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How to Build a Disaster Emergency Kit for Your Family

Disasters and emergencies often strike unexpectedly. You may not have much time to gather essentials for your family if you must evacuate quickly for a hurricane, flood or wildfire, for example.

Having an emergency kit ready to go in advance ensures you will have what you need and helps reduce stress and uncertainty during a crisis. Use these tips to help assemble one for your family.

Preparing your emergency kit: where to start

You can add items to your emergency kit over time. Start with the "should haves," and think about the "could haves" later.

Keep in mind that some children may need some special food, supplies and information. (See "10 disaster kit tips for parents of children and youth with special health care needs," below.)

Gather these "should have" items first:


  • Water for 3 days (about 1 gallon per person per day)

  • Non-perishable food that doesn't need to be cooked. Examples include granola bars or special dehydrated foods. You may want to buy 1 or 2 extra to sample ahead of time. This can help kids with the natural temptation to break into them when it is not an emergency! Pack enough for 3 days.


  • Medications, especially prescription medications (talk to your pediatrician about getting a 2-week supply if possible)

  • First aid supplies like adhesive bandages, antibiotic ointment and elastic bandages

  • Flashlight with the batteries stored outside of the device

  • Blankets

  • Change of clothes, including shoes (at least one full change per person)

  • Diapers/baby wipes if needed

  • Pet food and supplies if needed

  • Duct tape

  • Pocket knife or multi-tool

  • Cell phone charger

  • Toilet paper and other sanitary products

  • Resealable plastic bags/trash bags

  • Weather/emergency broadcast radio (hand-crank version, if possible. If not, have an extra set of batteries for back-up). This should be set up where your family can hear its messages.


  • Printed copies of key information (consider storing in a water-resistant bag)

    • Health insurance cards

    • List of all current medications with details on strength and doses for each family member

    • Critical medical records, such as an emergency information form completed with help of the pediatrician and a list of allergies for each family member

    • Contact information for your pediatrician and other doctors or health care providers

    • Current photos of all family members and pets (including a photo of all members of the family together). This can also be shared with your out-of-area contact. These photos can help with family reunification should family members become separated.

Sample emergency information forms you can have on the go

Here are some sample forms you can use to make sure your family has important medical information when you need it:

  • Emergency information form (American College of Emergency Physicians and American Academy of Pediatrics) Download this fillable form.

  • There are online templates and apps for emergency medical information that you may want to consider. However, pay close attention to privacy and data sharing policies for the app or online storage platform.

Consider adding these "could have" items over time:


  • Canned food

  • Non-electric can opener


  • Battery-powered lantern and/or hand-crank flashlight or solar-powered flashlight

  • Fire extinguisher

  • Water filter and/or water purification supplies

  • Disinfectant wipes

  • Toiletry supplies

  • Activity books/board games

  • Solar-powered charger

  • Camping stove with fuel (ONLY use outside)

  • Small generator that you know how to use safely


10 disaster kit tips if your child has special health care needs

  1. Make sure you have information on your child's specific medical conditions in one place. Consider using the Emergency Information Form for Children with Special Health Care Needs or other options from a trusted organization in your own community. Keep a copy in your child's readiness kit, your car, and give to others who care for your child (school, day care, etc.).

  2. Write down your "talking points" about your child's disability/needs to share with first responders or shelter staff. There are many templates online to guide you; here is one sample from Oregon Family to Family Health Information Center.

  3. If your child will wear them, consider Medical ID bracelets. Put emergency contact info on labels and affix to things your child has with them, such as their wheelchair, wallet, backpack, etc.

  4. If your child depends on specialized transportation, ask your transportation company what options you have if that service is not available.

  5. If you know that any of your children will require a shelter that can provide medical care, get a list of specific destinations that will be prepared for their needs.

  6. Have the phone number or app of at least one state or disabilities service entity. Make sure you and your children have the up-to-date information you need to meet any special health care needs of your children.

  7. Pay close attention to evacuation alerts from local authorities. If your family requires extra time to transport, you may need to evacuate earlier.

  8. Review the disaster preparedness kit section above to help plan to have specific supplies your family will need to bring with you. Examples include:

    • Your own power supply for medical equipment

    • Special formula, thickeners and feeding supplies (g-tube extensions, buttons, syringes, etc.)

    • Incontinence products (such as diapers, ostomy bags, chucks/underpads, gloves)

    • Items for comfort and calming (such as sensory toys or "loveys")

    • Ventilator supplies

    • Supplies or equipment for transporting

    • Communication devices or cards

9. Share your emergency preparedness plans and kit with your child's pediatrician. This is particularly important if your child has special health needs. Together, you and your pediatrician can work to make sure your child's needs are met during and after disasters, helping them stay healthy, safe and resilient.

What to keep in mind as you build your disaster emergency kit

Remember, you might not need to buy a lot of new things. These might be items you already have but they're just not all in one place, ready in the event of a disaster. If not, to make it easier, you can:

  • Start small. Buy one or two extra cans of food on each shopping trip and set aside.

  • Check at thrift or discount stores for non-perishable items and other supply items.

  • Consider putting emergency supplies on your "wish list" for gift-giving occasions. Batteries and flashlights, for example, make great stocking-stuffers.

Storing your emergency preparedness kit

Store your kit in a large bin or duffel bag with the contents listed on a piece of paper in the kit and on your phone. Place it somewhere that's easy to find. No room inside your home? How about the trunk of your car?

Remember to review the contents at least every 6 months (set a reminder in your phone or on your calendar); some items, like food, water, batteries and medications may need to be replaced.

More information

Editor's Note: This article was adapted from the American Academy of Pediatrics Family Readiness Toolkit, which is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $325,000 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by American Academy of Pediatrics, CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.

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Adapted from American Academy of Pediatrics Family Readiness Toolkit (Copyright © 2023)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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