Winter weather brings an increased risk of power outages and other emergencies for much of the country. Is your family prepared to live without electricity for several days? Now’s the time to figure that out. Gather a supply of food, water and gear so that you can stay safe and comfortable, no matter what this winter brings.
Ideally, you’ll stock two bins: one for food and one for other supplies.
Here’s how to get started.
Emergency Food Bin
Your emergency supplies should contain enough food and water to last you for several days. As you plan what to pack, keep in mind how many people and pets you’ll need to feed during the emergency. Consider special needs and food preferences, too.
The Red Cross recommends planning for two separate types of events: evacuations and at-home emergencies. The advice is to stash away enough food to last you for two weeks at home. You’ll also want to have three days’ worth that can go with you in an emergency.
Shelf-stable food that can be eaten at room temperature is best. During an emergency, your stove and refrigerator may be out of commission.
- Nut butter
- Tuna or canned chicken
- Canned fruits and vegetables
- Protein bars
- Shelf-stable boxed milk
Sticking with ready-to-eat food limits your options. That said, keep your family’s tastes in mind when stocking your emergency bin. Arguing with your kids about food is the last thing you’ll want to do during a crisis.
If you have an infant, make sure your emergency stash includes baby food or formula, even if Mom is breastfeeding. It never hurts to have a backup if breastmilk suddenly becomes unavailable for whatever reason.
And when you’re choosing formula, go with the kind that’s already prepared and ready to drink. Pre-mixed formula is best for these situations since it doesn’t require adding clean water, a precious resource during emergencies.
The easiest (and safest) way to stock your water supply is to buy bottled water. The public service campaign Ready says that you should have 1 gallon of water per person per day. Nursing mothers and people with special health needs may need even more than that.
As with food, the Red Cross advises having a three-day supply of water to take with your family during an evacuation. For at-home emergencies, you should store enough bottled water to last for two weeks.
Bottled water is reasonably affordable, especially if you buy it in large containers. Examples include 2- or 5-gallon jugs. If you decide to fill other containers instead, make sure that they are food-safe. Wash and bleach the jugs before filling them. Home-filled water supplies should be refreshed every six months.
Emergency Gear and Supplies
Enough food and water to last your family for two weeks will take up a decent amount of space. You’ll want a separate bin for the other emergency gear you’ll need. That includes:
When the lights are out, flashlights will illuminate your path or make a dark room feel cozier. Stock your emergency bin with one or more flashlights. Make sure to include spare batteries, too.
These days, you probably depend on your phone for news more often than the radio. In an emergency, though, your phone may no longer be an option. The battery may die, or your cell service might be spotty.
To keep you connected with the outside world, pack a radio in your bin. During an emergency, you can tune in for news and updates about the situation.
Don’t choose a radio that must be plugged in. You can opt for a battery-operated model, but include spare batteries. There are also hand-crank radios on the market. Designed for emergency use, they may include weather alerts as well.
You can also buy an all-in-one weather radio that can also charge your cell phone (to a limited degree), making it a good emergency choice.
First Aid Kit
During a storm, getting to the doctor may be difficult. With a well-stocked first aid kit, you’ll be able to treat many minor illnesses and injuries at home.
Make sure your first aid kit includes:
- Antibiotic cream
- Bandages, gauze and medical tape
- Disinfecting solution
- Instant ice packs
- Anti-itch cream
- Over-the-counter medicine for conditions like headaches, diarrhea, heartburn, allergies and constipation
- Pain relievers
- Tweezers and scissors
For safety, you may also want to have dust masks on hand. If a disaster contaminates the air, the right masks could offer some protection.
The temperature can drop quickly during a winter power outage. While you may already have plenty of blankets at home to use for warmth, it might be worth getting a few emergency blankets, too. They’ll come in handy if you need to evacuate.
Emergency blankets pack small. They’re made of heat-reflective material that uses your own body heat to keep you warm. Plus, emergency blankets often come in bright colors that can be easily spotted by rescue workers.
During a crisis, don’t spend your limited water supply on washing dishes if you can avoid it. And if you have paper plates and plastic utensils in your bin, you won’t have to. Include some paper towels as well.
Cleaning Supplies and Toiletries
Cleaning your house might be the last thing on your mind during an emergency, but you’ll still want to make sure that things are sanitary.
Antibacterial hand sanitizer is helpful for keeping germs at bay, while wet wipes can be useful for wiping down your family members if you can’t take baths or showers.
Include basic toiletries, too, such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, toilet paper, sanitary menstrual products, and diapers (if applicable).
Put a can opener in your kit. That way, you’ll be able to open your shelf-stable food items. Make sure it’s a manual one since you might need it during a power outage.
Put a pair of pliers and a wrench in your supply stash, too. Those tools will be useful if you need to shut off your water or natural gas.
Matches and a roll of duct tape might come in handy as well.
Hopefully, this is one item you’ll never need. But if you’re trapped, you can use it to alert rescue workers to your location.
Games and Diversions
Most of the items in your emergency bin are to keep you safe and fed. But you might appreciate a few “just for fun” items as well. Power outages can be boring and stressful. Having a bit of entertainment can go a long way.
Possibilities include card games, kids’ toys, puzzle books and coloring pages with crayons for the kids.
You may need various documents during an emergency, especially if you have to evacuate. Keeping copies in one spot will prevent a last-minute scramble.
Put these papers in a grab-and-go file that you can access easily if you need it:
- Emergency contact numbers
- Copies of insurance policies
- Proof of where you live, including a copy of your deed or lease
It’s also smart to have a local map so that you can find your way during an evacuation. You might not be able to count on cell service for navigation.
Personal Family Needs
Before you close up your emergency box, think about your family’s specific needs. You might need to add certain items.
For instance, if you have a pet, put food and care supplies in your bin. If you wear contacts, have contact solution and spare lenses available. For family members who take medication, include a seven-day supply. Babies require diapers, wipes and other care essentials.
Brainstorm a list of the items your family uses every day and pack your box accordingly.