unplug all electrical equipment'
- Close and lock all doors and windows
- Shut off your water, gas, and electricity (keep your fridge and freezer plugged in if there's no risk of flooding)
Step 3: Don't Leave Out a Disaster Communication Plan
Ever seen the movie San Andreas? Starring resident macho guy Dwayne Johnson, it tells the story about a rescue pilot and his estranged wife who band together to find their daughter in the midst of a devastating earthquake.
Spoiler alert: the earthquake triggers a huge tsunami and thousands die, but they do reunite with her. That’s only because they had access to a helicopter, a plane, and a boat.
...and because he’s the flippin’ Rock.
Now unless you’re the Rock or have your own helicopter, it’s gonna be close to impossible to reunite with your loved ones if you get separated during a major disaster. Not unless you’ve got an emergency communication plan in place.
Here's what ya need to do:
- Designate an out-of-state contact. This person’ll be the main point of contact for your family.
- List down important contact information (family, relatives, friends, doctors, school, and emergency services). Put it on paper and laminate it.
- Make copies for every person you want to keep in contact with during an emergency. Let them stick it in their fridge, keep it inside their wallet, or store it in their car or EDC bag.
- If you've got kids, make sure they know where to go and what to do. Their teachers could use the list you've made to get in touch with you.
In case your family's not together when disaster strikes, it'd also be good to have pictures of each member to show folks when finding them. It's much more effective than describing what they look like.
Step 4: Get Your Home Ready
You usually hear this line from the government whenever a crisis happens.
In most cases, staying at home, or bugging in, really is the best way to ride out an emergency. Take a pandemic outbreak, for example, or mass unrest. It’s also safest to bug in when your area’s rocked by intense wildfires or a major winter storm.
That’s assuming your home's tough enough to deal with a few blows.
If not, then start making modifications ASAP to keep it strong against extreme heat or cold, flooding, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. You also want to make sure it won't be an easy target for looters.
Step 5: Start Gathering the Essentials
Narrow down the things that your family needs to stay alive. Include your pets in the equation.
The goal is to be entirely independent of outside help. Since you can't expect to have water, gas, electricity, and internet, you'll have to factor these in:
Home Emergency Essentials
Ideally, you're supposed to have supplies that can last your family 2 weeks if you’re staying at home. As you build your stockpile, check regularly for expired food, meds, and batteries and have them replaced.
- Water: Store 1 gallon of potable water per person per day. Also keep a portable water filter and water purification tablets handy to treat freezer water, rainwater, and toilet tank water for backup.
- Food: Each person should have at least 1,500 calories per day. Choose shelf-stable and non-perishable food that's either ready to eat or only needs water added. You could also include some food that your family likes to eat.
- Hygiene: Hygiene shouldn't take a backseat during disasters. Heck, it's even more vital to stay clean when SHTF than in normal situations. Stock up on toothpaste, TP, soap, shampoo, feminine hygiene supplies, and other basic hygiene items.
- First Aid Kit: You'll need a first aid kit in case of scrapes, blisters, cuts, and other medical issues. Your home's kit should have all these supplies.
- Light: We don't recommend candles because they're fire hazards. You're better off with headlamps, lanterns, or a flashlight. When choosing the latter, it's best to go for one that's super sturdy, lightweight, and has built-in USB charging—like this awesome tactical flashlight by TAC9ER.
- Radio Communication: Phone lines may go down, so your best option for communication is an NOAA radio or a ham radio. (Make sure you know how to work 'em, though, or they'll just be taking up space.)
- Heat Source: Don't wanna freeze to death during winter? Then make sure you've got alternative sources for heat that can keep you warm when the power's off. Besides a fireplace and a wood-burning stove, invest in a portable propane heater.
- Fire Starter: Fire doesn't magically appear when you wish for it. With ferro rods, waterproof matches, and BIC lighters, though, it won't be that challenging to start one.
- Tools: You don't want to be in a pinch during emergencies. The right tools can rescue you. Based on experience, we'd say that a multitool, duct tape, and paracord are your best friends in SHTF scenarios.
- Tarp: Tarp's cheap AND incredibly useful. You could use it to clear debris, collect rain, and cover holes or broken windows.
- Power: Keep a solar charger and plenty of spare batteries at home.
- Cash: Set aside a couple of Benjamins in case there's something you need to buy. It's best to keep cash in small denominations, like 5s, 10s, 20s, and 50s.
- Recreation: When you're not busy keeping your family alive, you'll need some way to pass the time. A deck of cards, some board games, and your favorite books can help you stay sane.
- Pet care: If you have pets, make sure they’ve also got enough water, food, meds, and some favorite toys.
Bug Out Bag and Get Home Bag Essentials
What if you're away during the emergency? Or what if you need to flee your home to make it to a safer location? Think you can just pack and go? No siree.
Because you won't know what's gonna happen, you've got to be prepared for anything.
That's where a survival backpack comes in. To cover all bases, you'll need two types—a bug out bag and a get home bag.
A bug out bag’s what you grab when you need to take off at a moment's notice. It's filled with enough items to keep you alive for 72 hours or until you reach your bug out location.
On the other hand, a get home bag's designed to...well...help you get home to your family and stockpile when S hits the fan. In many ways, the two are similar. The main difference is that the get home bag's obviously kept out of the home.
Each member of the family should have a bug out bag and a get home bag.
Now that we’ve got that outta the way, here’s a list of the basics to pack in a survival backpack:
- Water: Keep a water bottle in each bag. Throw in some water purification tablets and a portable water filter in case you need to be creative with getting water.
- Food: High-calorie (and non-perishable) food is the name of the game. Pack trail mix, a couple of energy bars, and jerky.
- First Aid Kit: This doesn't have to be as fully equipped as the kit in your home. A few bandages, important meds, rubbing alcohol, and antiseptic wipes should be fine.
- Extra Clothes: You need enough clothes for 3 days. Make sure they're appropriate for different kinds of weather. Pack a few short and long-sleeved shirts, undies, and a jacket.
- Extra Shoes and Socks: Don't forget about your feet! Unless you wanna be walking around in your dreadful heels or dress shoes, you need to include a pair of sturdy—and comfortable—shoes. And while you're at it, add a few pairs of wool socks.
- Baby Wipes: When you have to go, you have to go. Baby wipes are handier than toilet paper and you can also use them to maintain some form of cleanliness.
- Multitool: Any top-quality multitool would do, but if you don't wanna sacrifice any more space, this wallet multitool's a perfect choice. It's got 22 functions packed in 1 gadget the size of a credit card, so it really comes in handy during survival situations.
- Light: Preserve your phone's battery and use a headlamp or sturdy tactical flashlight instead to see around in the dark.
- Tarp: Tarp was mentioned earlier, but it really deserves a spot in every emergency kit/bag. We like that it’s waterproof, lightweight, and fully customizable—perfect for making a temporary shelter.
- Hygiene: Skipping the shower a day or two won't kill you, but when you can't take the grime any longer, you’ll be happy you packed that bar of soap. You’ll also need other hygiene items like shampoo, floss, a toothbrush, and...you know the rest.
- Cash: Your credit and debit cards will likely just be pieces of plastic when SHTF. Fold a few hundred dollars in small denominations in a Ziploc bag or inside your extra pair of socks.
- N95 Mask: This mask offers great protection against airborne particles like dust, wildfire smoke, and highly contagious viruses.
- Other items: You’ll also need a whistle, maps and a compass, trash bags, and duct tape.
Step 6: Learn Survival Skills
Prepping's not only limited to building your cache of emergency essentials. It also involves building skills that can keep you—and others—alive.
These particular skills will come in handy when you're faced with a catastrophe of Armageddon proportions.
Now, you won't learn these skills right away, and that's fine. Just find time every week to read books and online forums on the subjects and practice them. The more you master, the more confident you'll be in the face of a calamity or disaster.
Step 7: Run Through Your Plan
A plan's just a plan. To find out if your emergency preparedness plan would actually work, test it out.
Quiz your family on their knowledge of what to do when it floods, when they're caught in a winter storm, or when they start feeling the ground shake.
Practice drills and do a run-through of your evacuation plan regularly. Some members of your family may moan and groan at the routine, but hey, it’ll help 'em survive and stay safe. They’ll thank you for it one day.
Step 8: Go Back Home (if you evacuated)
The catastrophe's over. You and your family have successfully weathered it out, thanks to all your prepping. Nice going!
But you can't waltz back into your home just yet. There’re still a couple of things you need to do:
- Check for damage outside: Go around outside to look for any issues. Post-disaster, your foundation may have a few cracks, your power cables may have loosened, your gas lines may be toast. Your trees may also look like they've been through hell and back.
- Observe sounds and smells: Hear that weird hissing noise? Smell the stench of gas? Get in touch with the fire department and have them check that out before you step inside.
- Go inside: Once it's safe, re-enter your home and evaluate the damage. If the power's not back yet, use your flashlight to inspect properly.
- Record the damage: Documenting all the stuff that lost a fight to the flooding, snowstorm, or fire can leave a bad taste in your mouth (we feel ya, buddy), but you'll need to take pictures of the aftermath if you want an insurance claim.
Preparing for major disasters can seem a little (or a lot) intimidating at first. But with a plan in place, you'll be able to call yourself ready in no time. Trust us.
Just continue to foolproof your plan, build and update your stash of emergency essentials, and remember why you're doing this in the first place—to keep you and your family alive.
Is there anything that we left out? Tell us in the comments!