We live in anxious times. There's talk of an influenza pandemic that could kill thousands in Ontario and our spy agency calls a terrorist attack in Canada probable. That's in addition to the old-fashioned natural disasters: massive flooding, devastating hurricanes, killer tornadoes. Not to mention nuclear plant accidents, toxic substance spills, widespread utility blackouts. Cheery, eh?

Or better yet, Cheerios, lots of them, because short of joining some survivalist cult in the mountains, you're going to need supplies to cope.

This is not just the musings of a neurotic newspaper reporter with an overactive imagination. Our government, from the feds on down, is advising families to be ready. During National Emergency Preparedness Week earlier this month, the message was clear: all citizens should be able to take care of themselves and their families for up to three days should disaster strike.

Being ready doesn't mean having a flashlight buried somewhere in a drawer and cases of beer stashed in the garage. To properly prepare and prevent yourself from hungrily eyeing the house plants government agencies and the Red Cross offer lists many lists for small children; seniors; pets; for emergency food and water; equipment; and evacuation in a car.

Here's a sample of what you might consider.

Water

Water in the basement isn't a bad thing, as long as it's bottled. The conventional wisdom: store four litres of water per person per day two for drinking, two for food preparation and hygiene. That's 48 litres for a four-person family for three days. Once you find room for it, don't forget about it. The Red Cross advises replacing stored water every six months. Also keep some bottled water in the car, for quick getaways.

If you're staying home and have forewarning, fill the bathtub, a handy supply for flushing the toilet.

Should you run short of water, there are hidden sources in your home the hot water tank, pipes and toilet (reservoir tank, not bowl). But purify it first. Pick up some purification tablets ($17.99 for 30 at Canadian Tire) for your survival kit.

Food

Think non-perishable, little preparation or cooking: Cans of meat, fish, soups that don't require water, fruits and vegetables. Crucial: manual can opener. Peanut butter, ready-to-eat cereal and energy bars are good calamity comfort foods. Keep a stash at home as well as a food pack in the car a new take on take-out.

If you're marooned at home without power, you can cook outdoors on a barbecue or camp stove ($50 for a one-burner Coleman butane stove at Canadian Tire). Or you can finally use that chafing dish or fondue pot you got as a wedding present.

To spice up your catastrophe cuisine, consider splurging on some freeze-dried delicacies. Imagine dining on paella with saffron rice and chicken (Mountain Equipment Co-op, $10 serves two) by, of course, candlelight, followed by French vanilla mousse with raspberries ($4 serves two). And you can snack on wild smoked salmon jerky ($7.25).

Resist the temptation to dip into your survivor supplies on nights you're too tired to cook.

Should you run short of food, there are hidden sources in your home behind the sofa cushions, inside kids' school backpacks or under a teenager's bed. Just half-joking.

Equipment

Distaste de rigueur: Candles with matches and flashlights with plenty of batteries. To free your hands and still see, consider a head lamp ($20 to $40 at Mountain Equipment Co-op). It's basically a flashlight strapped to a head mount: coal miner chic.

For those paranoid about being left in the dark or who need to contact the mother ship Hammacher-Schlemmer (http://www.hammacher.com) offers what it calls "the world's brightest flashlight." It shines with 15 million candlepower, the equivalent of about 150 60-watt bulbs, for $79.95 U.S. Or, considerably dimmer, two 12-hour glow sticks are available for $4.99 at Canadian Tire.

To keep abreast of weather and news, a radio is essential. The Source (http://www.thesourcecc.com) sells a selection of crank radios at varying prices.

If you're power mad, Canadian Tire has some backups. A folding solar panel ($130) converts sunlight to charge small electronics such as a cellphone and MP3 player. The Eliminator PowerBox ($190) is kept plugged in; then when the power goes out, you can use the portable box to run a mini refrigerator or other small appliances, charge electronics or jump-start a car.

Entertainment

A power box or solar panel may help ward off electronics withdrawal for a while. But don't forget the cottage classics: Candyland and Monopoly; Clue and Trivial Pursuit; and of course, rounds of Go Fish, gin rummy and euchre.

If three days of board games and cards starts wearing thin, there's always that pile of still unread books on the bedside table. Recommended reading: The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook. Its chapters on how to escape from quicksand, wrestle an alligator and land a plane might put things in perspective.

Miscellany

Personal care items: include plenty of toilet paper and a minimum of seven days' supply of prescription drugs.

It's smart to store a list of important phone numbers in your survival kit. Keep vital family documents in a waterproof, portable container and devise a family plan about how to contact each other or where to meet in an emergency.

Keep a cache of cash, preferably small bills and coins. During the 2003 blackout, credit and debit cards and teller machines didn't work.

Without cash, you might have to barter with neighbours two AA batteries for one can of pork and beans.

And, finally, a luxury item. Even the contestants on the TV reality series Survivor are usually allowed one personal item while they slog it out on some remote exotic beach.

What one thing would you most like to have while you're holed up at home? In a highly unscientific survey, the most common response: a case of champagne.

Why not? You've already got the candlelight.