The first 72 hours of any emergency
Let me tell you about a pretty good rule of thumb for any really devastating emergency, like the catastrophic flooding this past week in Houston Texas, or the combined storm surge and wind damage of Katrina 12 years ago.
The first 72 hours are all on you. That is, you can expect to be taking care of yourself for 3 days before someone shows up to help you or until you are able to find your way away from ground-zero. This is how things worked with so-called Super Storm Sandy, it is how things worked two weeks ago with the catastrophic mudslide in Siera Leone, and it is how things are working with Harvey in Houston.
As an aside, who do you think are going to be the first people to get to you and the ones to help you out the most? It’s not the government – they’re not very agile. It could be neighbors or good Samaritans like the Cajun Navy that we’ve heard so much about lately. But your best bet is to cultivate your relationships with your family and your church members. They will almost certainly be the first to reach you and it will still likely take them 3 days!
So, after Katrina, various government agencies and prepper experts began advising folks to put together a 72-hour kit with all the food and gear and necessities that you would need for 3 days and keep it updated and accessible in case of a disaster.
How to prepare for the first 72 hours of an emergency
First, you need to realize that you’ll need a 72-hour kit for each member of your family. When you start multiplying these kits they rapidly become so heavy that you cannot carry them. So you need to have a plan for caching parts of these kits at home or in your vehicle while keeping some of them in a go pack.
With that said, for 72 hours, you’ll need:
Emergency drinking water
At least 1 gallon of potable drinking water per person per day – that comes to at least 3 gallons of water per person for 72 hours. I recommend keeping about 2 liters of drinking water in your go pack along with some form of water purification, like a LifeStraw or some Aquatabs. The rest of the 3 gallons per person can be stashed at your home. If you have a chest freezer, you can put this 3 gallons per person into plastic jugs and freeze them. In addition to potable water, you might want to run a bathtub or a few buckets full of non-potable water for washing or operating toilets.
Food in an emergency
In many emergencies you can assume that you’ll be sheltering in place, so you will be eating whatever food you have on hand. You’ll need a manual can opener if you don’t have one, and some way to cook, like a charcoal grill or a gas camp stove. If you have that chest freezer I mentioned earlier, this is the time to eat up whatever you have frozen before it thaws and ruins. Your go pack should have 2-3 days worth of lightweight, non-perishable backpacking food and whatever you need to prepare and eat it (backpacking stove, spork, bowl).
10 outdoor essentials
Your go pack should also include the 10 essentials that you’ll need for any prolonged outdoor excursion – navigation, sun protection, insulation, illumination, first aid, fire, tools, and shelter (nutrition and hydration are already taken care of above). But (and this is a big but!) most of these 10 essentials assume some skills that go with them. You need to learn and practice these skills before an emergency!
Beyond food, water, and 10 essentials, keep any personal necessities in your go pack, including:
- personal meds (prescriptions and OTC) and toiletries
- records (immunizations, legal documents, insurance policies
- currency (cash, credit cards, phone cards)
If you have advance warning of a disaster (like a hurricane) then fill your vehicle with gasoline and consider getting an extra gas can.