What's In Your Emergency Kit? Natural disasters can strike no matter where you live. Whether it's an earthquake, tornado, flood or hurricane, experts say everyone should be prepared with a well-stocked emergency kit. The Red Cross recommends flashlights, batteries, water and canned goods.
NPR logo

What's In Your Emergency Kit?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/140039622/140039763" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
What's In Your Emergency Kit?

What's In Your Emergency Kit?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/140039622/140039763" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

REBECCA ROBERTS, host: There are earthquakes on the West Coast - and sometimes here in the East, too, as we learned last week - tornadoes in the Midwest, hurricanes, like the one that hit us this past weekend, on the East Coast and, of course, in the Gulf. There are Mountain States with wildfires. When disaster inevitably comes to your area, it's always good to be prepared and have an emergency kit. But what do you include? The Red Cross says you need to have water and non-perishable foods and flashlights and batteries and a first aid kit and medicine and a weather radio and sanitation and personal hygiene items and a multipurpose tool. And actually the list goes on for another good full page.

But everyone has different needs and different items that they think are important during an emergency. So tell us, what is in your emergency kit and why? Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. If you're like P.M. Klein(ph), who says what disaster kit? I'm one of the many unprepared, just being honest; or Chad in Elkhart, Indiana, who says six cans of dog food for my dachshund, tell us, what is in your disaster preparedness kit? Talk@npr.org is the email address.

Thanks to everyone who wants to participate here. Let's go to Madeline(ph) in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

MADELINE: Hello. I'm happy that you accepted my call. Nevertheless, in my kit - and since I'm single, I don't have to carry all the things that everybody else does, but I have water, Granola bars, dried fruit, a rolled sleeping bed, one of those cranked radios, you know...

ROBERTS: All right.

MADELINE: ...that has light on it, that you can have your cellphone charged with. I have paper towels, a first aid kit and a Red Cross pocket knife, as well as some TP.

ROBERTS: Why paper towels?

MADELINE: Because I'd have to wipe my face.

ROBERTS: OK. Good to know. And, Madeline, what do you think is the disaster you might face in Fort Wayne, Indiana? Is it tornadoes there, largely?

MADELINE: Well, they have - they've had ice storms here. They have had floods. You never know what will happen, and a good girl scout is always prepared.


ROBERTS: Words to live by. Thank you, Madeline. This is Todd(ph) in Oregon City, Oregon. Todd, what's in your disaster preparedness kit?

TODD: Well, a water purifying kit, like a backpacking kit because water is the most important thing you could ever have. And aside from dry food and things like that is entertainment for your kids...

ROBERTS: Oh, yeah.

TODD: ...that is not electronic because the most important thing is keeping things mellow and having your kids subdued while you can deal with all the other things you have to deal with.

ROBERTS: So what sort of entertainment do you have?

TODD: Blocks, puzzles, crayons, things that you normally have, but make sure it's not electronic if the power goes out, that you can still have a good time with your kids. And aside from all their other things, if they're happy and smiling, it makes everything else easier to deal with.

ROBERTS: Well, you know, Todd, that brings up a point because we're often told make sure you check your disaster kit every once in a while. Make sure the food hasn't expired and that sort of thing. But you should also check and make sure your kids haven't aged out of the blocks, right? I mean, imagine your next disaster is when your kids are 15 and it's crayons in there.

TODD: Sure, sure. Yeah. All that all comes back to just - that's normal, taking care of your kids, I think. But if you're going to stay at home in a disaster, you've probably got a lot of the things that you need anyway as far as, you know, flashlights and things like that. But keeping a somewhat normal environment for your kids could make everything far easier. Does that make sense?

ROBERTS: It does. Todd, thanks for calling in. And, actually, I should say that the Red Cross differentiates between what you should keep in your house, in case you're staying home, and what you should have for your evacuation. For instance, you can't carry gallons and gallons of water with you if you're evacuating, but you could store gallons of water in your home. And the Red Cross recommendation, actually, is one gallon per person, per day, a two weeks' supply for home. And for food, a three-day supply for evacuation and a two-week supply for home. And, of course, non-perishable and easy-to-prepare food is the best.

In fact, we have an email from Keith in Gainesville, Florida, who says he keeps packaged meat with a tear-open top: chicken, tuna and et cetera. Also, a hand pump water filter - like used in backpacking - amateur radio, multi-purpose soap. And he says that, you know, he's got the practical stuff that's on everybody's list as well.

We also hear from David in Sacramento, who says: In addition to the usual, I include a complete set of spare keys - house, cars, safe, et cetera - spare identification, even at extra cost to the DMV. Another good idea is proof of home/car ownership. It's so important to be able to prove where you live, i.e., that you are a resident of an affected neighborhood. Birth certificate copies are not a bad idea too.

Emily in Farmington Hills, Michigan, says: We have stockpiled food, hygiene, medication, first aid, paper and plastic products, fuels and self-sufficiency supplies. We would be able to quarantine for months at home or set up a hotel room or campsite quickly and efficiently. We have also taken first aid and disaster preparedness courses and have a few disaster preparedness supplies in order to be helpful in a community crisis. So if you're in Farmington Hills, Michigan, Emily sounds like a pretty good friend to have in a disaster.

We are talking about what is in your preparedness kit. You can call us at 800-989-8255, or send us email: talk@npr.org. You could also go to the website, npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION. Toni(ph) in Reno, Nevada is on the line. Toni, what's in your preparedness kit?

TONI: Well, kind of all of the above. We also keep - and it's a tiny bit expensive, but we keep and get rid off when it's too old, Cipro, in case we have bad guys after us. And also, we keep a card of places to meet if we are actually not at home when something happens and we need to get in touch with each other. Also - and I just want to say this - I remember when I was a child in San Francisco, during the Alaskan earthquake, it was amazing that half of the city turned out at the ocean beach in order to watch the tsunami that was supposed to be coming in. So in case we think the behavior was a little strange this time around, it always has been that way.


ROBERTS: Toni, thank you for your call. Buck says, it's very brief. His list of what's in his disaster preparedness kit and only for a disaster of epic proportions: passports, $1,000 and two open-date tickets to Tahiti.


ROBERTS: Buck, another good friend in a disaster. Thomas says: First and foremost, my wife and I have hardhats. Why, you ask? We live on a fault line in the San Francisco Bay Area. Rock in Payson, Arizona, joins us on the line now. Rock, what is in your disaster kit?

ROCK: Three very simple things: .22 pistol and shells, fishing line and a hook and salt.

ROBERTS: OK. I - is the pistol for self-defense or for hunting?

ROCK: Both.

ROBERTS: And the fishing line?

ROCK: Well, you got to have a line to catch fish.

ROBERTS: Don't you live in the desert?

ROCK: No. In Payson, Arizona, we're 5,000 feet in the middle of the forest.


ROCK: And the salt, if you don't have salt, you'll die. You know, in some places, they exchange gold for salt or they used to in Africa. So it's a very, very, very definite commodity. You got to have it.

ROBERTS: Plus, you know, whatever game or fish you come up with, it would taste a whole lot better with it.

ROCK: Well, I figured out that after a month - if it's really a bad catastrophe, after a month, everybody's going to be out of everything. And if you don't have the capability of going out and hunting or fishing, you know, you're going to be dead.

ROBERTS: What sort of emergency are you preparing for in Payson?


ROCK: Well, you know, if we had a major earthquake or a major disaster, say, in Phoenix, which is 90 miles south of us, that would probably disable all the major highways. And so, after a while, after a week or two, we wouldn't be getting any medicine. We wouldn't be getting any drugs. We wouldn't be getting any food up here. So it would be a catastrophic emergency. But, if you - well, excuse me. What's going to happen first, people that need medicines that are refrigerated and all that, they're history.

People that don't can't go out and actually secure food for themselves, they're going to try to steal from other people or take it. So if you don't have those three basic commodities, you know, your chances of living are not very good.

ROBERTS: Rock, thanks for your call. Let's hear what Heidi in Molokai, Hawaii, is stockpiling in her disaster kit. Heidi, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

HEIDI: Hi. Can you hear me?

ROBERTS: I can. What's in your kit?

HEIDI: I have a few very sharp knives and knife-sharpening tools. I have water bottles and lots of rope and cordage and backpacks. We have hiking shoes. We don't focus on food because we're really good at hunting and different things. And water is more important than food.

ROBERTS: And what's the knife for? Oh, we've lost Heidi. Perhaps she has gone into the woods. Let's hear from Brian in Kansas City. Brian, what's in your disaster preparedness kit?

BRIAN: Yeah. I'm going to say the "King James Bible" and a shotgun.

ROBERTS: Why the "King James" as opposed to another version?

BRIAN: No reason in particular. Just tradition.

ROBERTS: The poetry of it? Good to have in a disaster?

BRIAN: Yeah. Yeah. And in my scenario, this is the zombie apocalypse so - thus the shotgun.

ROBERTS: Right. Well, you're not alone actually. We have an email from Rex. He says his disaster kit includes a baseball bat in case of a zombie outbreak. So you, too, at least will be prepared.

BRIAN: Absolutely. Thank you.

ROBERTS: Thanks, Brian. My grandmother's disaster preparedness kit, it must be said, involves some canned goods and some Sterno, which either was for cooking the canned goods or maybe for a chafing dish emergency, and a statue of the Virgin Mary. So, you know, you have to take with you what it is you think you're going to need. Drew in Charlotte, North Carolina, joins us now. Drew, what's in your kit?

DREW: Well, everyone's talking about water. But after drinking water for so long, you get tired. So we have Kool-Aid packets.


DREW: They are so light, easy to carry, and you go to flavor all water that you're drinking. And also the game Pass the Pigs. I'd recommend it to anybody. It's two pigs, and they have a spot on each side. It's kind of like a dice game, but it's a lot more fun because the dice are pigs.

ROBERTS: Well, everything's more fun when it's pigs, right?

DREW: Absolutely.

ROBERTS: Now, do you have a family consensus on Kool-Aid flavors or is that going to be a fight?

DREW: Oh, man. Oh. Yeah, I'm just going to - I'll leave it at that.

ROBERTS: Yeah. Get the variety pack.

DREW: Yeah, absolutely, you know? And they're so light, you can carry them anywhere. The thing is, you have to get the mix. You can't just get the packets because otherwise you got to carry sugar, and sugar is pretty heavy so...

ROBERTS: Drew, thanks for your call. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

We are talking about what is in your disaster preparedness kit, regardless of the disaster. Let's hear from Jennifer in Sacramento. Jennifer, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

JENNIFER: Hello. Thanks for taking my call.


JENNIFER: I have four very small children, and so we have a bag of candy...

ROBERTS: Are they in your kit?

JENNIFER: I'm sorry. Yeah. In our kit? No. Not kids in the kit. No, but we carry a lot of candy and gum, things that would help keep our kid maybe occupied during a disaster, and we just vacuum packed them and so that they're good for - in flood and things like that.

ROBERTS: That was clever. Do you still have anyone in diapers?

JENNIFER: Yes, I do. I have lots of diapers, again, vacuum sealed to take up less space.

ROBERTS: Yeah. They're light, but they are bulky.

JENNIFER: Yes, they are.

ROBERTS: And, Jennifer, what do you think is your most likely disaster in Sacramento?

JENNIFER: In Sacramento, I think we worry more about floods from - we're right by the river, and so that everything is vacuum packed and in plastic baggies. They have lots of ponchos and heating element thing. So we worry more about floods.

ROBERTS: Thank you for your call. I hope you stay dry. Let's hear from Gary in Ehrhardt, South Carolina. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION, Gary.

GARY: Yes, ma'am. How are you doing?

ROBERTS: I'm doing well. What's in your disaster kit?

GARY: I'm an ex-military, so mine is - you have some excellent suggestions. I suggest when you're deciding what to pack, I'll say, is an external survival kit or, you know, not in the house. These items are also useful in the house. But I will start off with a waterless hand cleaner, like Gojo, the mechanics use. You're familiar with that?

ROBERTS: I'm not, but it sounds like a really useful item.

GARY: It comes in a can - it comes in a plastic container about four inches wide, about three inches high. Buy anywhere from 79 cents to a buck and a half. A pair of EMT snips like the EMTs use to cut bandages with. They'll cut through a nickel, much less anything else you need to cut - within reason.

I'll get a large chest bandage, military. That way if you have a chest wound, you can stop the hemorrhaging, et cetera, from there. And three or four regular bandages. That way, if you have an abrasion or something bleeding - your arm or your leg - put one bandage on there and you put another one on there, tie it tight, that's called a compression bandage and that will stop your bleeding if you're, like, after a tornado or a hurricane and you're in the house, nobody to help you. Those are essentials.

I'd get a small thing or shop towels. You can buy them three or for dollars - like mechanics use in the garages. Those are clean. You can clean yourself. You can wipe off your hands after you use your hand cleaner, et cetera. I'd get a small tool kit with the obvious normal stuff. I would also get three rolls of surgical tape, one of them wide and two narrow, the kinds you could tear off. You know what I'm talking about? You just tear off - you don't have to cut 'em.

ROBERTS: Right. Right.

GARY: And a packet of gauze. And last but not the least, in case you're away from the house when you're using all this, get you a compass. You can buy them 20 or 30 bucks. The lensatic, that's the kind that has two little parts you flip up. You can sight through it on a distant objective. You never know when you might need a compass.

So those are the things I would have as starters, in addition to whatever else you want to put. But what you want to do is to envision where you're going to be like when you need this. What are you going to be like when you need to keep up your morale, keep you operating?

ROBERTS: Yeah. Gary, you are thoroughly prepared. I'm impressed. Jennifer in New York City says, I have milk crate with a lantern and oil, safety matches, D and cell batteries, flashlights, emergency candles, a crank radio and an adaptor I can use to charge a cell phone. Not bad. Hey, well, Jennifer, I didn't think that was bad until I heard Gary ready for triage in the middle of his living room if he gets into a disaster.

Audrey in Denver says just the basics so I can take it to an evacuation: water bottles, batteries, a radio to listen to NPR - thank you for that, Audrey - protein bars, Band-Aids and, of course, a few old issues of Cosmo. I also keep two thick coats in my car in the winter in case of an emergency or accident. MJ in San Francisco says all of what's been mentioned and cash. ATMs won't be easily accessible and will be out of money. Cash is king in a disaster. And finally, we have Holly in Denver who says everyone has great items in their disaster pack, but no one has listed chocolate. You've got to have chocolate with your water.

Thanks to everyone who called in and wrote with your ideas. I'm sorry we didn't have time to get to all of them. Tomorrow, what is it like to go to war? Neal Conan will be back for that conversation.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.