Having items as nonperishable food, bottled water and first-aid kits on hand can make getting through emergency conditions much easier. In some cases, items can save lives.
For example, having bags of ice in a freezer and a plastic beverage cooler might be all that is necessary to keep prescription medicine that requires refrigeration during a power outage.
Each household should have its own personal emergency kit. What should be in it? Here are some ideas:
Water. Store cases of distilled water in gallon jugs in the basement or garage. Water-purification tablets also can be purchased from camping supply stores. A bottle of 50 iodine-based tablets runs about $6. Two tablets usually purify a quart of water.
Ice. Keep store-bought bags in your freezer and replace them occasionally so they're fresh. Large ice blocks can be made by filling unused plastic containers and storing them in the freezer.
Plastic coolers. Use them to store cooked food and other perishables, including medicines, on ice.
Batteries. Store a large supply of rechargeable batteries to use around the house. Since they're useless if they can't be recharged, have a stash of disposable ones, too.
Transistor radio. Keep track of the news and emergency updates.
Flashlight or lanterns. Camping lanterns that burn propane or butane are handy alternatives to battery-powered units. Also, consider light sticks ($2 to $3 each) that burn for about 12 hours. Solar-powered lanterns and radios also are available.
Cooking appliance. Perishable food can be kept longer once cooked. If you don't have a grill or a portable range top fueled by propane, purchase a small charcoal-fired grill.
Matches and candles. Keep them dry by storing in a plastic or vacuum-sealed bag.
Dried food. Beef or turkey jerky and dried fruits have long shelf lives. Other nonperishables can include energy bars and cereal bars.
First-aid kit. A basic kit is a must. You might add prescription medicine, such as inhalers, based on the needs of your family. Include pain reliever, large bandages, etc.
Specialized emergency kits that contain several of the aforementioned items are sold at boating and camping outfitters. But it's probably less expensive to put together a kit of your own.
Large plastic storage bins with locking tops are perfect for stocking supplies in utility rooms, basements and garages. Store them high on shelves so they'll stay dry during flooding. Keep items such as batteries and dried foods fresh by rotating them regularly.
Two large-ticket items that might be useful during a power outage are a vacuum food sealer and a gasoline-powered generator. A vacuum sealer, from about $75 for a small model, can protect important items, including matches, medicines and cell phones, from water damage and also extend the shelf life of dried foods.
A generator can supply power to a small refrigerator, or recharge a cell phone or perhaps keep an electric-powered medical device working. Smaller generators, between 2,000 and 3,000 watts, are available from about $399.