What To Put In A Disaster Kit, & Why You Need One

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Hurricane Harvey has devastated Texas, and wildfires are threatening 200 homes in Los Angeles amid triple-digit temps. Natural disasters are pretty much a given with global warming on the rise, but most people aren't prepared for them, according to Urban Survival Site. This is why you need a disaster kit, and to know what you'll need to put in it. You'll need food, water, medication, a first-aid kit, pet food, cash, and more. "It’s important to build an emergency supply kit and have it ready and available at a moment’s notice," William Booher, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told the New York Times.

While I grew up in the Midwest where tornados are a fact of life, and I've survived both a tropical storm, and Hurricane Irene living on the East Coast, I didn't get a disaster kit until I moved to Los Angeles because, earthquakes. I have no idea why we didn't have a disaster kit growing up. When the tornado sirens went off, which was pretty often during tornado season, that was the signal to grab everything you could carry and head to the basement. I once spent six hours in the basement of a bar in Indiana after a tornado ripped through the town while I was inside.

Like Urban Survival Site noted, perhaps we didn't prepare because we thought everything would be fine. We thought it could never happen to us. But it can, and it does, and this is why you need to be prepared.

Why You Should Be Prepared

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When I started my career as a newspaper reporter on the East Coast, hurricanes and blizzards didn't mean "take cover." They meant "get out there and get the story." Foolishly, I didn't even have an emergency kit in my car even though I put myself in dangerous situations constantly.

During the Patriot's Day Nor'easter 10 years ago, I remember driving my Jeep to the National Guard barricade in Maine, and convincing them to let me pass. I waded through two feet of water to walk the beach and document homes that had literally been split in half and were washing out to sea.

Now, as I watch a wildfire raging five miles away from my house in Los Angeles — I can see the flames leaping into the sky from my front yard — having a disaster kit at the ready seems pretty damn important. Ready.gov has a checklist of basics to include in every disaster kit if you're having trouble getting started. I bought a disaster kit from Amazon that is a small backpack with food and water for three days, a first-aid kit, light sticks, emergency blankets, rain ponchos, gloves, face masks, and a whistle. I then added a life straw, which filters water in the event you need to drink from a puddle, dehydrated dog food, and tampons.  

My kit was less than $30, and you can definitely go more lux, but because the kit expires in five years, and I'm on a budget, I opted for the basic model so me, my roommate, and our two dogs can at least take care of ourselves for a few days.

How To Build A DIY Disaster Kit

If you want to make your own disaster kit, it's pretty easy to DIY. The Red Cross considers these items essential to any basic disaster kit. If you're going the DIY route, grab a backpack and add:

  • Water: You'll need one gallon per person for three days. Water is heavy, so consider getting some emergency drinking water in bags.
  • Food: Three days worth of non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items. Cans are heavy, so consider lightweight items, like dehydrated foods and protein bars. If you have pets, make sure to pack food for them too.
  • A flashlight and extra batteries, first-aid kit, lightweight emergency blankets, and extra cash.
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible) because your cellphone likely won't work.
  • Medications, pack a seven-day supply, and sanitation and personal hygiene items.
  • A multi-purpose tool, like a deluxe pocket knife.
  • Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies).
  • Cellphone with chargers just in case, and family and emergency contact information.
  • Map(s) of the area because your maps apps probably won't do you any good.

You can get most of these items on Amazon, or at any local surplus store.

Create An Emergency Communication Plan

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Don't rely on telepathy for your disaster communications plan. "You should sit down with your family and discuss,” Booher told the New York Times, “but also share with your friends and colleagues in case something was to happen — someone outside your immediate family would be able to track you down.”

If you are not at home when a disaster strikes, decide ahead of time where you and your partner, family, or friends will meet. Pick a central location in your city that you can all realistically get to if phone and internet service is down, and you don't have any way to contact each other. While you may not be able to get this location, if you can this is where people will know to look for your first.

Urban Survival Site explained that many people don't take these steps ahead of time because of something called normalcy bias, a psychological phenomenon that describes people’s rationalization of a dangerous situation. "Basically, people assume the best will happen because they do not want to think about uglier alternatives."

However, the real alternative to not planning ahead is being stranded and separated from your family and friends without any supplies.

It Can Happen To You

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If you think it can't happen to you, unfortunately it can. This picture is what's happening just down the road from where I am writing this. Ashes are pouring from the sky like rain. If I have to leave my house, I want to be ready.

Additionally, experts are constantly predicting the "big one" in Los Angeles the earthquake that will destroy the city. Despite these dire declarations, most people don't spend their days thinking about it because earthquakes can't be predicted ahead of time. Little earthquakes happen all the time here. Wildfires happen constantly, too. It's foolish to think this can't affect me when these events displace people, injure people, and sometimes take lives.

My dad's house burned to the ground when I was 21. No one was hurt, but he lost everything. He also went weeks without power after Hurricane Ivan, and if it weren't for his generator he and his family would have been pretty miserable. Knowing all of this, the least I can do is prepare ahead of time for the unknown.

"Many people explain away their refusal to prep by pointing out the long odds of a cataclysmic event occurring," Urban Survival Site noted. "They say that if such an event does happen, some power of destiny must have intervened to make it so. 'If that happens, then it will just be my time to go,' they say. [However] if something bad does happen, chances are they’ll feel differently and won’t quietly succumb to their fate."

This is why I have a disaster kit because, while I don't spent every second thinking about it, a disaster could easily impact my life. And, I'm very lucky that nothing bad happened during the years I went without one. If you just want to get it off your plate, grab a cheap one from Amazon. Because, you'll never regret being prepared for a disaster.