What You Need To Make an Earthquake Kit

Updated: Apr. 15, 2024

Earthquakes occur without warning and can leave you isolated and without power for days. Prepare yourself by assembling an earthquake kit.

It’s hard to overstate the disorientation you feel during an earthquake.

When I felt the ground shaking during the 1989 Loma Prieta quake in California — and a few years later, during the 1996 Great Hanshin earthquake in Japan — I lost all confidence in the solidity of the earth.

I happened to be outside during the California quake. It lasted a little more than a minute, and when it stopped, my legs continued to shake. I was so weak I had to sit down.

The most harrowing part of that experience? Returning home to find my ranch-style house split in half, and every item in the kitchen cupboards and the refrigerator dumped onto the floor. Because the structure wasn’t safe, my housemates and I spent the next week camped on the lawn until we could find a place to go.

Luckily, the roads were passable, so we could get supplies. If that hadn’t been the case and we hadn’t been blessed with good weather, the people who were home during the quake would have been in real trouble.

We should have given more thought to preparation, and not just because we live on the West Coast. Significant quakes have happened in Missouri, North Carolina, Quebec and other places not as well known for tremors.

What Is an Earthquake Kit?

An earthquake kit is basically a survival kit for up to a week after an earthquake.

It should include enough food and water for everyone in your household, including pets, as well as all the tools and implements you’ll need if you’re forced to shelter in place. All should be bundled into a package that’s kept in a safe place you can access in an emergency.

If you stocked your earthquake kit with everything recommended by the California Earthquake Authority, you’d definitely be well-prepared, but the kit would be bulky and expensive. Considering the chances of an earthquake are small, even if you live in an earthquake zone, it’s practical to limit the kit to things you really need.

The kit must have water for drinking and sanitation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends storing bottled water because it won’t go bad, but you might want to fill your own water containers. If so, refresh the water every six months or so to avoid contamination.

What Goes in an Earthquake Kit: A Checklist

An earthquake kit contains all of the following, stored in plastic containers with snap-lock, watertight lids. Use this as a checklist to assemble your own.

Water

One gallon of sanitized drinking water per person per day. The kit should contain at least a three-day supply.

Food

Food should be nonperishable and not promote thirst. You need a three-day supply at a minimum, but it’s prudent to stock up enough for a week. Some items to consider include:

  • Ready-to-eat canned goods. items you don’t have to cook;
  • Protein or fruit bars, granola or dried fruit;
  • Canned juice;
  • Peanut butter, jelly and crackers;
  • Infant food if you have babies and pet food if you have pets;
  • Specific foods for people in the household with dietary restrictions.

First aid supplies

The likelihood of someone suffering an injury during an earthquake is high, so your kit should include medical necessities, including:

  • Bandages, including butterfly closures for larger wounds;
  • Adhesive tape, gauze pads or a roll of gauze and cotton swabs;
  • Scissors and tweezers;
  • Antiseptic ointment and a disinfectant like hydrogen peroxide or alcohol;
  • Pain and fever medication like aspirin or Acetaminophen;
  • Burn cream;
  • Eye wash;
  • Essential prescription medications (three-day supply).

Tools and implements

You’ll need to open cans, and you might have to remove access panels to shut off water and utilities. You’ll also need to navigate your way through debris in the dark. So your kit should contain these items:

  • Screwdrivers (Phillips and flathead);
  • Adjustable wrench or adjustable pliers;
  • Manual can opener;
  • Utility knife;
  • Lighter or matches in a sealed container;
  • Flashlight and extra batteries, or a smartphone with a flashlight app and charger;
  • Headlamp;
  • Duct tape;
  • Fire extinguisher;
  • Paper plates and cups with plastic utensils;
  • One sleeping bag per person;
  • A large tarp and rope for constructing a temporary shelter;
  • A whistle to call for help.

Communication devices

Your smartphone will be your most reliable communications device as long as you still have cell service. In case service is cut off, you should have a battery-powered or hand-crank radio in your kit so you can listen for news updates.

Personal documents

Any important documents you don’t normally carry with you and aren’t available electronically, like passports, bank cards and insurance statements, should be part of your emergency kit. Power outages could be widespread and long-lasting, so your kit should also include cash, traveler’s checks or a prepaid Visa gift card.

Where To Store an Earthquake Kit

Your earthquake kit needs to be accessible if your house is damaged and becomes unsafe to enter. Probably the best place is the garage, especially one built on a solid concrete slab. A storage space built onto the side of the house, or a utility closet just inside an entry door, are also good choices.

The climate in the storage area should be dry to prevent mold from damaging the supplies. Secure the kit on strong shelving off the floor in case of flooding. Finally, make sure everyone in the household knows where it is, and keep the door unlocked.