Be Prepared

Every Boy Scout knows the rule: Be prepared.

The same goes for protecting your home and family in case of disaster. The federal government advises focusing on survival basics: fresh water, food, clean air and warmth. Having home and car safety kits handy can provide peace of mind now and critical supplies later if trouble comes calling.

Car safety kits

Stranded, cold and hungry along the highway is nowhere you’d want to be. A well-stocked emergency roadside kit could help you get back on the road quickly and safely. (And if you’re stuck, at least you’ll be stuck with a snack and a warm blanket.)

Pre-assembled kits are available to purchase, but you might want to assemble your own or customize a purchased kit. Consider including:

The Basics

  • Cell phone and car charger, with a list of emergency numbers
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Two roadside flares
  • Quart of oil
  • Small first aid kit
  • Flashlight
  • Multipurpose tool or pocket knife
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Tire inflator
  • Duct tape
  • Rags
  • Your car’s manual
  • Pen and paper
  • Help sign

The Extras

(if your car has more trunk space, or if you’re planning a long trip, add these to the mix:)

  • Jumper cables or a portable battery booster
  • Gallon of antifreeze
  • Extra fuses
  • Extra flashlight batteries
  • Basic tools: Phillips and flat-head screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench
  • Spray bottle with washer fluid
  • Ice scraper
  • Granola or energy bars
  • Bottled water
  • An approved gas container
  • A road atlas

The Maybes

Think about the weather, too. Will you need extra water or a warm blanket? If icy roads are likely, a bag of sand or cat litter could provide traction for a stuck tire. You might also be glad to have a folding camp shovel or warm gloves and hat.

Check your kit occasionally to make sure it’s shipshape, the spare tire is inflated, batteries are charged, first-aid supplies are stocked, water is fresh and food is dry. Be familiar with how each tool works before you need to use it in an emergency. Also remember that the most important tool you have is common sense; stopping to change a tire in the fast lane is an accident waiting to happen.

Home safety kits

Services we take for granted, such as running water, refrigeration and telephone service, may be unavailable after a major disaster. Experts at recommend preparing to be self-sufficient for at least three days. Ready to get prepared? Consider compiling your own home safety kit. You might want to include:

The Basics

  • Water, one gallon per person, per day
  • Non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand-cranked radio
  • Flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Cash and change in a waterproof container
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air, and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place (that means taking immediate shelter where you are– at home, work, school or in between, usually for just a few hours)
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with battery-powered or solar charger

The Extras

  • Prescription medications and eyeglasses
  • Infant formula and supplies
  • Personal hygiene items
  • Pet food and extra water
  • Important family documents, such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records, in a waterproof container
  • Emergency reference material such as a first aid guide (FEMA offers many free publications)
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Complete change of clothing for each person
  • Unscented household bleach and medicine dropper (bleach is an effective disinfectant and can also be used to treat drinking water)
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Disposable cups, plates, paper towels and utensils
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children

The Maybes

Is your area prone to ice storms? Earthquakes? Floods? You may need particular tools or equipment in those cases.

Store your household kit in a large, portable, watertight container (a large plastic garbage can with a lid and wheels works well). Make sure it’s accessible, and remember to maintain it, change out batteries periodically, make sure the energy bars and peanut butter haven’t gone bad, and resist the temptation to raid the spare cash.

Preparing for emergencies isn't complicated; it just takes a little planning and organization. Stop putting it off and put together some supplies. Hopefully, you’ll never need them, but if you do, you’ll be relieved you took the initiative.

Helpful resources

The “Car Maintenance” section at

The Red Cross and many retailers sell pre-assembled auto emergency kits, as well as other emergency supplies. Here are a few places to start:

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