Emergency Kits

The following is an excerpt from my book “Feasible Living”

Emergency Supplies

What does a cell phone in the toilet, an indoor dog fart, and an ice storm have in common? They are all emergencies and the degree that you are impacted will depend on what you have in hand at the time that they occur. Emergency supplies will supplement what you normally have on hand and will greatly lower the impact an event can have on you and your family.

What is important is getting the right mix of emergency supplies and having them in the right place. Unfortunately, most of the government emergency websites and even those run by disaster service organizations have outdated, misleading or incorrect information in this area.

An example: from the Homeland Security website (https://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit) April 5, 2019

“To assemble your kit, store items in airtight plastic bags and put your entire disaster supplies kit in one or two easy-to-carry containers such as plastic bins or a duffel bag.”

This doesn’t sound like a bad idea except that the first item on their list is water, 3 gallons (11 liters) per person or 25 lbs (11.4 kg). Logistically, this means that your “easy-to-carry” containers for a family of four will weigh around 150 pounds (68 kg) once the rest of the supplies are added. Not too practical if you had to evacuate quickly. A more sensible plan is needed.

For the purposes of this section, we will classify an emergency as some event, either natural or accidental, that puts you or your family at risk. It does not include the risk of someone intentionally trying to do you harm. Some examples include:

  • Weather-related events such as blizzards, flooding or tornadoes.
  • Water, electricity, natural gas or some other utility disruption for an extended period.
  • Physical injury due to an accident.
  • Communication outage that prevents critical communication between you and your family.

It is simply not practical to carry with you all the supplies needed all the time to handle any emergency. This means we need to sort out what items we need and exactly where they should be stored.

Your Home

If you are in or near your home when a crisis strikes, you have two choices of what to do. Either stay and ride the emergency out or evacuate.

The decision to stay usually means that there is no immediate threat to life and is usually the result of a power outage caused by an ice storm or hurricane, or a flooding event on nearby roads that makes leaving impossible. Regardless of the reason, there is the potential that you may need to survive for a week or longer on your own before the crisis passes and without the aid from disaster services.

The decision to voluntarily evacuate or perhaps be forced out by mandatory evacuation means that there is an imminent danger to you and your family. By evacuating, you are going somewhere safer and while this may be a stressful and dangerous event, the time you need to get to this destination is short, usually less than a day and rarely over a few.

These two different scenarios, leaving or staying, require many of the same emergency supplies but there are differences and for this reason, I would recommend that you keep two sets of supplies that complement each other.

The first would be very portable, for instance, in a backpack, and would contain everything that your family would need for a few days when away from your home. The second would stay in your home and could be stored in your basement or a closet. This second set of supplies would be used in conjunction with your portable supplies for when you decide to stay in your home during the crisis.

The table below contains a generalized list for both kits. You can start with this and then customize each to meet your specific needs. Most, if not all items can be purchased online or in either a camping or hardware store.

If you wish, you can purchase “ready-to-go” 72-hour portable kits through online retailers or through organizations like the Red Cross. If you do decide to purchase one of these ready-to-go kits, please remember to cross-reference the contents to the list below and add any items, like copies of your important papers, that may be missing.

The one item from the table below that is rather bulky is the water needed for the home kit. For a family of four, having a supply of about 50 gallons (189 liters) is recommended (enough to last about 2 weeks). An alternative for at least some of this, if you have one, is by draining water from your hot water heater (remember to turn the heater off first and to filter the water through something like a coffee filter before drinking).

Another important point is to stock your home kit with “ready-to-eat” food. You may think this is not important since you always have lots of food in your home, but will you? Remember that in a time of crisis, if your electricity is off, the food in your refrigerator and freezer will be spoiled within a few days.

You may have already experienced this or at least seen it on television. A hurricane is predicted to hit an area in a few days and people line up at stores to get supplies, usually to be greeted by empty shelves. Stocking this food now is easy and stress-free.

Finally, and perhaps the most important point:

Do not put anything in your kit

that you do not know how to use.

Item Home Kit 72-Hour Portable Kit
Water 12 gallons (45 liters) per person. ½ gallon (2 liters) per person in small pouches.
Water purification tablets, straw, or filter Enough for 20 gallons (75 liters) per person. Enough for 5 gallons (20 liters) per person.
Food Enough long shelf life food to last 2 weeks. Energy bars and snacks, at least 4,500 calories per person.
First aid kit Well-stocked kit. Smaller portable kit
Hand crank combo radio, flashlight, phone charger Get from 72-hour kit. Get a good quality one. Radio should pick up NOAA weather channels.
Dust masks Get from 72-hour kit. Re-usable N95 per person. Ensure children have proper-sized masks.
Duct tape Get from 72-hour kit. If the space station needs this, so do you!
Whistle Get from 72-hour kit. Used to get attention, if necessary. One per person.
Sanitation items Enough to last for 2 weeks. Enough for each person for a few days.
Multi-tool Get from 72-hour kit. Get a good one that includes at least a knife, plier, can opener, and screwdriver.
Copy of critical papers Get from 72-hour kit. Driver’s license, passport, contact list, deed to property.
Gloves Get from 72-hour kit. 1 set of latex or other medical glove, 1 set of heavy-duty work gloves.
Firestarter and kindling A good supply of waterproof matches, you can also use striker from 72-hour kit Ideally, a magnesium striker, but waterproof matches or lighter are okay.
Kindling for fire If you have a wood stove, fireplace or fire pit and have wood, then you can make your own kindling. A dozen or so cotton balls, pre-soaked in petroleum jelly.
Portable cooking stove A portable camping stove with enough fuel for 2 weeks. Cannot rely on barbeque since it may run out of fuel. Make sure in-door safe or use outdoors to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. This is not a camping trip! Though several 72-hour kits include a camping stove, I do not see the need for it. You can survive on cold food for a day or two. There are exceptions, such as if you need to heat formula for an infant.
Cash Get from 72-hour kit Small-denomination bills and coins. Ideally enough to buy a meal or two.
Entertainment Get from 72-hour kit or find something within your home. Books, cards, etc. Nothing electronic unless you can charge it manually.
Maps of local area Get from 72-hour kit. Good printed map of at least a 100-mile radius.
Extra set of house and car keys Get from 72-hour kit. If keys have a battery, store in a plastic bag.
Flashlights USB rechargeable LED flashlight. One per person. One USB rechargeable LED flashlight. Can be charged by your hand crank charger.
Candles Supply to last 2 weeks. A 50-hour candle or a couple of long-lasting light sticks.
Rope Get from 72-hour kit. 50 ft (15 m) or more of nylon cord or rope.
Blanket / Sleeping bags Get from home or from 72-hour kit. Emergency blanket or blanket/sleeping bag combination – one per person.
Clothes Get from home or from 72-hour kit One change of clothes
Other items to consider depending on location and your specific situation
Pet food and medicine Enough for 2 weeks. Enough for a few days.
Prescription medication, supplies, spare glasses, hearing aid batteries. Enough for 2 weeks. Watch shelf life and rotate as necessary. Enough for a few days. Watch shelf life and rotate as necessary.
Baby supplies – Diapers, formula, food. Enough for 2 weeks. Enough for a few days.
Rain ponchos Get from 72-hour kit. One for each person.
Extra socks Get from home or 72-hour kit. One pair per person. Important to keep feet as dry as possible.
Hats or toques. Get from home or 72-hour kit One per person.
Bug Spray Get from home or 72-hour kit Enough for a few days.

Your Vehicle

Though you may encounter a crisis while in or near your vehicle, the supplies that you should have in it varies considerably depending on the environment that you travel in. The following list shows common items to consider. Apply common sense when building this kit. If you live in an area that is warm year-round, you will not need a snow shovel. If you want to save a bit of time, you can buy pre-made kits.

The one gotcha with vehicle emergency kits is water. Though you can store water for years. If you live in an area that has freezing winter conditions, that bottle of water will turn into a block of ice which you may not be able to thaw out very easily if your car breaks down and you are stranded. Those of you that live in areas of extreme heat also must be careful, as the heat, over an extended period, will degrade plastic water bottles and contaminate the contents.

Given these issues, the practical advice is to take some water with you if you are intending on making a trip in adverse conditions and on roads that have little traffic where you may get stranded for an extended period.

One final point. If your car gets stuck in snow, make sure that the exterior exhaust pipe is clear from snow to prevent carbon monoxide buildup inside your vehicle.

Vehicle Emergency Kit Suggestions
Jumper cables First aid kit
Sturdy ice scraper and brush Collapsible shovel
Work gloves Rock salt, sand or kitty litter
Warm blanket Extra windshield washer fluid
Orange construction marking tape. Used for drawing attention to your vehicle Non-perishable snacks
50-hour candle Waterproof matches
Hand crank radio with USB charging port Poncho
Flares or reflective triangle Reflective traffic safety vest
Multi-tool Flare
Whistle Toilet paper
Safety hammer with seat belt cutter. Keep this item accessible, like in the glove box.

On your person

When you are away from your home and vehicle, you still can encounter a crisis. While it is not practical to carry around supplies, there are three things that nearly all of us have on them that we can stock up and will be useful.

On-Person Emergency Kit
Your Cell Phone There are several apps that can help in times of need. First Aid Manual, Flashlight, FEMA alerts, and ICE (In Case of Emergency) contact information are a few examples.
Your Wallet What happens if your phone runs out of power, breaks or gets lost and you need to get in touch with a family member? Do you have their numbers memorized? Having key phone numbers on a slip of paper in your wallet will handle this emergency.
Your Brain Take a first aid course. Online and classroom versions are available. They are cheap or free and only take a few hours.

More suggestions on how to cope with the global trends that are impacting us are in my latest book, “Feasible Living”