In February 2021, Mother Nature turned the popular phrase “Don’t Mess with Texas” on its head. Three severe winter storms buckled the Texas energy infrastructure, creating the worst energy crisis in Texas state history and leading to wide-scale shortages of water, food and heat. More than 4.5 million homes and businesses were left without power, and at least 246 people were killed directly or indirectly as a result of the crisis.
For Texas native Jody Frierson, the five days of cold and darkness came as a complete shock.
“We did not prepare in any way because there was not enough time.”
Frierson and her partner, Jorge Chavez-Lutz – who are both healthy and active in their 70s – woke up cold and hungry—and stayed that way for nearly a week.
While some emergencies allow you enough time to evacuate or seek out an emergency Red Cross shelter if one is available, many emergencies – like the Texas storms – force residents to shelter in place—which is when adequate preparation can mean the difference between life and death.
By planning ahead and gathering supplies to create an emergency survival kit ahead of time, you and your loved one can often avoid cold, hunger, thirst and discomfort—and it may even save lives.
What to include in your emergency survival kit
Experts recommend at least three days worth of nonperishable food per person in the household. Be sure to consider each person’s special dietary needs, avoid salty foods that make you thirsty, and include canned foods with high liquid content.
- Noodles and pasta (various varieties, white & whole-wheat)
- Vegetables (freeze-dried, canned and dehydrated)
- Fruit (freeze-dried, canned and dehydrated)
- Sugar (white, soft brown, dark brown)
- Vegetable and olive oil
- Powdered milk
- Salt, baking powder, baking soda, other herbs and spices
- Chicken (canned and freeze-dried)
- Beef (canned, freeze-dried, dehydrated and jerky)
- Cans of soup
- Peanut butter (protein)
- Beans (various varieties of dried and canned)
- Full freeze-dried meals
Stephanie Fox of the American Red Cross recommends “at least one gallon of water per person per day for three days if you have to evacuate, and two weeks if you’re stuck at home.”
However, once the bottled water is gone, you need a way to resupply, especially if you’re cut off from a clean water supply indefinitely. That’s where water purification comes in. You can purify water three ways: boil it, filter it and purify it with tablets—or as most experts recommend, a combination of these methods. Check out this list of the best water purifiers from New York magazine.
If you’re going to boil water, keep in mind that sometimes boiled water can taste, well, boiled—flat and tasteless. To circumvent this problem, simply add one pinch of salt to each quart of water to enhance the taste.
Medicine and first aid
It’s smart to try to stockpile any prescription medications if you can. If not, have a plan in place for how you’ll acquire them quickly.
Non-prescription OTC medications to include in your emergency supply are:
- Anti-diarrhea medicine
Remember to store medications in a cool, dry, dark location in the original unopened packaging. Contrary to common habit, the bathroom medicine cabinet is not the most ideal place to store medications due to the heat and humidity common to a bathroom. Store all medication out of reach of children, and consider locking narcotics in a safe.
What about expired medications?
What if the disaster is really disastrous and medications start to actually expire? In her article “Expired Medications: What You Need to Know,” Cynthia Koelker, MD, author of Armageddon Medicine states, “Many drugs stored under reasonable conditions retain 90% of their potency for at least five years after the expiration date on the label, and sometimes much longer.”
The medication is likely safe to consume as long as the appearance and color of the pills have not changed.
Items for shelter, warmth and light
Shelter, warmth and light are vital during a long-term emergency where there’s no power, food or water.
“In Austin, it was warmer outside (freezing temperatures) than it was in our apartment,” Frierson said. “The only time we were warm was when we went to the car to charge our phones.”
To ensure you don’t experience what this Texas pair experienced, invest in a high-quality power bank, which can extend the life of a phone and sometimes a laptop (depending on the model), bringing vital news or services in an emergency during an outage.
Other must-have items include:
And remember: Lighters and fire starters come in handy. Should a power outage occur, an old-fashioned fire may be the tried-and-true way to stay warm, so keep a supply of seasoned wood and tinder. Just don’t forget to include a fire extinguisher suitable for an emergency kit.
The Texas power outage of 2021 was hard for many people, mainly because they weren’t prepared.
“It was the most physically miserable I have ever been in my life,” Frierson said. “I wasn’t in pain, just physically miserable. I have had various surgeries, gotten heat stroke, but none of those touched the physical misery of being so constantly cold.”
An emergency can happen at any time, so take steps now to prepare your home for your family and the seniors in your life. It might just save a life.