From FEMA to Red Cross to prepper sites across the internet, everyone agrees: the first thing you should do to be prepared for an emergency it to have a 72-hour kit (or bug-out-bag) for each family member.
Now you can go all out and buy a ready-made kit from any number of on-line sites, but they are expensive and may not have all the items that your family needs, especially if you have young children or family members with special needs. Making your own kit is usually cheaper and ensures that you have exactly what your family needs in a time of disaster.
Develop a family plan
Based on the emergencies you are most likely going to face, develop a family emergency plan.
- What types of disasters are you likely to face?
- Will those types of emergencies require you to evacuate?
- How many are you preparing for?
- What are your special needs? (Very young children, babies in diapers, pets, family members with medical needs or physical limitations, etc.)
- Where will you go?
- How will you get there?
- Do you have an alternate route?
- What will you do if you get separated?
- What must you take with you?
After you develop your emergency plan, you should practice it so that everyone feels confident about what to do when an emergency strikes.
What will you put your kit in?
Most people like to store their 72-hr kits in a backpack. Each family member is responsible for grabbing their own backpack in an emergency. A backpack allows for quicker and simpler evacuation. But you might prefer to have one big family kit stored in a large plastic tote. This is a good option for families with young children or handicapped family members who cannot manage their own backpack.
You should store your kit(s) in an easy-to-access place. When an emergency strikes, you don’t want to waste time looking for your kits or having to dig through lots of stored items to find them.
Food and Water: The most important components of your kit
Start Shopping at Home
After you make your list of what you need to go in your kit, go through your house. You may find that you already have many of these items on hand. Then make a list of what you still need to buy to complete your kit. Keep this list with you, in your purse or car. Then, whenever you run across a rummage sale or store sale, you’ll be able to fill that list at a bargain price.
Food: When choosing food for your kit, look for nutrient-dense foods that don’t take a lot of room and are lightweight. There are two problems with having “real food” in your kit: 1-Back pack space is limited and real food can take up a lot of space. And 2-Real food has a shorter shelf life, so you will need to watch for expiration dates. Check your kits at least once a year and replace any expired food. A third problem may be cooking the food. If the food in your kit is uncooked or needs to be re-heated, that’s one more layer of complexity you’ll need to consider.
Two simple solutions are emergency food bars and MREs. You can get calorie-dense nutrition bars from most prepper sites. They are compact and usually have a long storage like. These high-density meal bars will satisfy your caloric needs but they won’t fill you up. And what about the flavor? Well, for that you need to open one up and taste it and there goes your emergency ration.
MRE’s are another favorite for emergency kits. These are already cooked and need only a little heat to reheat them. If you buy military MRE’s, they come with heating packet that you can activate by adding water. Or you can reheat with an alcohol heater, a can of Sterno or a candle. MRE’s typically have a shelf life of 7 years.
Instead of MREs, consider freeze-dried meals. These are very tasty and are compact and lightweight. Many taste great right out of the bag, but they can also be easily heated and reconstituted by adding boiling water. Outdoor and camping suppliers also have a very nice selection of freeze-dried meals. Un-opened freeze-dried meals have a shelf life of 20-30 years.
There are lots of ready-to-heat foods you can get from the grocery store. They are less expensive than freeze-dried meals and MRE’s and much tastier than MRE’s. An even less expensive alternative: dehydrate your family’s favorite meals and put them in one-meal portions in a zip-lock baggie. These homemade “MRE’s” are easy to reheat–just reconstitute them with boiling water.
If you decide to go with “real food” instead of energy bars, you will also need to pack a mess kit of some kind to heat and eat the food.
Water: You typically need a gallon of water per person per day. But it can be impractical to store that much water in a 72-hr kit. So have a 1-liter bottle of water but consider supplementing that with water purification tablets or a personal water filter.
Now it’s time to build your kit
Now that you have an idea of what you are preparing for and what your plan is, it’s time to build your 72-hour kit. There are five components to your kit:
- Food and water–You will want enough food for 2000-3000 calories/day and at least one liter of water* Include a mess kit or something to heat and eat your food. Be sure to include formula if needed for infants. Multivitamins will help ensure you are getting what your body needs during a stressful time.
- Light–A solar-powered or hand-crank flashlight is best. Other options include: candles, battery-powered flashlights, kerosene lamps.
- Warmth–You’ll want to be able to stay warm if your emergency occurs during winter months. You may want to include blankets, hand and foot warmers and extra socks, gloves and hat.
- First Aid–This can be anything from a simple, pocket-sized first aid kit with a couple aspirin and band-aids to a complete medical kit. Make your own or buy a ready-made kit. You should include any prescription medications* that family members require as well as over-the-counter medications* you commonly use.
- Hygiene and Comfort–You’ll want to stay clean and comfortable during the stress of a crisis. You should have toilet paper, hand wipes and soap (hand soap, travel-size shampoo and dish soap). Don’t forget a toothbrush and toothpaste. Include a couple plastic grocery bags for garbage and dirty clothes. Include a change of clothes, underwear and socks* as well as games, pen/pencil and notepaper. You should have an eyeglass repair kit if anyone in the family wears glasses. (I got mine at the dollar store.) Be sure to include important information such as house and medical insurance and important phone numbers.
*Every Six Months
Check and update your kit every six months. Replace food that is about to expire. Make sure that clothing is adequate for the upcoming season. Replace any clothing that does not fit your child.
Let’s go shopping
Thrift stores and rummage sales: This is where I start shopping for my 72-hour kits. Hopefully you will never need to use this kit, so there’s no reason to go all out and buy a bunch of new stuff. Some of the things you might find in thrift stores: backpacks, flashlights, blankets, mess kits, towels, extra clothing, compact tool kit and candles.
Dollar store: Again, you don’t want to spend a fortune on a kit that (hopefully!) you will never need. At the dollar store look for games/toys, pen/pencil and notepad, first aid supplies, towels, wipes, travel-size soap, shampoo and toothpaste, toothbrush, eyeglass repair kit, sewing kit, ready-to-eat food and flash lights. Here’s a video of someone who made her complete family 72-hour kit shopping at the dollar store.
Hardware store: Look for flashlights, batteries, rope, duct tape, clothes pins, bungee cords, tool kit.
Camping or sporting goods store: backpacks, compact shovel, mess kit, compact blanket, hand and foot warmers, personal water filter, solar powered flashlight, kerosene lamp.
General store: backpacks, socks, underwear, plastic eating-utensils, travel-size soap, shampoo and toothpaste, toothbrush, first aid kit or supplies to make your own family first aid kit.
Make a list and set a budget
Now make a list of what you need for your kits, and set a budget of how much you can spend each week. Keep this shopping list with you. Then when you run across rummage sales or sales in the stores, you know what you still need to get. Each week buy as much as your budget will allow. Store your purchases in the designated backpacks or storage bin.
And you’ll want important information
You’ll want to be able to contact family and friends to report that you are safe or to see how they are doing. So have a card with important contact information. The important contact information should include the name of your insurance agent and ID numbers of your insurance policies.
You’ll also want a card with a brief medical history for each family member. This is especially important if you have family members with a chronic or compromising medical condition. Along with medical information, have a copy of your medical insurance card.
Finally, include all this information as well as copies of important documents and family pictures on a flash drive or storage disc. This will be especially helpful if you have suffered property loss or cannot get the originals.
Are your kits really complete?
Once you assemble your kits and they are ready to use, it’s time for a practice run. This is lke a fire drill,. Everyone should put the plan into action, grabbing their kit and going to the designated meeting place. This is a mock 3-day emergency condensed into a couple hours. You want to know that everyone knows how to use the contents of the bag and to see if you are missing any vital ingredients.
Making a plan, getting your supplies and practicing your plan. You’ve taken all the important steps to be prepared for an emergency. You can rest easier knowing your family has made so much progress towards being prepared.