8 Essential Emergency Supplies for Every Family

By Tim Chesonis •  Updated: 03/22/23 •  18 min read
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Eight essential emergency supplies every family should have include water, non-perishable food, a first aid kit, flashlights and batteries, a communication plan, extra clothing and bedding, and a set of essential tools. These items will help families stay safe, nourished, and comfortable during a crisis. Being prepared with these supplies can make all the difference when disaster strikes.

Are you prepared for an emergency? Discover eight must-have supplies that can make all the difference for your family during unexpected crises. This easy-to-follow guide is packed with unique tips and actionable steps to help you stock up on the right items, so you can face any situation with confidence. Don’t leave your family’s safety to chance – read on and get prepared now!

1. What are the Basic Emergency Supplies?

Let’s dive into the essentials every family needs in case of an emergency. Knowing the basic supplies to have on hand can make a significant difference in your ability to cope with a crisis. In this section, we’ll discuss the key items that should be in every family’s emergency kit, and explain why these supplies are so important for your safety and well-being.

Key Items to Have in an Emergency Kit

The key items to have in an emergency kit include:

  1. Water
    Store enough drinking water for each family member, considering a minimum of one gallon per person per day. Clean drinking water is vital for survival and maintaining good health, especially during a crisis when regular water sources might be compromised.
  2. Non-perishable food
    Stock up on long-lasting, nutritious food items that don’t require refrigeration or cooking. Non-perishable food keeps you nourished and energized when access to fresh food and cooking facilities is limited.
  3. First aid kit
    Keep a well-stocked first aid kit with essential supplies like bandages, pain relievers, and any necessary prescription medications. A first aid kit allows you to treat minor injuries, manage pain, and address any specific medical needs, reducing the reliance on external medical assistance.
  4. Flashlights and batteries
    Have a reliable flashlight with extra batteries for each family member to ensure visibility during power outages. Flashlights and batteries provide light during power outages or in low-visibility situations, helping to prevent accidents and maintain a sense of normalcy.
  5. Communication plan
    Develop a plan to stay connected with loved ones during an emergency, including contact information and meeting points. An emergency communication plan keeps your family connected, informed, and able to coordinate during a crisis, reducing anxiety and confusion.
  6. Extra clothing and bedding
    Pack extra clothes, blankets, and sleeping bags to stay warm and dry in case of evacuation or sheltering in place. Extra clothing and bedding protect you from harsh weather conditions and ensure comfort if you need to evacuate or shelter in place.
  7. Essential tools
    Include a multi-purpose tool, a can opener, a whistle, and any other tools that could prove helpful during an emergency. Essential tools can help you tackle various challenges during emergencies, such as opening cans, signaling for help, or making minor repairs.
  8. Important documents
    Safeguard copies of essential documents like IDs, insurance policies, and medical records in a waterproof and fireproof container. Having access to critical documents can streamline recovery efforts, making it easier to access assistance or replace lost belongings after a disaster.

These items are considered essential because they address the basic needs and concerns that arise during emergencies, such as natural disasters, power outages, or other unforeseen events.

2. How Much Water Should you Store for Emergencies?

Now that we’ve covered the essential supplies for an emergency kit, let’s talk about one of the most critical components – water. Storing an adequate supply of water for your family is crucial during emergencies. In this section, we’ll discuss the recommended amount of water to store, along with effective storage methods to ensure you have safe drinking water when you need it most.

Each person should have at least one gallon of water per day during an emergency. This amount takes into account both drinking water and water for sanitation purposes, such as washing hands and preparing food. Keep in mind that individual needs may vary depending on age, health, physical activity levels, and climate, so it’s wise to store a bit more than the minimum recommendation.

It’s recommended that a family stores a minimum of a three-day supply of water for each member, including pets. This amount should help cover basic hydration and sanitation needs during short-term emergencies. However, for increased preparedness, it’s advisable to store a two-week supply if space and resources permit, as some emergencies can last longer and access to clean water may be limited.

To ensure that your emergency water supply remains clean and safe to drink, follow these best storage methods:

  1. Use food-grade water containers
    Store water in BPA-free, food-grade plastic containers or stainless steel containers specifically designed for water storage.
  2. Avoid direct sunlight
    Keep water containers away from direct sunlight to prevent the growth of algae or bacteria and reduce the risk of plastic degradation.
  3. Rotate your supply
    Replace stored water every six months to ensure freshness. Mark containers with the storage date and set reminders for rotation.
  4. Pre-treated water
    Consider using commercially available pre-treated water with a longer shelf life, which can last up to five years without rotation.
  5. Keep containers sealed
    Make sure the lids of your water containers are tightly sealed to prevent contamination from dust, pests, or chemicals.
  6. Store in a cool, dark place
    Choose a storage location with a stable temperature, such as a basement or closet, to protect water quality and prolong shelf life.
  7. Disinfect containers
    Before filling your water containers, clean and disinfect them with a mild bleach solution to eliminate any contaminants. Rinse thoroughly before adding water.

3. What Types of Non-Perishable Food Should you Stockpile?

Moving on from water, let’s discuss another critical aspect of emergency preparedness: non-perishable food. In this section, we’ll explore the best types of food items to stockpile, ensuring that your family has a variety of nutritious and long-lasting options during a crisis.

A food item is suitable for emergency stockpiling if it meets several key criteria: it should be non-perishable, requiring no refrigeration or freezing; have a long shelf life, lasting months or even years; be easy to prepare and consume, ideally requiring minimal or no cooking; and provide good nutritional value, supplying essential nutrients to support health and energy levels during a crisis.

Families can ensure they have a variety of nutritious options in their emergency food stockpile by following these tips:

  1. Diversify food types
    Include different food groups, such as proteins, grains, fruits, and vegetables, to create balanced meals and meet nutritional needs.
  2. Consider dietary needs
    Take into account any allergies, dietary restrictions, or preferences when selecting food items to ensure everyone’s needs are met.
  3. Choose nutrient-dense foods
    Opt for foods that are high in essential nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, and proteins, to maintain energy levels and overall health.
  4. Look for variety in textures and flavors
    Stock up on items with different tastes and textures to prevent food fatigue and keep meals interesting.
  5. Include comfort foods
    Add a few familiar or comforting food items, like granola bars or dried fruit, to lift morale during stressful times.
  6. Rotate stock
    Regularly check expiration dates and rotate your stockpile to keep food fresh and nutritious. Replace items as needed and consume those nearing their expiration dates.
  7. Plan meals
    Create a meal plan using your stockpiled food items to ensure balanced and satisfying meals during emergencies.

The recommended shelf life for non-perishable food items varies depending on the type of product. Ideally, stockpile foods with a shelf life of at least six months to a few years. Here are some general guidelines for common non-perishable foods:

  1. Canned goods
    Most canned fruits, vegetables, and meats have a shelf life of 2-5 years, while canned soups and stews can last up to 3 years.
  2. Dry goods
    Items like rice, pasta, beans, and lentils can last up to 2-3 years if stored properly in airtight containers.
  3. Dehydrated or freeze-dried foods
    These products can have a shelf life of up to 10-30 years, depending on the packaging and storage conditions.
  4. Powdered milk and infant formula
    These typically last 1-2 years unopened but should be consumed within a few months once opened.
  5. Energy bars and granola bars
    Most have a shelf life of 6-12 months but check expiration dates, as some may have a shorter shelf life.
  6. Canned or vacuum-sealed nuts
    These can last up to 1-2 years if unopened, but should be consumed within a few months after opening.

Always check the expiration dates on food items and rotate your stockpile regularly to ensure you’re using and replacing items before they expire.

4. How to Choose a Proper First Aid Kit for your Family?

A well-stocked first aid kit is another indispensable component of your emergency preparedness plan. Choosing the right kit for your family is essential to effectively address medical needs during a crisis. In this section, we’ll discuss how to customize your First Aid Kit for your family’s specific needs, and the best storage practices.

Families can customize their first aid kits based on their specific needs by taking the following steps:

  1. Assess individual requirements
    Consider the unique medical needs of each family member, such as allergies, chronic conditions, or required prescription medications. Include necessary items like EpiPens, insulin, or inhalers.
  2. Tailor for age groups
    Adapt the contents of the kit to suit different age groups within the family, such as adding child-friendly medications, smaller bandages, or a digital thermometer with age-specific fever indicators.
  3. Anticipate common injuries
    Think about the types of injuries or illnesses your family is more likely to encounter, based on factors like hobbies, physical activities, or geographical location. Include relevant items, like insect repellent, sunscreen, or blister treatments.
  4. Choose specialized tools
    Opt for tools that cater to your family’s needs, such as a tick remover for those who spend time outdoors or a CPR face shield for those trained in CPR.
  5. Include personal protective equipment
    Stock up on gloves, face masks, and other protective gear suitable for your family members, taking into account individual sizes and preferences.
  6. Adapt to your environment
    If you live in an area prone to specific natural disasters or risks, add items that address those concerns, like water purification tablets or a snake bite kit.
  7. Update the kit regularly
    As your family’s needs change, review and update the contents of the first aid kit to ensure it stays relevant and effective.

The first aid kit should be stored in a location that is easily accessible and known to all family members. Select a central spot in your home where it can be quickly retrieved during an emergency, such as a kitchen cabinet or a hallway closet. Make sure the storage area is cool, dry, and away from direct sunlight to preserve the integrity of the contents. It’s important to inform every family member, including children, about the location of the first aid kit and discuss when and how to use it.

Consider keeping smaller first aid kits in your car, workplace, or bags for quick access when away from home.

5. What Kind of Flashlight and Batteries are Best for Emergencies?

In an emergency, having a reliable source of light is essential for safety and navigation in the dark. Choosing the right flashlight and batteries can make a significant difference during a crisis. In this section, we’ll discuss the features to look for in a flashlight, the best types of batteries to use, and tips for maintaining them so they’re always ready when you need them.

When selecting an emergency flashlight, a family should consider several important features to ensure it’s reliable and effective during a crisis. Opt for a flashlight with a durable and water-resistant construction to withstand rough handling and various weather conditions. Brightness and adjustable lighting modes are essential, as they provide flexibility in different situations, such as illuminating large spaces or preserving battery life.

Additionally, a flashlight with a long battery life is crucial to avoid frequent battery replacements during extended emergencies. It’s also helpful to choose a flashlight that’s easy to operate, even for children, with simple on-off switches and lighting mode adjustments. You also may want to consider models with added features, like a built-in solar charger, hand crank, or USB port, which offer alternative charging options when batteries are not available.

A family should have at least one flashlight for each member, ensuring everyone has access to a light source during an emergency. It’s also a good idea to have a couple of extra flashlights stored in different areas of the house, like the basement or garage, for quick access in case of power outages or other situations.

As for batteries, make sure you have enough to replace the batteries in each flashlight at least once. It’s recommended to store additional batteries for other essential devices like radios or communication equipment. When storing batteries, keep them in a cool, dry place and separate from the flashlights to prevent accidental activation or battery drainage. Remember to check the expiration dates and replace batteries as needed, to ensure optimal performance during an emergency.

Lithium batteries generally have the longest shelf life among common battery types, lasting up to 10-15 years before their performance starts to degrade. They also perform well in a wide range of temperatures and provide a consistent power output, making them an excellent choice for emergency situations. While lithium batteries can be more expensive than alkaline batteries, their longevity and reliability often make them worth the investment for emergency preparedness.

Alkaline batteries, another popular option, have a shelf life of about 5-7 years. Although they don’t last as long as lithium batteries, they are more affordable and widely available. When choosing batteries for your emergency supplies, always check the expiration dates and store them properly to ensure they’re ready to use when needed.

6. How to Create an Emergency Communication Plan?

During an emergency, having a solid communication plan is crucial to ensure the safety and well-being of your family. Establishing how you’ll stay informed and connected can help alleviate stress and confusion in difficult situations. In this section, we’ll outline the steps to create an effective emergency communication plan, discuss essential contact information to include, and explore backup communication methods.

Emergency Plan

Having an emergency communication plan is important because it helps families stay connected, informed, and safe during a crisis. Emergencies can cause disruptions in regular communication channels, create confusion, and even separate family members. A well-prepared plan ensures everyone knows how to reach each other, where to meet, and how to access vital information, reducing stress and uncertainty in challenging situations.

An effective emergency communication plan should include the following information:

  1. Emergency contact numbers
    List phone numbers for family members, neighbors, and other important contacts like doctors, schools, or workplaces.
  2. Out-of-town contact
    Designate a trusted person outside your immediate area who can serve as a central point of contact for family members to relay messages and updates.
  3. Meeting locations
    Establish predetermined meeting spots both inside and outside your neighborhood in case your family needs to evacuate or cannot return home.
  4. Evacuation routes
    Map out multiple evacuation routes from your home and ensure all family members are familiar with them.
  5. Emergency alert sources
    Identify reliable sources for emergency alerts and updates, such as local radio stations, TV channels, or official social media accounts.
  6. Backup communication methods
    Plan for alternative ways to communicate if phone lines or internet services are disrupted, like two-way radios or satellite phones.

Once the plan is created, review it with all family members, making sure everyone understands their role and responsibilities.

Regularly update the plan as needed, especially when significant changes occur, like moving to a new home or adding a new family member.

Families can practice and maintain their communication plan by scheduling regular reviews with all family members to discuss any necessary updates or changes, ensuring everyone remains familiar with their roles and responsibilities.

It’s also important to conduct family drills simulating various emergency scenarios, such as fires or natural disasters, to practice contacting each other, using backup communication methods, and following evacuation routes to designated meeting locations.

Make sure to update the plan with any changes in phone numbers, addresses, or other important contact details, and inform all family members of these updates. When new members join the family or when children become old enough to participate, involve them in the planning and practicing process to ensure everyone is well-prepared for emergencies.

7. What Clothing and Bedding Items Should be in an Emergency Kit?

During an emergency, having appropriate clothing and bedding items in your kit can significantly impact your family’s comfort and well-being. The right gear helps protect against harsh weather conditions and ensures a good night’s sleep when shelter options are limited. In this section, we’ll discuss essential clothing and bedding items to include in your emergency kit and provide tips on how to select and pack them efficiently.

It’s important to have extra clothing and bedding supplies in an emergency because they provide protection against the elements, help maintain body temperature, and ensure overall comfort when shelter options may be limited. Proper clothing and bedding can reduce the risk of hypothermia, overheating, or other weather-related health issues, and provide a sense of security during a crisis.

The most useful clothing and bedding items for emergencies include versatile, season-appropriate garments such as moisture-wicking clothing, thermal or woolen socks, sturdy shoes, waterproof jackets, and hats. Additionally, pack extra underwear and a change of clothes for each family member. For bedding, consider including compact sleeping bags, emergency blankets, or lightweight travel sheets, which can provide warmth and comfort in various situations.

When storing these items, pack them in waterproof and airtight containers or bags to protect them from moisture, pests, or damage. Compress the items as much as possible to save space and make them easier to carry. Store the containers or bags in an easily accessible location, preferably alongside your other emergency supplies, and periodically check and replace the items as needed, particularly when seasons change or as children grow.

8. What Tools and Supplies are Essential for Emergency Preparedness?

Equipping your family with the right tools and supplies can make a significant difference in successfully navigating emergencies. These essential items can help you perform various tasks, address unexpected challenges, and ensure your family’s safety. In this section, we’ll explore the must-have tools and supplies for emergency preparedness and offer tips on selecting and maintaining them.

Key tools that can be useful during emergencies include items such as a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, a whistle for signaling or alerting others, a fire extinguisher, a manual can opener, a wrench or pliers for turning off utilities, and duct tape for quick repairs. These tools can help you stay informed, communicate, and address a variety of emergency situations, increasing your family’s safety and resilience.

A multi-purpose tool is important in emergencies because it combines several functions into one compact and portable device.

This can save space in your emergency kit while still providing a range of capabilities, such as cutting, opening, or prying. Multi-purpose tools often include features like knives, screwdrivers, pliers, scissors, and bottle openers, which can be invaluable in a crisis.

Families can ensure they have the necessary tools and supplies on hand by creating a comprehensive list of items tailored to their specific needs, location, and potential risks. Regularly review and update the list, and make a schedule for checking and replenishing the supplies as needed. Store the tools and supplies in an easily accessible location alongside other emergency items, and ensure that all family members are familiar with their use and location.

Closing Thoughts

Throughout this article, we’ve explored the importance of being prepared for emergencies by assembling and maintaining a comprehensive emergency kit with essential supplies. From basic items like water, non-perishable food, and first aid kits to communication plans, appropriate clothing, and versatile tools, being well-equipped can make a significant difference in your family’s safety, comfort, and resilience during a crisis. By investing time and effort in gathering and maintaining these supplies, families can face challenges with greater confidence and peace of mind.

The benefits of preparing and maintaining an emergency kit extend beyond immediate crisis situations. In the process, families develop a deeper understanding of their unique needs, potential risks, and available resources. This knowledge not only empowers them to respond effectively to emergencies but also fosters a sense of unity and cooperation among family members. By regularly reviewing, replenishing, and practicing with their emergency supplies, families can build a strong foundation for facing any challenge that may come their way, knowing they have done their best to protect and care for one another.

Tim Chesonis

Tim loves writing to help people succeed. He loves tech, Linux, his iPhone and iPad. When he's not writing another article, he's probably binge-watching “The Middle” or “Breaking Bad”, (again). To learn more about Tim, click here.