If you have spent any time researching emergency preparedness, you have probably noticed a pretty consistent theme: 72-hour survival. Everyone suggests you need a three-day survival kit, but they all vary on what to put into it. This post can help you make informed decisions on assessing the where, what and how of an expected situation then putting together your own customized kit.
Type of Disaster
A key to understanding what to pack away for emergencies is understanding what kind of emergency you are likely to face. Knowing what types of scenarios are common to your regions is essential to planning an adequate survival kit.
- Tornadoes, wild fires, flash floods and man-made disasters like train derailment or chemical spills will require quick action during an evacuation, so your emergency supplies should be located where you can literally grab and go.
- Hurricanes or slow-rising floods often require you to leave your home but typically provide more notice.
- Other emergencies like winter storms may not require evacuation but could knock out power and utilities for an extended period of time.
You need to be prepared for the climate, terrain and other factors presented by your local geography. If you live in a cold environment, you will want to make heat and insulation more of a priority than someone living in Arizona. If precipitation is likely, you will need to make sure to have protection from rain or snow. Identify the particular seasonal needs of your area and prepare for each contingency.If disaster calls for evacuation, shelter will be your most important need once you are out of danger’s path.
Based on your geographical preparations, determine what kind of shelter you need based on likely weather conditions in your area. If you may face inclement weather then a tent makes real sense; just make sure it is sized to your family’s needs. If you’re more likely to need protection only from midday sun or a few drops from a passing shower, then a tarp may be the solution. A tarp is generally lighter and takes up less room in your kit; remember, you may be carrying all this
on your back.
Once you have assessed what types of emergency situations you may face, it is time to look at your own family circumstances. The needs of a family with small children vary greatly from that of an elderly couple. Beyond the obvious differences like diapers vs. prescription medications, children are going to want different foods, have different hygiene needs and so on.
Make sure to account for all members of your family, including any pets, and prepare your list of preparations to provide for everyone.Now that you have done all your pre-kit assembly planning, it is time to start getting everything together. Stay tuned for part two, where we will discuss a top priority in any survival kit: food and water.
Your Food, Water and Storage Techniques
When people think of emergency preparedness, the first thing they usually mention is food and water. Everyone knows that in order to survive a disaster, you have to keep your body properly nourished and strong. It is one thing to be displaced from the comforts of your home; it is entirely another when you are hungry and thirsty as well!
Water is the number one short-term need in just about every emergency. The rule of thumb is a minimum of one gallon a day per adult for drinking and hygiene. But water is heavy ⎯ 8.3lbs per gallon, which makes 25lbs of water per person per day! That’s going to get heavy and bulky in a hurry, so consider your situation. If you are not likely to have access to water, bite the bullet and carry it along. But if water sources are nearby, water purification is a great solution. There are many ways to accomplish this, whether it is tablets, filters or sterilizing pens. Choose what works best for you and tuck it away in your kit, but always keep some amount of ready-to-go water in your kit. The bottom line is to be conscientious of the resources available to you in your area.
In a survival situation, you want food requiring little to no preparation. It needs to keep well, be lightweight, and be something all family members are willing to eat. Try not to feel guilty if you can’t include fresh fruits and veggies in your emergency diet—some foods just don’t store well, and you need to keep your energy up by getting sufficient calories that are as healthy as possible. Vitamin supplements store easily and are a good replacement.
Don’t forget any special dietary needs of your family members, like baby food or allergies. Remember to rotate the foods in your kit ⎯ about every six months, unless it is packaged for long-term storage. If you forget, it should be fine, but as food gets older, it tends to lose both nutritive value and taste. Some of the best kinds of food for your kit are also popular snack foods (jerky, trail mix, nuts, granola bars, cookies, cereal, and hard candy), so you and your kids should enjoy rotating them out on a regular basis.
Of all the things you will keep in your 72-Hour Kit, food and water need the most care in how they are stored. The rule of thumb with all food storage is to keep it in a cool, dry, dark place; oftentimes, this means sticking it all in the basement. However, if a major threat in your area is earthquakes, this might not be the best place. The best kit in the world is useless at the bottom of a collapsed structure. A ground floor closet might be a letter solution, or maybe even in a backyard shed. If it does collapse, you have a lot less to dig through to find your supplies.
After a disaster hits, your top three priorities are shelter, food and water. Once you have taken care of these essentials, the reality of your situation sets in …you might be here for a little while. That is why you will want to be ready with clothing, hygiene and first aid supplies.
First Aid, Hygiene and Keeping Comfortable
In many disaster scenarios, injuries are likely, which is why every prepackaged survival kit on the market includes first aid supplies. Even more important than having a good first aid kit is knowing how to use it. The Red Cross and other organizations offer courses that are reasonably priced and could save the life of a loved one. You might want to follow up your training with a wilderness first aid course as well, since in a disaster/survival situation, transportation to a nearby hospital may not be an option. Once you are trained, you can customize your first aid kit by eliminating unnecessary items and adding other items not included. Don’t forget to include a short-term, fresh supply of your prescription medications and rotate them as necessary per the expiration dates.
Everyone must keep an eye and a nose on their personal hygiene. While you might be okay going without a shower for a few days, there are some important things to include in your survival kit to keep healthy. Toilet paper is obvious, as are diapers, but don’t forget a bottle or two of hand sanitizer, liquid soap and wet wipes. A backpacker’s trowel is good for digging cat-hole latrines, though many experts recommend a supply of plastic bags and ties for receiving and disposing of waste. Bleach is also worth a consideration and is good for everything from disinfecting to water purifying. Appropriate feminine hygiene items should be included as well. Your kids might like the idea of a tooth brushing vacation, but you will want to make sure to include toothbrushes and travel-sized paste. Remember that some of your water supply will need to go for hygiene requirements.
When you are surviving disaster, you are quickly reminded of all the comforts you once enjoyed. A clean change of clothes can make all the difference in helping you feel calm, collected and prepared for whatever might come next. Most survival kit lists include a complete change of clothes for each family member, but space may require some customization. For the little ones who are sure to fall into every mud puddle around, you might need two sets. If you have a high personal tolerance for being dirty, you might be okay just carrying some extra socks and underwear. As they say on the Internet, YMMV (your mileage may vary)!
In the interest of space, cost and convenience, most ready-made kits use a space blanket or Mylar sleeping bag. If you are likely to spend more time in really cold weather, you will need something more substantial. If you have space, a real sleeping bag greatly improves your comfort, but be careful not to pack these tightly. This will destroy their ability to loft, making them a shadow of their former insulating selves. An insulating layer under your sleeping bag can add extra comfort, protecting you from the cold, damp ground.
There are just a few more things to consider when customizing a complete 72-hour kit. They are essentials, but are too customized to really lump into any other category.
Lights, Tools and the Rest
Has the power ever gone out in your house, but you keep habitually flipping the light switch expecting it to work? We take light for granted, don’t we? There are many options for emergency light sources. Flashlights are small and lightweight, and hand crank models do not need batteries. Lanterns (battery- or fuel-powered) light up a larger area and can also act as a small heat source. The flicker of candles can be relaxing, while light sticks fascinate small children. Headlamps are a great utility item since they leave both hands free to rig a tent or prepare a meal. Be sure to rotate batteries as needed. Propane or butane cylinders for fuel lanterns typically have a shelf life of several years.
When it comes to tools, there are a few key essentials that will not take up much space or add too much weight. A multi-function pocketknife is the ultimate survival tool, just ask any Boy Scout. You will also want a crescent wrench for turning off the gas at the meter in case of earthquake or evacuation. Duct tape can be considered a tool and is very versatile. A saw or hatchet will be useful in collecting firewood should the necessity arise.
In the end, there infinite ways you can prepare your 72-hour survival kit. The following list is compiled from multiple Internet resources and all can justifiably be added to your kit. Be forewarned—the more you add, the more you carry:
- Local area map
- Corded phone
- Cell phone solar or crank charger
- Battery powered or crank radio
- Dust mask
- Plastic sheeting
- Pet food
- Copies of important documents
- Matches/butane lighter/magnesium fire starter
- Fire extinguisher
- Reading and writing materials, games or puzzles
- Poncho or other raingear
- Rope, bungee cords
- Cash (small bills and coins)
- Chemical hand and body warmer packs
- Sunscreen, insect repellent
- Sewing kit/safety pins
- Portable toilet
- Food utensils
- Potassium iodide tablets (nuclear emergency)
- Whistle, signal mirror
- Extra pair of gloves
- Trash bags
- Hammer, nails, staple gun
- Leather work gloves, shovel
- Disposable camera
Please use this post to help you determine how to best prepare your family for the disasters you are most likely to face. Then put together a survival kit that addresses those needs.
Remember, emergencies can and do happen when you least expect them. Make sure you and your family will be safe no matter the circumstances. Good luck!
A sampling of additional emergency preparedness sites:
- Ready.gov – official U.S. government website
- 72hours.org – run by the city of San Francisco containing great information for earthquake preparation.
- Nationalterroralert.com – official U.S. government website
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