You’ve been thinking about it. You’ve decided it’s finally time. But whenever you Google “how to build an emergency kit,” the results are so overwhelming. From bunkers to non-GMO seeds to lists hundreds of items long, where should you start?
I’ve been there. And that experience is what eventually brought me here, with a mission to help other moms – regular people – get their families prepared for emergencies, easily and without overwhelm. As I like to say, there’s no survivalism or homesteading here, only prepping for normals.
As I started researching preparedness I realized there must be a better way, but I couldn’t find one online. That’s why I developed my own systems for prioritization and building a kit. I’ll cover my prioritization system in a future post. For now, let’s talk about my kit building approach.
One word: Modules.
Okay, I’m probably not the first person to come up with this idea, but I didn’t see it anywhere else and it has helped me. Here’s hoping it will help you, too. If you approach your kit one module at a time, you’ll get a lot further a lot quicker than getting lost in Google.
First, stop. Breathe. You don’t have to do it all. Something is better than nothing. Don’t let those super-duper-prepper websites overwhelm you. Say it with me: Something … is … better … than … nothing!
Now without any further ado, here are my Lucky 13 modules:
1. The Basic First Aid Module
I like to start with the basic first aid module for a couple of reasons. First, it’s easy to buy a basic first aid kit. They’re readily available and you can get a pretty decent one for under $20, like this one from Amazon. (Note: I am not an affiliate. All product links are solely to help you.) My other reason is that in the wake of an earthquake or tornado type disaster, the first thing you may need is first aid supplies. Basic first aid kits usually contain band-aids, gauze pads, alcohol wipes, and antibiotic gel. Some also contain tweezers, scissors, burn gel, Q-tips, gloves, and other small items.
2. The Advanced First Aid & Medical Module
After the basic first aid kit, you can compile this module for slightly more severe injuries and medication for minor illnesses. You might want to include one or more instant cold packs, the chemical kind that don’t need to be refrigerated; they get cold when you squeeze them.
Wander down the first aid aisle of your local drugstore and pick out whatever you’d want to have with you at Disneyland – is it just me who thinks that way? It drives my husband crazy how much stuff I carry everywhere.
This module is also for over-the-counter medications such as Benedryl, anti-diarrheal, pain killers, and fever reducers. You should also start a backup supply of any prescription medication.
3. The Food & Water Module
You’ve got a few choices for food and a few for water. I recommend going with a mix, because each format has its pros and cons.
For sheltering in place, canned foods are a no-brainer. It’s easy to buy extra on your regular grocery store run, and your family is likely to eat them before the expiration date. Calorie bars are small, economical, and easy to carry, while MREs are bulkier but light, generally a whole lot tastier than calorie bars, but more expensive.
What kind of water is safe to drink in an emergency? Unless you hear otherwise from your local water authority, do not drink from your faucets. Earthquakes can break underground water lines, letting unsafe sediments into the water supply. Animal carcasses pollute the water supply in floods and hurricanes.
The good news is that water, like food, can be stored in a number of formats that are good for emergency use. The CDC recommends commercially bottled water as the safest and most reliable source of drinking water in an emergency. This page from the CDC covers other ways to store and save emergency water.
How much water do you really need to store for disaster prep? Try our advanced emergency water calculator!
4. The Light & Power Module
Includes items to give you light and power in a blackout.. The lighting items you might choose – and you don’t need all of them – would be flashlights, candles, matches, emergency light sticks, lanterns, etc. Power sources include batteries and extra batteries, a portable power bank or solar charger for powering your electronics, or if you want to go big, an emergency generator.
Some flashlights and lanterns are hand-crank, so the power is literally in your hands.
5. The Hygiene & Sanitation Module
Let’s talk potty. Yes, potty talk. If you’re running low on emergency water you won’t be able to flush your toilet. There are some nifty bucket toilets you can buy with seat lids and mixing chemicals. Since you’ll also need to use no-leak biohazard bags with the bucket toilet – unless you’re way out in the woods – a slightly more economical way to go (“go,” heh) would be to stock up on biohazard bags without the bucket.
I think we’ve all learned about hygiene since March 2020. Think hand sanitizer, Lysol, Clorex wipes, handiwipes, latex or nitrile gloves. Before you go buying extra, think about whether you already have some of these in your first aid kit.
6. The Warmth & Shelter Module
Two basics of emergency warmth and shelter are par for the course in commercially purchased emergency kits: the foil survival blanket and the rain poncho.
Foil survival blankets, also called space blankets, are very lightweight and pack up very small, perfect for carry-along emergency kits. They can preserve up to 90% of the wearer’s body heat, and are therefore also useful additions to prevent shock from injuries. Great to keep in your first aid kit and/or in your car in case of accidents.
Space blankets are also helpful as ground covers to keep out the cold when camping or sleeping outdoors. See this page from How Stuff Works to learn more uses and fascinating info about space blankets.
Other items you might think about chemical hand and foot warmers, hats, and emergency tents. But again, something is better than nothing.
7. The PPE Module
Again, I think we’ve all been schooled in PPE since The ‘Rona came to town. Masks and latex/nitrile gloves are the main items during a pandemic or to keep yourself from picking up any kind of nasty bug in a community emergency shelter.
You also may want a hard hat, especially if you live in earthquake country and may find yourself searching your home or building for survivors after earthquake damage, when aftershocks could knock loose dangerous pieces of building or furniture.
It’s important, too, in earthquake country, to keep gloves and easy-on shoes or hard-soled slippers by the side of your bed. Don’t forget to put them on before you get up to survey the damage. Feet and hands are the most commonly injured parts of the body in disasters.
8. The Communication Module
In terms of communication, you’ll want to think about communicating with your loved ones as well as with emergency responders and authorities, for both outgoing and incoming information.
A battery- or hand-powered radio will give you important information from authorities about the scope and effects of the disaster, as well as evacuation orders.
Portable power banks or solar chargers can keep your phone charged, but be aware that in a major disaster, local cell phone circuits are likely to be overwhelmed. Be sure to keep an out-of-state emergency contact in all family members’ phones so you can check up on each other through this contact.
Low-tech communication items might include emergency whistles, window signs alerting emergency personnel about pets inside, blank paper, a Sharpie, and duct tape for alerting others about where you’ve gone or about the condition of residents.
How much water do you need to store for disaster prep? Try our advanced emergency water calculator!
9. The MacGyver Module
You might not find yourself defusing a bomb with chewing gum and a hairpin, but lots of random multi-use things can come in handy.
Here are a few of my “MacGyver” items … a Swiss Army Knife, safety pins, a sewing kits, scissors, eyeglass repair kit, rubber bands, carabiners … you get the picture.
The MacGyver Module is one that I’m always adding to, this or that. I always get a little zing of pleasure when I come across something else that goes in this category, lol.
10. The Personal Care Module
If you need to evacuate, think about what you’ll need to feel like yourself. Think about a travel-size toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, dry shampoo, brush or comb, even maybe a soap and a washcloth – anything it’ll take for you to feel your best. You’ll need to feel as good as possible to be able to navigate the post-disaster experience.
11. The Emotional Support Module
Speaking of feeling as good as possible, don’t neglect your emotions and your spirit. You can find homeopathic or aromatherapy products to help keep you calm or focused. Pack a small version of the scripture of your choice or a mini prayer book. A fuzzy, Beanie Baby-sized stuffie can help calm a stressed-out child.
12. The Entertainment Module
If you can manage it, save your emergency power for important communications. Board games and books around the house are good for sheltering in place. For evacuation purposes, pack small versions/quantities of whatever you’d keep at home … miniature crossword books, paper and crayons, a second copy of a favorite book.
Entertainment is an important part of keeping spirits up.
13. The Community Shelter Module
If you’re skimming this article, look above in the following module sections for important notes about what will come in handy in a community emergency shelter: Hygiene & Sanitation, PPE, Personal Care, Emotional Support, and Entertainment.
In addition, think of spending hours at a time in a room with a bunch of other stressed-out people, and worse, sleeping in the same room as dozens of strangers. I recommend ear plugs and a sleeping mask, and a way to secure your belongings such as a suitcase lock. Search “secret stash” on Amazon for clever products where you can hide cash or copies of your ID.
I’ve never had to stay in an emergency shelter and I worry about the psychological need for privacy. Maybe an emergency tent would be a good addition to your community shelter module. If you have other ideas, please share them in the comments!
That wraps up my Lucky 13. I’ll cover each module in detail in later posts. Until then, happy normal prepping!
How much water do you need to store for disaster prep? Try our advanced emergency water calculator!