Defense Media Network

Building an Emergency Supplies Kit

An ounce of prevention...

While National Preparedness Month has ended, the need for individuals, communities, and businesses to hope for the best and plan for the worst endures. In his 2012 proclamation re-declaring the annual readiness month, the president said:

“I encourage all Americans to…learn more about the risks facing their communities [and] find out what they can do to prepare…Individuals and families can also take action by building a disaster supply kit with food, water, and essential supplies in case of emergency, and by developing and sharing an emergency plan with their loved ones.”

Gathering critical supplies and information in the midst or aftermath of a disaster may be too little, too late. This is intuitive, but knowing and doing are different things. Building an emergency supplies kit languished on my to-do list for years. (In Midtown Manhattan, there are always more interesting ways to spend an afternoon.) Recently, however, I resolved to make the effort.

For my kit, I referenced the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) emergency supplies list on Some of the recommended supplies I already had at home – dry food for the dog and cat; a wrench and pliers (to turn off utilities); blankets and a change of clothes. For the rest, I went to Home Depot. Items like flashlights, batteries and a first aid kit seemed obvious. Others, however, were less apparent. The list also includes:

  • A 72-hour supply of non-perishable food and water (one gallon per person, per day);
  • Infant formula and diapers (if applicable);
  • A common radio, as well as an NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert (extra batteries for both);
  • A signal whistle;
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape (for shelter and covering windows/doors);
  • Garbage bags and sanitizing wipes (for waste disposal);
  • A dust mask to filter dangerous particles in the air (A cotton t-shirt is an effective substitute);
  • Chlorine bleach and a medicine dropper (for purifying water); and
  • Local maps, first aid instructions and other emergency information documents.

My kit cost about $100 and three hours effort. (Easier still would have been ordering one of the many pre-made kits available in stores and online.) Preparation at work is just as important. There are online resources business leaders can use to prepare their employees and workspace for emergencies. Two include Ready Business, provided by DHS and FEMA, and the American Red Cross Ready Rating program.

Consider what you, your family or your coworkers would need in an emergency. The time and money invested in gathering critical items and information could result in a supplies box that sits dusty and unused for decades, but it could also end up protecting and saving lives. I haven’t touched my plastic emergency box since I closed the lid, but as the ever-eloquent Benjamin Franklin said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.


Justin Hienz writes on counterterrorism, violent extremism and homeland security. In addition to his journalistic...