Right now is understandably a time for concern, but the same message applies: Prepare, don’t panic. We parents have a responsibility to care and provide for our children, ensuring their well-being before and after any disruptive event, whether it’s a natural disaster or an outbreak that forces temporary shutdowns and closures in our community. When it comes to emergency preparation, I always tell parents one thing: You want to have a plan just in case the worst really does happen.

As a mom of three young kids with a firefighter husband, I’m constantly anticipating potential problems—and thinking ahead about how to cope. Thinking ahead and planning has saved me many nights of pacing the floor, and has made me feel more confident as a parent.

Today is a great time to take stock of your “safety status” and figure out what you have, what you need and the simple steps you can take to better prepare your family—starting with an emergency kit.

Does my family really need an emergency kit?

As a certified emergency manager, my answer to this is unequivocally yes. Everyone needs an emergency kit—yes, everyone.

Would you bring your kids to the zoo without careful planning, food and wipes? Clearly not—and those who have will never forget wipes again! In the same vein, an emergency kit is critical, especially for families. It helps sustain your basic family needs until more resources are available. An emergency kit also forces you to think through your specific household requirements and plan accordingly.

What should go in a family emergency kit?

Imagine the essentials and then some. When it comes to emergency kit contents, there are a few categories to consider, from the usual suspects to unexpected items. Here’s a quick snapshot of what every kit should contain, but be sure to consider your family’s situation and adjust as needed:

  • A minimum 3-day supply of food + water, although up to 2 weeks is advisable. Take into account any dietary restrictions for each member of the household. If you have small children, you also want to consider supplemental foods for their needs. Be sure to have enough food for pets as well.
  • Tools + problem-solving items such as a flashlight, batteries, sturdy gloves, a handheld crank radio, duct tape, matches and a whistle. (Note that matches should always be stored and used with caution, as gas leaks and other precipitating events following a disaster may limit the use of matches.)
  • Medical needs such as a First Aid kit and a back-up supply of necessary prescriptions (write down prescriptions and dosages). Include any specific medical items based on your family and situation. Also include vitamins! You won’t be eating like you normally do, so it will be important to supplement additional dietary needs;
  • Your family’s essentials such as small denominations of cash (think one-dollar and five-dollar bills), a family photo (for comfort and in case of separation to identify household members, including pets), a printed copy of emergency contacts and phone numbers, copies of important documents and comfort items for kids (non-electronic small toys, coloring books and lovies).

Take inventory of what you have and what you need, and then take some time to stock up. You might also ask your children to pack a bag of what they’d consider their “essentials”—their idea of comfort items may vary from what you think.

Where’s the best place to store a family emergency kit?

Store your emergency kit strategically for easy access. Your family’s emergency kit isn’t meant to be hidden in the attic or buried away in your garage. You want it to be accessible and visible, whether that’s in your pantry or a closet near your kitchen. (Note: One place to avoid storing your emergency kit is in the garage, especially on a concrete floor. Water should be stored at least 6 inches above concrete to avoid absorption.)

How often should a family emergency kit be checked?

An emergency kit should be a living item where you review the contents and update at least annually, or after a disaster. Use daylight savings in the spring or fall as your regular reminder to make sure the food in your kit hasn’t expired, your back-up medications are current and the flashlight still works.

Hold a family meeting, bring the kit out and discuss the items and why you have them. You are creating a safe space for your children to ask questions in a non-fearful way. Point out ways they can participate and end on a positive note by reminding them of all the people who are helping others—your family included.

Preparedness doesn’t need to be scary. It’s empowering to know you are helping your family and instilling good habits for your children that will last a lifetime.