Emergency Preparedness: 72 hour kits

I've compiled a page of tips and links that will help you prepare yourself and family for an emergency. A lot of these links have great printables that will make good handouts for a lesson on Emergency Preparedness.

72-hour kits - General

  • Read my 72-hour list of supplies
  • 72 hour kits - this is one of the better articles I've seen on the subject of 72 hour kits. It has information on storage, menus, rotation, fuel consumption rates, water storage, and a children's survival kit. If you're gonna read only one link, READ THIS ONE.
  • Ready.gov - the Homeland Security website with lots of good information. Has printables that would make good (and reputable) handouts for Enrichment.
  • American Red Cross's 72 hour kit list - extremely good list of items to include in your kit.
  • American Red Cross - preparedness main page. has information on how to prepare at home, work, school, and in your community.
  • Family Communication Plan - ideas on what your family can do if an emergency strikes while you are separated, like at work or school.
  • Emergency Contact Card - download and print one for everyone in your family.
  • Evacuation Plan - how to make one and why you should make it.
  • Disaster preparedness - from the Seattle and King County Public Health Department. Has excellent practical tips about what to do in an emergency including cleaning up after a flood, finding hidden water supplies, what to do when a boil order is made, and much more.
  • Are You Ready? - from FEMA. Has a great printable on basic preparedness. Also information on where to store your 72-hour kit.
  • Are You Ready - FULL Guide - this FEMA document has 200+ pages of insanely detailed information. This is the BIG DADDY of preparedness information. If you are a Relief Society president, preparedness specialist, or ward/branch preparedness leader you'll definitely want to print this book.
  • FEMA's documents - This is the list of FEMA's preparedness documents. Includes a preparedness coloring book, helping children cope with disaster, preparing for disaster for people with special needs or disabilities, and more. Many documents are available in Spanish.
  • University of Florida's Disaster Handbook - Very good resource.

Meals

It has become very popular to include items like condensed soups, chili, and jerky in 72-hour kits, especially those kits made at Enrichment Meetings. Read my rant. These items are often crammed into a small jug or pot for minimal storage purposes. These menus do not contain enough calories to keep your body healthy in a crisis.

While your body needs salt when it is sweating, I do not use jerky as part of a main meal in a 72-hour kit. Animal protein requires more water to digest than other dried foods, and the extreme saltiness may also make you thirsty.

Chili could also cause problems, as some spicy foods get hotter over time.

Note that the average adult looses approximately 64 ounces (1.9 L or 4 pounds) of water per day. If you drink enough water to replace that, as you should, you'll need to carry 12 lbs of water in addition to the food in your 72 hour kit. Adding spicy or difficult to digest foods will increase that water amount, thereby increasing the amount of water you have to store and carry.

My advice is choose high-calorie, high-protein, bland types of foods for your kit. Choose prepackaged freeze-dried meal pouches, MREs, peanut butter/jelly/crackers, applesauce/fruit cups, dry cereal or granola, dried fruit, canned beans, ready-to-eat soups (not condensed), non-perishable dry pasta, protein bars, and vitamins (to make up any slack). You could also consider some of those shelf-stable ready-to-eat meals made by Hormel, Dinty Moore, and Pasta Anytime. Those meals include pastas, rice meals, and chicken 'n dumplins.

The easiest to store energy foods (you'll need extra engery in a crisis) include peanut butter, dried apples, fruit cups, tuna fish, rice, pork and beans, oatmeal, and pasta.

Water

For years, we have been told that to store water you had to put a little bleach in it. Not true. Treated water from your tap (potable) is safe to store. (Source: American Red Cross)

Storing water in empty 1 or 2 liter soda bottles is the way most people recommend storing water. Don't ever use a bleach bottle (dangerous) or milk bottle (they degrade) to store water.

Water can become stale after storing it for a while. Since our 72-hour kit has several commercial water bottles in it, I put some of those single serving Crystal Light flavor packets in our kits to cover up any staleness. Kool-aid and sugar would work fine, too. *** A NOTE ON CRYSTAL LIGHT *** I received a message from a user, Janet S., who mentioned that her daughters are deathly allergic to NutraSweet. Please check for food allergies before you include this item.

Remember when Hurricane Rita hit Texas that water bottles went up to $30.00/case? That's an indicator of what is most important in a disaster. Store as much water as you can. You can live without food for some time, but water is essential.

Note that the average adult looses approximately 64 ounces (1.9 L or 4 pounds) of water per day. If you drink enough water to replace that, as you should, you'll need to carry 12 lbs of water in addition to the food in your 72 hour kit at a minimum. One gallon of water, or 128 ounces, per person per day is suggested by FEMA and that amount will weigh 24 pounds.

There are water bottles and canteens that filter water automatically as you drink it. Expect to pay about $20-$30 for a water filtration bottle. Some big name brands that you'll see are Nalgene, Katadyn, and Pres2Pure.

I personally have a Flexi-Flask with a Gatekeeper water filter from TFO, Inc -- back in the day I built their corporate website. Unfortunately, I think TFO was bought out by Nalgene some time ago, and the Gatekeeper, which fits on a regular water bottle, is no longer available. :(

Communication

You should have at least one radio in your 72-hour kit that operates on either batteries, solar power, hand crank, or a combination.

Consumer Reports ranked the Coleman Outrider (about $45) as it's best choice for emergency radios in their 8/05 article, because it will play for over an hour when cranked for 30 seconds. This radio is small, but sturdy.

When researching emergency radios, I ordered the Grundig Eton FR300 ($50). In addition to the same features as the Coleman Outrider, you get TV audio, NOAA weather service channels, LED light and siren, AND the cables to charge your cell phone using the dynamo hand crank. This radio does not run as long as the Outrider on a single crank, but I felt the ability to charge a cell phone was more useful.

Light

In addition to traditional battery-operated flashlights, you can get shake up flashlights, dynamo (crank) powered flashlights, solar flashlights, squeeze flashlights, and combos.

In general, crank or squeeze flashlights will generate the most energy and keep your flashlight lit longer. LED bulbs use less power and will make your batteries go farther.

I don't recommend shake up flashlights, because their light almost never lasts as long as sellers claim, and you have to change the orientation of the light to recharge.

Solar flashlights have their place, but that place is probably not in an emergency kit. During a disaster, having a steady light source to charge the flashlight is not certain, and those tiny solar cells never generate enough power to last all night.

Often coupled with a siren and radio, combo units are my personal favorite. Mine has solar cells to keep the radio on during the day and dynamo power for night time use, AND it comes with cables to charge a cell phone. See my communication section for information on the best brands according to Consumer Reports.

I also bought some of those new battery-operated LED headlamp sets for my kits, because there are so many reasons to have hands free during an emergency like setting up camp, performing rescue operations in rubble, or carrying a baby. These headlamps even have a night vision feature that could be useful (haven't tried it myself). FlashlightReviews.com recommends the Streamlight brand. I just have whatever Wal-Mart was selling. :)

Those new lantern-style flashlights, usually red and shaped like the old cocoa cans, are nice. I also like those flashlights that you pull up on the beam part and it becomes a stand up lantern. We keep one in the car for hands free night time repairs.

Be sure to have at least one flashlight for every person in your household. Remember the horrible things that happened in the dark of the Superdome in Atlanta after Katrina. (Thanks to Mrs. Haws for that tip.)

Of course, don't forget a simple lantern and kerosene will work fabulously in many types of emergencies.

And oh, yeah, waterproof matches. Required for 72-hour kits.

Too Hot or Too Cold

I'm always worried about overheating or getting too cold if we had to live outdoors for a while. I have about 100 different ways to get warm in an emergency, but it's alot harder to get cool. Here are some cooling bandanas that might help and a link to some solar powered fans -- made for RVs, would probably work in a tent:

Sanitation and Personal Care

Be sure to include tissue, q-tips, tampons/maxi pads, sun block, and deodorant along with the more obvious soap items. Consider a razor, hair gel, and lipgloss (in the little screw top cases in case it melts) as comfort items, too.

I included those Oral-B "Brush Ups" in our 72-hour kits. In a prolonged disaster a toothbrush and toothpaste would obviously be preferred.

I also included a mini can of that Oust air sanitizer, because goodness knows nervous, stressed people are stinky, sweaty people! :)

If you live in an area with lots of bugs, definitely include bug spray in your kit.

Buy some disposable dust masks for everyone in your family. These will help protect against smoke, dust, and debris that might be in the air during a disaster.

Now, don't blush, but if it will be the end of the world if mom gets pregnant during a disaster, include condoms in your 72 hour kit. You just never know, and besides, you gotta work off that stress somehow!!! ;-)

Clothing

Pack clean undies for everyone in your family.

Take those old shoes you're about to throw out and stuff them in your 72-hour kit with a pair of socks. That way you'll be sure to have dry shoes that fit!

I pack one change of clothes for each of our family members that includes sweatpants, hoodie-style sweatshirt, a t-shirt, socks, and underclothes. I use the sweatpants because they can be cut off or pushed above the knees easily and close at the bottom to keep snow out. A hoodie has pockets, and the hood hat makes one less thing to keep up with. The t-shirt is for layering or for hot weather. Sweatpants make a nice option for adults whose waistlines may change some over time :).

I buy these clothes a size bigger than my kids are wearing, and rotate them out when my kids grow into them, buying the next bigger size.

Money

Please include both credit cards AND traveler's checks or cash in your 72-hour kit. Yes, credit cards -- remember during the gas riots caused by Hurricane Katrina and Rita that many gas stations stopped taking cash for security reasons. Traveler's checks work like cash and can be replaced if lost or stolen.

How much money should you keep in your kit? This is a hard one. I try to keep enough cash for a cheap hotel room for 3 nights, though honestly, I don't know what to tell you there.

Children and Disaster

Several of the links below have printable coloring books that would make great handouts during a Primary preparedness activity or even at Enrichment to take home to the family for Family Home Evening.

Mrs. Haws emailed me an excellent tip on helping individuals who may not be able to identify themselves during a disaster. She watched the lost childrens' photos after Hurricane Katrina and now she includes a marker and nametag in her kit so that she can label children and elderly adults with contact information.

A permanent marker might be enough and you could just write directly on skin. I'd write contact information for an out-of-state friend or relative that can be contacted in case of a local disaster. You might consider writing the child's name and guardian(s)'s name under clothing to make it a little more difficult for a "Bad Guy" to impersonate a trusted adult.

  • American Red Cross - has lots of great information for children including coloring books on emergencies like fire or earthquake.
  • FEMA's documents - This is the list of FEMA's preparedness documents. Includes a preparedness coloring book, helping children cope with disaster, preparing for disaster for people with special needs or disabilities, and more. Many documents are available in Spanish.
  • Family Communication Plan - ideas on what your family can do if an emergency strikes while you are separated, like at work or school.
  • Emergency Contact Card - download and print one for everyone in your family.
  • Evacuation Plan - how to make one
  • Children's Preparedness Activity - get ideas from this Ward's primary preparedness activity

Disabled or Special Needs Emergency Preparedness

Mrs. Haws emailed me an excellent tip on helping individuals who may not be able to identify themselves during a disaster. She watched the lost childrens' photos after Hurricane Katrina and now she includes a marker and nametag in her kit so that she can label children and elderly adults with contact information.

A permanent marker might be enough and you could just write directly on skin. I'd write contact information for an out-of-state friend or relative that can be contacted in case of a local disaster. You might consider writing the child's name and guardian(s)'s name under clothing to make it a little more difficult for a "Bad Guy" to impersonate a trusted adult.

Other Stuff You May Not Have Thought Of

  • home owner's insurance policy numbers and contact information
  • passports (the real things)
  • certified copies of birth certificates
  • social security numbers
  • health insurance policy numbers and contact information
  • life insurance policy numbers and contact information
  • living will
  • phone numbers and addresses of out-of-state friends and relatives
  • physical description (height, weight, eye/hair color, birthmarks, scars, etc) and fingerprints of immediate family members for identification purposes
  • gasoline - keep your vehicle half full all the time so you can flee by road if possible (Thanks to Mrs. Haws for the tip.)

From a user: "Just a note for your 72 hour kit: We have lived through several 72 hour type emergencies and have needed to use our kits multiple times. I would suggest adding some candy (taffy or hard candies work best) because the additional stress is helped a bit by that, dried fruit (emergency shelter foods if available are very low in fiber), a package of disposal diapers--we don't have children in that stage, but they don't take much room and there is always a huge shortage of diapers, a roll of quarters (cell phone towers go down in emergencies, but often pay phones still work) and put any pertinent medical information about each family member in a water proof container--you may need to know the last time you had a tetanus shot, for example, or how long and what type of diabetes, hormonal supplements, etc. are needed for health. We also put in colored pencils, paper, and Old Maid Cards, Go Fish Cards and paperback copies of the scriptures and consecrated oil." - Andrea H.

Books on Emergency Preparedness

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