Stories & Features

What kind of emergency kit is right for you?

Image of a typical emergency kit
Everyone should have an emergency kit with the basics – a flashlight, food and water for 72 hours. But you can make a prolonged power outage a little easier to take if you customize your kit with a few essentials, chosen just for you.

Whether you're a parent of small kids or a tech-savvy superstar, consider customizing your kit to be prepared

Most of us know that we should be prepared for emergencies and disasters. Living in B.C., chances are you've heard that in particular, you should be prepared for a major earthquake. But a new survey suggests that most of us have a long way to go when it comes to preparing an emergency kit for disasters – or for prolonged power outages.

With that in mind, we're encouraging you to take some time this month to build your emergency kit. And we've got some suggestions to help make your kit even more awesome.

Start with the basics

Before you start considering what can make your kit even better, make sure you've covered the basics. Emergency preparedness experts recommend having basic supplies for three days (for everyone in your household). A typical 72-hour emergency kit should include:

  • First-aid kit (pro tip: consider adding cartoon character bandages if you have kids)
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio
  • Multi-function tool & knife
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Cash in small bills
  • A local map with your family meeting place identified
  • Three-day supply of food and water (for each person in the household)
  • Garbage bags
  • Dust mask
  • Seasonal clothing and footwear – don't forget hats for you and any kids
  • Medications and/or eyewear prescriptions, including children's versions of items such as Tylenol if you have young kids
  • Basic non-prescription medications you may need, such as ibuprofen, laxatives, antacids, or anti-diarrhea medication for any upset stomachs
  • Manual can opener
  • Extra keys, for your house and car
  • Personal hygiene items, including sunscreen (and children's sunscreen if you need it)
  • Important family documents (i.e. copies of birth and marriage certificates, passports, licences including drivers licence, medical care card, wills, land deeds and insurance)
  • A copy of your emergency plan

Once you've got all that sorted (ideally in a sturdy bag or bin), consider what else you and your household might really want – not just need – in an emergency or a prolonged power outage.

A few suggestions of possible items you may want to add...

For the constantly connected: tech toys

In a major disaster, cellular networks may be affected. But during typical windstorms that can cause prolonged power outages, many of us spend hours scrolling through our phones, anxiously watching batteries go down. You can keep that scrolling going with just a few extra items in your kit:

  • A portable phone charger, power bank or juicebox (or two), charged up of course. Consider setting a regular monthly reminder on your phone to pull the chargers out of your kit and make sure they're fully charged.
  • Some touchscreen gloves for when the temperature drops, inside or outside your home.
  • An e-reader can help keep boredom at bay – and let you save that smartphone battery for critical updates from emergency officials or contacting loved ones. A basic model loaded up with free or low-priced offerings from Kindle or Kobo can offer hours of Netflix replacement. And in more serious emergencies, you could also load it up with valuable reference materials, as suggested here.
  • A more durable, survival-mode smartphone case, especially if you don't regularly use a case or use a super-slim version. Remember that you might be using your phone more than usual, relying on its flashlight, or even using it in hazardous conditions. A more durable case isn't a bad idea. Some rugged cases even offer built-in charging through solar panels.

For parents and pet parents: creature comforts

We're going to assume that you already have the food and water for everyone in your household sorted, including any furry creatures or underage eaters that require special diets. If you're breastfeeding, experts often recommend having formula and some bottles in your kit – experiencing an emergency or disaster could affect your supply.

But keeping kids or pets calm and safe during storms and power outages can be tricky – here are a few things that might help:

  • Some extra clothes and closed-toe shoes. This is especially important during the summer months, when warmer clothes and anything other than sandals might be packed away. There might be hazards (such as broken glass) following a disaster – and in spring and fall, power outages can mean cooler temperatures inside your home than you're used to.
  • Stuffed animals, blankets, or favourite toys can be a big comfort to kids of all varieties when things get a bit scary. Keep a few in your kit to help keep things calm and make getting to sleep in unusual circumstances a bit easier. A few older blankets or towels for your pet are also a great item to include.
  • Cards and games you can play together, especially if your kids regularly use a lot of technology. If you have a Minecraft or Paw Patrol fan to entertain, you'll need some alternatives that don't require charging cords or the internet. Time to go old-school: grab a few decks of cards, and compact analog games such as Uno or Exploding Kittens, and colouring books and crayons or pencil crayons. Travel versions of games or activity books are typically a great compact option.
  • Snack time can help things feel normal – throw some of their favourite non-perishable snacks and treats in there. In larger emergencies when you might be eating a lot of canned food – you might experience a lot less muss and fuss if the kids know they can have one of their favourite fruit snacks or bars after "dinner".
  • Collapsible non-spill food and water bowls make it easier to keep Fido and Fluffy fed and watered wherever you end up waiting out an emergency – which may not be at home, if you need to evacuate.

For the constantly cold: some alternative ways to stay warm

When the power goes out, particularly in the fall and winter months, one of the biggest problems is staying warm, especially if you have electric heat or regularly use electric space heaters. Most of us can handle the chill for a few hours – but what about a few days? If you tend to run cold, a few suggestions that can help you conquer cooler temperatures.

  • Consider a Snuggie, Slanket or something similar to keep your hands free and your body warm. Perfect for holding your flashlight, reading a book or using that manual can-opener.
  • Thick, warm socks will take up less room in your kit than slippers but still keep your feet toasty warm. And when your toes are toasty, the rest of you will feel warm too.
  • A hot water bottle can make sleeping in colder temperatures a little bit easier – so if you have a gas range or another way to access hot water during a power outage, this can be a great option (though admittedly maybe not an option during a disaster).
  • Instant hand warmers such as HotHands can be pricey for regular use – but it's worth having a few in your kit for use in extra-cold temperatures or after being outside for prolonged periods of time. If you don't like the idea of disposable instant options – consider some of the battery-powered versions available these days. You could also opt for reusable gel packs that can be reheated in boiling water – if you're boiling water for other uses, such as washing dishes, you could toss a few in there to reheat.

If you're not ready to make the ultimate kit, make sure you at least have the basics covered. You can assemble the kit yourself, or hit the easy button and order kits ready to go, sized for the number of people in your household. There are specialty retailers offering a wide range of kits from basic to extensive (including smaller kits for your vehicle), but you can also find options at regular online retailers including Amazon and Costco.

Don't let 2019 end as another year you are unprepared – set yourself a goal of preparing your emergency kit before the month is out.