Preparing Your Disaster Relief Shelter

As the recent typhoon in the Philippines and other natural and man-made disasters around the world gain our attention, we thought it would be helpful to review for our readers what we each should be doing to prepare to survive the aftermath of any type of natural disaster. Our guest co-author today with Shenandoah is Henry Hernandez, who gives us some basic tips on what to keep in a storm shelter or other location that will act as a disaster relief site for ourselves and our families.

  •  License: Image author owned

Henry Hernandez is a survival guide in Kemp, TX where he also works for a company that makes storm shelters, Henry can be found on Google+

If you live in an area of the country that experiences extreme weather (hurricanes on the coasts, earthquakes in the West, or suffers from tornadoes like Oklahoma or Missouri), then you understand the importance of a storm shelter. A storm shelter by itself is a great resource to have to hide from storms but it can be so much more, it can be also be a store house for the materials you’ll need to recover from the aftermath of the storm. For some of us, our storm shelter can be as simple as a buttressed area in the basement of our home. For others, it can be as elaborate as a bomb shelter. But any place high enough not to be flooded, low enough not to be blown away will do as a place to “put by” as our grandparents used to say.

Here is a list of things to store in your relief shelter now, so that you are prepared for when an unexpected disaster comes.


Dry Foods Larder photo by Eric_Ellefson
Dry Foods Larder photo by Eric_Ellefson

Storing up food and water for your storm shelter should be a no-brainer, but some people don’t consider storing these things because they don’t consider the fact that it is for the sake of after the storm when everything might have been destroyed by the storm. Everything stored in your pantry and refrigerator might be gone and you’ll need a source of food and water. Don’t count on your grocery store being there, or if it is, don’t count on there being any food left as it will probably already be taken by looters who are panicking. It’s not even worth the risk to go to the grocery store once disaster has struck.

Consider storing foods that have a long shelf life like canned goods, rice, nuts, dried fruits, and beans. Peanut butter and crackers, tuna fish last for a long time and don’t need refrigeration.

  • If you have a baby, put baby food in the shelter.
  • If you have a pet, put pet food in the shelter.

Also, stock up enough food and water to last you at least a week (1 gallon per person per day). And make a note to check the expiration dates of this food semi-annually and restock and recycle what might be coming to the end of its storage life. Shen and her family do this on the same date they check the batteries of their smoke alarms and change the time from daylight savings to standard time and back again.

Medication/First Aid

Medications photo by plasticrevolver
Medications photo by plasticrevolver

If you take any kind of prescription medication then you will want to stock up and keep an extra supply on hand in your shelter as you might not have the luxury of a pharmacy to go to once the storm passes.

If you wear glasses, contact lenses, dentures, or other medical devices, put extras in the shelter, plus cleaners and preservers for them.

Also, once the storm is over, there will no doubt be wounded and sick people to take care of, those who did not find adequate shelter in time. And due to the fact that the area you live in is now a disaster zone, there will be a lot of opportunity for you to get hurt or catch something. So put a first aid kit with wound dressings, antibiotic creams, off-the-shelf pain medications, and even cold symptom relievers, gastric upset meds, and similar types of general medications in the shelter. Rotate these medications out with what you keep in your medicine cabinet in the bathroom so medications don’t go out of date.


Extra clothing will be a must as there is a good chance everything in your house could have been destroyed if there was a tornado. Also, you will want to consider the fact that you will probably have to dig through debris so packing work boots, jeans, gloves and other protective clothes is a good idea.

If you have children, make sure you change out clothing as they grow, so the spare clothing fits them.

Emergency Miscellaneous Items

Here are some items that don’t necessarily fit in any of the categories above, but are still important to have in a disaster type situation. Best of all, most don’t have expiration dates, so they don’t have to checked on annually.

  • cash,
  • flash lights,
  • matches/lighters,
  • lanterns, candles,
  • trash bags,
  • radio (a wind-up version is great in case there is no electricity),
  • toilet paper,
  • bucket with toilet seat and lid,
  • blankets,
  • batteries (these need to be checked for expiration dates),
  • shovel, axe, hammer, screw driver, pliers (as well as nails, screws),
  • propane heater (make sure it is vented to the outside if required),
  • chairs,
  • table, paper plates, eating utensils,
  • camp stove,
  • manual can opener,
  • sleeping bags,
  • cleansing agents, soap, wet wipes, paper towels,
  • cell phones and battery chargers,
  • games, toys, (especially if you have children),
  • insurance papers, and credit card telephone numbers,
  • extra propane tanks.

NJ National Guard dispensing food after Hurricane Sandy photo by The National Guard
NJ National Guard dispensing food after Hurricane Sandy photo by The National Guard

If you don’t have a storm shelter, underground bunker or basement, then find someone who does who would let you take refuge in time of disaster. If you can’t find someone that does, then you will need to figure out somewhere you can go to wait out a storm. Prepare now before the storm, it will make a huge difference should disaster strike. In our next blog, we will explain how to purify water for drinking, one of the most important commodities to have during and after a disaster.

Shenandoah posted other articles on preparations for storms and preparing for Hurricane Sandy last year.

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