Premade emergency preparedness kits are available online with as many extras as you want, packed up in tidy backpacks and buckets, but before spending big bucks on something you hopefully never have to use, consider building your own emergency preparedness kit at home.

“You don’t have to buy brand new stuff. Look around your house for extra things, pick up things at garage sales, and get travel size items,” explained Van Buren County’s Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Jeana Williams. A volunteer firefighter at Mt. Holley, Williams was hired as the county’s coordinator shortly after the February 2008 tornado that tore through Clinton. She recently sat down with us to discuss emergency preparedness kits and take us on a tour through her emergency preparedness kit and a kid-friendly kit she puts together each year to give away during the Van Buren County Fair.

It’s simply assembling basic items in one place in advance, so you aren’t scrambling around at the last minute, searching for things, such as a manual can opener and matches.

Ideally individuals need to be able to be self-sufficient for at least three days. There’s even a saying for it: “The first 72 (hours) are on you.” In emergency situations, such as tornadoes, ice storms, or even strong summer storms, cell phone towers may be damaged and roads may be blocked by downed trees and power lines, so even if you can call for help, that help may not be able to get to you quickly.

There’s a couple of different ways to approach the kit making process. For example online, they have larger kits to keep at home, kits to keep at the office, more portable kits in backpacks for adults and children, and kits to keep in vehicles; but many of these kits can be built at home and can serve double duty.

Additionally, by building your own emergency preparedness kit, you can tailor it to your needs and tailor your child’s kit towards their abilities.

Key things to consider when building an emergency preparedness kit include: light, communication, hygiene, first-aid, tools, food, water, sleeping, and shelter.

Light and communication: Flashlights are an obvious part of a kit, but remember to include extra batteries and check the batteries in these items from time to time. A headlamp is a good choice because it frees your hands up for other tasks. Emergency radios have batteries, but can also be charged by hand-cranking, or with the solar panel. These radios have the weather radio channel, AM/FM, an LED flashlight, and a cell phone charger port, which makes them a great investment for the home, car, or adult kits. Long-lasting glow-sticks and a plastic whistle are lightweight items for all kits that can be used to signal for help

Hygiene and first-aid: a washcloth and small soap in a baggie, a travel size toothbrush and toothpaste, a roll of toilet paper in a baggie, along with a package of moist towelettes, tissue, and hand sanitizer are all small and relatively inexpensive things to include in any kit. Williams also includes bug spray in her kit, which is something to consider especially during the spring and summer months. A first-aid kit is an important part of any emergency preparedness, and again, this is something which can be assembled at home, using items already available and kept in an airtight container.

Tools: the home kit may need to include wrenches to turn off the gas and water lines, if they are damaged. Make sure you know where these shut-off valves are so you don’t have to hunt for them during a crisis. Large tarps or plastic sheeting, dust masks, sturdy gloves, and duct tape are good additions to a home kit for minor home repairs following a storm. Also, a good multipurpose tool or Swiss Army knife is an important part of all kits.

Food and water: a good emergency water allotment is one gallon, per person, per day. That’s about eight, 16 oz. bottles of water per person, per day. That seems like a lot but extra water is needed for hygiene and food preparation during emergencies. Gallon jugs of water are less expensive, however cases of bottled water can be stashed under beds or stacked in corners, and are easier to share, but with that being said, sport water bottles, are an important inclusion in kits. The spouts/lids keep it from getting spilled, and some higher-end water bottles have built water purification filters.

A three-day supply of nonperishable food is what’s recommended by the Department of Homeland Security. Canned goods are good for home kits, just don’t forget the manual can opener. For portable kits, there is a variety of lightweight, dehydrated meals available, just add hot water. Speaking of hot water, you’ll need something to heat water up in whether it is a tin cup or a scout’s “mess kit,” which is a shallow, metal pan with a folding handle. Home kits should also include plastic or paper cups and plates, plastic utensils, paper towels, aluminum foil, and garbage bags. This conserves time, water, and keeps things sanitary during an emergency. Adult and home kits also need wooden matches in a watertight container. Lighters are fine, but sometimes after emergencies, it takes a while to build a fire, and matches can stay lit longer than lighters. Williams carries a small, one-burner camping stove in her personal kit. She even carries a flint kit, just in case.

Sleeping and shelter: sleeping bags and even one-person tents complete an adult kit, but a lightweight silver survival-blanket, or any kind of blanket, along with a rain poncho, should be included in any kit.

Helping school-aged children assemble their own emergency preparedness kit in an old school backpack can help them feel a little more ready when emergencies happen.

“If you make it fun for them, they’re more apt to be prepared and not as scared,” Williams said.

Once you build your kit, you need to maintain it, by checking to make sure the food hasn’t expired or batteries have drained.

And don’t forget your pets: along with making sure your pet has up to date identification tags on their collar, an emergency kit for your pet should have three days of food and water for them, feeding dishes, old newspaper or other disposable liners in the kennel, a few toys and treats, leashes, and any medications. Make sure your name and contact information is on the kennel.

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