How To Make An Emergency Kit & Have A Plan In Place

After our disaster-filled week last August (we had an earthquake and a hurricane within a week of one another) we had several requests for a post about emergency preparedness. We hemmed and hawed because we’re no experts in that department, but then a couple of actual experts / regular YHL readers reached out to us with emails fulled of information. Phew! So without further ado (since it’s already taken me like 6 months to finally write this post), here are some of the recommendations and information they sent our way.

First off, our experts are Amanda F, who has her Master’s degree in this field and worked as an emergency coordinator for a hospital in LA (so she knows earthquakes). She now lives in DC, so she’s got hurricanes to deal with these days. We’ve also got Michelle O, who is the Deputy Coordinator of Emergency Management for our county. So basically these people know their stuff far better than we do. Their consensus boils down to three basic ideas: Make a kit, make a plan, and stay informed. So we’ve corralled their advice below for ya:

#1. Make A Kit – An emergency kit doesn’t need to be fancy, expensive, or overdone. Even a small kit that will last you two days is better than having none at all. There are three types of kits to consider:

  1. A Stay At Home Kit: Plan for three days without power. Include items like non-perishable food, water (1 gal per person per day is recommended), flashlight with batteries, extra batteries, a battery powered radio, extra batteries, manual can opener, any medical supplies or prescriptions (this includes extra glasses or contact lenses), cash (ATMs won’t work without power!) and important personal and financial documents (more on that in a second).
  2. A Kid / Pet Kit: If you’ve got kids or pets, plan for them too. Think of items like formula, food, diapers, toys, comfort items.
  3. A Go Kit: If you need to leave your home during an emergency (say it’s being evacuated for flooding or a tree has fallen on it), have a backpack ready for each person that includes water, high energy snack foods, extra clothes, and shoes.

Sherry and I actually evaluated our own emergency preparedness kit a couple of years ago (we certainly floundered in a few areas and ended up giving ourselves a B). We probably should do that again now that we’re in our new home to see if we’re more prepared.

We also spotted a tip in Real Simple recently about including documents in your emergency kit. This is less about having them on hand in a disaster and more about not losing them if your house doesn’t survive the flood / earthquake / tornado / whatever. They recommend that you: “make photocopies of the following (or scan and burn to CD or flash drive) and keep one set at home in a waterproof bag and another in a safe-deposit box.”

  • Driver’s license & passport
  • Social security card
  • Birth certificates
  • Health insurance card
  • Insurance policies
  • Mortgage and other loan papers
  • Property deeds
  • Car title and registration
  • Marriage license
  • Your will
  • Last year’s tax return
  • Bank and brokerage account numbers
  • Inventory and/or pictures of your home for insurance claims

Of course we all have excuses for why we haven’t put together a kit or don’t have the time or money available to get started. So here are some good excuse-busters from our experts:

  • Not everything in the kit needs to be bought. Take inventory at home first – if you’ve got canned goods or cereal on hand, that counts!
  • Hit up the dollar store. Both of our experts said this is a great option for stocking up. After all, you don’t need the fanciest flashlight – just a flashlight that works.
  • Spread out the expense. Try assembling your kit over time. Commit to buying one or two items per month if you can’t shuck out funds for everything now.
  • Involve your kids. Ask them to help you gather items or pick out a supply to buy each month. This also gives you a natural opportunity to teach them why that item is important and how to use it.
  • Don’t stress over space. Kits can be pretty small, so finding some space in your house for them shouldn’t be too tough (make sure they’re stored in an easily accessible space, not in the shed behind the house). Water storage can be the biggest challenge, but do what you can. Anything is better than nothing.
  • Shop in one place. Since camping needs tend to be similar to emergency needs, hit up a camping or outdoors supply store for an easy way to stock up on items.
  • Buy your kit. If time (not money) is your barrier, you can buy a pre-assembled it. Here are a bunch of options sold by the Red Cross.

Last but not least, don’t forget to keep your kit updated. You’d hate to break into your kit during an emergency and find spoiled food, last year’s prescriptions, and clothes that no longer fit the kids. Try checking your kit every year at Daylight Savings (when you also check your smoke detector batteries).

#2. Make A Plan– Making a plan takes nearly no time or money, so it’s something we should all try to do. It involves gathering some info, writing it down, and reviewing it with everyone in your household. The goal is make sure everyone has the right information and follows the same steps when a disaster comes rolling down the street (hopefully not literally). A plan should include:

  • Phone numbers for everyone in the family (be sure to include office, cell, and land line numbers)
  • The phone number of an out-of-town relative. Local lines can be unpredictable during a disaster, so it’s best to designate one out-of-town relative that everyone should call to check in with. That also helps local lines clear for emergency personnel to use.
  • Also, keep in mind that it’s often easier to text than make a call during an emergency. Plus, most phones will try to send a text until it goes through so you don’t have to repeatedly place calls.
  • A pre-determined meeting place outside of your neighborhood in case you can’t get home (a church, school or shopping center works)

You can a get a plan form to fill out here at

#3. Stay Informed – This is also a fairly easy one and it’s basically about making sure you know how to access updated information – like weather conditions (where is the storm headed?) and where to go for emergency relief (like where shelters are being set up). So learn what websites and radio stations broadcast local information (like our county sends updates on AM 1630). This is also where having a battery-operated radio and/or a NOAA weather radio comes into play.

Additional Links: If you want more information, the U.S. government operates a central website called with lots of info. You can also hunt down one for your states or county for more specific, regional information. In Virginia we’ve got


Thanks Amanda and Michelle for imparting their knowledge on us all! It’s definitely been a good reminder to us Petersiks that we need to double-check some of our supplies and put together a plan.

Psst – Since many of you are thoughtful enough to ask about how our neighbors are doing since the tree fell on their house during Irene, we’re happy to report they moved back in at Christmas (yep, nearly 4 months later!) after having extensive repairs and renovations done to make their house liveable again. Nearly half of the roof frame had to be removed and reconstructed so it was quite the project – but they made lemonade out of their lemons and had the contractors rebuilt the two bedrooms on the affected end of the house into one big master suite. We actually got a peek at it before it was finished and it was looking awesome.

Psssst – Images from and


  1. says

    Another item to either have in your emergency pack or make sure to always have on you is a blood donor card (or something else) with your blood type, just in case something happens and you need medical attention.

  2. LauraC says

    Hey, welcome to our (Pacific) time zone!

    I can attest to our need to upgrade our supplies/plan as we lost power for 48 hours during the ice storm in January (you may have even heard of it in VA, it was pretty major for Seattle). We have never ever lost power before! We were totally fine, got a bit chilly, but because we are avid backpackers/hikers we had quite the stash of food downstairs. We finally went over to my parents’ house the second night, but only because I had to host a baby shower the next day and needed to get ready (and a shower). It was a fun adventure and our kids loved it. But while we had everything we needed, we really should be more deliberate about it next time. Thanks for the reminder!

    See ya tomorrow! (Ha! The only time I will ever be able to write that, so I did, just for kicks.)

  3. says

    Living on the Gulf Coast for most of my life, you would think that I would more prepared than most. I am sad to say that I am the queen of all procrastination and I don’t have a disaster preparedness kit. We do have extra water and we have a fire-proof safe with all of our important documentation. I also keep all of our pictures on an external hard drive that I keep with me AT ALL TIMES. However, when CAT 3 or above hurricanes are coming, we just evacuate.

    Lately, I am worrying more and more about tornadoes since they have been popping up everywhere, so I need to get on this kit ASAP. Thanks for all of the tips!

  4. Kirsten says

    My parents’ house was hit by a tornado about a year and a half ago, and after being involved in the (extensive) clean-up and rebuilding, here are my two cents:

    – Yes, keep documents in a safe. But not only documents– also include irreplaceable things like negatives of baby photos, the CD of your wedding photos, important family recipes, etc. It’s also important to note that not all safes are fireproof for as long of time period as a fire would be burning, and your negatives could melt anyway. A safe deposit box at the bank is an even better option.

    – Have your computer backed up, and not just to an external hard drive in the same location. My parents’ computer was luckily able to be salvaged without any data lost, but had it not (or even if they’d had an external hard drive there next to it), my mom would have lost a decade of genealogical research, to say nothing of everything else.

    – In the case of a tornado, do not take warnings lightly, and if you have time when getting to shelter, take your purse, wallet, etc with you. My parents didn’t think about this, and my dad’s wallet was found untouched in the remains of their bedroom, yet the business cards stacked right next to it were found all over the neighborhood. Having to cancel (and remember) all the credit cards and such that was in your wallet is just one more thing you don’t want to deal with after a disaster.

    – The idea of taking pictures of all of the stuff in your house is definitely daunting, but SUCH good advice. When you’ve just lost your house and are emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted, it is a nightmare having to recollect every single item for the insurance adjusters to put on their list. If your house is in splinters and the items not even identifiable (or present), it would be even worse. Taking photos every once in a while just in case will save a lot of time and stress.

    I sincerely wish disasters of any kind on no one, but after learning the hard way, it is much better to be prepared for a worst-case scenario than to have to figure it all out after a crisis. Thank you John and Sherry for posting on such an important topic!

  5. says

    Thanks for this information. I am going to show it to my husband. So we can work together on a kit to keep at our house. Our neighborhood was hit by the tornadoes that came through Alabama last spring. Ever since then we have taken all warnings seriously. There are still houses here that haven’t been prepared yet.

  6. says

    SO pinning this article. So many places to put it “good ideas” “things I need to do” “411” which pin board will I put it under?!! Thanks J&S!

  7. says

    Great post! My husband likes to watch the show ‘Surviving Disaster’ and is always making little preparations. He mostly prepares for a Zombie apocalypse though and uses ‘The Walking Dead’ as a guide…

  8. nichole says is a great website for disaster preparedness. They also do a LOT of charity work involving other groups that help support people affected by disasters. There are all sorts of posts in their forums about being prepared for anything (haha, including zombies I suppose). Since I live in California, being ready for earthquakes is really important. Thankfully, we have never had to use our emergency kits…but it was nice to know they were there when the tsunami was on its way last year.

  9. Sarah says

    Our house was destroyed by a tree in April (and we’re still waiting to move back in, rebuilding has taken foreverrrr) and I’d like to elaborate on the home inventory item on the list: consider making a short video of the contents of your home. Just a short walkthrough with your closets open and any particularly expensive belongings showing. Store it online and hopefully you’ll never need it, but if you do it will be a lifesaver. It’s impossible to remember every single item your family owned, especially after workers have “helped” by throwing out damaged things, and you’ll need all the proof you can get when you submit your list of damages to the insurance.

    Thanks for all the other great tips :)

  10. Ryan says

    Thank you for this post! I actually put our kit together based on anther blog mentioning their earthquake kit, so I know posts like these can really motivate people!(We are in Texas and close enough to the coast to be worried about hurricanes). I can’t even tell you how much FUN my husband had putting our kit together with me. I call it the zombie apocalypse kit, because you know, it’s all encompassing like that.
    ALSO for the water Google bathtub bob. It’s basically a giant plastic bag you fill and leave in your bathtub to hold water in an emergency. We just saw one on doomsday preppers, a show on Nat. Geo. and I’m so going to order one.

  11. says

    Thanks for all of the tips. I never thought about getting a safety deposit box, that was a great idea for storing all your information besides a safe at your house, in case it gets ruined. I also forgot about getting stuff together for pets. How could I forget the pets?!? I have already sent my hubby the link to the post, so now I have him thinking about it too. Just in time for all this spring rain and nastiness.

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