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I've never been in a major emergency situation (I even live in the town rated least likely to experience a natural disaster in the United States), and I rarely think about emergency precautions. The devastating tornadoes over the weekend reminded me that if an emergency were to strike, I would be totally unprepared.

It's a little spendy to compile emergency supplies, but the peace of mind is definitely worth the small investment, so I'm starting to shop for the essentials. Here's where to start if you need to get your supply going, too.

72-hour kit. At minimum, the American Red Cross says we should all have a 72-hour emergency kit at home. Kits should be kept in an easy-to-carry bag in case you need to evacuate, be stored in an easy-access location, and include the following items:

  • Water (1 gallon per person, per day) and nonperishable food
  • Flashlight
  • Battery-powered radio and NOAA Weather Radio
  • Extra batteries
  • First Aid kit
  • Sanitation/personal hygiene items
  • Copies of personal documents
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • Cash
  • Emergency blanket

See the American Red Cross' full list of basic supplies for more details.

2-week food supply. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross recommend a 2-week supply of nonperishable food items for emergencies when access to food supply is cut off. Although this advice sounds extreme, it's not uncommon for grocery store shelves to get cleared out when disasters strike (and that's if you can even make it to the store), so stocking up is a smart precaution to take.

The key is to build your supply with items that are easy to prepare and that you would actually want to eat. Real Simple has a good list of inexpensive nonperishable food items that you don't have to buy from a camping store. If you have pets, keep some extra food for them, too.

Water. FEMA also suggests storing one gallon of water per person, per day as part of your 2-week emergency supply. For safety's sake, they say commercially bottled water is the best bet. Storing 28 gallon jugs of water in my apartment is probably not realistic, but some is better than none; I have a friend who keeps emergency water under her bed, so I'll probably follow suit and see what I can fit under there. If you have ample basement space, go to town.

Beyond these basics, check out FEMA's list of common natural disasters to learn how to prepare for the most likely culprits in your area.

Image by Seattle Municipal Archives via cc.