The first step I recommend in beginning your Preparedness Plan is by creating what is known as a "72 Hour Kit".
If you do the research, the overwhelming consensus is that it takes emergency workers and/or relief aid at least 72 hours - that's 3 days - to arrive, get set up and begin offering assistance. And the first assistance that goes out will be to those people in your area who have the most critical needs. Recent conversations have even said that most Americans should plan to have basics for survival for up to 14 days in the event of a major emergency. A 72 Hour Kit is a great first step.
A well-prepared 72 Hour Kit will help to ensure that you can remain self-reliant during that time period when no outside assistance is available.
How do you put together a 72 Hour Kit? It really is not that hard and doesn't need to be expensive. We have one for each member of our family in an appropriately-sized backpack. To begin stocking our 72 Hour Kit, we use items from our pantry or purchase "one extra" of some things when we're at the store on a shopping trip.
What you use to store your items in is as individual as you are. We use backpacks appropriately sized for each person. Some people use luggage that has wheels. Some use duffel bags. What is important is that you find what works for you, what you can keep up with, what would be easy for you to grab and go with, something you can store in your home in a handy, accessible place.
First, you need to identify the major items that you would need for the first 3 days of survival in an emergency. Those things would include:
~Shelter / Protection from the elements / Bedding / Clothing
~First Aid / Trauma Supplies
~Personal Hygiene and Sanitation Supplies
~Copies of appropriate personal documents
Let's take a few minutes and look a little more closely at each of these items. While this might seem like an extensive listing, remember that our family keeps these items for each person in an appropriately-sized backpack. We're not trying to put our whole house in there - just the basics we need to get through 3 days or so. And, there is some economy of scale when you put together a pack for each family member, as it could end up lasting you much longer than 3 days if you needed it to and rationed your items carefully.
For obvious reasons, it is important to put items in your 72 Hour Kit that you and your family will actually use / eat. You don't want to go out and buy the latest and greatest astronaut nuggets if your family won't touch them with a ten-foot pole. We go through our packs once or twice each year - sometimes quarterly - to rotate in new items and we consume the items about to expire. So keep expiration dates in mind when putting food items in the kits. Also pay attention to things that might leak or have excessive smells that need to go in zip-lock bags.
One more thing. We put our 72 Hour Kits together so that they could keep us going for 3 or more days whether we were in our home OR if we had to evacuate because the building was not safe. You never know when you might end up needing to grab your kit and head out. An example - if the train that runs a couple of blocks from my home were to derail in the middle of the night and we received a knock on the door to evacuate - we have no way of knowing how long we might be gone. With our 72 Hour Kits ready to go we can just grab them on the way out and know that we have our basic needs met for the initial period of uncertainty that would surround such an event.
The easiest way I can think of to demonstrate putting a 72 Hour Kit together is to share with you what I have in mine. Our family spent time last week rotating our supplies. I keep an index card in a zip-lock baggie in an outside pocket on my 72 Hour backpack that lists everything that is inside it and where it is located (upper left pocket, lower zipper pocket, you get the idea). Here's what I have:
Okay, first items on the list are FOOD and WATER. You must have food and water to survive and you don't want to be at the mercy of someone who might be charging $30 a gallon for water. I want things that are tasty, easy to prepare and light-weight. My kit primarily has a couple of MREs (meals-ready-to-eat), a few pouches of those pasta side dish packets that you make up with warm water, some pouches of salmon, small cans of fruit, a few pouches of instant oatmeal or cream of wheat, granola bars, ramein noodle cups, chocolate pudding mix, bottled waters, water purification tablets, tea bags, hot chocolate mix, instant coffee, salt, sugar and pepper (each in an empty film canister that is labeled) a stainless steel cup, stainless steel spoon and stainless steel fork and a pocket knife. Things that are light-weight, easy to prepare and that don't take up a lot of room. Things that will sustain you and a few items for comfort (and in my case, a little caffeine!)
Next is HEAT and LIGHT. These two go together in my mind. I have some of those Hot Hands hand and feet warmers that activate when you open them and shake them, a lighter, matches, flashlight and spare batteries, lightstick (2) and a light-weight alcohol burning camp stove that could be used for heat and to cook. Light sticks are important, because they provide light without a flame and can be used in the event there is a gas leak.
For SHELTER I have a emergency tent and a reflective heating blanket. We keep our sleeping bags with our 72 Hour Kits and these could be used for shelter and/or bedding. We also keep a wool blanket with our kits.
For CLOTHING I have a pair of warm gloves, a warm face-mask, a scarf and wool cap. A change of clothing, socks, winter goggles. Remember when putting together clothing that cotton is a cooling fabric and might not be suitable in all environments. Wool is water resistant and makes a good choice for winter items.
For COMMUNICATION we store our hand crank / solar / battery / electric radio with our 72 Hour Kits. We have one that gets AM/FM/Weather Band and Short-Wave. We also have 2-way radios and CB radios stored with our 72 Hour Kits.
For BASIC TOOLS (some of this repeats from items in other categories, but also fits here) a flashlight, lightsticks, good pocket knife, can opener, small hatchet, small shovel, matches, lighter, candles, mosquito netting, rope, sunscreen, bug spray, basic fishing gear (no poles, just line and lures), rubber gloves, rubber bands, zipper ties, safety pins. Empty film canisters are fantastic for storing little items like safety pins! I also have some extra ammunition to match my carry handgun and our hunting rifle, along with some gun oil.
For FIRST AID I have baby wipes, bandages, pain relievers, antibiotic ointment, anti-diarrheal tablets, tylenol, benedryl, sudafed, extras of any prescription medications. We keep our family first aid kit and trauma bags located near our 72 Hour Kits to supplement the basics in our kits. In the event we had to evacuate to another location, we could grab our supplemental medical kits if we needed to.
For PERSONAL HYGIENE I have the baby wipes, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, a roll of toilet paper, cloth toilet wipes, a few diapers, tweezers, nail clippers, tampons (could also be used for first aid), hand sanitizer and liquid soap. NOTE: Take it from my learning experience and do not make the mistake of putting a bar of soap in your kit. A few years ago I had a bar of soap in my kit, in a zip-lock bag that was then put inside a small tupperware container. It was a uncolored, no "artificials" glycerin-type soap. And it smelled up everything in my kit. None of the packets of food were fit to eat as they all tasted like soap. I now put a small bottle of liquid Dr. Bronner's Castille Soap in a zip-lock baggie instead. No more soap smell!
For IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS: In a zip-lock bag I have copies of birth certificates, marriage license, social security cards, life insurance policies, bank account numbers, small pocket Bible and a photo of each family member.
For CASH: I usually keep about 20 dollars or so and some change just in case the Automatic Teller Machines are out of order. You can keep more emergency money on hand if you desire - for instance, if you needed to get a hotel room - in an emergency situation they might be accepting cash only for rooms.
This is a pretty good overview of what I have in my personal 72 Hour Kit. My husband's kit is a lot larger and has most of the above personal items and many additional items that would enhance mine. For the girls, they each primarily have a change of clothing, an MRE, a couple of books/school books/puzzles, a toy or comfort item, and personal hygiene items.
We keep our 72 Hour Kits all together with the supplemental items I mentioned in a rubbermaid tote near an exit of our home. My husband's kit is lots bigger, like his Army backpack, and his is stored next to our rubbermaid tote. By storing them this way, they are very accessible if we need to get them on the way out the door or if we need to bring them into a safe room, say during a tornado warning.
Our downstairs bathroom serves as our tornado warning shelter and I have a "mini" 72 Hour Kit that I keep under the bathroom sink. I also keep an extra emergency radio, small hatchet and a large juice-size bottle of water in this room. We keep extra juice bottles of water in all our bathrooms.
Please know that this is by no means an exhaustive listing or the only way you can put a kit together. This is an EXAMPLE of what works for our family for the region where we live. Your kit will be as unique as you are and should encompass those items that will work for you. I've tried to have this posting to serve as an example of things to think about - especially for the person new to prepping who might feel that it is an overwhelming task.
HOMEWORK: Make an effort to put together at least one 72 Hour Kit for your family this coming week. Please email me if you have questions about anything I've described here and feel free to share your trials or triumphs with us here in the comments!
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