How Much Does it Cost to Prepare for Emergencies?

debris from a tornado that hit my son's school on Wednesday


As my regular readers know, I started So Over Debt to document my recovery from financial disaster. Today, though, I want to talk to you about how to prepare for other types of disasters - and how that preparation can affect your wallet.

On Wednesday morning, I woke up to the sound of tornado sirens. Since Kentucky is part of Hoosier Alley (one of Tornado Alley’s cousins), this wasn’t a huge shock - the watches and warnings are so frequent in the spring, we don’t tend to get too excited about them.

Ten minutes after I dropped Jayden off at school, a suspected tornado (I say that only because it hasn’t been confirmed yet) ripped most of the roof off the gym. With the kids inside the gym, including mine, waiting for the bell to go to first period. Luckily no one was injured, but my friends on Twitter and Facebook can confirm that I was one crazed lunatic while I waited for updates.

But Wait! There’s More!!!

As if Wednesday’s events weren’t enough excitement, today’s forecast looks even worse. The National Weather Service is predicting some SERIOUS storm action in the areas surrounding Nashville, Louisville, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis. In my area specifically, it looks like we’ll have some rain and hail early in the morning, then 2 separate periods when tornadoes are very likely.

I’ll be honest. Part of me wants to pack up Jayden and the dogs, get in the car, and drive west until I find some normal weather. After the panic I felt when I saw his school on the news (because the school district didn’t bother to call us, but that’s a whole other rant), I’m not sure I can deal with it again. Yet I have to, because that’s life.

Last night I spent some time gathering up supplies for the approaching storms, just in case we end up spending the day in the basement. (And can I just say how utterly THRILLED I am to have a basement right now?) I already had everything I needed - like I said, we’re used to this - but I got complacent since our last big tornado in 2008 and didn’t have it all in a centralized location.

The Cost of Making an Emergency Kit

It can be kind of expensive to prepare for natural disasters like tornadoes. I think it helps if you consider it an investment - it’s not like you’re going to use all this stuff every few months. At least I hope not! I’ve had most of my supplies for years, just sitting around waiting to be used. Here’s what you need to survive a potential stay in a basement or other form of shelter:

  • Large outdoor trashcan or storage tote - $10 (I emptied mine awhile back and started using it for other things, but that was stupid. If you put all your supplies in a big container, you can put it a corner and forget about it until you need it.)
  • First aid kit - $20
  • Blankets - $10 or so each
  • Flashlight - $15 if you want a halfway decent one
  • Batteries - $10 (Remember to replace these periodically - they won’t help if they’re dead)
  • Candles and matches - $10
  • Water - $10 (I recommend both gallons and individual bottles)
  • Cups - free from your kitchen (because it’s really hard to drink from a gallon jug)
  • Non-perishable food items and a manual can opener - probably also free from your kitchen
  • Battery-operated weather radio - $30
  • Baby wipes - $5
  • Extra cell phone chargers - Varies depending on what kind of phone you have
  • Food for your pets if you have any - Varies depending on the animal and type of food
  • A bucket - $8 (because some shelters don’t have bathrooms)

There are countless other things you could add to your kit, but those are the most basic essentials. You’re looking at less than $150 to survive for a few days in the event that your home is destroyed by a storm or disaster. Worth it? I’d say so, especially considering the very real possibility that I could find out today while you’re reading this post.

Non-Essential Survival Supplies

I’m as prepared as I can be for the weather today, but I’m not discounting the possibility that we may sit around in the basement for no good reason. I don’t know if you’ve ever spent hours in a basement with a child, but allow me to spoil the surprise - IT SUCKS! Because of that, I carted a few more items downstairs to keep from committing child abuse.

  • TV - Yes, really. I moved a TV downstairs, because at least it will allow us to watch something other than the clock. Plus I can keep up with the weather as long as the power doesn’t go out.
  • Chairs - My basement is unfinished. It’s pretty gross, actually. I learned the last time we had to go down there that it’s no fun to stand around for hours, nor is it thrilling to sit on the concrete floor. So I grabbed a couple of chairs for us to sit in and (possibly) sleep on.
  • The iPad - As long as I have wifi, I can read blogs, update my Facebook status, and surf the internet while we’re waiting. And even if the power/wifi goes out, we’ll have 10 hours to play Angry Birds before the battery dies.
  • Books, crayons, and paper - It’s always good to have some low-tech distractions available in case everything else is unusable. And I will admit that coloring is therapeutic, even for teenagers. And adults. Or so I’ve heard.
  • Personal items - My photo albums, important documents, and other hard-to-replace items are in a waterproof container under the stairs, just in case.

Can You Ever REALLY Prepare For a Disaster?

I’ve been very lucky that I’ve never been directly affected by a tornado, even though we’ve had plenty of them in my lifetime. However, I did endure an ice storm in 2009 that left us without power or water for 9 days. After that experience, I’m determined to do as much as I can to keep myself and my son safe (and somewhat comfortable).

Obviously an emergency kit is no guarantee that you’ll survive a natural disaster. However, your chances are much better if you have one. Designate a portion of your budget toward the purchase of items you may need, starting with the most important. I would much rather curse the pile of emergency supplies taking up space in my house (as I’ve done many times) than curse myself for failing to be prepared.

Have you ever experienced a natural disaster? How prepared (or unprepared) were you? What would you add to my lists of survival items?


How Much Does it Cost to Prepare for Emergencies?34 Comments

  1. We don't have tornados, and when I saw those pictures you posted on Twitter I was horrified at the desstruction. 

    We do have earthquakes, and there are many predictions that there is going to be a MASSIVE earthquake that knocks out half of our city within the next few years. I need to get an emergency kit going.

  2. Something like this happened last year. Power went out in some areas for WEEKS. But in my neighborhood it was only out for a couple of days. We were going to buy a generator, but they were sold our everywhere and they were marked up like crazy.

    • We saw a lot of that during the ice storm in 2009. People were buying up all the generators, then reselling them for hundreds of dollars more than they originally cost. Made me sick to see people profiting from other people in a time of crisis!

  3. I've never had to deal with a natural disaster, but you definitely got me thinking about how I would deal with it! 

  4. We do on occasion have  tornadoes but usually the big concern is hurricanes. In 2004, we had a heck of a summer, there were at least 3 hurricanes that came through one right after another.  And always on a weekend.  We have prepared with buying a generator, having extra food supplies on hand.  Beyond that, we are pretty well set.  Oh yeah.. we keep blue tarps on hand in case of roof damage.  Where would we be without the blue tarps!

    • Hahaha, that's one thing I forgot about. I have a pretty good supply of blue tarps myself! I've learned that it takes FOREVER to get a contractor to come put a tarp on a roof, especially when (1) you're still waiting for the insurance company to come out and (2) everyone in a 50-mile radius needs a tarp.

  5. Stay safe with the stormpocalypse (I stole that from your twitter feed because I love it). The closest thing I have to emergency preparedness are the tools and first aid kit in the back of my car along with the snow shovel. Having never been personally affected by a natural disaster and being young and under the delusion of invincibility, I haven't really focused on the fact that an emergency could happen to me. Clearly I should add blankets and bottled water and snack foods to my car kit, and maybe make one for the house too.

    • I remember learning in driver's ed that you can survive for like days in your car if you have a candle, an empty coffee can, matches and a blanket. You put the candle in the coffee can, light it, and sit by it with the blanket over you and the coffee can. So I bought a big fat pillar candle, and it's in my trunk along with matches and a coffee can. That way if I ever get stuck (assuming I can get to my trunk), I can create enough heat to survive for awhile.

      • Luckily I have an suv so unless the cargo area is crushed I'll be good to go. I think my car kit is supposed to be if for if I lose my mind and decide that I want to drive around during a blizzard and go careening off the road into a snow bank. I just stay home if it snows that bad, and I leave work early if it starts when I'm out.

  6. This is a great post!

    There have been tornadoes in the past where I live, but I think the biggest natural disaster threat is probably being snowed in at -40 or -50 for an extended period of time. Usually that weather only lasts for 3-4 days at most, but I think if it ever persisted for more than a week, some people would run out of food or other necessities. I'm definitely not prepared for something like that. I take for granted that I live close to a grocery store, the train is always running, and I can walk where I need — whereas a bad snowstorm might mean the grocery store closes, the train stops, and I can't go outside!

    • When we had a bad ice storm here, it was pandemonium. The grocery stores were closed - even Walmart - and the few gas stations that were open couldn't process debit cards. A lot of people didn't even have checks. We had to risk driving 75 miles on ice to get bottled water, and when that ran out (there was a limit on how much you could buy) we had to bring in snow and boil it on the stove. Thank goodness for gas stoves or I don't know how we would have survived!

  7. I still think coloring is therapeutic. Especially with crayons. Back home, we used to have hurricanes every season (at least 3~5 of them), so I guess we were very prepared. We were used to not having electricity all the time (yes, there are countries that do not have 24/7 access to electricity), so we already had most of that post-disaster stuff readily available. Can you ever be fully prepared for a disaster? No. It's a disaster. It can be as light or as severe. You can be somewhat prepared, or prepared enough it won't affect you as much. Call me old fashioned, but a radio would be on my primary list, as source of communication.

    • Like a CB radio? That's a good idea! The last time we had a major tornado, the phone lines were down, and of course the cell towers were down too. People had to drive around trying to find their family members. I'm adding that to my list of things to get for next time, assuming I make it through today!

  8. No matter how much you prepare, you are never truly ready mentally for a disaster.  Unfortunately, I can speak from multiple hurricane experiences, but luckily I was never personally affected.  But when you physically can't go anywhere because the roads are littered with trees, or there is no power for a week or more, or when the McDonalds sign from a half mile away is in the lake behind the house you almost feel like you were directly affected.  You get more adjusted as time goes on, but as far as being mentally (or even emotionally) prepared, that's tough to achieve.

  9. Having lived in earthquake country and now in Tornado Alley (Oklahoma), we're probably more prepared than most with emergency supplies.  Lots of candles and matches are always good to have. Cheap, and more reliable than flashlights.

  10. I live in Southern Ohio (Cincinnati area) and just a couple hours ago we had four tornado's in our area. No major damage near me but I saw the pics of Louisville on the news. I'm glad to here that you and your son are okay.

  11. I hope you are still safe Andrea.  We are in the Nashville area at our son's house & got to try out the closet as shelter.  I so wish there was a basement here.  The boys had fun making a house inside the closet as practice.  They brought in their DSi's, pillows, & blankets.  I kept our cell phones & mini-flashlights near. The schools dismissed early as did a lot of businesses.  Lots of excitement.  They are well-stocked for most things except for a basement.  They are at least talking about digging one.  

    • We made it through okay! It was scary for awhile, but the only tornado that hit was on the opposite end of the county. There is damage all over the place but it could have been so much worse. Our schools got out early, too - it's been an exhausting day! Hope you guys are good for the night and get to sleep somewhere other than the closet. :)

  12. Good post.  Hopefully you've made it through today's storms unscaved.  We're just seeing the last of the bad ones leave southern Tennessee.  Everything was pointed right at us but then went around.

    Instead of bottled water, I just keep the 7 gallon jugs we use for camping full all the time.  They're sitting there anyway - might as well be full.  We have about 2 week's worth of drinking water with about 3 jugs.  Of course a tornado would probably carry them away.

    I've also thought about having a tornado room built.  They cost about $10,000 and can be a closet or a storage room when not needed.  If you do it right and add square footage to the house, you'd get most of  your investment back when you sold the house.  After the F5 tornados plowed through Oklahoma city, there was nothing but bare foundations and tornado rooms.

  13. glad you son and his classmates are ok. Have you seen history channels doomsday preppers?  There are people who believe society is about to collapse, and have done their best to be self sufficient to survive this. crazy, yes. they will be more then prepared if anything does happen.  I won't go to such an extreme, but having basic supplies on hand is a good idea.

  14. I've read about this recent wave of tornadoes, a few small towns in Indiana were apparently flattened. Anyway, great point about emergency preparedness. It's important to do so, even if it might seem like a waste of money at the time. If an emergency happens, people are often very thankul fhey were prepared to cover basic needs. This might differ depending on where in the country one might live, but being prepared is worth it.

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  16. OMG Andrea.. I can't even imagine what you must have been going through, with your son in that school when the tornado was passing. Last year, we had some nutty tornadoes here in Missouri, but luckily our kids were here with us each time,

    How is your son doing?  Was he traumatized by it?

    • He was pretty torn up. When the road to the school finally reopened, I signed him out early (like most other parents). It was ridiculous - they were watching movies, and most of the schools in the county didn't have power. I will never understand why they didn't dismiss. They did dismiss early on Friday, though.

  17. Hi Andrea, It seems no matter where you are time and unforeseen events happen. We went thought high winds ( 100 mph and grass land fires ) at the same time. As it turns out the fires were stopped at the edge of town. Have you looked at food and water that lasts for up to 5 years and does not need rotation? Please look at and let me know what you think. It is my website. If I have violated a no advertise poilcy,ect please just remove my post. Glad everything worked out. People need to realize at least for a time it will depend on them for awhile till help arrives.

  18. We used to live in Austin and went through a bunch of tornado warnings and had a couple close calls.  It is a really helpless feeling knowing there is one heading your way but there is nothing you can do about it.  Glad you and your family were unharmed.

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