No one likes to think about an emergency occurring, but it’s important to be prepared. Since September is National Preparedness Month, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned about how to prepare for an emergency situation and ensure you and your family are safe.
How can we best prepare for emergencies?
Preparing for a possible emergency is not about panicking, but thinking ahead and investing a little time and money to help ensure that if difficult circumstances arise, you and those you care about will be ready.
So what kind of emergency could occur? An emergency could be any event that might make it difficult or impossible for a period of time to get food and other supplies. For purposes of this episode, I’m not talking about evacuation but will link to some resources that give suggestions for preparing for that (e.g., having a go-bag, and what to keep in it). This episode will focus on preparing for an emergency or other situation that requires you to shelter at home and/or where you might not have access or funds to buy food and other supplies.
Some emergencies could include:
- another lockdown
- something weather-related, such as a hurricane or blizzard
- maybe even another national emergency
- a job loss, where you are going without income for a period of time
- an illness (yours or someone you’re caring for)
These are all situations that could potentially happen, and something we should plan and prepare for.
Where do we begin?
One of the first places to start is to have enough food and other essentials on hand to sustain you for 2-4 weeks. There are people who prepare for even longer than that, having several months of food and essentials on hand. However, begin with 2-4 weeks and go from there. Depending on the size of your family, you may need more or less, so plan accordingly.
Start with the basics. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) suggest the following for a basic disaster supplies kit, stored in airtight plastic bags in a couple of easy-to-carry duffles or totes:
- Water (one gallon per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation)
- Food (at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food)
- Battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
- First aid kit
- Extra batteries
- Whistle (to signal for help)
- Dust mask (to help filter contaminated air)
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place)
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties (for personal sanitation)
- Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities)
- Manual can opener (for food)
- Local maps
- Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery
- Download the Recommended Supplies List (PDF) here!
Important note: There is a difference between preparedness and hoarding. Preparedness–having a reasonable stockpile–puts you in a position to help not only your own family, but others as well. Hoarding is emptying out the shelves of items you expect to be in short supply, leaving none for others.
“The whole point of prepping is to reduce the chances of major life disruptions and to better recover from disruptions when they do happen.” [from Emergency Preparedness Checklist: Prepping for Beginners]
What to have in your extended pantry
When it comes to setting up a “prepper pantry”, or an extended pantry of food and supplies to sustain you and your family for a couple of weeks, what should you have on hand? Think about the things you use regularly in the meals you and your family enjoy.
- Canned meats, fruits, veggies, beans (great northern, black beans, refried, kidney, other types you like)
- Canned & jarred sauces (marinara, alfredo, pizza, etc.) and broths (chicken, beef, vegetable)
- Baking supplies — flours, sugars, leavenings (yeast, baking soda, baking powder), salt, seasonings, shortening
- Condiments – ketchup, mustards, soy sauce, salad dressings, peanut butter
- Rices, pastas (raw and mixes)
- Powdered and canned milk and/or soy milk; there are shelf-stable cartons of milk
There are lots of resources with suggested lists out there. Good Housekeeping, in an article titled 8 Disaster Preparedness Tips You Need to Know in Case of Emergency, suggests the following:
- canned tuna/salmon
- canned black beans
- mixed nuts
- dry-roasted edamame
- dry-roasted chickpeas
- whole-grain instant rice
- boxed grains like quinoa, buckwheat, or sorghum
- dry pasta
- olive oil/canola oil
- low-salt veggie broth
- canned tomatoes
- canned veggies and other healthy canned foods
- garlic powder
- onion powder
- chili seasoning
- salt pepper
- soy sauce
- tomato sauce
Foods for the freezer
You should also consider what items to have in your freezer. Most of what you have for your extended pantry should be shelf-stable, in case of a power outage, but consider freezer items as well. Things such as meats, prepared meals, breads, and bread doughs, butter and/or margarine.
Non-food items to keep on hand
When it comes to preparing for emergencies, we need non-food items as well. Think about things such as cleaning supplies, disinfectant–bleach, wipes, etc, laundry supplies, toiletries (shampoo, soap, toothpaste, feminine products), first aid kits, and medications. If you recall during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these items were limited in stores or completely unavailable. Even today, some items are difficult to find. Having these items in reserve can be helpful.
Proper storage for food
If you are going to stock up on food, you’ll need to store everything properly so nothing goes bad. Airtight (safe from moisture, insects) containers are essential. I like OXO brand pop-top food containers, but you can find reasonably priced storage options at lots of places, including Walmart, Amazon, and bargain stores like Dollar Tree. A vacuum sealer could be a good investment as well. I haven’t tried this, but am considering it. Jordan Page, from Fun Cheap or Free, recommends this one from Amazon.
Where to store everything
The space where you store food should be temperature controlled, away from direct sunlight or extreme temperatures. Consider putting bagged or boxed items in a plastic tote to keep them safe from mice and bugs.
The food you are currently eating may be kept in what is referred to as your “working pantry”, but you may have a pantry or other storage area for food items you are saving for an emergency situation.
If you are short on space, you may have to get creative and store items in a basement (we don’t have those in Texas), garage, attic, extra closet, or even under a bed. Maybe you could install shelving to store items such as toilet paper and paper towels.
How to prepare on a budget
How can you collect 2 to 4 weeks of extra food on a budget? Most of us can’t afford to buy a whole stock of food at once.
Take inventory of what you have now, what you use regularly and the whole family enjoys, what you have extras of, and what you need to purchase. The key to building up your emergency reserve is to buy slowly over time. Each week when you go shopping, buy a few extra things. Keep an eye out for sales and if it’s less expensive on a particular week, buy a few extra. Jordan Page, mentioned above, recommends buying “one for now, two for later”.
The important thing here is to not waste your money. If you know your family won’t eat it, don’t buy it!
Pay attention to shelf life, and rotate things through your pantry. Eat things before they expire and replace them, moving older stock to the front and newer to the back. It would not be good for an emergency to actually occur and then for you to realize the food in your reserve has gone bad and is no longer safe to eat.
If you have to get creative and need recipe ideas for what’s in your pantry, check out ShelfCooking.com. There are lots of recipes and ideas on this site for cooking out of your pantry and using what you have.
Keep track of what you have, and where it is (if you have to distribute stock in various locations). Keep track of your food inventory and where it is using a clipboard inside a cupboard or in your household binder. Refer to this list when planning meals and shopping.
Other preparations to consider
If you’re in an area where the power could go out, consider investing in a generator, which could provide enough electricity to cook and keep the temperature in at least some of the house comfortable. Keep flashlights, lanterns, and batteries on hand, as well as a propane-powered cooktop.
In its blog post, 3 Ways to Be Prepared for an Emergency, the United Way suggests the following, particularly with respect to an impending natural disaster (the following is quoted from the United Way post):
- Make a communications plan. Know where to meet and how to communicate with family and friends. Create a list of emergency contacts. Select a person who doesn’t live near you for family members to check in with.
- Prepare to evacuate your home. Review and practice escape routes. Plan to evacuate the region. Where to go? How to travel? Have cash – ATMs may not work. Don’t forget vital documents. And, how will you secure your home from flying debris, power outages, and the like?
- Get your vehicle ready. Keep a full tank of gas if an evacuation seems likely – gas pumps may not work just when you need to get out of town. Leave early. Follow evacuation routes.
- Create an emergency supply kit. Include enough provisions for at least three days. Include food, water, battery radio, flashlight, batteries, first aid, and toiletries. Have an emergency kit at home, work, and in your car.
- Consider special needs. Know your child’s school or daycare emergency plan and contact information. Don’t forget to pack books, games and activities for kids. Have you thought of pets? Medications? Elders and the disabled? Pack extra clothes and blankets for people you may be transporting.
On the point of preparing to evacuate, remember our recent discussion with Lisa Woodruff (TPW308) about her very portable binder system for important papers? This is a good reason to get those papers in order and in a form you can grab and take with you on short notice.
What do you think?
Do you have an emergency preparedness plan? What have I left out that you’d recommend we consider as part of our plan? Share your thoughts in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me!
Resources and Links
Prepper pantry YouTube videos
Jordan Page video stocking up on a budget – one for now, two for later (a way to stock up a little at a time) https://youtu.be/tEogsdLJvDU
- Build A Kit | Ready.gov
- Prepare For Emergencies | Be Red Cross Ready | Red Cross
- Plan Ahead for Disasters | Ready.gov
- National Preparedness Month | Ready.gov
- 3 Ways to Be Prepared for an Emergency | United Way Worldwide
- Five Important Tips to Prepare for Emergency Situations: 6 Steps – Instructables
- Emergency preparedness checklist: Prepping for beginners – The Prepared
- 8 Disaster Preparedness Tips – How to Prepare Your Home for an Emergency
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Royse City, Texas