“I think we focus too much on there trying to be one right way to prepare,” said Jonathan McNamara, a regional communications manager for the Red Cross. “We almost overcomplicate these things and confuse people into thinking, ‘Well, my kit has got to have this in it.’ At the end of the day, my family’s emergency kit, having two kids and a crazy dog, is going to look much different than somebody else’s. You should definitely feel free to customize it for your family.”
That said, there are some basics that everyone should keep on hand. And it’s never a bad time to prepare for a crisis by stocking up on gear and organizing it so you know exactly where it is when you need to shelter in place during an emergency. (We also have a separate guide to go-bags should you need to leave your home in a hurry with a small amount of essentials.) Collectively, our staff put in hundreds of hours of research and tested nearly 100 different items to come up with a list of essentials that are indispensable in a natural disaster and helpful in everyday life, too. The items are organized into seven key categories, and by making sure you have these areas covered, you’ll end up with a best-on-the-block kit.
Of course, disaster prep is about more than just buying stuff. Develop a simple communication plan with your family so you know where to meet if power and cell service go down. Find out whether a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) class is happening in your area (you can attend at no cost). Participate in community events, such as the ShakeOut earthquake drills held each October. Take a first-aid course. Mark your calendar to review and refresh your emergency kit once a year. And then sleep easier knowing that you’ll be ready to take care of yourself and your family if disaster strikes.
For more information on tools and preparedness for specific disaster scenarios, including ways to protect your home, check out our guides for hurricane, wildfire, and earthquake preparedness supplies and strategies. We’ve also included information here about what to expect from a shelter experience, if you need to evacuate due to a natural disaster that occurs during the coronavirus pandemic.