Disasters disrupt the orderly fabric of life for hundreds of thousands of people every year.

If a disaster occurs in your community, government and disaster-relief organizations will try to help you. But because rescuers may not be able to reach you immediately, or if their help is needed more urgently elsewhere, you need to be ready as well.

You should know how to respond to severe weather or any disaster that could occur in your area—hurricanes, earthquakes, extreme cold, flooding, or terrorism. You should also be ready to be self-sufficient for a minimum of three days. This may mean providing for your own shelter, first aid, food, water, and sanitation.

— from the FEMA publication “Are You Ready: An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness”


A Basic 72-hour Preparedness Kit

Adapted from “Equipped To Survive”: http://www.equipped.org/72yourkit.htm

Emergency preparedness doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t require you to buy special survival gear and supplies. It’s quite easy to assemble a basic 72 hour Emergency/Survival Kit with a trip to the supermarket and hardware store. By basic, we mean just the essentials and little more. Prudence suggests you’ll probably want more, and every kit needs to be adjusted to fit the environment in which you live.

What you are trying to achieve is the ability to take care of yourself and your loved ones during the first hours and days after a disaster or other emergency when government and volunteer services may not be able to respond as fully or quickly as desired. The reality is that it takes time to organize and marshal the equipment and people needed, and that you may well be on your own until then.

The essentials you need to survive for the short term are water and shelter. Everything else really is a luxury. That’s not to say there aren’t significant advantages to having food and medical supplies and the rest, but in terms of priority, they come second after the most basic essentials.


Water is fundamental to your body’s continued health. You can live and function fairly well for weeks without food, but even a day without water in many environments can disable or kill you.

Your absolute minimum goal should be a gallon of water per person per day – more in hot climates. Double that wouldn’t be too much even in temperate climates and that leaves nothing extra for personal hygiene. This will allow you to maintain your full strength, so you can take care of yourself and others. I recommend five gallons per person per day as a reasonable amount that is also practical for most to keep available.

Packaged water designed for emergency use generally has a minimum shelf life of five years, and it’ll probably be perfectly safe for years longer. You can use commercially bottled water, but you should rotate your supplies based on the expirations date on the package. These days the expiration time for commercially bottled water is often a couple of years. If stored out of the light, it increases the likely safe storage period.

You can buy water containers from camping or emergency preparedness stores and web sites. It’s better to stick with smaller sizes such as 2, 3 or 5 gallons. Larger that that and moving or transport becomes a real problem. Small sizes also make it much easier to share supplies or move the where the are most needed. Finally, if you have a leak or contamination problem, the impacts are minimized when the containers are small.

How should you treat water for storage? In most cases, tap water from municipal water systems should be free of pathogens. What you’re mostly concerned with is microorganisms that might be introduced during the filling process, as well as any odd bugs that got through the disinfection treatment. The simple solution is to treat the water with chlorine.

While it is true that most public water supplies are already disinfected with chlorine and that such water may retain enough residual disinfectant to kill any pathogens that might be introduced later, it’s just so simple to make sure, that it isn’t even worth debating. Just do it.

To treat potable water for storage, use liquid household chlorine bleach – the non-scented kind. Use fresh bleach no more than a few months old. The base treatment is four drops of bleach per quart or liter of water or sixteen drops of bleach per gallon or four-liter container of water. If you’re going to store large quantities, then just remember that 15 drops equals 1/4 teaspoon, so a teaspoonful equals 60 drops, enough to treat 3 3/4 gallons. A five gallon water can will take about 1 1/2 teaspoons of bleach.

Stir the water, cover, and allow to stand for 30 minutes. Uncap it and you ought to be able to smell chlorine. If you can’t, re-dose the water, stir, cover and let it stand another 30 minutes. Once done, seal or cap each container tightly. Be sure to label it clearly and permanently as potable water and the date you treated it.

I also recommend a water filter or water treatment product, as both a back-up and to supplement your water stores. There are numerous treatments available. My favorite specialized water disinfection treatment is Katadyn’s Micropur MP1 since it is virtually tasteless. You can also use Potable Aqua or similar iodine treatments, or any of the newer chlorine dioxide products, which unlike iodine impart practically no flavor to the water. You can get rid of iodine taste by adding vitamin C after the treatment regime is finished. Almost all the water treatments have limited shelf life, so keep that in mind.


The following 10-minute video from Fecks Productions documents some aspects of the historic tornado outbreak of 2011. Using footage shot mostly by residents on their cell phones and camcorders, it helps the viewer more readily appreciate the emotions experienced when people face nature’s fury in an up-close and very personal way. One or two sequences may be slightly melodramatic, but overall I believe the film does a good job of conveying what it was like to be there.



Structural damage such as occurs with severe windstorms may seriously reduce the ability of your home to shelter you from the elements. In many cases, roof and window damage can be remedied by a decent size tarp. The plastic reinforced tarps (typically bright blue) found at any hardware store will do very well in all but the coldest climates. Be sure you have some rope with which to secure it. Not quite as good, but still effective and even less expensive is heavy plastic sheeting (4 or 6 mils thick), available in a roll or sometimes sold as drop cloths. Also store some eight- to 12-foot lengths of dimensional lumber, together with a carpentry saw, several boxes of large nails and some hammers. Cut to size, lumber will give you the ability to securely fasten a tarp or plastic sheeting over blown-out windows or a damaged roof.

For those living where it may get cold, a good wool blanket for each person will be most welcome. Wool is warm, durable, breathable and fire resistant, and generally superior to the mylar “space blankets” widely sold for survival purposes. A good sleeping bag for each person would be even better.

In many areas you’ll want to be able to start a fire, so be sure to include some matches and a lighter. A lighter is easy to use, but they tend to be unreliable. It’s best to have waterproof and windproof matches. Camping stores will usually have some, or you can mail order some “strike anywhere” wood matches and waterproof them with candle wax or nail polish.

For cooking, a camping stove with appropriate fuel can be very handy. A single burner will do fine in most cases. Or, there are numerous types of canned or solid heat such as Sterno and Esbit. Charcoal has many disadvantages, not the least of which being that it produces large amounts of deadly carbon monoxide, so it should never be used inside your home, apartment or even a temporary shelter. More than a few families have died by trying to use charcoal to heat a home or apartment or for cooking inside.

If you plan to cook, you’ll also need at least one pot and some cooking utensils. Some eating utensils, a fork and spoon at a minimum for each person, will be handy in any case.


The first and most personal defense against the element is your clothing. Store at least one set of heavy work clothes for each person and sturdy boots along with a few changes of underwear and socks. Appropriate outer clothing – raingear in regions where it rains, and cold-weather gear for areas where it gets seriously cold. Wet feet and frozen hands are two of the quickest ways to become a casualty when forced to be outside your home or car.


Most of us will do quite well on 2,000 calories a day in an emergency situation, though you may want more if you anticipate heavy work or cold weather. Complex carbohydrates are the best for this purpose, starches and the like. They provide long lasting energy and are easy to digest using minimal water. Packaged survival rations are heavily stacked in this direction, along with some fats. Protein is not as critical in the sort term and requires much more water to digest. Simple sugars, such as candy, aren’t much use unless you’re looking for a quick, short energy boost.

While rations provide the most compact food source and they have a minimum five year shelf life, there are plenty of suitable non-perishable foods in the grocery store and they taste much better than even the best emergency rations. Canned beans and similar staples are a time-honored survival food that will see you through and will last for years in storage. Make sure you have a manually operated can opener, and a back-up, to open these cans or any you might get elsewhere after a disaster. Nuts and trail mix also make good survival food, but generally don’t have anywhere near as long a shelf life. Beware of some “power bars” that contain more sugars and protein than you want and avoid jerky as a primary food source. Unless you are assured of a reliable source of potable water, and any city source or a well using an electrical pump is not a reliable source, don’t rely upon dry foods such as rice or pasta, or dehydrated or freeze dried foods.

Store food you like to eat when at all possible. It’s difficult enough in a survival circumstance without having to force down food you don’t particularly like. Also, a meal of food you like does a whole lot more for your positive state of mind that just something to fill your belly.

First Aid

Your best bet to find a decent pre-assembled first aid kit will likely be at an outdoors sports store.

However, you can put together what you really need at any supermarket or drug store. A good supply of adhesive bandages, not just a few, a quantity of large gauze pads and a large roll of adhesive tape, a few rolled bandages and at least one elastic bandage will serve as a good start. Some antiseptic, such as povidone-iodine, and antibiotic ointment will round out your basic supplies. Add some over the counter analgesics for the aches that are likely to accompany any disaster. Simple antibiotic soap, such as Dial, will almost always prove useful. You can use a plastic Tupperware-style container to hold it all, dry and secure.

The thing to keep in mind is that some types of disasters tend to create real injuries, or opportunities for injuries, not just small cuts and scrapes. You should be prepared to deal with something like a broken bone or a moderate size bleeding wound, at least for a period of time until help arrives. Generally, you’ll want to be able to change out bandages daily. The point being, it takes a fair bit of basics such as bandages to be truly prepared; most first aid kits assume no serious injury and that a call to 911 will bring help immediately. In a disaster help may take a while to arrive.

If you or your loved ones require a personal medications, make sure you have it available for use in a emergency. Keep a two week supply on hand. If you wear contacts, make sure you’re covered with maintenance supplies, or replacements if using disposables. Whether wearing contacts or glasses, always have a spare pair of glasses.


A decent quality knife is the most basic tool you’ll need. Beyond that, a multi-purpose tool or a selection of screwdrivers and pliers will come in handy. A hammer or pry bar may save the day, especially if homes and cars are damaged with people trapped inside.

Also, make sure everyone has sturdy leather work gloves.


If you need a flashlight, you generally need it bad and it needs to work reliably. It ought to be waterproof, just in case. Invest in a good quality flashlight. LED flashlights are preferred for their generally superior ruggedness and reliability. Head-mounted lights, such as used by workmen and campers, make the perfect emergency light since they leave you with both hands free. It’s best to have one light for each family member.

A lantern can also be extremely useful for general area lighting.

Be sure you have spare batteries.


A battery operated AM/FM radio is a must in order to stay informed. There are also models available that will work with a hand crank if the batteries are dead. Make sure to keep fresh batteries on hand.

An alternative means to charge your cell phone may be a good idea. The Sidewinder is a crank style charger that’s about the best, but it doesn’t work with all phones. You can also get simple AA-cell powered rechargers with various features.

While cell systems are often overloaded during emergencies, text messaging using your cell phone can often get through when a voice call will not.


Don’t forget your identification, money and critical important papers.

Money can solve a lot of problems in the days and weeks immediately after a disaster. You should have no less than $100, plus a roll of quarters.

Always have at least two solid credit cards and at least one $25 minimum pre-paid calling card.

Toilet paper is always in short supply; make sure you have plenty. A porta-potty is another excellent item to have.

There are few things that cannot be fixed with a little wire, rope and duct tape. Every basic kit should have plenty of all three, especially duct tape.

Blackouts can present a real problem in the summer due to the heat. A simple manual operated, old-fashioned fan could make all the difference. Consider a battery and/or solar power source and/or inverter to run a small electric fan.

There is really no end of supplies and gear that you could include. But, these basics will see you though in most situations and you won’t break the bank assembling them.

You can store many of your supplies in a set of five gallon pails, which are waterproof and will stand up to plenty of abuse. Other possibilities are rugged plastic storage boxes, old suitcases, and heavy military surplus duffle bags. Consider including one or more backpacks in your storage too, as this gives you the option of carrying a few supplies with you, should evacuation become necessary.


Another excellent source of Emergency Preparedness information is provided by

the City and County of San Franciso at http://72hours.org