Before the Weather Hits: How to Make Your Own Emergency Survival Kit
Earthquakes. Hurricanes. Tsunamis. Volcanic explosions. Floods. Tornadoes. Fire. Terrorist attack. There are any number of events that can turn your life into a fight for survival. You've got a better chance of winning that fight if you are prepared.
Frugal Man and I have been talking about needing to assemble a 72 Hour Emergency Survival Kit for a while. With the 7.1 earthquake in Christchurch and more than 700 aftershocks in the South Island of New Zealand, we decided we'd better do something about it NOW.
When we lived in Auckland, we were sitting on a field of 50 volcanoes. Here in Northland, we are only a few km away from a geothermal power station so we know we are in a high risk area for earthquake and/or volcanic eruption. Living on the Pacific Ring of Fire (cue Johnny Cash) has its downsides.
Your likely disasters may be hurricane, flood or tornado. No matter the risk factor, you should be ready to face what comes.
If you aren't someone who likes to camp, your best bet is probably to buy a ready-made 72 hour kit like the ones here or here in NZ or in the US here and here. (Note, these sites are getting SLAMMED post-earthquake, so if the links don't work, try again in a few days.) Otherwise, if you put your gear together in one ready-to-grab bag and supplement it with a few specialist items, you can save a lot of cash. We will save nearly $200 off the price of a 2 person kit by buying only the few things we lack.
Follow the guide below to help you decide what you have on hand and what you need to get for your survival kit ASAP.
Food and Water
You'll need enough food to feed each member of your family for 72 hours. No cook options are the best way to go for this kit. We are getting our emergency rations here. The food cubes require no cooking and are shelf stable for 5 years. We'll be able to pop our rations in our emergency kit and be done.
Grocery store meal replacement bars are a good start until you can get some shelf stable emergency food. Choose ones that are NOT for dieters. If you are in a disaster, you'll need whatever calories you can get. Make sure they also have carbohydrates for energy. If you choose to use these as your permanent food option, be aware you will need at least NINE per person, beware of them being pulled out of the pack and eaten when you are short in the pantry and keep an eye on the expiration date. Hiking store bars are more likely to have a well rounded nutritional profile.
I've also packed a couple of freeze-dried hiker meals, our camp stove, fuel, camp pots and cigarette lighter. For any emergency that extends beyond 72 hours, we have a store of tinned food, a can opener, and our BBQ stove that works on gas. We may invest in an additional gas bottle so we know we'll always have a full one.
If you live in the States or can otherwise find Military Surplus MREs (Meals-Ready to Eat), they are a good option for your 2 week emergency food supply. High calorie, self-heating and compact, they will sustain you well if it takes a long time for help to come.
We have a container of cat food in the kit for our felines. Since this isn't long term shelf stable, it will need to be replaced every few months.
For our water needs, we have iodine tablets to easily treat water, water bottles for filling and a store of bottled water. Don't forget your hot water heater and toilet cisterns as sources of water. If you are facing a natural disaster with some lead time like a hurricane, fill your bathtub and basins with water as well.
We have a three person tent (good for two people plus gear) and sleeping bags. As additional emergency measures, I've got a couple of emergency bags to toss in the kit. They are made of the same material as those shiny silver blankets, but you can crawl into them. These are ultra-thin and light plus they also make good signaling flags.
Lighting and Communications
Get yourself a crank powered radio/torch/cell phone charger like the one here and kill three birds with one stone. It is small, light and multi-purpose. A solar powered one may be useful in some situations, but if you are near a volcanic eruption, sunlight may be in short supply. You may also want to have a few light sticks (glow sticks) and long burn candles plus water-proof matches.
Emergency whistles, ones with no moving parts, are a good idea for each member of the family. If you become separated, it will be much easier to communicate and find each other with whistles than shouting.
Toilet paper or something else to wipe your bum is a must. I've packed a resealable refill packet of baby wipes. These serve the same function as TP, but have the advantages of being flat and acting as a make shift bath as well.
Large rubbish bags can serve as make-shift toileting areas. Pack several rubbish bags as they are good for any number of purposes in an emergency.
Ladies of child-bearing age should also pack tampons or sanitary pads. If disaster strikes, no doubt it will arrive during Aunt Flo's visit for maximum annoyance.
First Aid and Medicines
Invest in a decent first aid kit if you don't have one. We have two. One is basic and good for hiking day trips, the other is larger and more extensive. The bigger first aid kit is packed in our survival kit. The larger kit also has some basic first aid information in it.
If you have medicines you require, try and keep and easy to grab bag of your meds. Putting a supply in a long term storage kit like this may lead to having expired meds in an emergency.
If you have room in your emergency kit or perhaps in an extra bag kept near it, pack a change of clothes for each member of the family. I've packed polypropylene and silk thermal underwear along with extra socks. In NZ, we are much more likely to be in danger of hypothermia than heat exhaustion. Having sturdy shoes near your emergency kit is also a good idea. Waterproof plastic ponchos are cheap and light, so get one for each family member.
You might not think to pack gloves, but they are important in any situation where you may need to move rubble to get to family members, pets or possessions. You don't want to stop your search for survivors or risk infection due to lack of protection for your hands. Leather ones are good if you have them. We have one pair of women's size garden gloves, so I've added some old man-sized ski gloves in the pack. They will do in a pinch.
A Leatherman or Swiss Army knife type multi-tool can be a life saver. I prefer a Leatherman-type tool with pliers.
Rope can be useful in a number of situations. Pack a length of the light-weight braided kind.
Dust masks. Breathing is a good thing. Please don't stop on my account.
You won't be able to ask Google for advice so pack a pocket survival guide. Stress and injury will affect your ability to reason, plus you may not be a survival expert on your best day. A small book like this one can help you figure out what to do when your thinking isn't at its best.
Finally, you'll need a backpack to put it all in, if you have a rain cover for your pack, include it.
Assemble your kit NOW, and you'll know you are as ready as you can be for a survival situation. Wait a few days and it is easy to push it to the back of your mind and the bottom of the To-Do list. For a complete list of what we have in our Emergency Survival Kit, click here.
For excellent advice on making it through emergencies and designing an Emergency Plan for your family visit GetThru, the emergency preparedness website of New Zealand Civil Defence or try the US government information at FEMA.
Take care. Be prepared. Survive.
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Does your family have a complete Emergency Survival Kit easily at hand? If not, what pieces are you missing?