How to Build an Emergency Kit

How to Build an Emergency Kit

How to Build an Emergency Kit

When a disaster strikes the only thing that can guarantee your safety and survival is you.  Don't leave it til game day to get ready – pack these essentials away today.

By Steven Stafford

The thing about emergency kits is that you don't want to ever use them. And because of this, it may be tempting to forget about them or put them off until later. But the safest policy is to assume that you will need one, because even if you only need to use them once, they prove themselves as more valuable as anything you use daily.

The Tools

So what should go into it? The purpose of the kit is survival. And since I'm guessing you're not Bear Grylls, you will need to prepare in a material way for threatening situations. We can divide survival into some basic needs: hydration, food, health and sanitation.

The most obvious component of the emergency kit is the First Aid kit. This will consist of bandages, a thermometer, some sort of cleansing fluid (probably rubbing alcohol), any prescription drugs you take, ointments and pain relievers.

A lot of people don't think of this, but you should also have scissors and tweezers handy. Somehow those aren't as obvious as band-aids and thermometers, but they are also necessary. You do not know when you will need to remove foreign objects from a wound to prevent an infection, something that can save a limb, or even a life.

A pair of scissors and tweezers

The Water

You need water to stay alive. While you can last without food for a few days, you can't last very long without hydration. You should have food of some kind in your emergency kit, but water is certainly more important. But how much water? The government recommends one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation.

Now this may sound like a lot, but according to the US Forest Service, humans need half a gallon of water per day just to drink. To put that into perspective, it takes 36 gallons on average to fill a bathtub. We use a lot of water.

And since we're using three days as a rule of thumb, plan the food supply accordingly. Odds are that you're going to be using canned food (to make it last), so you'll need a can-opener or some other kind of tool for small odd jobs. If you can, pack a wrench or some other multi-purpose tool. Swiss army knives are designed just for these situations.

Make sure you have a working flashlight. It is very likely that in most natural disasters you will lose power. And again, even though it isn't likely your batteries will die, pack extra ones anyway. Safety is more important than convenience; you can fail at a lot of things, but if you fail at survival, you fail at everything.

Swiss army knife

The Gear

You should pack at least a couple changes of clothes, ones that are warm enough to protect you from the elements. Odds are that in the event of an emergency, it will be a natural disaster. You should also have three blankets, or even sleeping bags, assuming you're packing for three people.

Maintaining correct body temperature is necessary for survival; humans are fragile animals in this regard. You can be as strong as you like, but if it is too cold or too hot, you will die. Make sure you have ways of cooling your body temperature or warming yourself when necessary.

Natural disasters are also likely to cause fires. Prepare yourself by buying a small, disposable sodium bicarbonate dry chemical unit, like the kind commonly used in kitchens at restaurants. You can get them pretty small, but it is, I'll admit, a hassle to pack one. This may make it tempting to disregard, but fires are formidable opponents. You do not want to be unprepared in the event of one.

You should also stow some matches in case you need to start a fire of your own.  Many small gas stoves need to be lit by a match and you may need to build a fire to stay warm.

Having a cell phone is never more important than emergency situations. We use them so much that it's easy to forget that they can save your life. While 9-1-1 is an easy number to remember, you should also program in, for good measure, the numbers of your local police and fire departments, as well as the number of your emergency contact. Some people even put “EMERGENCY CONTACT” in as the entry name in their cell phone's address book.

Be sure you have some other means of getting people's attention in case your cell phone doesn't work. Whistles are the usual recommendation.

Having the ability to contact others is important, but you also need to be able to be contacted by others.  Find a cheap, battery powered radio that will allow you to listen to Emergency Broadcast alerts and other local announcements important for your survival.

A lot of people overlook putting a small amount of money in the emergency kit. You do not know when you will need to pay for transportation, food, or a payphone.

You are welcome to add things to your emergency kit, but this should provide a sketch of the basics. Of course, if your emergency lasts more than three days, well….I don't know what to tell you.

For more information about emergency preparedness, go to, which is an excellent resource.

Steven James Stafford is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, with Bachelors Degrees in English and in Political Science. He resides in the suburbs of Boston.