Emergency Preparedness

When disaster strikes, will you be ready?

Now is a great time to start—or continue—to plan, collect and organize what you need to survive in case of an emergency. Bonus: Many outdoor gear items you may already own can be quite useful in such instances.

This article discusses the 4 basic concepts of emergency preparedness:

  1. Storage and retrieval of supplies
  2. Survival food and gear
  3. Copies of important documents
  4. Maintenance of your supplies

Note: REI stores occasionally offer free emergency preparedness seminars (conducted with a fun and popular zombie-preparedness theme as Halloween approaches). Check the classes at your local REI store for upcoming dates.

Shop REI's selection of survival kits.

Storage and Retrieval of Supplies

Natural or human-made disasters can occur with little to no warning. So it’s important to keep everything you need in one place, protected from the elements and easily accessed. Retrieving your supplies should be as easy as grabbing a bin, backpack or other container—a 1-step process that’s crucial when every second counts.

Storage tips:

  • Use plastic bins or similar containers, or use a backpack or duffel bag wrapped in a clean garbage bag.
  • Store the container in your basement, outside in a storage shed, in your garage or even buried in your backyard.
  • Make sure everyone in your household knows where and how to retrieve it.
Hand-crank radio

Survival Food and Gear

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, offers a detailed website full of useful information: www.ready.gov.

Their website recommends that you should include the following items in a basic emergency kit:

  • Water, 1 gallon of water per person per day for at least 3 days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food, at least a 3-day supply of nonperishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a NOAA weather radio with tone alert and extra batteries
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First-aid kit (see below for details)
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • Local maps
  • Cellphone with charger, inverter or solar charger

Next, consider adding the following:

  • Prescription medications and glasses
  • Infant formula and diapers
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet
  • Cash or traveler's checks and change
  • Emergency reference material such as a first-aid book or free information from the (see the FEMA website's publications page)
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person; add more bedding for cold-weather climates
  • Complete change of clothing including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes; more clothing if you live in a cold-weather climate
  • Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper*
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children

* When diluted—9 parts water to 1 part bleach—bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use bleaches that are scented, color safe or have added cleaners.

First-aid kit

A first-aid kit is a great resource to have handy at home, in the car and at work. The following first-aid items should be stored in an elements-proof container, or in a small backpack/pouch if stored under your desk or in a car.

  • Two pairs of latex or other sterile gloves if you are allergic to latex
  • Sterile dressings to stop bleeding
  • Cleansing agent/soap and antibiotic towelettes
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Burn ointment
  • Adhesive bandages in a variety of sizes
  • Eye wash solution to flush the eyes or as general decontaminant
  • Thermometer
  • Prescription medications you take every day such as insulin, heart medicine and asthma inhalers; periodically rotate medicines to account for expiration dates
  • Prescribed medical supplies such as glucose and blood pressure monitoring equipment and supplies

Nonprescription drugs:

  • Aspirin or non-aspirin pain reliever
  • Anti-diarrhea medication
  • Antacid
  • Laxative

Other first-aid supplies:

  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Tube of petroleum jelly or other lubricant

Copies of Important Documents

Stash your important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container. You can use the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (EFFAK) (PDF - 977Kb) developed by Operation HOPE, FEMA and Citizen Corps to help you organize your information.

Tip: A sealable plastic bag tucked into a wide-mouth water bottle works great. Your important documents are protected and—voila!—you’ve secured an extra water vessel as well.

Maintaining Your Supplies

Every 6 months, check your food and emergency supplies. Refresh your water supply, consume and/or replace foods that will expire within the next 6 months, dispose of expired or damaged food, and add any items that may be needed. An addition to the household or changing medical needs may require different or additional supplies. Refer to the following list as you survey your stash:

  • Keep canned food in a cool, dry place.
  • Store boxed food in tightly closed plastic or metal containers to protect from pests and to extend the shelf life.
  • Throw out any canned good that becomes swollen, dented or corroded.
  • Use foods before they go bad and replace them with fresh supplies.
  • Place new items at the back of the storage area and older ones in the front.
  • Change stored food and water supplies every 6 months; be sure to write the date you store it on all containers.
  • Rethink your needs every year and update your kit as your family’s needs change.

Search REI.com for “emergency supplies.” Products you may find useful include:

With just a little time, effort and money, you can be prepared with the supplies you and your loved ones need to survive when no other support or assistance is available. It is a wise and potentially life-saving investment. Start today.