Accidents and disasters can bring out the primal fear in all of us because we can't control or predict when they'll happen. But that said, we can take a page from the Boy Scouts and "be prepared." Drawing on advice from experts (including my wife Amy, a former nurse and current hospice chaplain who knows emergency preparedness well), I've created a checklist of items you can't afford to overlook in your overall preparedness plan. Although many of these things can't be shipped in time for the upcoming hurricane Irene, the storm reminds us that — regardless of the season or situation — everyone should have these items and services at their disposal.
1) Properly Stocked First Aid Kits
Notice how I said "kits." My wife, the former nurse, keeps several of these in our home, and one in the car. These include an arsenal of items: Band-Aids in many sizes, antibiotic ointment, cold compresses, rolled gauze, adhesive tape, aspirin and Tylenol, and antiseptic towelettes, for starters. The Red Cross offers this comprehensive checklist for planning out a first aid kit for your unique requirements. Kits are also available for earthquake survival, wilderness survival, and more. There are many inexpensive kits available, like this Physicians Care All Purpose First Aid Kit ($10.88 with free shipping), and several more extensive ones like the Lifeline Team Sport Medical Kit ($62.49 with free shipping, a low by $6) and the Ready America Grab N Go 3-Day Deluxe Emergency Kit ($94.49 with $13.95 s&h, a low by $12), the latter of which sustains four people for up to three days.
2) Bottled Water and Non-Perishable Food
Whether it's the minor inconvenience of a power outage, or the major ordeal of a disaster that wipes out fresh water and food supplies, you'd do well to prepare for an emergency by making sure you have jugs of water and non-perishable food in your pantry. Everything you need to know for disaster preparedness concerning food and water is in this pamphlet from FEMA and the American Red Cross. Among the food items you can store indefinitely: wheat, vegetable oils, dried corn, baking powder, soybeans, and instant coffee, tea, and cocoa.
3) A Battery-Operated Radio
Storms that bring high winds or funnel clouds can knock out your power in seconds, in which case the only lifeline you'll have to updated weather conditions and possible evacuation routes will be a battery-operated radio. We keep several in our house, with lots of backup batteries in the pantry in case power has drained between uses. You won't want to be fumbling to find that all-news channel when things get harrowing (or dark), so make sure you have the radio preset to a reliable source for news, weather, and information. This nifty American Red Cross Self-Powered Radio ($29.99 with free shipping, a low by $5) includes a cell phone charger and flashlight as well.
4) Backup Batteries for Cell Phones
While the aforementioned Red Cross radio can charge your cell phone in an emergency, it's still a good idea to have one (or more) backup batteries for a cell phone in case the power goes out. Try the Mophie JuicePack Reserve Battery Pack for iPhone and iPod ($18.99 with free shipping, a low by $21) to give your iPhone an extra jolt of life. Also, always, always keep cell phone charger cables that connect to the cigarette lighter in your car.
5) Life Jackets and Floatation Vests
If you live in an area that's prone to flooding, a floatation vest could mean the difference between survival and drowning. There are many price points and features, so be sure to pick out vests that best suit your needs; a good rule of thumb is to select a vest that stands the test for safe boating in extreme conditions. A thorough guide to flotation devices (and the almighty survival suit) can be found here. Among the cheapest options we could find is the Cabela's Deluxe Vest ($9.99 with $5.95 s&h).
6) A Roadside Assistance Plan
Especially if you drive an older used car, it's a great idea to join AAA just for the emergency roadside assistance (although membership also has many discount benefits, at hotels and resorts for example). Just one call to AAA for a tow or jump typically pays for the price of a year's membership, and depending on where your car breaks down, it can also save you untold hours stranded on the roadside, where your only companions could be anxiety and fear. Plus, many residents can even join online at AAA.com.
7) Jumper Cables, Blankets, Flares, and a Flashlight
Staying in the automotive realm for a moment, let's stress one thing: Having a mobile phone doesn't mean you'll get out of a jam in seconds. As my iPhone likes to remind me every day, our glorious roadways are filled with dead spots where mobiles don't work — and if your car breaks down in one of them, what then? The essentials include blankets, working jumper cables, a working flashlight (always keep spare batteries with it), and flares, all packed neatly into the corner of your trunk. You can cover many of these essentials with the AAA 42-Piece Emergency Road Assistance Kit ($24.53 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $12). Odds are you may want a more powerful flashlight than what's included here, so we recommend a compact and very bright 100-LED Aluminum Flashlight ($13.99 plus free shipping, a low by $2).
8) Power Generator
With a portable power generator, you can keep your perishables and essential electronics working even when the power lines have been wiped out. Kohler makes a line of high-quality power generators geared towards hurricane preparedness and other disasters. These respond within 10 seconds of a power outage. And in case the list in this article has you wanting more tips, Kohler offers this exhaustive checklist of disaster supplies.
Photo credit: Marcin Wichary via Flickr