These short-term emergency kits, also known as “grab-and-run kits,” should be readily accessible and cover the basic daily needs of your family for a period of at least three days. Please note that three days is a minimal time period (in Kobe Japan, it was nine days before many survivors received food and water) and that you should have at least one or two weeks’ supply of food stored in or around your home. You may purchase ready-made 72-hour kits from various survival supply outlets, or you can put together your own. Large families should probably divide up the stores between several easily grabbed small backpacks or plastic containers. One advantage to building your own kits is that you get to choose foods that you like. Remember that all foods have some kind of shelf life. Rotate stores and use them or lose them! Bug infested, rancid, or rotten food doesn’t do anyone any good. (NOTE: Each chapter in my book contains a resource guide to help readers locate suppliers to purchase the materials covered by that chapter, such as the special supplies in the Grab-And-Run Kits).
If you live in or near a city which you feel might be a terrorist target, I would keep smaller Grab-And-Run kits in each car, plus a more fully stocked version at home that is readily throw into a car at the last minute. In the event that automobile travel is not an option, and you need to escape a disaster area by foot, I like to keep a large internal frame mountaineering type backpack on hand that is big enough to hold my complete Grab-And-Run kit plus extra camping materials and food supplies. Other goods may be stored in plastic containers that are easily loaded into an automobile.
Consider placing all of the following items in your 72-hour survival kit:
- Portable radio, preferably one that works with dead batteries, or no batteries at all, such as one with a hand generator crank or solar cells (available through survival and surplus outlets).
- First aid kit with first aid and survival handbooks (my book covers both). I suggest a small compact first aid kit for mini Grab-And run kits and a more comprehensive first aid kit (see my book, or my web site article, First Aid Kits) for your plastic tub containing optional materials that you can toss into your car.
- Water, water purification chemicals, and/or purifying filter. Enough to provide one gallon per person per day (see Chapter 5: Water, for more information on filters and purification, or my web site article, Disinfecting Your Water). Retort (foil) pouches can handle freezing in a car trunk, but most other water containers can’t handle freezing without the potential for bursting. Three gallons per person is heavy (24 lbs), so I strongly suggest that you include a water filter and water treatment chemicals. I suggest pump type back country filters, such as those made by Katadyn or MSR, that are rated to filter out all bacteria and have a carbon core to remove toxic chemicals, bad tastes and odors. Boiling kills all bacteria and viruses but is not always an option and does nothing to remove toxic chemicals, bad tastes and odors. Also, supplement your filter(s) with purifying iodine crystals (or other chemicals), such as a “Polar Pure” water purification kit, to kill all viruses that may not be removed by filters. Pump filters that are rated for virus removal have tiny pore sizes and tend to clog quickly (a clogged filter is worthless).
- Waterproof and windproof matches in a waterproof container, and a utility-type butane (large, with extended tip) lighter.
I also like to include a compact magnesium rod type fire starter, which is water proof and will light hundreds of fires with just a knife to scrape against the magnesium bar and its flint sparker.
- Wool or pile blankets (avoid cotton) because they are warm when wet, or a sleeping bag. A heat-reflective, waterproof “space blanket” is a good emergency type item in a compact kit. Fiber-pile, mountaineering-quality sleeping bags are great, if you have the room for it (no down sleeping bags, because they are worthless if wet).
- Flashlight with spare batteries, or solar recharge flashlight. I highly recommend that you purchase a headlamp with LED bulbs. Headlamps leave your hands free to carry things or fix things. LED bulbs use a fraction of the power, are far more shock resistant, and last far longer than traditional light bulbs so your batteries last many times longer.
- Candles (useful for lighting fires with damp wood) and a couple light sticks (emergency light when nothing else works or explosive gases are present).
- Toiletries, including toilet paper (store in water proof zip lock bag), toothbrush, soap, razor, shampoo, sanitary napkins (also good for severe bleeding wounds), several packs of dental floss (for tying things), sun screen, extra eyeglasses, diapers, and so on.
- Food for three days per person, minimum. Use foods you will eat, and that store well, such as nuts, sport bars, canned vegetables, fruits, meats, dry cereals, and military type preserved meals (available at surplus and survival stores). Freeze dried back packing foods are lightest, but only work if you have a stove for hot water.
- A Swiss army knife, or a stainless steel multi-tool knife (Leatherman), with scissors, can opener, blades, and screwdrivers.
- Map, compass, and whistle. When you are in a weakened state, or have a parched throat, a whistle may draw someone’s attention and save your life. In smoke or fog, a compass may be the only thing pointing you in the right direction. I like to keep my compass on a string so I can hang it around my neck for easy reference in confusing situations (darkness, fog, smoke, etc.)
- Sewing kit with extra–heavy-duty thread and at least two extra heavy duty needles. Should be strong enough to stitch a torn strap onto your backpack. A “Speedy Stitching Awl” works great for heavy duty repairs.
- Towel or dishcloth.
- Knives, forks, spoons, and so on. A camping “mess kit” is a compact set of utensils.
- Tent and/or roll of plastic sheeting for shelter.
- Extra clothing, such as long underwear, hat, jacket, waterproof mittens, leather work gloves, rain coat or poncho, sturdy boots, and so on. Remember, cotton is almost worthless when wet, but wool and specialty outdoor clothing (usually polyester) wicks moisture and is warm when wet.
- Entertainment for kids and other special needs (prescription medicines, diapers, extra glasses, etc.).
- 50 feet of heavy duty nylon string or light rope.
- Record of bank numbers and important telephone numbers.
- Spare checks and cash. Many Katrina victims were caught without any cash. TIP: Use a bank that has widespread branch locations so their records won’t disappear in a severe local disaster, leaving you with no bank account access.
I suggest you keep the following items in one handy location so you can add them to your “Grab-And-Run” kit if you have the time, space, and need in your particular situation:
- Compact camping stove for boiling water and cooking food. I personally like the back country multi-fuel stoves by MSR. Remember to store a spare fuel bottle too!
- Back country camping gear, like a large internal frame pack, foam sleeping pad (Thermarest, Ensolite, etc.), a large low cost tent (comfortable, but won’t stand up to heavy wind and snow), a smaller more expensive 3 or 4 season back country or expedition style tent that can stand up to high winds and/or snow (in case you will be without shelter for some time, or need to carry all supplies on your back).
- A large capacity water filter, that is gravity or siphon fed, like the ones from MSR or Berkefeld, will process many more gallons of water with far greater ease than the smaller pump type back country filters. A high capacity filter is great to have on hand if you have the room for it, or the capacity need (water for several people or more).
- A more comprehensive first aid kit than you would normally carry on your back into the backcountry.
- In major metro areas where terrorism is a concern, or rural areas where wildfires are a concern, I suggest you include a painter’s respirator with activated carbon filter canisters, or a gas mask, for filtering out smoke and/or noxious fumes. Painter’s respirators are not very expensive and can be found at any large hardware store or builder’s supply house (Home Depot, Lowes, etc.). Gas masks can be found at army surplus or survival outlets.
- 25 kitchen-size garbage bags and sewage treatment chemicals (powdered type preferred) for garbage and toilet sewage. A few large hefty bags can double for raincoats, ground cloths, and shelter. I usually skip the sewage treatment chemicals (lime, etc.), but if you live in an urban area with major earthquake or terrorist potential, it is probably a good idea to have some lime on hand to cut the smell of human waste.
TIP: If you are not a seasoned outdoors type person, I suggest that you begin to practice outdoor skills with a little car camping and follow that with some easy back packing. There is nothing like carrying all your gear on your back for a few days in the woods to teach you what really counts and what you can easily do without. The skills you learn in the back country will make surviving a disaster much easier, and more comfortable, and may help save the lives of your friends and family. Your local back country specialty store can provide you with all the gear you need, plus books and basic instructions to get you started. Additionally, you can attend one of many different backcountry schools to learn these skills in a safe well supervised environment (NOLS, Outward Bound, etc.)
By Matthew Stein, P.E., Author of When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance and Planetary Survival, ISBN #978-1933392837, published by Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT (800) 639-4099 http://www.chelseagreen.com