How to Make an Emergency Preparedness Kit

Even if you never use it, you'll feel better knowing it's there.

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March 23, 2021


Photo by: Don Farrall/Getty

Don Farrall/Getty

Getting stuck at home for an evening because of a mild snowstorm can be fun; getting stuck at home for several days or weeks because of an emergency can be stressful and anxiety-inducing. And while it’s a good idea to not panic, it’s also a good idea to gather an "emergency preparedness kit" at home, just in case.

Your emergency preparedness kit is a stockpile of basics that will keep you fed, hydrated, safe and clean if you truly aren’t able to leave the house for a given amount of time. Both the Red Cross and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) give recommendations for such essentials. Keep in mind that different emergencies can have different impacts; a natural disaster might leave you without water or power for days, while a pandemic may require that you don’t leave the house at all. That said, you never know what exactly will happen in the face of one of these emergencies. Here’s what you should have at home to feel prepared.


Photo by: Inna Dodor/Getty

Inna Dodor/Getty

One Gallon of Water Per Day, Per Person

The CDC recommends keeping at least a three-day supply of water at home, and they recommend one gallon per person each day. So, if you live in a four-person household, you should stock at least 12 gallons of water in sealed containers like plastic bottles or gallon jugs. If you anticipate being stuck home for two weeks, a house of four would stock 56 gallons of water. Some emergencies won’t affect water mains or sources, so you’ll still be able to use tap water, but it’s important to play it safe.

At Least a Three-Day Supply of Non-Perishable Prepared Food

It’s OK to stock some refrigerated food if the emergency is unlikely to affect gas or power, but you should also have at least a three-day supply of non-perishable, ready-to-eat food in case something happens. The CDC recommends dried fruit, canned tuna fish, peanut butter, trail mix and other nutrient-dense foods. Granola bars, crackers, meat jerky, canned beans and fermented and preserved foods (pickles, kimchi, jam) are also good options. Remember to buy a variety of foods: Peanut butter and crackers might be fun for one meal, but you won’t want to eat it several days in a row.

A Can Opener

It sounds silly, but make sure you have a manual (not electric or battery-powered) can opener for opening your cans of non-perishable food!

Plastic Plates, Cups, Utensils and Napkins

If your water or power goes out, it’s likely you won’t be able to wash dishes. In case of that happening, the CDC recommends stocking disposable plates, cups and utensils. They also recommend paper towels for cleaning up any spills.

A Fully-Stocked First Aid Kit

You’ll need a first-aid kit that has a solid supply of bandages, antiseptic wipes, basic tools (scissors and tweezers) and more. The Red Cross sells a great one for $35, but all of the items listed are sold at most drug stores if you’d rather assemble your own.

A Battery-Powered or Hand-Crank Radio, Plus Extra Batteries

Both the CDC and the Red Cross recommend keeping a radio that will continue to work when the power is out. Both also recommend getting a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) radio if possible, which will keep you updated on the state of your emergency.

At Least a Two-Week Supply of Medication

If you or anyone in your household manages a chronic condition with medication — insulin for diabetes or an an inhaler for asthma, for example — the CDC recommends keeping "at least a two-week supply of prescription medicines for each family member, including medicine name, dose, pharmacy name and number, and doctor’s name and number."

They also recommend stocking "non-prescription medicines, such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medicine, antacids and laxatives."


Photo by: Yunio Baro Gomez / EyeEm / Getty

Yunio Baro Gomez / EyeEm / Getty

Toothbrushes, Toothpaste, Soap and Hand Sanitizer

There’s no recommendation for what quantity of these personal hygiene items you might want to stock, but make sure each person in your household has a toothbrush, and that you have enough toothpaste, soap and hand sanitizer to last at least a week. And don’t skip the hand sanitizer even if it’s not something you normally use — if your water shuts off, it’ll be harder to wash your hands often with soap. The Red Cross also recommends keeping a few packages of moist towelettes.

Cell Phones and Portable Cell Phone Chargers (Ideally a Solar Charger)

The CDC recommends keeping a solar cell phone charger on hand in case the power in your house goes out. You can get this one for around $25. This way you’ll always have at least one working cell phone in the house and can stay connected to what’s happening around you.


So many of us rely on credit cards and smartphone apps for payment these days, but in the case that power goes out across the board in your area, you’ll need to pay for things in cash. There’s no clear answer on how much you should keep around, but many sources recommend keeping enough for a month’s worth of expenses, in a combination of $5, $10 and $20 bills.

You’ll Also Want to Be Stocked Up on All the Usual Basics

Usual household supplies like toilet paper, trash bags and feminine hygiene products (for women) are also important to have. Make sure you have several changes of clean, weather-appropriate clothes, plus sturdy shoes. If you live somewhere with cold weather, you should also have enough blankets to keep you warm in case your heat gets turned off.

Both the CDC and Red Cross stress that you should keep these items on hand, even if you don’t think you’ll ever use them. Knowing that you’re prepared will make you far less likely to panic if an emergency does leave you stuck at home for a few days.

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