Emergency Kits: Expert Guide to Preparing for Any Disaster
Here at Pelican, we’re all about taking a page out of the Boy Scouts manual, and we always want to be prepared. But with all the fearmongering and misinformation floating around out there, it’s a fair question: Do you really need an emergency kit? The answer is yes, and here’s why: large-scale disasters can limit our ability to access essential resources, including food, water, shelter and healthcare. In an ideal world, you’ll never have to crack open your emergency kit, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
What kind of emergency kit is best? The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends keeping a 72-hour emergency preparedness kit in your home, workplace or vehicle to plan ahead for disasters, including viral disease outbreaks (such as the recent COVID-19 or coronavirus outbreak), terrorist attacks, fires, floods, tsunamis and other natural disasters. These kits are meant to keep you safe, self-sufficient and alive for at least 72 hours at home and away. If keeping a disaster kit in your home and storage space is unlimited, consider adding extra supplies to sustain yourself and your family for longer periods of time.
The Key Principles of Emergency Kits
Even if you know exactly what to pack in your emergency disaster kit, it’s possible that you’ll make a few of the most common mistakes when creating or accessing it. Improperly storing your emergency supplies or regularly drawing from your kit could cause issues when you need to access its contents, and that’s not a good situation when you’re in a panicked state of mind. Follow these principles of emergency preparedness to ensure that your kit is accessible and ready to go if needed.
- Start with a Tough Case — What good are emergency supplies if they’re susceptible to impact or water damage? Start with a crush-proof, waterproof hard-sided case to store all of your gear. Bigger is better here, since you’ll need to stash gallons of water and lots of gear. We recommend choosing a wheeled case from the Protector Series to ensure that you’re always able to get to your emergency supplies when you need them fast.
- Know That Organization is Key — When you’re panicked, you don’t have much time to think, and you’re more likely to make mistakes that could have drastic consequences. Keeping every component of your emergency kit separated and clearly labeled will help ensure that you get what you need quickly without making any serious mistakes.
- Don’t Remove Gear from the Kit — We all occasionally need to use our tactical flashlight or reach for the spare batteries, but resist the urge. Everything you have in your emergency kit should be exclusively for your emergency kit and should not be accessed during day-to-day life. If you treat your kit as a backup for routine tasks and situations, you risk forgetting to replace items and going without in an emergency.
- Follow the Rule of Threes — The reason why many experts recommend the 72-hour disaster kit is because it lasts for three days, and that’s a crucial number in survival scenarios. Survivalists follow the rule of threes — you can survive three minutes without air, three days without water and three weeks without food. Keep this in mind as you prepare your survival kit to last you three days at minimum.
- Follow the Recommendations — Remember, not every kind of emergency is the same, and each one will require a different set of tools and skills. One of the best things you can do is follow all recommendations set forth by FEMA, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Red Cross, Homeland Security and statewide emergency management agencies. These organizations will provide disaster-specific advice to follow in the event of an emergency to help alleviate the fallout and lessen effects.
- Consider Your Environment — Not all disasters require the same set of supplies. Recovering from disastrous flooding will call for much different gear than a quarantine during a pandemic outbreak. However, since some areas of the world are more prone to certain disasters than others — hurricanes along the eastern coast, wildfires out west — you can prepare to a certain degree. Keep geographical considerations in mind while building your preparedness supply kit.
- Make it Portable and Easy to Transport — Note that the standard 72-hour emergency kit differs from the popular bug-out bag (BOB) or quick-run bag (QRB) because it isn’t necessarily made for portability. However, you can certainly create a 72-hour disaster kit that’s portable by housing all your goods in a large, rolling case somewhere near the door or emergency exit. Durable, large duffel bags are also great for housing your non-water emergency supplies in a way that’s ideal for grabbing and going.
What to Include in a 72-Hour Emergency Kit
There are different schools of thought regarding what to pack in an emergency kit, but the following components are commonly recommended in most applications. These are the basics you should have for at least three days of safety and survival in the event of a disaster.
- Water and Water Supplies — Access to clean water is crucial in survival scenarios, and there should be an emphasis on the clean. You don’t want to be sick in an emergency environment, so clean water is key. Next to life-saving medical supplies, this is the single most important item in your emergency kit.
- A half-gallon of drinking water per person per day plus a half gallon of cleaning and bathing water per person per day
- Water filtration system or tablets to ensure clean water
- Rainwater harvesting system (optional) for supply after yours runs out
- Soft or folding water bottle for portable applications
- Food and Sustenance — Sure, you can go three weeks without food, but doing so will zap you of the energy and nutrients you need to stay alert and responsive under duress. Be sure to have at least three days’ worth of non-perishable, nutritionally dense foods on hand. The key is to stock your kit with foods that stay good for long periods of time as well as those that don’t take much time or additional supplies to prepare.
- The Red Cross recommends a three-day supply of non-perishable food for your bug out or evacuation bag and a two-weeks supply of non-perishable food in your at-home (sheltering) emergency preparedness kit
- Two to three military ready-to-eat (MRE) meals per person per day
- Two to three high-calorie lifeboat food bars per person per day
- Two to three freeze-dried or dehydrated meals per person per day
- Up to two weeks’ supply of tab-open cans of beans, fish, vegetables and fruits (if sheltering in the home or workplace)
- Up to two weeks’ supply of rice, quinoa and other dried grains (if sheltering in the home or workplace)
- Protein, mineral and vitamin supplements to ensure proper nutrition
- Mess kits with paper cups, plates and disposable utensils
- Paper towels and napkins
- Shelter and Warmth — Depending on the nature of the emergency, you may find yourself in your home or car, so shelter may not be a huge concern. But if you wind up in a scenario in your car or home when the power is out, you’ll need to think about how to stay warm and protected when the temperatures drop.
- Emergency space blanket or sleeping bag
- Two or more tarps for shelter
- Heavy-duty trash bags
- Water-resistant poncho
- Fire kit housed in a waterproof hard case with matches, fire starter or tinder
- Warm, moisture-wicking socks
- One or two sets of spare clothing
- Hat or bandana to cover face and eyes from smoke, wind, rain, dust, etc.
- Work gloves for protection and warmth
- Health and Survival Supplies — Your health and medical supplies are some of the most important items in your survival stash, as they can literally be life-savers in emergency scenarios. Those who have special medical considerations or health conditions, such as diabetes, need to have three days’ worth of backup supplies in their survival kit.
- First-aid kit, including bandages, tape, over-the-counter medications, scissors, antibiotic ointment, thermometer, medicine dropper, etc.
- Trauma kit, including bandages, tourniquet, eye shield, wound care tools, etc.
- Baby wipes for cleaning, sanitation and hygiene
- Personal hygiene kit, including toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant and soap
- Backup prescription medications
- Non-prescription medications, including pain relievers, allergy medicines, cough and cold medicine, antacids, laxatives, eye drops, anti-diarrhea medicine, etc.
- Expanding towels
- Bug spray
- Infant formula and diapers
- Pet food, water and supplies for your pets
- Feminine supplies, including tampons and pads
- Glasses or contact lenses
- Hand sanitizer and household cleaner
- Communication — You may not be able to rely on your cell service or internet during a large-scale disaster, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have chargers on hand just in case. However, you should also have a backup means of communication, such as a two-way radio or ham radio. Note that ham radios do require a license, but that may be worth acquiring if you’re serious about emergency preparedness.
- Solar-powered phone charger
- Solar-powered or hand crank emergency radio with NOAA weather
- Two-way radio or ham radio (requires a license)
- Paper and pencil
- Emergency whistle to signal for help
- Light and Energy — One of the first things to go in the event of natural disasters and other emergencies is the power. Without electricity, you may be left without light, heat and practical ways to cook, which are some of the most basic necessities when you’re dealing with life and death scenarios. As a result, you need to prepare multiple light and energy sources.
- A reliable LED headlamp with night vision mode
- A rechargeable flashlight with a long-lasting battery
- Small LED or fuel lantern for ambient light
- Extra batteries of multiple sizes and types
- Candles, including small votive candles and taper candles
- Extension cords
- Portable inverter generator (optional) to provide backup power for cooking, heat and powering tools
- Tools — In all sorts of survival scenarios, tools can help prevent deadly and disastrous situations. It’s a good idea to have a separate waterproof heavy-duty case to protect your tools from damage and to keep your emergency preparedness kit well-organized. These tools help you make necessary repairs and deal with turning utilities off and on.
- Multitool with knife, pliers, scissors, screwdrivers, etc.
- Crowbar, wrench or four-way water key (sillcock) to turn off and access water
- Fixed-blade knife
- Duct tape
- Money and Personal Documents — Why would you need money and personal documents during an emergency? FEMA recommends keeping critical personal records in your emergency kit so that you’ll be able to immediately begin the recovery process without delay. You can use locking cases and fire-proof file folders to ensure that these docs stay safe and protected, even during an emergency.
- A small amount of cash and coins or traveler’s checks, including small and large bills for use if banks are closed and ATMs don’t work
- Copies of passports, IDs, birth certificates, insurance policies, proof of address, medication list and prescriptions, emergency contact information, pet ID tags, military documents, Social Security cards, immunization records, doctor contact information and list of hospitals
- Hard copies of local maps
- Waterproof emergency guides covering how to handle specific disasters
Stay Calm and Make a Plan
One of the biggest benefits of having an emergency preparation kit on hand in your home, car or workplace is that it helps you stay calm in an emergency. By nature of the activity, putting this kit together makes you think about how you’ll handle a disaster, which means you’ll be forced to create a plan. As a result, you’ll be able to stay calm and jump to action the minute a situation becomes dire.