I live in the Pacific Northwest, right by a ‘nest’ of seismic activity. It shouldn’t surprise you, then, that I’ve got two well-provisioned earthquake kits: one at home and one in the car. If you’ve yet to get organized, now’s the time to learn how to build an earthquake kit.
Even if you don’t live near a fault line, an earthquake kit is a great place to start to prepare for a major emergency such as a tornado, blizzard, long-term power outage, flood, or significant chemical, industrial, or transportation accident. Putting an emergency preparedness kit together now means you and your family are in a far better position to survive and recover should the worst happen.
So, what goes into an earthquake kit? Let’s break it down.
How to Build an Earthquake Kit
A good general rule for any emergency kit is to have enough supplies for you and your family for at least 72 hours. This is the best guess for how long it could take for emergency responders to reach you to provide assistance in a major earthquake. However, if you live somewhere more rural, like I do, I’d highly recommend having enough supplies in your kit to provision you and your family for at least a week, if not two.
Your basic emergency kit should contain these essentials:
- Clean water for 72 hours (2 Liters per day for each family member; don’t forget cats, dogs, and other companion animals)
- Food for 72 hours (canned food, energy bars, and dried foods or emergency rations that won’t spoil are best)
- Swiss Army knife – and/or a manual can-opener
- Flashlight (crank or battery operated) – this little emergency flashlight is solar and crank powered and ideal for short-term emergency use
- Radio (crank or battery-powered) – this is the Red Cross Radio in my kit
- Extra batteries!
- First aid kit (consider including a pet first aid kit as needs differ)
- Medical records and prescription medication for all family members
- Your family emergency plan and contact information (age, name, phone number, likely whereabouts, and physical description and/or photos of all family members, dogs and cats included, are a good idea)
- Spare keys for your house, car, storage unit, lockbox, bikes, etc.
- A small amount of cash (for payphones and trade and such)
- Water purification tablets and/or filter bottles.
If you or a family member have ongoing health issues, include copies of medical records and the names and dosage information for any medications. Have at least a two-week supply of medications in a grab-and-go bag in case of emergency. Pharmacies may be closed for some time in the event of a major earthquake and may run low on common drugs.
The list above outlines the bare minimum to have in your earthquake kit to get through the worst for a short period of time. Depending on your location and circumstances, you may want to consider adding other items to your home kit and/or car or workplace earthquake kit. Such items include:
- Additional water for cooking and cleaning (I use beer growlers, changing the water every three months)
- Matches or a lighter
- Camping stove and gas
- A lightweight pot to boil water
- Basic cooking utensils
- Hand sanitizer
- Toiletries and a change of clothing/shoes
- Garbage bags
- Toilet paper
- A whistle
- Basic tools (screwdriver, pliers, etc.)
- Duct tape
- Cell phone charger and/or spare battery
- Portable solar charger that can charge a cell phone
- Leash, harness, and carrier for companion animal.
If you spend a lot of time in your car or are looking for an emergency kit that’s neatly and efficiently arranged, consider Surviveware’s Large First Aid Kit with added mini kit for trucks, cars, camping and more. This includes an emergency foil blanket as well as the more typical first aid supplies and is weather resistant, meaning you can strap it to your roll bar, back of headrest, or wherever is most convenient.
If you already have a basic first aid kit, consider adding the following items to create an emergency blizzard or earthquake kit for your car:
- An emergency (foil) blanket
- Emergency sleeping bag (a must if you live somewhere cold) and/or warm blanket
- An emergency shovel for snow etc.
- Seatbelt cutter and car safety hammer (arguably the most romantic gift I’ve ever bought my wife)
- Well-fitted gas mask or respirator (especially if you live near an industrial area or transportation route with potential exposure to hazardous chemicals) – this mask by 3M is NIOSH approved and highly rated
- All in one emergency radio, flashlight, alarm, and phone charger – FosPower make a well-regarded solar hand crank model that has back-up AAA batteries.
Readymade emergency kits and first aid kits are available through a variety of vendors. To put my kit together, I bought a readymade ration pack and basic kit very similar to the ones made by Redfora (more on Redfora below). I topped up the basic kit with the other essentials my family would need, including a Pet First Aid Kit from the Red Cross (this one from Rayco is very similar) and some other supplies for my dog.
Where to Store Your Earthquake Kit
Ideally, your main earthquake kit will live somewhere in your home that is easily accessible in an emergency. You might also want to leave a smaller kit in any vehicle you use regularly. If you spend a significant amount of time in another location, such as a relative or friend’s house or a workplace, consider leaving an earthquake kit there too.
Your earthquake kit should be stored safely, keeping food and other supplies dry and protected against pests and critters. Make sure, though, that the kit is quickly accessible. Don’t shove it in the back of a closet. I’d highly recommend having your kit by the door you’re most likely to use as an exit in an emergency. Emergency agencies typically suggest storing your kit under your bed (where you spend most of your time at home!), by an exit door, or in your garage.
It’s also best to make your earthquake kit portable. Once you’ve got a week’s worth of water in there for the whole family, along with food, an emergency radio, and so on, these things get pretty heavy. A big old Rubber Maid bin might seem ideal but consider how you’ll get this downstairs and outside if you have to escape quickly.
I keep my home earthquake kit in my old camping backpack, which is similar to this Mountaintop backpack and offers around a 40-liter capacity and space and clips for attaching a tent and other bulkier items. This allows me to pick up and carry the kit more easily and be hands free, so I can hold onto my dog’s leash, or carry her or a child, or give help to others.
I also keep a small daypack (similar to this Olar pack with a BPA-free hydration pouch) in a separate location. This is packed with the ten essentials ready to go in an emergency, or for a fun spontaneous hike! My two packs clip together easily. And, if necessary, another adult or small child can carry the daypack. I deliberately chose a bright orange color for the packs as this makes them easier to spot.
Some people choose to house their emergency kit in a Rubber Maid type tub or even a cooler on wheels, or use a bike trailer, or a shopping cart. Your choice will largely depend on how much is in your kit, your mobility, and the set-up of your home. One option I’m considering for the future (should my family expand) is the Husky 35 Liter Mobile Job Box. This has all-terrain wheels, can hold up to 100 lbs of gear, and has a power cord!
- Do a practice run to see how quickly you can access your kit and leave your home in an emergency. Think about whether the kit is likely to be buried by falling furniture or other items in the event of an actual earthquake.
- If you have a dog and/or cat in the house, consider running a drill to see how easily you can corral them in an emergency. Figuring out your strategy now and, ideally, training your dog or cat to calmly enter a carrier, could save their life and yours (or at least save you from being seriously scratched up!).
- Check and/or replace the batteries, food and water in your emergency kit at least once a year. Use this annual check as a reminder to also change the batteries in any smoke alarms or carbon monoxide detectors, and to update your contact details and information on your emergency evacuation plan.
- Install at least a couple of the Blackout Buddy emergency LED lights from the American Red Cross. These plug into wall outlets and come on during a power cut, helping you to find your way around in the dark. They can also be unplugged and used as handheld flashlights with around 4 hours of light output when fully charged.
What about your emergency plan?
If all the talk of the ‘big one’ – the devastating earthquake anticipated for the Pacific Northwest sometime soon – has you feeling shaky, you’ll want to put together a solid emergency plan.
While there are quite a few books out there that aim to help you put together an emergency plan, some are far better than others. One of the best is A Checklist: Making a Family Plan for Emergencies, by Nancy Overton, who put the checklist together while living in the fire-prone Oakland hills adjacent to the Hayward Fault. Overton and her husband are both graduates of the Oakland Emergency Services program CORE (Citizens of Oakland Respond to Emergencies) and have participated in Emergency Hands-On Training and practiced Disaster First Aid with the fire fighters of the City of Oakland.
An emergency plan details how you and your family will handle major events such as earthquakes or floods. This includes:
- Your exit plan for getting all family members out of your home safely
- Your rendezvous point, so everyone knows where to find each other should you get separated
- Coordinated plans with daycare, school, or work (most of whom already have emergency plans)
- Timelines for meeting up and checking in.
In some events, staying in your home may be the safest option. You should also know how to operate (and have!) the emergency radio in your kit, so you can listen for emergency broadcasts.
Come up with a plan that works for everybody in the family, and make sure everyone knows what they need to know. For smaller children, this means making sure they know your names and where you plan to meet. Make this easy for them by using a safe, easily accessible, walkable place they already know. Or, better yet, make their school or daycare your family’s meeting place. Bear in mind that transport systems may not be functional.
When putting together your family’s emergency plan, consider your neighbors and friends who are less mobile, live alone, or have medical concerns. Ask them if they have a plan in place and offer to check in and help out if not.
There’s no better time than now to get prepared. Prioritize sitting down with your family, friends, and even co-workers to create an emergency plan. Consider putting in a bulk order for earthquake kit essentials and other items. And rest easy, knowing you’re ready to face whatever comes.
If you want to make things super simple, consider investing in one of the best options for a ready-made earthquake kit.
Our Top Pick for Earthquake Kits
Best earthquake kit: Redfora
What we like: Very compact, lightweight, made in the US, with plant-based rations and all your basics for survival.
Ranging in price from just $114.99, Redfora offer 1-person, 2-person, 3-person, 4-person, and even a 6-person kit. These are efficiently packed and organized, saving you the trouble and helping make sure you can easily access emergency supplies in times of stress. Redfora’s 4-person, 5-person, and 6-person kits come in a rolling bag instead of a backpack.
The 2-person kit weighs just 16 lbs and comes as a small backpack measuring 12 x 9 x 20 inches. It includes almost everything two people might need for basic survival for a three-day period and the backpack has quite a bit of space remaining for you to add things like medications, your emergency plan, and other survival gear. Both small front pockets are empty and there’s around 25% extra room left in the main pocket. The backpacks are water resistant but not waterproof, so don’t store the kit somewhere it will get wet or submerged.
The 2-person kit includes:
- Two 3600 calorie food bars
- 24 water pouches (4.225 fl. oz each)
- Hydration bag with straw
- 20 water purification tablets
- Extended Life First Aid Kit
- 2 hygiene kits
- 2 pocket tissue packs
- 2 waste bags
- Hand Crank Flashlight / Radio / Phone Charger
- Waterproof Matches
- 2 emergency ponchos
- 2 Mylar sleeping bags
- 2-person tube tent
- 2 hand/body warmers
- 30+ hour candle
- 12-hour bright stick
- Note pad
- 5-in-1 Whistle
- 2 N95 dust masks
- 50 ft. Nylon Rope
- Safety goggles
- Sewing kit
- Work gloves.
In addition to the water pouches, the kit also contains a baggie, water purification Aquatabs, and a straw. You can fill the baggie up with water from a sink, water heater, cistern, etc., then use a tab for purification. This gives you extra access to safe water without making the kit horribly heavy.
The water and food in these packs has been tested and certified to be safe in temperatures ranging from -22 to 149 degrees Fahrenheit, so they’re a great choice if you live somewhere prone to climate fires, blizzards, and anything in between. The consumables have a 5-year expiration date and are built to order, ensuring freshness.
The rations in these packs are peanut-free but not gluten-free. They’re vegetarian-friendly but possibly not strictly vegan, given the added vitamin D and A. The ingredients for the food bars are given as: Enriched Wheat Flour (Added vitamins A, B1, B2, D, E, B6, B12, Niacin, Iron, Folic Acid, Magnesium, Pantothenic Acid, Calcium, Phosphorus), Vegetable Shortening (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Soybean Oils), Cane Sugar, Corn Starch, Corn Syrup, Natural Lemon Flavor, Artificial Butter Flavor, Artificial Vanilla Flavor, Ascorbic Acid, Gamma/Delta Tocopherols (peanut-product free).
The hand crank radio, phone charger, and flashlight comes with an adaptor cord so you can plug in a USB cord to charge most devices. The radio receives NOAA, FM, and AM bands.
Redfora assemble their Earthquake Bags in the US, with all food and water sourced in the US and many of the other products also made in the US.