What to Put in Your Survival Kit

“This is a way of life for us, defending against storms. Come June, we all get in the mode. What are you going to do when someone says “Storm’s in the Gulf”? When you lose electricity, the refrigerator leaks. We all eat seafood, so you have nasty seafood juice all over your floor. We prep our freezers and put everything in plastic garbage bags so if it gets liquified, it’s contained. We learned that after Katrina.”

Cynthia Lee Sheng, 56, President of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana

“I have a kit, or a go bag, but I also keep things in the shelter during tornado season, so we don’t have to move them. We have a case of water, rain boots, extra outfits. And we have a hand winch that my dad always referred to as a “come-along.” It’s essentially a hand-jack so if the shelter door gets stuck, we can put the hand winch in there and crank it open.”

Ashleigh Gibson, 37, Oklahoma City

“Just imagine what it would be like to have no coffee for 11 days. And you’re in a disaster zone with your family. You want the coffee. So I’ve got cold-brew instant coffee. After Hurricane Ian, I thought, ‘Do I like it here enough to live through this again?’ But there are really no disaster-free areas now.”

Kelli Harris, 47, Venice, Fla.

From wildfires and tornadoes to hurricanes and winter storms, disasters are happening all year long. Last year, the United States experienced 18 weather- and climate-related disasters, leading to nearly 500 deaths and billions of dollars in damage. Very little of the country was untouched.

After hearing about the extreme weather that many of our interviewees had survived, we asked some whether they had ever considered moving. They said they thought the pros of staying put outweighed the cons. Several said that no matter where they lived, they would have to deal with emergencies.

“I have $100 in singles because I was told if we’re in an emergency and everyone’s got very little cash and the ATMs don’t work, we should always have ones to buy what we need. We have a deck of cards in the kit and because I have a toddler we have a stuffed animal (a little kitty) that makes my kid feel happy and safe.”

Damaris Dragonas, 45, Nevada City, Calif.

Boots are really important. Cut feet are one of the biggest injuries in earthquakes. But the most valuable thing in terms of emergencies is knowing your neighbors. I got these signs – one side is red and says ‘Help,’ and the other side is green and says ‘OK.’ If you need help, you put ‘Help’ in your window. I got them for everyone on the block.”

Lynda Bishop, 72, Portland, Ore.

“I recommend making sure you have stuff you actually want to eat. Like junk food. We have Pringles in our kit. We throw an earthquake-themed dinner party every year as a way to teach friends and family about earthquake preparedness. The whole party is candlelit, we do quizzes about what you need to know. We have all the kids go under the table and we shake the table. It’s a fun thing, but hopefully when the next big earthquake comes, our friends are ready.”

Emily F. Peters, 43, San Francisco

Last month, the World Meteorological Organization predicted that the Earth’s surface would reach record-high temperatures within the next five years, increasing the likelihood of droughts and wildfires, as well as the severity of storms.

Dire forecasts can feel beyond many people’s control. Disaster kits could be one small way to help.

“What pushed me to get an emergency kit was the big winter storm Uri in 2021. That was pretty dramatic here. I bought a kit from JUDY. It’s a highly designed kit. The whole kit and kaboodle comes in a waterproof bag. The list of what it had matched what I was looking for.”

Natalie Davis, 42, Austin, Texas

“It’s important to have flip-flops in times of flood. You don’t want to be in shoes. Your shoes will always be wet.

Since 1989 I have been helping people in times of disaster. You have to be compassionate with people. Recently at a shelter I was passing around toothbrushes. I was going to give this person a pink toothbrush and he said, “Can I have a blue one?” At first I thought, ‘Oh this is a person who is being picky.’ But then I remembered he just lost everything. If that blue toothbrush is going to make him happy, he can have it.”

Ayenza Matthews, 54, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

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