This guide will help you know what food and supplies to include in your emergency kit and how to safeguard important documents and priceless keepsakes so they're ready to go if evacuation is necessary.

By Linley Sanders

Sometimes in the event of a natural disaster, people must flee their homes and make quick decisions about what to carry with them or leave behind. Whether the evacuation is because of a wildfire, tornado, flood, or hurricane, it’s important to have personal priorities when deciding what to take. Here's how to anticipate your family's needs, pack the essentials, and be as prepared as possible should you need to relocate without much warning.

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Image courtesy of Getty.
Image courtesy of Getty.

1. Sentimental Keepsakes

An especially devastating moment of a natural disaster: choosing which keepsakes to take with you during an evacuation. Wedding photos, baby albums, family letters, priceless refrigerator artwork from the kids—it’s hard to know how much it means until you’re faced with losing it.

At the same time, it’s impossible to take every memory with you in backpacks and bags, unless you plan ahead. A digital archive (using a cloud-base storage system like Backblaze or Dropbox) can be one step to memorializing copies of treasured photos and documents. You can save cassette tapes and CDs as digital MP3 files on a local hard drive that can travel with you as well. As for the originals, consider investing in a fireproof lockbox like the Honeywell Waterproof Fire-Resistant Safe, $111.70 on Amazon. The storm’s impact cannot be prevented, but this mitigates the losses.

Buy It: Unlimited Cloud Backup, $6 per month, Backblaze

2. Nonperishable Food and Water

No matter the natural disaster you face, you’ll always want to be prepared with first aid essentials. The American Red Cross recommends packing enough water to give each person and pet in your evacuation group 1 gallon per day. A good alternative to hauling jugs of prepackaged gallons of water is to purchase a filter bottle that removes bacteria and parasites.  You should also plan a nonperishable food supply kit (think prepackaged snacks like trail mix, dried fruit, tuna packets, and granola bars) to keep you fueled throughout the natural disaster.

3. A First Aid Kit

Your emergency first aid kit should include the basics: medications (both prescription and over-the-counter medications like antihistamines and painkillers), adhesive bandages, latex gloves, hand sanitizer, gauze, and towelettes. 

In the case of widespread dust or wildfire smoke, you need to take precautions to shield your respiratory system. Dust masks are cheap—about $1 per mask or less—and easy-to-find at your local hardware store. (Or try the 3M Home Dust Mask, $5.25 for five, Amazon.) The masks won’t protect against everything (they are primarily designed to keep dust, pollen, and dirt from getting into your lungs), but they can help. For a long-term reusable mask, consider a washable cloth with antimicrobial treatment, which is also available at most hardware stores.

Buy It: Reusable Dust, Pollen and Germ Mask, $15.98, The Home Depot

4. A Satellite Communication Device

When cell phone signals are disrupted, a small satellite communicator will allow you to remain in touch with friends and family. The off-the-grid technology lets you to send and receive text messages, access weather reports, and share your location with friends. If necessary, the satellite device can trigger an SOS signal to an emergency response team during a natural disaster.

Buy It: inReach Mini Satellite Communicator, $350, Garmin

5. A Survival Whistle

An emergency whistle can help search and rescue teams find you more quickly if you or someone in your party is stranded or injured. There’s no need to get too fancy; you only need a whistle that can be heard for a long distance, like the Noopel Emergency Survival Whistle, $10.99 on Amazon. If you aren’t the loudest whistler or are concerned about younger members of the family, consider an electronic whistle like the Fox 40 Electronic Whistle, $14.53 on Amazon that activates at the push of a button.

6. An Animal Anxiety Vest and Emergency Pet Supplies

Your pet is likely to be fearful and uneasy as they sense the changes around them. Along with emergency pet supplies, including an ID tag, you'll want to pack something to help keep your pet calm. An anxiety shirt, which swaddles the pet with gentle pressure, can help to soothe a distressed pet. If you do not have time to get an anxiety shirt, wrap your pet in extra blankets or towels for comfort and warmth, particularly if he or she will be traveling in a pet carrier.

Buy It: ThunderShirt Insanely Calm Dog Anxiety Shirt, from $40, PetSmart

7. Identification, Insurance, and Medical Documents

Take a moment to consider all the paperwork you would need during a serious emergency or throughout a natural disaster: birth certificates, passports, property records, insurance information. Could you gather all of that in a matter of hours—or minutes? Building an organized emergency preparation box in advance gifs you a sense of relief. Look for a watertight filing box with a handle so you can sort paperwork in folders and take it on the go.

Buy It: Iris Weathertight Portable File Box with Handle, $22.99, Container Store

8. Emergency Cash

While many people don’t make a habit of carrying cash, it can be particularly useful to have some on hand during a natural disaster because power outages may put credit card and ATM machines out of commission. Set aside $20-150 in your wallet or go-kit for gas expenses and emergency needs. Traveler's checks are an option that have an additional layer of safety because your signature must match the check for it to be used.

Related: How to Make an Emergency Car Kit.

9. Important Back-Up Files and Keys

You may not think you need a spare set of house or car keys during an evacuation, but you will want them later. The same applies to external computer hard-drives, mailbox keys, and security box keys. If you’re nervous about having all your spare keys in one spot, consider housing them in a security box that has a lock code.

Buy It: AdirOffice Key Steel Security Cabinet Box, $19.54, Amazon

10. Clothing, Toiletries, and Hygiene Products

Grab a pair of durable boots or walking shoes, hats and gloves, a winter or rain-repellent jacket, underwear, socks, jeans or slacks, and a shirt for each person. If time allows, pack a few essentials like toothbrushes and toothpaste, deodorant, and cleansing wipes in a resealable plastic bag. Contact solution, contact lenses, and eye drops are also important to take if you use them.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Packing

Hopefully, you won't be faced with the decision of what to take and what to leave behind, but if you and your loved ones need to evacuate due to a natural disaster, this preparedness checklist can help you safeguard meaningful belongings and quickly move to safety.

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