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Publication #FCS9313

Be Prepared: Tips for Assembling a Low-Cost Disaster Kit1

Elizabeth D. Kiss and Michael S. Gutter2

Being prepared can increase your speed of recovery from severe events such as flooding, drought, tornado, hurricane, winter storms, or even being stranded because of a car problem. According to the Red Cross and FEMA three steps of preparation are:

Get a kit

Make a plan

Be informed

While pre-assembled kits are available for purchase, assembling your own can cost less and ensures that the kit includes items that are appropriate to your family’s needs. Remember when planning to include all members of your family including pets.

If you decide to purchase a ready-made kit, check for the following things, and make any additions necessary to meet your family’s needs:

  • Basic items for each member of the family. Include drinking water, flashlights, and matches, as well as first aid supplies. Make sure there is a sufficient supply for all family members.

  • Products that are easy to open and easy to use. Look for ease of access and assembly (if needed). The best products can be used in more than one situation.

  • Expiration dates. Check expiration dates for items included in the kit, as well as their length of storage.

  • Medication. Remember over-the-counter as well as prescription remedies.

If you decide to assemble your own kit, there are many resources to guide you. See the Resource List at the end of this publication. Here are some basics items needed for a 72-hour kit.

  • Water - Three gallons per family member. Clean plastic bottles commonly used for juices and sodas can be used to store water; using milk jugs is not recommended.

  • Personal hygiene products (toilet paper, tooth brushes, etc.).

  • First aid kit.

  • Food. Canned goods and packaged foods that won’t spoil. If the can doesn’t have a “pop top,” include a can opener in your kit.

  • Medication. Both over the counter as well as prescription remedies.

If you have pets, include these items in a “pet kit”: carriers to transport pets, leashes, food, water, and bowls; identification, contact information, veterinary information, and proof of vaccinations; disposable cat litter trays with litter or paper toweling; beds and toys; and a current photo in case they get lost.

Other things to consider including in your kit:

  • Blanket/sleeping bag

  • A wrench or pliers to turn off utilities

  • A change of clothing per person

  • Walking shoes

  • Cash/traveler checks

  • Flashlights with extra batteries

  • A working battery-operated radio with extra batteries

  • Contact list with important numbers (written on paper in case the phone gets wet)

  • Candles with waterproof matches

  • Battery powered cell phone chargers

  • Favorite toys, games, songs, or books (helps to keep stress levels down and provides some degree of normalcy)

Quick tips to remember when packing the bag:

  • Place items that expire at the top so that you can check their expiration dates and refresh them more easily.

  • If packing electronics, place them in a waterproof container such as a freezer or sandwich bag that zips.

  • Some insurance companies will allow you to obtain a two-week supply of your medications for emergencies, or you can refill prescriptions a few days early every month until you have built up a sufficient supply.

A written family emergency plan is also important. Components of your emergency plan include a list of contacts, important papers and documents, and a pre-determined meeting place. Store emergency documents in a container to protect them from potential water damage. Families may also want to have someone identified as a point of contact not in geographic proximity so that there may be someone who is not affected that the family can connect through. Remember that while cell phone calls may encounter problems because of too many users, text messaging will likely still go through as quickly; families should consider texting as an additional option.

Inform all family members of the kit's contents and its location so they can get to it in a time of crisis. While the kit will not prevent a disaster from striking, it can help a family to manage the aftermath of an emergency, especially in the short run.

For more information on emergency preparedness, contact your local Extension Agency.

Additional Resources



American Red Cross


Sources of information [May 9, 2012]



This document is FCS9313, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date February 2012. Visit the EDIS website at


Elizabeth D. Kiss, instructor, School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Ivy Tech Community College, Lafayette, Indiana; and Michael S. Gutter, financial management state specialist and associate professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.