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  • Writer's pictureRock Rousseau

HOW TO Prepare for Emergency (Checklists)

Don't wait til the last minute to get prepared for an emergency! Or else you may be faced with aisles of empty grocery shelves. The key in surviving a natural disaster is to be prepared. Natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, typhoons, severe thunderstorms, strong winds can leave you and your family without electrical power for days, perhaps weeks or months. Build a survival kit that will last you several days after a disaster. Stock your kits with enough food, water, clothes, medicine and other essentials well before a disaster strikes. You might be on your own for a few days, so pack a bag and be ready . Stock up on emergency foods—with a focus on non-perishable food—so that you will have plenty to eat and drink. Before you hit the grocery store, take a look at this survival checklist for the best food items that you can buy for your family.

Sources:,, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Clemson University Cooperative Extension. ASPCA.

Prior to a natural disaster

If you are able to perform the following provisions, do the following:

  • As a storm approaches, conduct an inventory of your pantry. You may already have foods appropriate for an emergency such as bread, crackers and peanut butter. Eat what you've got in the fridge before it goes bad, then dip into the shelf-stable stuff.

  • Fill your coolers and pack the freezer with ice as close as you can before the storm makes landfall. Put drinks in the fridge and move to the cooler when they are cold rather than room temperature to preserve the ice. If the power goes out, you'll have cold drinks, at least for a while.

  • Keep in mind whom you will be feeding when making a list of storm-ready food. Do you have young children, or perhaps a newborn? Is someone a vegetarian? Are there dietary concerns that are about more than losing weight? For instance, diabetics and people allergic to wheat will need special considerations since so many shelf-stable foods are carb- and grain-laden. When it comes to emergency food, one size does not fit all.



Non-perishable foods and items that are shelf-stable and don't need to be refrigerated or cooked should be the first items you throw in your grocery cart. Here's a list of non-perishable items you should stock up for and can enjoy if you are without power for several days.

  • Bottled water. You may lose access to drinking water during a natural disaster or it could be compromised through contamination, or could be cut off completely. The average person needs 1 gallon of water per day, and that can be more depending on your age, physical activity level, and overall health. You'll also need more in hot weather. Stock up on at least a three gallon per day supply, per person in your home. For a family of three, that's nine gallons of water per day. Be sure to fill your bathtub, too: If your water supply is lost during the disaster, you can use the water in your tub to flush your toilet manually by pouring some in the bowl. Your water may not be drinkable after a storm, so purchase bottled water that you can drink and cook with post-disaster.

  • Canned meat and fish. Many canned products can last up to a year on your shelf. What's more, these products are ready to eat—no cooking required. Though, we imagine canned chili tastes better heated. If you haven't tried SPAM, this may be a good time. You will be surprised with how tasty it can be. Canned foods should stay safe during a disaster, but the FDA says you can pack them in plastic bags for added security. Just be sure to check the cans haven't bulged before you open them up. Nutrition experts recommend canned fish packed in water even when there isn't a natural disaster looming. Canned wild-caught salmon is cheaper than fresh, and still provides the same heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Sardines are a great source of calcium.

  • Ready-to-eat canned vegetables. Canned soups and vegetables can be loaded with sodium, so shop smart: look for "low sodium" or "very low sodium" on the label. In addition to being bad for heart health, FEMA recommends avoiding salty foods during a disaster because they can make you thirsty and go through your water supply faster. Just be sure to add a non-electric can opener to your list if you don't have one.

  • Canned Beans. Black beans, pinto beans, or kidney beans, can be eaten on their own or added to pretty much any leftovers you've got in the fridge.

  • Cereal and Trail Mix. Nuts, cereal, granola, and dried fruit are all good snacks to have on hand. Nuts are one of the healthiest pantry foods you can have on hand in case of an emergency. They are high in protein, healthy fats that raise HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Just be sure to buy unsalted nuts—you won't want to eat any foods that make you very thirsty. You may not be able to make eggs and toast during the storm, so settle for cereal, which is shelf-stable for up to a year and the right ones can supply a bevy of healthy grains to your diet.

  • Dried and canned fruits. Normally you'd want to stick to fresh fruit, but most varieties need to be refrigerated. Your next-best bet: canned or dried fruit with no gels, syrups, added sugar, or artificial sweetener. Read labels carefully.

  • Dry pasta and canned marinara sauce. Dry pasta is shelf-stable almost indefinitely. Pair it with a prepared, canned tomato sauce.

  • Instant coffee. Stressful situations are not the time to forego your usual caffeine fix. Instant packets make things easy, as long as you have some sort of hot water source.

  • Boxed non-dairy milk. If you lose power, you may still need milk—but it won't be safe to drink it from your fridge for very long. Shelf-stable soy or almond milk is ideal when the power goes out – you can eat cereal or granola normally and use it in your instant coffee. You can also buy powdered milk, which can last for up to six months.

  • Juice and enhanced waters. Find these in plastics or boxes, in case you tire of having just water.

  • Instant soup mixes. You can whip up a piping hot meal over your gas stove or BBQ grill with nothing more than an instant soup or noodle pack. For example, ramen noodles and bottled water. The single-serving pouches ensure you won't have to worry about refrigerating leftovers.

  • Peanut butter and crackers. You probably already have peanut butter in your house which will last you long after the storm passes, giving you another source protein that you won't have to cook. Make sure it's not natural peanut butter, which must be refrigerated after opening. Pair crackers with your peanut butter for an instant snack packed with protein. They can last up to six months—but buy the dry, crisp variety to reach that longer shelf life.

  • Apples. While apples will eventually go bad, they're one of the longest-lasting fresh fruits you can buy and doesn't require refrigeration.

  • Boxed instant potatoes. Read the labels and purchase boxed potatoes that use only water or milk to make. They'll last for six months, and make a tasty side dish for your canned meats.

  • Comfort food: You might as well buy the Twinkies, Pop-Tarts, doughnuts, Nutter Butters or Little Debbie's Snack Cakes. You know you're going to crave them.

  • Pet Food. Don't forget to make sure your pets have an adequate supply of dry food and include them in the water equation.



  • Bags of ice and large ice cooler (Enough to keep any perishables that you do have cold for a couple days)

  • Garbage bags and ties

  • Paper towels

  • Baby Wipes

  • Fuel (charcoal, lighter fluid, matches) or a full propane tank for the grill

  • Hand sanitizer that's 60-95% alcohol

  • Manual can opener

  • Large and small Ziplock bags

  • Plastic wrap or storage containers.

  • Paper plates

  • Paper napkins

  • Paper or plastic cups

  • Plastic forks, knives and spoons

  • Serving spoons, forks and knives for food preparation and serving

  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert

  • Flashlights

  • First aid kit

  • Extra batteries

  • Whistle to signal for help

  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place

  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities

  • Cell phone with chargers

  • Portable battery charger. If you lose power and landline phone service, you'll want to be sure you can keep your mobile phone charged.

  • Prescription medications

  • Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids or laxatives

  • Glasses and contact lens solution

  • Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream

  • Pet food and extra water for your pet

  • Cash or traveler's checks

  • Full tank of gas in each automobile

  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container

  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person

  • Complete change of clothing appropriate for your climate and sturdy shoes

  • Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper to disinfect water

  • Dust mask. FEMA recommends keeping a dust mask in your emergency kit. A mask will protect your lungs in the event that the air around you becomes contaminated with dust, smoke, or other pollutants.

  • Matches in a waterproof container

  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items

  • Paper and pencils

  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children

If you have a Gas Powered generator, DO NOT USE IT INSIDE THE HOUSE OR GARAGE. Always have the generator operating outdoors to avoid carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic engine exhaust, electric shock or electrocution, and fire. Most of the deaths and injuries associated with portable generators are from CO poisoning from generators used indoors or in partially enclosed spaces.

After assembling your kit remember to maintain it so it’s ready when needed:

  • Keep canned food in a cool, dry place.

  • Store boxed food in tightly closed plastic or metal containers.

  • Replace expired items as needed.

  • Re-think your needs every year and replenish your kit as your family’s needs change.

Kit Storage Locations

Since you do not know where you will be when an emergency occurs, prepare supplies for home, work and vehicles.

  • Home: Keep this kit in a designated place and have it ready in case you have to leave your home quickly. Make sure all family members know where the kit is kept.

  • Work: Be prepared to shelter at work for at least 24 hours. Your work kit should include food, water and other necessities like medicines, as well as comfortable walking shoes, stored in a “grab and go” case.

  • Vehicle: In case you are stranded, keep a kit of emergency supplies in your car.



Here are some common safety questions about how to handle food and water before and after a disaster:

How long must water be boiled to kill bacteria?

The water should be at a rolling boil for 1 to 3 minutes.

What if I don't have a heat source to boil water?

One gallon of water can be purified with eight drops, or 1/8 teaspoon, of new, unscented household bleach. (A good thing to have in your hurricane kit.) Pharmacies and sporting goods stores sell water purification tablets.

Can I still eat the food in my pantry or refrigerator after floodwater has receded?

Do not eat any food in non-waterproof containers that have touched floodwater because it carries bacteria. This includes boxes of cereal or pasta. For canned foods, discard paper labels and note the contents with a marker directly on the can. Disinfect cans with a solution of 1/4 cup household bleach and 1 gallon water.

Is my kitchen equipment okay to use after the floodwater has receded?

Wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottles and nipples should be discarded. Metal and ceramic utensils and cookware should be washed with soap and hot water, then sanitized in a dishwasher or in a bleach and water solution.

How can I make food last in my refrigerator and freezer after a power outage?

Keep doors closed to trap cold air. Bacteria begin to grow when temperatures rise above 40 degrees. Place appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer to monitor the temperature.

How long will perishable food be safe to eat after a power outage?

A full freezer should keep food safe for about two days; a half-full freezer, about a day. Refrigerated foods should be safe if the power is out no more than four to six hours. If it appears the power will be off more than six hours, transfer refrigerated perishable foods to a cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs.

Which foods spoil quickly?

Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and egg substitutes (raw or cooked), milk, cream, yogurt and soft cheese; casseroles, stews or soups, lunch meats and hot dogs; creamy salad dressings; custard, chiffon or cheese pies; refrigerated cookie dough; and open mayonnaise, tartar sauce and horseradish will be spoiled after eight hours without refrigeration.

I normally keep butter in the refrigerator. Will it spoil without power?

The following foods keep at room temperature for a few days: butter or margarine; hard and processed cheese; fresh fruits and vegetables; fruit juices and dried fruit; opened jars of vinegar-based salad dressings; jelly, relish, taco sauce, barbecue sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives; fresh herbs and spices; fruit pies, breads and cakes, except cream cheese-frosted or cream-filled. Discard anything that turns moldy or has an unusual odor.

My power is back on. Can I refreeze thawed food?

You can refreeze thawed foods that still contain ice crystals. Thawed foods that do not contain ice crystals but have been kept at 40 degrees or below for no more than one to two days may be cooked, then refrozen or canned.

Should I empty my refrigerator before I evacuate?

You'll face a refrigerator full of rotten food if you evacuate, the power goes out and you can't return home for days or weeks. If you're gone only a day or two and the power stays on, your food should be fine. Here's a middle ground: Throw out the leftovers, stuff that probably won't get eaten. From your freezer, throw out items such as meat and poultry, which will go bad quickly if the power goes out.



Make a plan today. Your family may not be together if a disaster strikes, so it is important to know which types of disasters could affect your area. Know how you’ll contact one another and reconnect if separated. Establish a family meeting place that’s familiar and easy to find.

Step 1: Discuss these 4 questions with your family to determine an emergency plan.

  1. How will I receive emergency alerts and warnings?

  2. What is my shelter plan?

  3. What is my evacuation route?

  4. What is my family/household communication plan?

Step 2: Consider specific needs in your household.

As you prepare your plan tailor your plans and supplies to your specific daily living needs and responsibilities. Discuss your needs and responsibilities and how people in the network can assist each other with communication, care of children, business, pets, or specific needs like the operation of durable medical equipment. Create your own personal network for specific areas where you need assistance. Keep in mind some these factors when developing your plan:

  • Different ages of members within your household

  • Responsibilities for assisting others

  • Locations frequented

  • Dietary needs

  • Medical needs including prescriptions and equipment

  • Disabilities or access and functional needs including devices and equipment

  • Languages spoken

  • Cultural and religious considerations

  • Pets or service animals

  • Households with school-aged children

Step 3: Fill out a Family Emergency Plan

Download and fill out a family emergency plan or use them as a guide to create your own.

Step 4: Practice your plan with your family/household



A wide variety of emergencies may cause an evacuation. In some instances you may have a day or two to prepare, while other situations might call for an immediate evacuation. Planning ahead is vital to ensuring that you can evacuate quickly and safely, no matter what the circumstances.

Before an Evacuation

  • Learn the types of disasters that are likely in your community and the local emergency, evacuation, and shelter plans for each specific disaster.

  • Plan how you will leave and where you will go if you are advised to evacuate.

  • Identify several places you could go in an emergency such as a friend’s home in another town or a motel. Choose destinations in different directions so that you have options during an emergency.

  • If needed, identify a place to stay that will accept pets. Most public shelters allow only service animals.

  • Be familiar with alternate routes and other means of transportation out of your area.

  • Always follow the instructions of local officials and remember that your evacuation route may be on foot depending on the type of disaster.

  • Develop a family/household communication and re-unification plan so that you can maintain contact and take the best actions for each of you and re-unite if you are separated.

  • Assemble supplies that are ready for evacuation, both a “go-bag” you can carry when you evacuate on foot or public transportation and supplies for traveling by longer distances if you have a personal vehicle.

  • If you have a car:

  • Keep a full tank of gas in it if an evacuation seems likely. Keep a half tank of gas in it at all times in case of an unexpected need to evacuate. Gas stations may be closed during emergencies and unable to pump gas during power outages. Plan to take one car per family to reduce congestion and delay.

  • Make sure you have a portable emergency kit in the car.

  • If you do not have a car, plan how you will leave if needed. Make arrangements with family, friends or your local government.

During an Evacuation

  • A list of open shelters can be found on

  • Listen to a battery-powered radio and follow local evacuation instructions.

  • Take your emergency supply kit.

  • Leave early enough to avoid being trapped by severe weather or natural disaster.

  • Take your pets with you, but understand that only service animals may be permitted in public shelters. Plan how you will care for your pets in an emergency now.

  • If time allows:

  • Call or email the out-of-state contact in your family communications plan. Tell them where you are going.

  • Secure your home by closing and locking doors and windows.

  • Unplug electrical equipment such as radios, televisions and small appliances. Leave freezers and refrigerators plugged in unless there is a risk of flooding. If there is damage to your home and you are instructed to do so, shut off water, gas and electricity before leaving.

  • Leave a note telling others when you left and where you are going.

  • Wear sturdy shoes and clothing that provides some protection such as long pants, long-sleeved shirts and a hat.

  • Check with neighbors who may need a ride.

  • Follow recommended evacuation routes. Do not take shortcuts; they may be blocked.

  • Be alert for road hazards such as washed-out roads or bridges and downed power lines. Do not drive into flooded areas.

After an Evacuation

If you evacuated your home, check with local officials both where you’re staying and back home before you travel.

  • Residents returning to disaster-affected areas after significant events should expect and prepare for disruptions to daily activities, and remember that returning home before storm debris is cleared is dangerous.

  • Let friends and family know before you leave and when you arrive.

  • Charge devices and consider getting back-up batteries in case power-outages continue.

  • Fill up your gas tank and consider downloading a fuel app to check for outages along your route.

  • Bring supplies such as water and non-perishable food for the car ride.

  • Avoid downed power or utility lines; they may be live with deadly voltage.

  • Stay away and report them immediately to your power or utility company.

  • Only use generators away from your home and NEVER run a generator inside a home or garage, or connect it to your home's electrical system.



Remember, during a disaster what’s good for you is good for your pet, so get them ready today.

  • Don't leave your pets behind, they may be lost, injured – or worse. Never leave a pet chained outdoors.

  • Have sufficient pet food and drink for your pets. Don't forget their vitamins and medications.

  • Medicines and medical records.

  • Important documents. Registration information, adoption papers and vaccination documents. Talk to your veterinarian about microchipping and enrolling your pet in a recovery database.

  • First aid kit. Cotton bandage rolls, bandage tape and scissors; antibiotic ointment; flea and tick prevention; latex gloves, isopropyl alcohol and saline solution. Including a pet first aid reference book is a good idea too.

  • Collar or harness with ID tag, rabies tag and a leash.

  • Crate or pet carrier. Have a sturdy, safe crate or carrier in case you need to evacuate. The carrier should be large enough for your pet to stand, turn around and lie down.

  • Sanitation. Pet litter and litter box if appropriate, newspapers, paper towels, plastic trash bags and household chlorine bleach.

  • A picture of you and your pet together. If you become separated, a picture of you and your pet together will help you document ownership and allow others to assist you. Add species, breed, age, sex, color and distinguishing characteristics.

  • Familiar items. Familiar items, such as treats, toys and bedding can help reduce stress for your pet.

  • Know what disasters could affect your area, which could call for an evacuation and when to shelter in place.

  • Keep a NOAA Weather Radio tuned to your local emergency station and monitor TV, radio, and follow mobile alert and mobile warnings about severe weather in your area.

  • Download the FEMA app, receive weather alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five different locations anywhere in the United States.

  • Create a buddy system in case you’re not home. Ask a trusted neighbor to check on your animals.

  • Identify shelters. For public health reasons, many emergency shelters cannot accept pets.

  • Find pet friendly hotels along your evacuation route and keep a list in your pet’s emergency kit.

  • Locate boarding facilities or animal hospitals near your evacuation shelter.

  • Consider an out-of-town friend or relative

  • Locate a veterinarian or animal hospital in the area where you may be seeking temporary shelter, in case your pet needs medical care. Add the contact information to your emergency kit.

  • Have your pet microchipped and make sure that you not only keep your address and phone number up-to-date, but that you also include contact info for an emergency contact outside of your immediate area.

  • Call your local emergency management office, animal shelter or animal control office to get advice and information.

  • If you are unable to return to your home right away, you may need to board your pet. Find out where pet boarding facilities are located.

  • Most boarding kennels, veterinarians and animal shelters will need your pet's medical records to make sure all vaccinations are current.

  • If you have no alternative but to leave your pet at home, there are some precautions you must take, but remember that leaving your pet at home alone can place your animal in great danger!

Tips for Large Animals. If you have large animals such as horses, cattle, sheep, goats or pigs on your property, be sure to prepare before a disaster.

  • Ensure all animals have some form of identification.

  • Evacuate animals whenever possible. Map out primary and secondary routes in advance.

  • Make available vehicles and trailers needed for transporting and supporting each type of animal. Also make available experienced handlers and drivers.

  • Ensure destinations have food, water, veterinary care and handling equipment.

  • If evacuation is not possible, animal owners must decide whether to move large animals to shelter or turn them outside.

  • Take extra time to observe livestock, looking for early signs of disease and injury. Severe cold-weather injuries or death primarily occur in the very young or in animals that are already debilitated.

  • Animals suffering from frostbite don’t exhibit pain. It may be up to two weeks before the injury becomes evident as the damaged tissue starts to slough away. At that point, the injury should be treated as an open wound and a veterinarian should be consulted.

  • Food. At least a three day supply in an airtight, waterproof container.

  • Water. At least three days of water specifically for your pets.


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Additional Resources for Disaster Preparedness:

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