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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Brad Moon, Contributing Writer
| June 12, 2019
The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season officially started on June 1. Forecasters from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are predicting a repeat of last year's season, with anywhere from nine to 15 named storms and between two and four that will be Category 3 or higher.
Last year, Hurricane Michael alone resulted in 39 deaths, the loss of power for 2.5 million people and $16 billion in damage when it hit Florida and Georgia in October 2018.
So it's time to get serious about being prepared. Could you and your family cope without power for an evening? What about for several days? Here's our list of 12 must-have items to keep in your home, an emergency kit for you and your family should a disaster such as a hurricane strike.
Prices as of June 10, 2019.
Photo by Brad Moon
One of the most useful flashlights for home emergency kits, the Goal Zero Torch 250 ($79.96) is a large flashlight with both a spotlight and a floodlight. A built-in hook lets you hang it up to illuminate a large area. The light can be recharged using the built-in hand crank, integrated solar cells, or via USB, so you can keep it running indefinitely in a power outage. It has a USB port so you can power up your smartphone battery in a pinch.
If you need to signal rescuers or emergency workers, the Torch 250 also includes a flashing red emergency light.
Even in a minor storm, power to your home can be lost for hours at a time because of local issues such as accidents or fires that affect the electrical grid. A hurricane could trigger a blackout that lasts for days.
That's why every home should have a portable power bank—and not just one of the little lipstick-size portable batteries that boost your smartphone for a few hours. You want a high-capacity power bank with multiple output options. The Honda 290 Portable Power Station ($349.99) is an easy-to-carry lithium-ion model with 292 watt-hours of capacity, USB and 12V outputs, and an AC outlet. It can charge a smartphone 17 times or keep a laptop going through four charges.
It can also power a CPAP machine—a medical essential for those suffering sleep apnea—for as long as four hours.
A portable power bank isn't going to cut it for extended power outages—unless all you care about is keeping your smartphone charged. During an event as destructive as a hurricane, extensive damage to the grid can knock out power for days.
That possibility makes a power generator a wise investment for anyone in hurricane-prone areas. Beware the challenges, though, with a traditional gas-powered generator: You'll need to keep it fueled and maintained, and you'll have to make accommodations for its noxious fumes and abundant noise when it's in use.
A greener alternative is Goal Zero's Yeti 1400 Power Station ($1,799.95). It's more expensive than a gas generator, but it uses no fuel and can even be recharged with optional solar panels. It can be used indoors, because it gives off no fumes and runs silently. Its 1425Wh lithium-ion battery has the power to run a full-sized refrigerator for more than 12 hours. You can also plug in fans to keep cool, lights or a TV. And it will recharge your smartphone roughly 70 times.
Photo by Midland Radio
A radio is an invaluable addition to any home emergency kit. When disaster strikes, radio will be the only way to get news and warnings if cellular and Wi-Fi go down.
The E310 E+Ready Emergency Crank Weather Radio ($69.99) from Midland remains a top pick for its combination of features, power options and affordable price. You can pick up NOAA weather bulletins and alerts, as well as civil emergency broadcasts. You can also listen to old-school AM and FM radio stations.
This radio packs a flashlight with Cree LED bulbs, a USB port for charging smartphones or tablets, and a built-in dog whistle. In terms of powering the unit, it's equipped with a built-in lithium-ion battery that can be recharged using the built-in hand crank, the integrated solar panels or USB. In addition, you can pop in six AA batteries for back-up power.
Photo by Leatherman
Sure, you have a collection of tools at home. But they can be scattered in different locations, and you don't want to be lugging around a heavy toolbox unless it's absolutely necessary.
Stash a multi-tool in your home's emergency kit, and you'll have all the tools you might commonly need available in your pocket. For example, the Leatherman Leap ($39.95) weighs just 4.9 ounces. Folded into this compact and child-friendly multi-tool are scissors, two types of piers, a saw, tweezers, a bottle opener, three screwdrivers and several other tools.
Photo by American National Red Cross
Every home needs a decent first-aid kit, and who does first aid better than the Red Cross?
In natural disasters such as hurricanes, broken glass and splintered wood are always a threat, and that means cuts are a real possibility. This 113-piece Red Cross Hard Pack Family First Aid Kit ($41.99) includes basics such as pain relievers and antibiotic cream, plus a huge selection of bandages, gauze, dressing pads and tape. It also includes a first-aid guide, and it packages everything up in an easy-to-carry case that keeps everything organized.
Photo by 3M
Many natural disasters come with a breathing hazard in the form of fine dust, smoke, ash and other airborne particles. Nobody is expecting families to have gas masks in their home emergency kit, but it is a good idea to have disposable dust masks on hand.
3M's P100 Disposable Particulate Respirators ($7.99 each) are an affordable option that offer top-rated protection from dust particles (their P100 rating means they will block 99.9% of particles 0.3 microns or larger); they also offer protection against vapor from harmful substances, including lead. A handy “Cool Flow" valve helps keep the wearer's face from overheating.
Photo by Sawyer Products, Inc.
Don't count on having running water if a natural disaster hits your area. That means your emergency kit should include jugs of drinkable water. The Department of Homeland Security recommends having enough stored for every person in the house to have one gallon per day for three days.
If that runs out, you can turn to bleach and boiling to purify questionable water sources (such as water drawn from nearby rain barrels or rivers), but there is an easier and more reliable method: a water filter. The tiny Sawyer MINI ($24.95) removes 99.99999% (that's not a typo) of all bacteria, 99.9999% of protozoa and 100% of micro plastics. In short, the drinking water produced by the Sawyer MINI water filter exceeds EPA standards.
Photo by Weber
When the power goes out, eventually you'll need to cook food and heat water. If you have a gas stove, you might be in luck, but an electric stove will be a no-go unless your home is equipped with a high-powered generator.
Weber has a reputation for making great gas and charcoal grills, and the company has been using that expertise for more than a decade to perfect its Q-series portable gas grills ($209). The Q 1200 is compact enough to be stashed in a shed, garage or basement until needed, along with some propane cylinders. It has 189 square inches of cooking surface. Weber also sells handy accessories, such as a griddle, that expand the grill's functionality.
Just remember, no matter how stormy it is outdoors, don't cook indoors with a gas grill!
Photo by Amazon
Why on earth would you care about having an e-reader as part of your home emergency kit?
Thing is, an e-reader isn't just for reading. In an emergency situation, it can be an incredibly valuable resource, so long as you load it up with the right content ahead of time—things such as product user manuals, how-to guides, home repair manuals, first-aid guides and maps. With a battery that can last a month and built-in lighting for use in dark conditions, an e-reader can be extraordinarily useful in an emergency situation. And you can also read books to pass the time.
Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite ($129.99) remains one of the best choices for emergency kit use. It's waterproof, has built-in lighting and packs 8 gigabytes of storage to hold a virtual library.
Chances are, your smartphone is protected by a thin and light case, which is perfectly fine for everyday use. But in a natural disaster, you're going to be relying on that smartphone. It is likely to become your primary means of communication, access to news and navigation, as well as a reference resource and your entertainment. There's a lot riding on it.
That minimalist case isn't going to cut it, especially if you venture outdoors in stormy conditions to patch a roof, cut fallen tree branches or pile sandbags. You'll want a rugged smartphone case to supplement the water resistance that most current smartphones already offer.
For iPhone owners, Lifeproof makes some of the best protective cases with its Next series. For $79.99, you get a case that blocks the iPhone's ports from debris, dirt and dust. An enclosed iPhone can survive a fall from over 6 feet. And despite the rugged protection, the display remains unobstructed, so touch controls and viewing aren't affected.
Photo by United Technologies Corp.
The Kidde Nighthawk CO and Explosive Gas Detector ($64.99) is a valuable and affordable addition to your home-protection setup, and it could be even more valuable during a natural disaster.
This unit plugs into a wall outlet and acts as a full-time carbon monoxide detector. The Nighthawk also detects elevated levels of natural gas and propane, explosive gases that can enter a house when pipes get damaged. With its 9V battery backup, it continues operating during a blackout. The alarm will alert you to get your family out of the house if CO or gas levels are reaching dangerous levels.