The frozen catastrophe in Texas this month probably made you think: How can I help? And then: Am I prepared for something like that? First: Build an emergency preparedness kit. You don’t have to go full doomsday prepper and start investing in underground bunker shares—in fact, please do not—but you should make sure you’ve got the right tools to take care of yourself. Below, we’ve gathered the most essential items that FEMA and the Red Cross say should be in any basic emergency preparedness kit. Think of it as a checklist for handling the next crisis.
The first thing on the official list curated by the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, and FEMA is water and food. The list suggests that you should have enough water for each person in your household to drink a gallon per day. But the amount of food you’ll need is a bit more flexible, depending on your needs. Fill out your kit with nonperishable items, and toss in this can opener. Especially if power is a problem, you don’t want to be stuck rifling through all your drawers for the can opener you definitely didn’t lend your friend.
After food and water, your kit should have some sort of lighting source, according to FEMA. If you have candles, great, but the CDC advises caution—house fires might be hard to address for already stretched first-response teams during a crisis. Using flashlights and battery-powered lights is better, even if it’s a little annoying. In addition to a flashlight, you should consider a headlamp, which you can just stick to your forehead, allowing you to do other things with your hands.
If you do not already have a radio, the emergency preparedness organizers recommend you get one that’s either battery-operated or powered by hand crank. That way, you can stay abreast of any guidance from the government as you shelter in place. In the event of an emergency, it’s unlikely that you’ll have to do a ton of frequency scanning to find someone providing helpful information. But just in case, look up the frequency for the National Weather Service station in your area beforehand and write it on a piece of paper to keep with the rest of your kit. For news, head to your local public radio station. This radio is relatively high-fidelity, especially given the price.
The above items, and many other things you’ll want to turn to in an emergency, use batteries. If you already have rechargeable batteries, good, but you might want to have some conventional ones in your emergency preparedness kit just in case.
One issue with the FEMA guidelines is that they aren’t particularly tailored to the 21st century. In an emergency, especially if power is an issue, you’re likely going to spend a lot of time trying to get in contact with people with your phone, so have a big portable phone charger around, one that can juice up your phone two to three times on a single charge. If you have a car, you might already have a car charger, but on the off chance you don’t, you should get one for emergencies. (Make sure you have an extra charging cable or two in your kit.)
During winter power outages, temperature can quickly become an issue. Obviously, you can layer up sweaters and coats, but draping yourself under a blanket is certain to be a lot more comfortable. Camping blankets like this one are designed to be packable and light, which means they won’t take up too much space in your kit.
When it’s really cold, anyone who works outside will tell you HotHands finger and toe warmers are a lifesaver. When you activate them, each packet provides a couple of hours of radiating heat.
A cooler like this one can serve simply as a container for all the gear you want to keep at hand. But if need be, you can use it to keep anything in your fridge or freezer cold for longer. This is a must for anyone with prescription medications that need to stay cold.
In case anyone gets injured during your stint of sheltering in place, you’ll want to have a first aid kit. You can get these anywhere—just make sure they include all of the items recommended by the Red Cross. If you already have one, now’s a good time to check whether it’s missing anything or if something has expired.
For anyone who’d rather not put in the time and energy to gather materials ad hoc—no surprise, a bunch of companies have sprouted up to sell fully packed emergency kits. These include packs of drinking water, food, tools, first aid items, and everything you might need. It’s probably overkill for most people, but if you tend to err on the side of extreme caution, it’ll certainly offer peace of mind. The Stealth Angel kit has enough for four people for three days. The Judy kit, with its direct-to-consumer aesthetics, also has enough for four.