Friday Question of the Day: Do you have an emergency supply kit, and if so, what does it contain? (reader request)

emergency supplies

A reader writes:

“This is a little grim, but I have a suggestion for a Friday Question of the Day: Do you have an emergency supply kit, and if so, what does it contain? We were here during 9/11, and kept emergency supply-type stuff on hand for a while, such as flashlight, radio, batteries, water, non-perishable food, and extra cash. My mom even sent plastic sheeting and masks in the event of some kind of chemical attack! I don’t know if you were in DC then, but I recall the general sense was that people were waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Anyway, we’ve probably gotten complacent, and the kit has been picked over during the years. Pretty sure we used that plastic sheeting as drop cloths when we painted. I’d be interested in hearing if other people keep emergency supply items or a “go bag” on hand, and if so, what do they have?”

Keeping the poll simple but curious to read the specifics people keep in the comments.

85 Comment

  • Go kits in each car, food, water, other supplies in the houses. Spent about $1k plus some other costs and I feel prepared for a week or so off the grid.

  • I DO have one, but it’s mostly whiskey and beef jerky. I should probably improve on that.

  • Water, dry food, a crank lantern, a crank radio, iodine pills, solar flashlights, first aid supplies, and an AK-47 with 5,000 rounds of ammunition. Yes, this is in Virginia.

    • “Yes, this is in Virginia.”
      You win the 2017 prize for “Most Unnecessary Statement on Popville.” Congratulations, or something.

  • Not a kit per-se, but enough canned stuff and such to handle a few days. Flashlights, med-ket, etc. Booze too. 🙂

  • I lived in VA at the time and got an earnest brochure from Arlington Co. about how I should keep the car gassed up, and be prepared to leave quickly with my two cats, food, drinking water, bleach, floppy disks (this was before flash drives) containing my financial info, etc. etc. All this, I thought, so that we could die in a traffic jam on I-66? Nope.

  • I grew up in a place where tornadoes were common, so I’ve always had one. 3-day basic survival, stored in a backpack in my closet (growing up, these were in the basement). 3 liters of water; a dozen or so packs of nuts, trail mix, and granola bars; one change of clothes and underwear (who cares if I smell, the idea was to get the majority of the grime off after your house basically collapsed…back in the ’80’s, you were likely to have lead and asbestos on you after such an event); three pairs of socks (blisters and swamp foot are no bueno, especially if trekking through mud); a pair of close-toed shoes (to get out of the rubble and find help, especially if you were caught barefoot when running to the basement); a flashlight (just a mini-mag); a pack of batteries; a debit card; some cash; a book of checks; a crank charger (it charges from the wall and the battery holds for about a month, and I charge it up once a month, but I can also crank it to get enough power to get a text off); a small first-aid kit (band-aids, Neosporin, gauze, medical tape, etc.); and now that I have a dog, 3 days of dog food (easier since my dog is small), a spare leash, and some treats. It’s in a place that I can grab it and run quickly if necessary. I rotate the water and food every 6 months. I try to remember to change out the book of checks when I finish one in my primary checkbook (so, like, every 2-3 years, these days).
    For “common” stuff like extended power outages, I just keep some canned ready-to-eat food in the house (tuna, beans, etc….things I’ll use anyway in the normal course of life). If the weather is predicted to be severe, with potential long power outages, I fill up a few jugs of water, in case the pumps go down. If nothing really happens, I just drink the water like I would from the tap while enjoying uninterrupted power after the storm has passed. I also fully charge portable electronics before any predicted severe weather. One thing people don’t think about a lot…I have a corded wall phone. Your old-school, plugs into a phone jack and requires no other power, kind of phone (I don’t have home phone service, but federal law requires providers to allow 911 calls on any line, with or without service). If the power and cell towers are down, I can still call 911 if the phone lines are up. There’s a chance the phone lines went down with the power and cell towers, but it’s a cheap and small thing to have around that might help out. I have one my mom was gong to throw away when she got a new phone, but you can also find these for a buck or so at places like Goodwill. I just keep it in a nightstand drawer next to the phone jack…not cluttering up my surfaces, but ready to plug in and use if I need it.
    Fortunately, the worst I’ve experienced here was 72 hours without power after Irene. That sucked, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Most of the city still had power, so I could go pick up fresh foods from grocery stores and restaurants, and my water worked and was safe, at least. Many years ago in a land far away, I did spend a week eating canned food and drinking our bottled water supply + what the National Guard brought to homes when half my hometown was destroyed by a large tornado, and something like that never really leaves you. We were 3 blocks away from disaster…

    • If the power is out, a lot of the time corded phones will not work either anymore. This has changed in the last 5-10 years. Next time you have an outage, though, give it a try just in case you’d actually need it in a real emergency so you know.

      • Oh, sure. Phone lines and power lines are often strung together, so if it’s downed lines, a corded phone may not help. Most of the time when people talk about their phone not working when the power’s out, it’s because they have Fiber/VOIP, which require power. AFAIK, our traditional Verizon lines are still old copper. The “tell” may be whether FiOS serves your neighborhood (they do not serve mine). The landlines worked during our outage after Irene. I guess I’d rather have it and get nothing than not have it when it would have helped. I do try to keep my cell charged in bad weather, as mentioned above.

        • In many DC neighborhoods, such as mine, the electric lines (along with RCN and Comcast) are in the front of the houses, while the phone lines (along with FIOS) are strung in the alleys behind the houses. So we don’t have the issue that if a tree takes out the power lines, it is also taking out the phone lines. At least in my neighborhood, if you didn’t switch to FIOS or a cable bundle, your phone service is copper (even though FIOS is also available) and the phone is powered from the Verizon central office. This means that unless you bought a phone that also needs to be plugged in or are using a cordless phone, it usually works during a power outage.

    • I grew up in a place with hurricanes, so we usually had the necessities. Now I live in an english basement of a house with pretty on top of it landords by myself in the city, so I’m not worried about being isolated in case of an emergency. Not adding more stuff to my teeny tiny studio is more of a concern for me than being prepared for the slim chance of a catastrophic event. That’ll probably change when I settle down somewhere.

      • What I mention above lives in a medium-size backpack that tucks neatly into the corner of a closet (the official recommendation is a gallon of water per person per day, but I can only carry about 3 liters easily, and it’s enough to *survive*). Plus canned foods I have in my house on the regular anyway (I mean we’re talking a half-dozen cans of tuna, a couple cans of beans, a jar or two of peanut butter, etc.). I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to have an emergency kit like I do in the city. It’s just an ingrained habit strengthened by actually having to go to the basement and get the bottled water because the power was out to the water treatment plant and pumping station for over a week. We weren’t rural at the time (dense suburb), but NOTHING worked/was open, and the National Guard had basically shut the city down to prevent looting, so being somewhat self-sufficient was helpful. We didn’t have to eat MREs that were distributed like some of our neighbors. 🙂

  • I have considered putting one together on more than one occasion.I have all of the supplies to do so…And then I came to the conclusion that we would have to somehow make it out of the city by foot (or bicycle I guess) with my two cats – but to go where? I don’t have family anywhere nearby and I don’t think I have the skills to live off the land – so my plan is to hunker down and what ever happens happens.

  • binntp

    Nope. Just plenty of booze.

    In all seriousness, though, since I don’t drive I’d be pretty screwed anyway if I had to evacuate. Would prefer to die in a drunken stupor at home with my cat.

  • Since I live in DC, cars are not effective for evacuation. But I have a motorcycle, bicycles, and a sailboat (in the water). I have a strong bias toward “sheltering in place” though.

    I have been in some big disasters and have served on some large agency evacuation prep committees. Everyone is almost always walking a long way in a disaster. So just being able to do that is my biggest go bag item. Second, I have a year’s worth of the meds that keep me alive, which is a pain to keep cool etc. Hand crank radio that can get a cell phone a couple minutes of power. Wood burning stove!

    More important is just having a default meet-up plan so my wife and I can find each other if the cell network gets congested, though I have priority access through work. Use SMS (not mms) .

    Finally, I try to have good relationships with my neighbors as a prep kit item.

  • you’re scaring me.

  • Yes. We have “bug out bags” that we purchased about 9 years ago, some MRE’s, masks, and plastic sheeting. The canned food supply and water has been used and replenished at least 3 times. I now need to restock completely on that so thanks for the reminder. Some of my coworkers were talking about getting real gas masks, too. Funny that this question came up because I’m still unpacking from a recent move and I came across the bug out bags and noticed that we’ve been dipping into the band-aids in the first aid kit it contains. LOL

  • Do a fully stocked liquor cabinet and flashlights count?

  • Yes, have some basics but need to improve on it. Currently have flashlights, first aid kit, batteries, multi tool and knife, crank radio, whistles, glow sticks and water. Need to add in some stuff for the pup, food, financial records, money, etc.

  • Sort of… It consists of one jug of water under the stairs. And there’s a blanket in the car for emergency picnics. I keep thinking I should do better.

  • jim_ed

    No, I work under the assumption that any catastrophe that would necessitate extended living off the grid here would mean that we’ve been instantly vaporized in the first attack. Pity the survivors. But in case thats not true, I have a boat in the backyard and enough bourbon to barter for supplies until the trouble passes.

    • Unfortunately I think this is probably fairly true, if a large-scale disaster/attack were to happen to DC most of us would go pretty quickly (esp during business hours). A chemist friend and I were talking about it recently and he thinks he works just far enough out to probably die a horrible painful death should an attack happen, whereas his wife and I who both work downtown would probably perish instantly.

      • Emmaleigh504

        I work in the horrible painful death area, but think I might be vaporized at home, so I hope they drop the bomb after business hours. Wee hours of the night would be perfect.

    • Well if the Russians nuke us that’s certainly true, but if terrorists detonated a small nuke downtown, it might not take out the whole city. Prevailing winds blow to the south, so most of the fallout would likely hit Anacostia and PG county.

      • Yeah, I feel like the scenario I hear most about that would actually require (?) evacuation is a small-scale “dirty bomb.”

  • Emmaleigh504

    I keep thinking I need an emergency stash, but I have no where to store it in my tiny apartment. I do keep canned goods on hand and plenty of cat food , so at least Donna and I won’t starve.

  • my plan is to live and work as close as center of the city as possible, which means any first wave of attack would render me dead instantly. no fall-out zone please.

  • I’m an avid hiker. I used to keep all my gear really well organized when not on trips, separate boxes for things, etc. A few months back, I decided to move the essentials into my pack so it could be easily grabbed on the go. If nothing else, it’s a little peace of mind, and makes prepping for my next trip easier (albeit a little more disorganized)

  • FYI, for those of us who live in DC proper, the emphasis has changed from trying to evacuate everyone along emergency routes to having people shelter in place.

    With that in mind, I stay stocked on basic pantry goods at all times, as well as any needed medications, pet foods, first aid supplies, etc. This has come in handy during storms and snow events, I can relax at home while people are scrambling to get to the store.

  • justinbc

    LOL, no. In the event of a nuclear fallout, zombie apocalypse, whatever, I don’t -want- to survive through that and live in some desolate world. Let the wolves take me.

  • I have an Army issued gas mask that I sometimes wear while drunk. That and the new WMATA reflective vest I found means I’m good to go in an emergency. Right?

  • I guess I sort of have one by virtue of having lots of backpacking supplies – lanterns, headlamps, dehydrated food, camp stove and fuel, knife, tarps, tents, etc. But I have never intentionally set all those things aside in an emergency kit.

  • I’m a big fan of keeping an extra propane tank (in a small storage locker at the back of my lot). No wait, that’s not for survival, it’s more to ensure I never run out of propane for grilling purposes.

  • has a lot of material on emergency preparedness and bug-out bag. You just have to get passed the terrible website design. It looks like a crap attempt at replicating the formatting of

  • We’re prepared to shelter in place for a pretty good stretch (five shelves of food, water, batteries, etc, that gets rotated pretty frequently. I should probably add some iodine tablets and maybe a camp stove.) We are not prepared to evacuate.
    If it’s an invading army or massive civil unrest, we have bars on doors and windows, and we can sit it out unless specifically targeted with heavy weaponry. As others said, if someone drops a nuke on DC, I expect we won’t even know about it, ’cause we’ll be dead.

  • Just my wit

    If there’s a scenario where the food in my pantry will run out before the National Guard can come in and do something about it – in the nation’s capital of all places – I don’t think having a pound of beef jerky and a AK-47 would make much of a difference.

    If such a scenario were to take place, I would be like Jorge Luis Borge’s man on the pink corner

  • One of my coworkers suggested the other day that everyone should at least have a pair of old sneakers at work in case something happens and you need to walk a long distance. I thought it was a decent idea. I normally Metro but I remember having to walk further than usual to catch the bus after the earthquake in 2011.

    • This isn’t a bad idea, thank you!

      (Also… mostly with the others here. I have some food and water in the back of a closet at home, but generally subscribe to the theory that if something bad happens, DC will go first so ~shrug emoticon~)

      • Yet, living just outside New York City, in elementary school, we were taught how to duck under our disks and use our fingers to cover our eyes and ears. I am sure that would have been real effective.

  • my bugout bag I essentially my camping ruck.

    sleeping bag
    sleeping pad
    trauma kit
    cooking burner
    spork/metal cup&pot
    water container
    carbon filter straw
    fishing rod/hatchet
    surefire flashlight
    survival book
    emergency trauma book
    matches/maginfing glass
    led lantern
    ipad/solar charger
    550 cord
    shot gun/ 9mm

    yes it all fits in the bag and weights under 40lbs

  • Disasters come in many forms, so it’s not safe to assume we will all be vaporized. Especially with DC traffic, it is reasonable to expect to need to shelter in place for at least a few days. It is our responsibility as a community to be prepared and strengthen our resiliency. This means also looking out for your neighbors with fewer means. It can be overwhelming to come up with a complete emergency plan and stash, but you can start small with the basics. Buy an extra gallon of water at the grocery store on your next several trips. You need one gallon per day per person for a minimum of three days. Then, work on a food stash. The biggest barrier is expiration dates. You can cycle through canned goods or buy MREs online (they last 5 years), or buy freeze dried food (they last 25 years– Wise is a good brand). If you buy freeze dried, you need a camper stove (REI carries decent ones– but don’t use it indoors!), and extra water to hydrate the food. Then, collect all of the other tools you might need– extra pair of clothes, boots, medications, toiletries, knife (careful to get one that’s legal in DC), etc.

    • Do you know how long you can keep the bottle water? It seems there would be an expiration date on it, no? Also, medications and toiletries expire.

  • Yeah, tequila and scotch….and a few bandaids (I think)…

  • Of course! As an international traveling gov employee, it’s a cardinal sin to not be prepped. All the ususal things – blanket, flashlight, good, water, paracord – are good, but also put a copy of important docs in a ziploc bag! You never know when you may need them!

  • A bottle of liquor, a Gerber, and condoms.

  • After 9/11 our office had everyone prepare go bags to keep at work. Then construction started on the building next door, rats migrated to our offices, and chewed through people’s bags to get to the granola/power/energy bars. They told everyone to take the bags home and just keep a spare pair of good walking shoes… I’m of the “everyone has to go somehow” mindset, and since I live and work in the dead zone – oh well.

  • “I don’t know if you were in DC then [during 9/11], but I recall the general sense was that people were waiting for the other shoe to drop.” Really? Maybe it was because I was both living and working outside the District at the time (though within the Beltway), and because I wasn’t working for the federal government, but I remember no such feeling.
    My employer didn’t even close on 9/11 (though I think that was a mistake).

    • I definitely remember there being some anxiety after 9/11. Of course, the anthrax letters and DC sniper shootings that followed soon after didn’t help.

      • I remember a lot of uncertainty and unease… but I never felt that I personally was in danger or might have to evacuate, or that there would be another terrorist attack in the D.C. area anytime soon. I suspect I would’ve felt differently if I’d been working in the District.

    • I was living just over the border in MD and in law school in the District at the time. I remember a fair amount of general anxiety – it may have been the insular law school world we were in at the time. Some classmates lost loved ones in NYC, other classmates who were in the military disappeared back to active duty…I never felt personally at risk, but remember that general anxiety being a part of our lives for a while.

    • saf

      I lived and worked inside DC. My employer didn’t close either. But…

      My husband had to walk across the 14th Street bridge to get home. My brother-in-law was missing in Manhattan all day. My sister was in the towers area, heading to work. My best friend’s brother was at the Pentagon (on the other side)… I think everyone who was here, or in NY has similar stories.

      So I had lingering stress. And when that stupid earthquake hit, I know I wasn’t the only one who thought “BOMB!”

  • Thanks for taking the time to ask an important question! Our recommendation is to customize the kit to your family’s needs (e.g. seniors, persons with disabilities, babies/infants and pets). Not sure where to get started? A link to our website with emergency kit information:

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  • I’m the OP! Definitely a macabre subject, but it’s been interesting to read the responses. Many of you are so fatalistic! If there is a smaller nuke, the getting-vaporized radius really isn’t that big (according to the interwebs). A link to a website showing the impact of different explosions is in my username. (And I swear I’m not obsessed with this stuff – I watched The Road then saw an emergency kit on sale online, and here we are.)

    One point I thought of – make sure any knife you have also has a corkscrew. 😉

  • I think too many people think the Walking Dead is a documentary and in the event of some horrible apocalypse their dumb ass would somehow survive and become I Am Legend, even if the region/entire earth becomes uninhabitable. A whole industry has sprung up to fuel these preppers’ paranoia and take their money. In reality, a lot of us would just die. I live and work in central Washington so I’ve accepted in the event of a nuclear or another WMD attack I would die very quickly, if not instantly, so preparing seems pointless. More mundane events like mass shootings, no preparation possible. Finally, apartment is very small so not a lot of room to stockpile canned goods, gallons of spare water, ammunition, etc. that you’re supposed to have. I’ve got a flashlight by my bed and a lot of extra toilet paper, that’s about it.

  • It’s a good idea to have emergency supplies on hand, even if you’re more likely to need them while sheltering in place than for an evacuation, and even though you’re more likely to need them for something comparatively mundane like a tornado-related power outage than something quasi-apocalyptic.
    I have miscellaneous emergency supplies scattered around the house, but I probably ought to have more canned food on hand, and I probably ought to have things better organized so I’m not hunting around with a flashlight trying to find things.

    • This is exactly the purpose of my emergency kit + “getting out of the rubble” if your home is destroyed. I can survive, if not comfortably, for a few days until help becomes well-organized, and get out if my home is hit by a tornado or the like that flattens it. Am I going to see an F5 tornado *here*? Probably not. But it’s possible I’d see a smaller one (or a very severe derecho or unexpectedly strong hurricane or very bad blizzard) that would cut power to large parts of the city for several days, block roadways, and perhaps shatter glass or damage our roof or fell a tree on our building to the point that my home isn’t habitable and getting out would require at least good foot covering.

  • Huh, I would have said no, but I actually do have 90% of the things HSEMA lists. I also have a gas range and a well-stocked pantry.

    But I would still be the first to go in the zombie apocalypse.

  • I have a single can of sitting around, just in case.