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Disasters Don’t Plan Ahead, but You Can! Build a Budget-Friendly Emergency Kit Today!

How to Assemble an Inexpensive Natural Disaster Emergency Kit
Written by Jennifer Smith

2017 has brought an onslaught of fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes that have left many worried about their readiness for the unexpected. A natural disaster emergency kit is easy and inexpensive to assemble so no matter where you live; you should have in your home.

When Hurricane Irma hit in September 2017, I evacuated with my family from our house in St. Petersburg, FL to stay with friends in Atlanta. Our area was lucky, the majority of neighborhoods experienced only branch littered streets and broken fences.

My house was a little less fortunate. A 60-foot Norfolk pine came down on our roof, and we were without power for six days. I’m glad we had enough notice and were physically able to evacuate but not everyone is so fortunate.

The uncertainty of natural disasters makes having an emergency fund and home emergency kit a necessity. You don’t need a different kit for every possibility; your needs are the same regardless of disaster.

If you already have an emergency kit, you should update it at the beginning of your area’s natural disaster season. Emergency kits should be able to meet the survival needs of everyone in the household for at least 72-hours.

How to Assemble an Inexpensive Natural Disaster Emergency Kit

  • Tornado Season: March-July
    Residents of southern states including Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia have a higher chance of Tornados March-May. Oklahoma, Kansas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado,  and Minnesota will see more activity in June and July.
  • Hurricane Season: June-November
    If you live near the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic coast, hurricanes can come in any warm month but are especially notorious in September.
  • Fire Season: October-January
    Fire season just started in the Western U.S., and it’s already been record-breaking. Summer is the safest time to check and restock your emergency kit. Californians should take extra care to keep theirs updated.
  • Earthquakes: Year Round
    Most of the U.S. states and cities around the world are no stranger to earthquakes, and unfortunately, they’re unpredictable. Mexico City’s Magnitude 7.1 earthquake is a grim example of that. Even if you don’t live in an area with a particular disaster season, maintaining a regularly updated emergency kit is a smart thing to do. Here are some of the items Ready.gov suggests having in your emergency kit.

Must-Have Items to Include in an Emergency Kit

Water

You should have one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days. That might seem like a lot but consider it’s for drinking and cleaning. If you have enough notice before a hurricane, fill up your tub with water. You can use the extra water to flush your toilet and clean clothes.

In the case that you don’t use your water after a year, replace it with fresh water.

Food

How to Assemble an Inexpensive Natural Disaster Emergency Kit

A three day supply of non-perishable food is essential in your emergency kit. High protein and carb choices like beef jerky, applesauce, canned ravioli, canned soup, power bars, canned tuna, Vienna sausages, peanut butter, and crackers are cheap and will keep you full. Make sure it’s stuff you’ll eat because you’ll need to replace them annually if you don’t use them.

If you have cans without pull-top lids, then you’ll need a manual can opener as well.

If you’re looking for nutrient dense food, you can throw in and forget about then opt for MRE’s. Meals Ready to Eat are full entrees used by the military that you can eat without any preparation. You can also get flameless heaters to warm them up.

Battery-Powered Radio

A small battery operated radio can keep you connected to the outside world when the TV goes out. It’s important to get one with NOAA Weather Radio frequency for your emergency kit. The NOAA Weather Radio is an automated 24-hour network of stations that broadcast weather information from the National Weather Service.

Flashlight

You might find that your emergency radio has a flashlight on it, but you can’t have enough flashlights when your power is out, and your windows are boarded.

Battery Powered Phone Charger

Without electricity say goodbye to your Candy Crush addiction. A rechargeable external battery pack is convenient, but you’re going to want a battery operated one in your emergency kit.

Extra Batteries

Check your radio, flashlights, cell phone charges, etc. for the types of batteries they use and put at least one extra set for each in your emergency kit. If you use any battery-powered medical devices, then keep extra of those batteries as well.

First Aid Kit

How to Assemble an Inexpensive Natural Disaster Emergency Kit

First aid kits are easy to find online and are filled with a variety of items. It’s important to note that most of them won’t come with over the counter pain relievers or antihistamines so if you’re someone who takes any OTC drugs be sure to add some to your kit. Check it annually to restock pieces you’ve used throughout the year.  

Whistle

A whistle will help you signal for help if you’re unable to leave your house.

Cleaning Items

I’m not talking about cleaning the bathroom (which, if you were thinking about it, is a bad idea with minimal air circulation in the house) but you will want to clean yourself and keep your living area clean if you have to evacuate to a shelter.

For this, put a few trash bags, gallon ziplock bags, and moist towelettes or baby wipes in your kit.

Bag

You might think a plastic container or box is the best way to store your emergency kit. The truth is when you need it there’s a chance you’ll be on the move with it. If your house floods or is unliveable, your emergency kit should be easy to carry to a shelter. 

I recommend a well-made duffle bag you can find at any thrift store. It has pockets for organization and sturdy straps for carrying over your shoulder. It’ll also fit better into odd-shaped spaces should need to stuff it in a car or under a cot.

Local Maps

How to Assemble an Inexpensive Natural Disaster Emergency Kit

In the age of smartphones and Google Maps, having a paper map is often forgotten. But we experienced firsthand evacuating for Irma that reception is horrible after a disaster, and main roads are extremely congested.

Don’t rely on just your phone to get where you’re going. AAA members can get free maps from their local office and everyone else get them super cheap from Rand McNally.

Generator

Generators aren’t a necessary part of an emergency kit, but it’s worth noting that they’re very nice to have in an emergency. If you go this route, you’ll need one between 2,000-4,000 Watts to run your home’s fridge and AC. They’re a little pricey so check pawn shops and Craigslist for minimally used ones for a great deal.

Extra Can of Gas

If people have advanced notice of a natural disaster the first to sell out is water, and the next is gasoline. You should fill up your tank in advance and keep an extra tank available for your generator or car in case of evacuation.

On the 500 mile trip to Atlanta, the interstate was lined with empty gas stations and stations with lines a mile long waiting to get rationed gallons of gas. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Grab these items now and avoid the stress of running around from store to store just to find sold-out shelves. Prepare now because hopefully, you’ll never need it but if you wait it might be too late.

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How to Assemble an Inexpensive Natural Disaster Emergency Kit

About the author

Jennifer Smith

Jen Smith is a personal finance writer and creator of SavingwithSpunk.com. She paid off $78,000 in student loan debt in two years and lives to tell the tale.

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