No place is completely safe from natural disasters or man-made emergencies. Whether you live in earthquake country like California, on a beach in hurricane-prone Florida or downwind from a nuclear power plant, you need survival tips on how to be prepared for a crisis.
The single most important thing in an emergency is to remain calm -- and preparation goes a long way in helping people keep their wits when the worst happens. Disaster-preparedness experts from across the country have studied countless emergencies and found that taking a few simple, inexpensive steps can make a big difference in helping people survive disasters.
The following is a list of the ten most important things to have available in case of an emergency. Most experts believe you should be prepared to survive on your own for three days after a disaster, and possibly longer. Focus first on the basics: water, food and warmth.
1. Water is the single most essential item in your emergency kit, and each person in your household can be expected to need one gallon each day for at least three days. A family of four, for example, would need at least 12 gallons on hand, preferably in secure plastic containers. Water purification kits, or bleach to purify water, may also come in handy. Ice is also very handy for keeping food fresh when power goes out, and when it melts it can be used for flushing toilets (or drinking, if it's still fresh).
2. Food, like water, needs to be available in a three-day stockpile. Make sure it's non-perishable; canned fruit, meats, vegetables and juices are ideal. Pack a camp stove or prepare to have no source of heat for cooking. Don't forget to include utensils like can openers, knives, forks, spoons, plates and cups. Aluminum foil comes in handy for wrapping and short-term storage.
3. A first-aid kit with a first-aid reference book will keep minor medical incidents from becoming big emergencies. There are ready-made kits available in many stores. If you decide to assemble your own, make sure you include the basics like bandages, gauze pads, antiseptic wipes, adhesive tape, scissors and pain medication.
4. A radio, either hand-crank or battery-operated, will keep you in touch with the outside world and let you listen to any emergency broadcasts for your region. Stock up on extra batteries if your radio uses them, and check their expiration dates at least once a year.
5. It's critical to have a flashlight or two for nighttime use, or for seeing into darkened buildings and corridors when there's no electric power. Again, make sure you have extra fresh batteries available.
6. Because you need to be ready for several days -- and nights -- you'll need overnight sleeping supplies. Bedding like sleeping bags and blankets are essential; a small pillow, even if it's just a rolled-up jacket, can be a real comfort.
7. Cash might seem like an unusual thing to stock, but remember that when electricity and telephone lines are down, ATMs will be useless. Keep enough on hand to buy any food, water or emergency supplies you might lack.
8. Don’t forget about personal hygiene: Keep plenty of toilet paper stored in waterproof plastic bags. Moist towelettes, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste and feminine hygiene supplies are also a good idea. And heavy-duty garbage bags or "contractor bags" are useful for a number of things, including rain ponchos and waste disposal.
9. Keep at least one clean change of clothing on hand for each family member. Remember to include sturdy, comfortable shoes, warm lightweight jackets, hats and gloves. Prepare for cold, rainy or snowy weather.
10. Since not everyone can be MacGyver, it helps to keep a few basic tools in your emergency kit. Include pliers or a wrench for turning off utilities, a fire extinguisher, hammer, utility knife, camping knife, duct tape, dust masks, screwdrivers, tarp or plastic sheets and rope.
These suggested items are just the bare minimum of what every household should have readily available in their home. It's also a good idea to have essential supplies available at work, at school and when traveling. Storing items in the trunk of a car might be an option for some households.
Households with members who have special needs will have to take special precautions. Parents of infants, for example, need to pack supplies like diapers, formula, baby wipes, pacifiers and baby food. Games, books, and puzzles help children pass the time. Seniors may consider adding items like hearing aid batteries to an emergency kit. And all families should remember to add any prescription medication -- as well as extra prescription eyeglasses -- to an emergency kit.
Important documents like insurance policies, banking information and birth certificates should be stored in a fireproof, waterproof, portable container. And finally, don't forget about your pets: dog and/or cat food, leashes, medication and extra water will be needed for them.
In addition to storing emergency supplies, your family should make an emergency plan that includes ways of reaching family members who may not be at home if a disaster strikes. Telephone lines may be down locally, for example, so it's smart to designate an out-of-state contact person who can relay communication between separated family members.