Hurricane Sandy is currently storming along the east coast of the US and Canada. I went out to the grocery store yesterday to pick up a few things (I really wanted to make some Swedish meatballs for some reason - recipe to come!), and was surprised at just how many people were there trying to get bottled water, canned foods, and so on.
So, let's have a little preparedness exercise. Imagine you're in your home, with whoever else is normally there (including pets). Power goes out. The power stays out for 72 hours (that's 3 days). For whatever reason, your mobility is limited, fallen branches on roads, uncleared snow, whatever - you can only go maybe a few blocks around your home. What do you do? Do you have enough water to stay well hydrated, enough food to be at least somewhat comfortable? Now imagine what weather might be like... is it raining, flooding, is it freezing cold, very hot? What's it like where you live?
Some people are probably ready for such an event. If you're not? It's really easy to be! I know some people think this sort of thing is silly, that you'll just never have any sort of problems (it could never happen to me!) - but come on, better safe than sorry, right? Better to have supplies on hand, and not need them, than to be caught off guard. You don't need to hoard months worth of food if you don't want, nothing like that, a little basic preparation can go a long way.
Water is easy. The recommended amount is a gallon per person, per day. That's for drinking, food prep, and hygiene. You can buy gallon bottles from the grocery store for quite cheap. Some people like to fill up their tubs if they know a storm is on the way, just to have extra on hand for washing up in, and such.
Food. Buy a little each week until you have a fair supply. Don't go crazy buying food you will never eat. Don't like spam? Don't buy it. Think about what sort of food you like to eat, and what can be eaten without cooking. Cereal, jerky, tuna or other canned meats, nuts, seeds, pop-tarts, dried fruits, granola bars, fruit snacks, canned fruit, canned veggies, some canned soups and such. (Room temp or cold soups might not always be delicious, but they're easy to eat.) Cookies, candy, chocolate. Canned beans, canned brown bread. Peanut butter, honey, crackers, little individual cups of apple sauce. Have some high calorie and high fat foods on hand, you might need the energy (especially if it is cold). Don't feel you need to set this food aside and never touch it - eat it! Just replace it if you do. This will keep your supply from going bad. Have pets? Make sure you always have a bit of extra food on hand. Don't wait until you're all out to go get more.
Some paper plates, plastic forks/spoons/knives, napkins, plastic cups, and extra trash bags are good to store away. A non-electric can opener is a must have item.
First aid is important, as well. Most people probably have these things on hand already, but it's good to know where they are, or have them all in the same box. Bandages of several sizes/styles, antibiotic ointment such as neosporin, gauze pads and tape, butterfly stitches, alcohol wipes, small scissors, tweezers, disposable gloves (non-latex if you can). Basic medicines you might need, such as some sort of pain relief, fever reducer, anti-diarrheal, allergy relief (pills and cream), itch cream, burn salve. A small book on first aid. Women should keep some extra pads and tampons around if they need them (even if you usually use something re-useable like a cup or cloth pads, a few disposables can be handy). Diapers for a baby. If you're on prescription medication that you can not live without, see about keeping an extra month on hand at all times. Less important meds? Just try to re-fill a week before you're out, if you can.
So what else might one need? Flashlights with extra batteries, of course. A radio that's battery powered. Sometimes you can find a good radio/flashlight combo that is powered by a crank, which is nice. Keep some cash on hand, in small bills. You might be able to get to a store, to a gas station, but maybe they can't take credit cards. (This happened two winters ago in NH.) A very loud whistle/storm whistle. Wet naps or baby wipes. Copies of important documents, in a waterproof container. Matches in a waterproof container. Fire extinguisher - you can buy little household spray bottle types at the hardware store. Dust masks. Duct tape! Everyone loves duct tape, right?
Don't forget entertainment! Books, cards, dice games, coloring books and crayons, a notebook and pens/pencils, board games. Most people have things like this on hand already.
Think about your own needs, and the needs of your family. Someone wears glasses? A little glasses repair kit is a nice thing to have handy. You might have no need for some of the things I've listed, if you live in a different area you might have different things you need to be ready for, different weather and temperatures to deal with. Really think about what you might need. Read up on what to do in different situations, and make sure your family knows what to do, where to meet, and so on.
Whatever you do, do not light a charcoal grill inside your home. When I lived in Washington state, without fail every single winter there would be stories on the news of people who died doing this. Candles can also be a danger. Be safe if you use them for lighting - especially if you have pets or kids who could knock them over.
Want to do more? Consider a kit for the car. Same basic things, a little water, a little food, some first aid. Flashlight. Gloves and blankets in cold weather. Salt/sand, a small shovel. 72 hour bags are something else one can consider, basically a bag to grab if you need to leave your house, with enough supplies for 72 hours. Again, it's all about what you might end up needing.