Natural disasters, from wildfires to floods, caused by climate change are hitting more Americans every year. Many people are surprised by emergencies in their communities, but there are ways to prepare that can help protect your life and health if the worst happens.
A crucial step is to have one emergency bag, or kit go. This is usually a backpack or holdall filled with essentials to stay safe when you need to leave home quickly. These bags usually contain small first aid kits, water, personal hygiene items, batteries, a radio, flashlights, copies of important documents, and non-perishable food. Some companies sell ready-made go bags that contain many of these essentials, like this one one on Amazon or this family bag. Many of these pre-made kits contain enough supplies for 48 to 72 hours and cost anywhere from around $50 for one person to more than $300 for a family.
What you need in your travel bag will depend on where you live and the type of disaster you are likely to face. Here’s our guide to making sure your kit is well stocked. Scroll to the end for a checklist.
Things to consider now before an emergency
Forward planning could mean the difference between a safe evacuation or being stranded without supplies from home. “The best time to prepare for the next disaster is when the current one ends,” Jeannette Sutton, a disaster and risk communications expert at the University of Albany, told Earther.
Sutton said people should discuss possible emergencies and evacuation plans with friends, families and neighbors. A preliminary plan and some supplies can make a world of difference in overall health and safety. She suggested writing the information down and posting it on the fridge where it would be easy for everyone in the household to see.
Mariel Fonteyn, director of US emergency response at Health Nonprofit Americares, said that people often forget to get their medical information. When someone arrives at an animal shelter without accurate information about their prescriptions, including drug names and dosage, it will be difficult for emergency responders to get them the medication they need — which can be dangerous for anyone, but especially the chronically ill. Fonteyn suggests taking photos of the information on prescription drug bottles.
“If people can afford it, have a seven-day supply of this medicine ready,” she said. “That’s actually one of the biggest needs we see after disasters, because food is brought in, water is brought in, but prescription drugs can be a lot more difficult.”
Fonteyn also recommends finding space in the bag for convenience items, including a deck of cards or a child’s favorite toy. “In shelters, especially evacuation shelters, it’s really boring. You just sit around waiting for information and to go home,” she said. “Pack something to do.”
If your home is at risk of flooding
If you have to leave an area during or after heavy rainfall, rain ponchos and rain boots will help you stay dry. If possible, keep extra plastic bags on your head so you can pack important documents and electronics to avoid water damage, especially if you have to wade through water or evacuate by boat.
A working mobile phone is essential in all emergencies. To avoid water damage, consider adding a waterproof phone case to your travel bag. If you take home important documents like birth certificates and the deed, you should keep them in one waterproof bag also.
If your home is at risk from wildfires
If you live in or near an area that has experienced wildfires, wear it additional masks with you and other forms of face, eye and skin protection. If you have sensitive eyes or are concerned about being around a lot of smoke, add a pair safety goggles to your Go kit. Pack a change of clothes because the outfit you are evacuating in can get dirty if you are exposed to a lot of smoke.
When exiting, try to have at least two evacuation routes. Wildfires can spread and change direction quickly, so it’s best to have a backup escape route if you become unsafe.
If you live in a colder climate
If you live somewhere that gets cold — or even just chilly — add a waterproof poncho to your bag. This keeps your clothes drier in the rain or snow, which in turn keeps you warmer. Consider adding extra gloves, socks, and plastic bags. The pockets can be lined with socks to keep your feet warm and dry in particularly cold weather.
Also add hand warmers and foot warmers. You can buy bulk packs online or at many local pharmacies. If there’s room in your holdall, add a small blanket and sweater for extra warmth.
Luggage bag checklist
- First aid kit
- IDs and important documents such as birth certificate, house certificate or rental agreement
- Waterproof pocket (for important documents and phones)
- Water (one gallon per person per day)
- Non-perishable foods
- animal feed
- Pet carrier
- Whistle (to call for help if needed)
- Additional batteries
- Battery operated or hand crank radio
- Physical copies of local maps
- Wet wipes or baby wipes for hygiene
- Oral hygiene products such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and dental floss
- Travel size personal care items such as soap, shampoo and lotion
- Additional personal care products such as tampons and pads
- hand sanitizer
- Portable Cell Phone Charger
- Extra clothes to change into
- Gloves (if you live in a cold climate)
- Disposable hand warmers (if you live in a cold climate)
- Thermal underpants and singlet (if you live in a cold climate)
- Gloves (if you live in a cold climate)
- Safety goggles (if you live near wildfires)
- Dust mask (if you live near wildfires)
- rain poncho
- Comfort items (books, cards, games)