Recent headlines have been filled with news of flooding in Louisiana, wildfires in California, and Tropical Storm Hermine battering the East Coast. In disaster-related evacuations like these, people are often unprepared to flee their homes, leaving important items like medications, documents, and provisions behind.
September is designated by the CDC as National Emergency Preparedness Month, making it an apt time to make sure you have a disaster preparedness kit—also called a “go bag”—filled with evacuation essentials. Your go bag should be small enough to grab in a hurry; a duffel bag or plastic storage container that can be carried or tossed in the trunk is ideal.
These seven things should be in your go bag:
First aid kit: A small kit with supplies like bandages, antiseptic wipes, gauze, first aid tape, a thermometer, scissors, tweezers, and over-the-counter pain relievers is a go bag essential.
Your first aid kit should also include items specific to your health needs such as insulin and syringes, an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses, and hearing aids with batteries. The Red Cross recommends stocking a seven-day supply of any prescription medications.
Important documents: The identification and ATM cards in your wallet are not sufficient in an evacuation. You’ll want to have other documents on hand in an emergency. The CDC recommends packing copies of birth and marriage certificates, Social Security cards, bank account information, and insurance policies for home, health, and vehicles. Make sure these documents are in a sealed waterproof bag or a waterproof container.
Food and water: Stock three days’ worth of non-perishable, “open and eat” foods like canned meat or beans, canned fruits and vegetables, and energy-dense foods such as peanut butter, nuts, granola, and dry cereal. You can also pack a container of aseptically packaged, ultra high temperature (UHT) milk—also known as ultra-pasteurized milk— which has a shelf life of about six months at room temperature. Keep at least one gallon of water per person per day for a three-day evacuation in your go bag—and don’t forget to pack paper plates and utensils, too.
Periodically check the expiration dates on the foods in the bag and replace them as needed. Sealed bottled water does not expire; some manufacturers put expiration dates on their labels but the FDA does not require it, noting that it has an indefinite shelf life.
Essential supplies: A flashlight with extra batteries, wind up cell phone charger, matches (stored in a weatherproof container), a multi-purpose tool that includes a can opener and knife to access food and supplies, moist towelettes or baby wipes, and emergency blankets should be included in a well-stocked go bag.Investing in a hand-crank or battery powered radio for weather updates and safety information is a good idea in the event that a disaster impacts cell phone service or internet access.
Clothing: Pack a change of clothing for every member of your family (and remember to update items as children grow). Pieces that can be layered are best, such a short-sleeved shirt plus sweater plus jacket. Be sure to include a hat, gloves, socks, and a pair of sturdy shoes that you can walk in comfortably.
Cash: During widespread power outages, withdrawing cash at an ATM or swiping a card at a retailer might be impossible, as millions of East Coast residents learned during the widespread blackout of 2003. Keep a stash of cash on hand to purchase food or supplies like gasoline. Small bills are best, according to the CDC. Remember to store bills in a waterproof container.
Extra items: You want your go bag to be as small and light as possible, but some situations warrant packing extra items. Families with babies will need to add bottles, formula, diapers, wipes, changes of clothing, and a blanket; pet owners should include food, a water dish, and collars and leashes or carriers. For evacuations that may be prolonged (or for added comfort while you’re displaced), consider adding a sleeping bag and blankets.
Also see Are You Prepared for an Emergency?