As a homesteading blogger, I will naturally write posts on emergency preparedness from time to time. This is because the lines between homesteading and prepping are razor thin. There are definite differences, but as homesteaders, we are always striving toward greater self-reliance, and that means being prepared for whatever life throws at us.
On the other side of the coin, self-identifying preppers are all about being prepared for absolutely anything, especially disasters and emergencies. And so homesteaders and preppers share this common goal: to be ready to fend for ourselves, care for our families and survive both the best and the worst of times.
Ideally, if the proverbial shit hits the fan, both preppers and homesteaders know it’s best to stay put at home if at all possible, where our stockpiles and supplies are at the ready and we have a more-or-less safe space to hunker down and ride out the worst of a bad situation. But as we know, disasters and emergencies do not tend to unfold in ideal ways, and very often they can (and do) force us from our homes.
As we speak, thousands of people are being told they need to evacuate from their homes due to hundreds of uncontrolled wildfires burning in the interior of B.C. I’m just a relative stone’s throw away from there, on Vancouver Island, and we are tinder dry here too. It could just as easily happen here.
Out west, we are seeing hotter, dryer summers (and hence more and worse wildfires) every year. It is a very real threat here and there is no “hunkering down” in extreme cases. Many people have no choice but to leave their homes, wondering if they’ll even have a home to come back to.
Of course, fires aren’t the only thing that might cause you to evacuate. On the east coast, hurricanes force people out of their homes all too often. Earthquakes, as well as resulting tsunamis, could force evacuation orders on the west coast. In addition to natural disasters, industrial disasters, chemical spills, threat of war and even spread of disease could cause people to leave their homes, whether by force or by choice.
So what do you take with you if you have to leave? Earlier today on a special news report, the major of one of the towns under evacuation order told residents to make sure they had 3 days worth of supplies and a full tank of gas. By tonight’s newscast, grocery store shelves were running dangerously low and gas stations were almost empty. Naturally, it’s better to be prepared ahead of time if possible. So don’t wait for disaster to strike. Get prepared now with these 15 items you should always have ready in case of emergency.
1. Important Documents
Birth certificates, marriage certificates, social security/social insurance cards, passports, insurance policies… You should have all of these important documents (or at least copies of them) packaged together and accessible in case you need to grab things and go quickly.
Either have them packed in a bug out bag or at least have them in an envelope or clipped together somewhere that is easily accessible. And make sure they’re somewhere you won’t forget about! The last thing you want in an emergency is to waste precious time searching high and low for something like this.
You should have a 1 litre bottle of water per person at the very least to last everyone in your family until you get somewhere safe. If it will take you more than a day to get somewhere safer with access to clean drinking water, you will need more water.
FEMA recommends one gallon per person per day. Of course it can be tough to pack around (or even pack up) that much water, so you should at least have a Lifestraw to filter out contaminants from questionable water sources.
Each person in our house has a Lifestraw Go water bottle, which can be filled before leaving home and refilled -even with contaminated water- and provide filtered, clean drinking water.
Ideally, you should have enough food to get you and your family through at least three days in case of emergency. However anything is better than nothing. Make sure you have a bug out bag (or your vehicle) packed with non-perishable snacks and food that requires little to no cooking, tools or mess to clean up.
Some ideas are granola bars, beef jerky, trail mix, crackers, dried fruit and fruit leather. You could also pack some instant noodles that come in their own cup for cooking. They may not be the healthiest thing in the world, but they will fill you up and provide a hot meal in a pinch as long as you can access some boiling water. (Make sure to pack some utensils if you will need them).
Home-canned goods like pickles and apple sauce could be packed up at the last minute, but it’s not advisable to store home-canned goods for “bugging out” because temperature fluctuations could affect them if stored in a hot vehicle trunk or in a backpack. Plus, since canning jars are made out of glass, they run the risk of breaking. However, if you have a little warning, you could easily grab a couple jars of jam and a loaf of homemade bread (or store-bought) and pack that for the road. That would give you a nice, filling snack until you get something more substantial.
You can also dehydrate your own food. If you want to make sure you are packing healthy, shelf-stable dried food, you can make your own fruit leather, dried fruits and veggies and even beef jerky with an at-home food dehydrator. I personally own and use a 9-tray Excalibur Food Dehydrator. Any dehydrator will do, but Excalibur is the gold standard for food dehydrators and well worth the investment if you plan on doing a lot of dehydrating at home.
4. Basic First Aid Kit
Any emergency supply list should always include at least a basic First Aid kit. You can purchase one that’s pre-assembled like this one, or you could build your own. If you build your own, you should include:
- Sterile gauze/field dressing
- Medical tape
- Alcohol wipes (for sterilization)
- Tensor bandage
- Roller bandages
- Latex gloves
- Abdominal pads
- Any other specialized emergency medical supplies, such as an EpiPen or an asthma inhaler.
You should also take a First Aid course if possible so you know what to do in event of an emergency. You can search Google for First Aid courses near you.
5. Pet Carriers/Supplies
While this doesn’t apply to everyone, many of us have pets that are like family to us, and who we will obviously take with us if we are forced to flee. Having pet carriers and supplies ready and easily accessible will save a lot of time in the event of an emergency.
We have a pet rabbit and two cats. They will all need carriers. We used to store the pet carriers in the basement where they were difficult to get at. Now I have them in our mudroom, ready with blankets inside. I also have a bag of supplies beside the carriers that is ready to grab and go. It contains some pet treats, bottled water for the animals, bowls for them to eat and drink from and some freeze dried pet food that is light and easy to pack around.
If you have livestock (and a way to transport them), make sure you have a plan for loading them into the vehicle and do your best to bring along some food and water for them. In some cases it will be difficult if not impossible to save all of your livestock. If this is the case and you can’t get them to safety in time, a last resort might be a method called “sheltering in place.” This basically just means that, rather than evacuating, you decide whether to confine livestock to a safe area or cut the fences and open the gates so that they can run if needed. If you can’t take them with you, give them the best fighting chance at life that you can.
6. Baby Supplies: diapers, clothes, food, supplies, diaper bag etc.
Again, this one doesn’t apply to everyone, but if you have a baby or toddler, you should also have a diaper bag packed with enough diapers, wipes, and any other necessary supplies to get you through as long as possible (aim for three days worth).
Other supplies might include baby formula and bottles if you don’t breastfeed, packs of baby food, changes of clothes and pyjamas, blankets and receiving blankets. Only you know what you will need for your specific situation.
7. Extra Clothing
Having some extra clothing packed doesn’t seem like the most important thing on this list, and while it probably isn’t, it will be a huge comfort and relief to be able to put on a clean shirt and a new pair of underwear until you can get somewhere where you can clean your clothes and/or get some new clothes. Also, if you get wet or need to layer up or down, having extra clothes could go from being a comfort to a necessity.
Aim for 3 pairs of clean underwear, an extra t-shirt, a couple pairs of socks and a warm hoodie or sweatshirt for each family member. And don’t forget about shoes! While you might not want to pack extra shoes, make sure you at least leave home in sensible shoes (preferably closed). It sounds obvious, but it’s not a time to wear your heels, boots with lots of laces or go barefoot! Make sure you have sensible shoes ready to slip on at the door.
8. Pillows & Blankets
Another great comfort when away from home is to have some warm, comfortable blankets and pillows of your own. This is especially true if you need to sleep in your vehicle, and even more so if it’s winter.
Keep a big, warm blanket in each of your family vehicles, big enough for the whole family to huddle under together. And keep some pillows in cases with handles (like the cases you can buy them in) so you can either store them in vehicles or grab and go quickly. Of course, if you have enough warning you can also just bring the ones from your bed. But if you have 5 minutes to grab and go, you will be glad to have some packed up and ready.
This is a major one. If any family member is on prescription medication, relies on an inhaler, insulin, an epipen or has any special medical needs, you need to make sure you have potentially life-saving medications with you when you leave home. While I wouldn’t recommend packing these ahead of time as a) you will need to use them b) extra medication os expensive and c) they don’t store well long-term, you should keep all medications together in an easily spot.
As for non-prescription medications, you could stash some pain reliever (like ibuprofen or acetaminophen) in your first aid kit. Aspirin isn’t a bad idea either. it could save someone’s life if they’re having a heart attack.
Also, I hate to even put this on here (especially under medication), but if you are a smoker, have an emergency pack in your bug out bag. I’m an ex-smoker, so as much as I don’t advocate or encourage smoking AT ALL, I also know what it’s like to be one, and how smokers turn to cigarettes in stressful times. A major disaster is probably not the best time to try quitting. So don’t smoke. But if you do, stash an emergency pack and a lighter.
You should keep at least some travel-sized toiletries and personal hygiene products in a bug out bag so that you can keep clean while away from home. Keeping clean not only helps to keep you healthy and prevents the spread of illness, it can also be a huge boost to your mental and emotional well-being to feel clean and refreshed.
Pack basic personal hygiene items (ladies, forget the makeup and hair products!). Here’s a sample list of what you should have ready in your bag:
- Toothbrush (per person)
- Facial cleanser and/or body wash (botted is better than bar as a bar is harder to store when wet, but you could put it in a plastic bag)
- Hand sanitizer
- Toilet or tissue paper
- Tampons or pads (because of course it will be “that time” right in the middle of a dire emergency)
- Hair brush and ties for long hair
- Nail clippers
- Towel (or at least a hand towel to dry off)
11. Full tank of gas
If you have enough warning and you can fill your vehicle up, get to your nearest gas station right away and fill your tank. Gas is one of the first things to run out during an emergency (especially an evacuation), and if you don’t have enough you won’t make it safely to your destination.
In case you can’t fill up for any reason, you should always keep your gas tank at least half-full. As soon as you hit the halfway mark on your gas gauge, fill up. This way you’ll never run out of gas even if it’s not an emergency.
You could also store a jerrycan of gas in your garage, but don’t expect it to last indefinitely. Oil degrades over time and if it’s left to sit for too long you might find that when you fill your tank it fails completely. And don’t store it in your vehicle! I did that when my gas gauge was broken and I could smell gasoline every time I got in my car. The fumes are not healthy. Store in garage and rotate and replace regularly.
12. Survival Kit + Tools
Every bug out bag should contain some basic survival gear. Even if you know you will be going to stay with family or even at a shelter where you will be taken care of, there are so many things that could happen on your journey that could require the use of some very basic survival gear.
Likewise, you might need some basic tools and parts in case your vehicle breaks down, your path is blocked by fallen branches or a plethora of other reasons.
Here are some basic items you should have with you
- Flashlight (headlamps are great too)
- Lighter, matches and flint (you can’t have too many ways to start fire)
- Road flares
- Pocket knife
- Jumper Cables
- Spare Tire
- Axe (or at least a hatchet)
- Bungee cords
- Firestarters or dry material to start fire (I keep a Ziplock bag full of old dryer lint in my bug out bag to start fires with)
13. Books & Games
This is more important than you might realize, especially if you have kids! Pack a few lightweight books, games, colouring books and crayons, puzzles, etc. to keep younger family member occupied and take their mind off the situation. This can be a HUGE morale booster for the whole family. Also, if you end up at a shelter or somewhere where you will need to wait the disaster out, having a deck of cards with you can help to pass the time.
A journal is also a good idea for anyone who likes to write (just don’t forget a pen!). And books are always a great escape from reality. Choose good ones that transport you to a totally different (happy) place. Harry Potter is always a good choice for older kids (and adults) alike!
14. Emergency Cash
In a disaster, there’s no guarantee that bank or debit machines will be working, so it’s imperative that you have some cash on you in case you need to purchase anything. I always keep at least $100 cash in the emergency bag I have stashed in the trunk of my vehicle (as it’s good to always have that cash on you when you’re away from home). But at least keep some cash in a bug out bag or somewhere accessible at home where you can grab it. Don’t rely on stopping at an ATM.
Aside from the emergency cash I keep on me at all times, there is also some cash in my daughter’s piggy bank that I would grab if I had enough time! Just a thought:)
Now, it’s all well and good to know what to pack and to have most of it ready to go, but during an emergency where you might have as little as a couple minutes to grab what you need, having a checklist that you can refer to can help you make sure you don’t forget anything.
Keep your checklist somewhere prominent (no sense in wasting your precious time searching for a checklist on top of everything else). Put it up on your fridge or on a cork board where every family member can see it and knows where it is. Go over it in a family meeting and make sure everyone knows what to do in event of an emergency.
To be well prepared, you need to make sure the whole family is on board and ready to work together. Preparedness is a joint effort.
How you prepare is up to you
There are many more things I could include on this list, and of course depending on how much time you have to evacuate or bug out, you might be able to pack up more or less. Other factors such as the size of your vehicle, whether or not you have a camper or trailer, or whether you even have your own vehicle at all and how large your family is will obviously dictate exactly how much you can bring with you. This is a basic list of things you should do your best to pack with you and have ready to go if you need to evacuate. But only you know what actually makes the most sense for your own family and situation.
At the end of the day, how you prepare is up to you. But do be prepared. Never think it can’t or won’t happen to you. And don’t expect anyone else to take care of you and your family. While disaster situations often prompt an outpouring of support and goodwill from others (and yes, even from government), there are often so many people affected by large-scale disasters that there has to be some level of personal responsibility on behalf of everyone.
As the mayor from that poor town currently on evacuation order said in his newscast, “we’re prepared, but you need to be prepared too… Be diligent, do your homework, be ready and be prepared.” That’s all you can do really. And help out your fellow humans and animals alike if and when possible. We’re all in this together.
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