Author’s Note: I have noticed recently a renewed interest in 72 hour kits in the comments on the blogs and facebook pages that I follow, and of course on my own facebook page. I will refer to kits here as 72 hour kits but hopefully you all know by now to prepare for 120 hours instead.

I have also noticed a surprising thing happens after disasters. It seems people have already forgotten the lessons of Hurricane Sandy and the severe winter storms of 2014; shelters, long lines for food and water, empty cupboards, all followed by weeks of frustration and inaction and poor coordination of the cleanup effort. The threat of earthquakes, another severe winter, floods, drought, terrorism and ebola are in the news. Are we better prepared because of all this awareness? Not in my town, because my town thinks “It won’t happen here.”

During the first 72-120 hours after a disaster, first responder resources will be stretched far beyond normal planning. In a survey by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health they found that 40 percent of public health workers say they are unlikely to report to work during a pandemic. The reasons: 1) fear of infecting their family and 2) the conviction they would be caring for their own family needs first. The statistics are the same across the board with other first responders. Would we seriously expect them to do otherwise?

The Johns Hopkins survey also points out that a 40% absentee rate is consistent with emergency response during past disasters. Public health workers, firefighters, police, relief agency volunteers, and even the National Guard have their own families in need of care. Responsibilities at home, isolation due to bad roadway conditions, loss of communication via phone lines and cell phones, all make response within the first 72-120 hours difficult.

We cannot rely on the government or relief agencies to meet our immediate needs following a disaster. With limited resources, the government and even relief agencies must focus on the most life threatening situations first. There will be people trapped, people with health emergencies who need to be transported, power and phone lines down that need to be repaired and prevent communication with first responders, ruptured gas and water mains to repair, fires to extinguish, looting to curtail, and all this with a limited staff.

So what is the smart thing to do? Prepare to look out for yourself and your family with food, water, clothing, temporary shelter, and medical supplies for at least 72 hours. The government is now recommending we prepare for 120 hours without services from first responders. There is no better time to start than right now. Here are my 12 favorite tips:

  1. All great 72 hour kits begin with a great back pack. There are many places to purchase kits online but not all packs are created equal. Make sure your pack is large enough to add all your personal items. You do not want to be forced to carry a second pack as the goal is to keep your hands free to care for children or pets, and to clear debris. Your pack should have padded shoulder straps for comfort and should be supported from the waist when it is carried, for optimum support. A pack with several compartments will also allow you to separate items and organize your kit enabling you to find things quickly. Purchase a backpack that is a bright color which can easily be found in a cluttered closet or cupboard, during grab-and-go conditions.

Each member of the family should have their own backpack. It is crucial that children feel safe during a time of crisis and nothing will help them feel secure more than having their own things. Purchase a good pack that is sized so your child can carry it easily.

If you should decide you want a pack with wheels make sure it is also designed as a backpack. Your goal should be to have a pack that allows your hands to be free helping with balance as you walk through debris or as you carry a child or pet. Also, load the pack and try it on before you purchase. Find something heavy in the store and load the pack. Many times rolling backpacks are very uncomfortable to wear as the frame hits your back or hips. A few minutes of walking with the wheels digging into your back and you will wish you have made a better choice. You will never regret spending a little more and getting a good backpack but you will regret buying a cheap one and adding a backache to your stress.

If you or a family member are disabled or confined to a wheel chair I recommend a fishing vest instead of a backpack. These can easily hold the essentials and can be easily modified by adding a few extra pockets. Everyone should carry their own basic supplies such as medications, some food and water, an ID card and glow stick and mylar blanket.

  1. Food should all be rated for a five year shelf life. MREs and high calorie energy bars are the best choices. Be realistic here. Unless you are very disciplined you will not rotate these items every 6 months. Don’t be caught in the “penny wise and pound foolish” trap. If you fail to rotate your supplies you will end up spending more money on food you throw away than you would have by getting the “good stuff” to begin with. It is not recommended that you store dried foods, such as oriental noodle or instant oatmeal, as these will use up your precious water supplies as you prepare them. Remember foods purchased at the grocery store will need to be rotated at least once a year. And, canned foods are very heavy. One last tip…don’t forget eating utensils.
  2. Bottled water purchased at the store is good for 6-12 months, no longer. This is not because the water goes bad but because the plastic bottle itself begins to break down and may leak. Purchase pouched water that has a five year shelf life. In all likelihood water supplies will be very limited. For this reason, never add jerky, salted nuts or other salty foods to your pack as they will increase your thirst. Never store anything in your pack that is packaged in glass.
  3. Matches: now this is a controversial issue. I recommend a flashlight and glow sticks in your kit instead of matches. In my experience the first 72 hours there are always gas line ruptures or water heaters whose pilot lights have gone out, and many many people have lost homes after the initial threat is past because they lit a match. Do you remember the huge fires is New Orleans? Matches should be included in a grab and go kit which will be used after these threats have passed.
  4. Keep an extra set of keys: home, office, vacation house, RV, car(s), safety deposit box, etc. at the top of your kit or in a front pocket for fast access. Also keep your flashlight and whistle easily accessible. But, never store batteries in your flashlight or radio. Keep them in the same outside pocket so they can be easily loaded but not inside the flashlight. Batteries do explode and they will ruin your flashlight if they do. This way if a battery does leak nothing will be ruined.
  5. Each member of the family should have an identification card for themselves in their kits. Parents should also have a copy of each child’s ID card in their kit. During an emergency you may not be able to remember important information. Each card should include: Parent’s names, address(es) and phone number(s), home address, parent’s cell phone numbers, close family and friend’s phone numbers, name, address and phone number of a local contact person, name address and phone number of an out of state contact person, name and phone numbers for; Doctor, dentist, optometrist, and clergy, list of any medications, special medical conditions, and allergies as well as a list of any identifying scars or birth marks.
  6. Each kit should have several family photos. You should include individual photos of each family member as well as a family group photo. Individual photos may be used to post if you are separated from a family member. A family photo can be used to prove a relationship if there is a question when you are reunited by emergency personnel. It is sad but there have been cases of people claiming children who were not their own.
  7. A Multi function tool or pocket knife is a must. These will provide everything from can openers to knife blade, pliers, saw blades and screw drivers. A must-have tool! When you purchase a multi function tool look for one that has a sheath with a belt loop. It will be a great help to have your tool readily available as you deal with the aftermath of a disaster.
  8. At least one AM/FM radio should be available per adult family member. You might consider having one radio that can be operated with a hand crank or by solar power or both. Also make sure your radio has both AM and FM bands as most emergency broadcast information will be on the AM band but it may only be the FM station that survived the disaster.
  9. Everyone, including children, should have basic first aid items in their own kit. A child’s kit should not include medications such as pain relievers. A larger, more complete kit should be included in a Grab and Go kit or kept in your car.
  10. Emergency mylar blankets are amazingly versatile. They are inexpensive, light weight and should be included in every 72 hour kit and kept in every vehicle you own. To understand how valuable the really are check out: Survival in Your Pocket: The Amazing Mylar Blanket.
  11. I know you won’t find this on many lists but I consider them a must have, biohazard bags. These can be used for sanitation as a porta-potty liner or to dispose of medical or hazardous waste. Their bright red color and large labels make them easy to identify so children can be easily warned to stay away.

FEMA has warned us to prepare. The Department of Homeland Security has warned us to prepare. The Secretary of Health and Human Services, has warned us to prepare. Most importantly a prophet of God has warned us again, as they have for over 70 years, to prepare.

“I do not hesitate to say that this old world is no stranger to calamities and catastrophes. Those of us who read and believe the scriptures are aware of the warnings of prophets concerning catastrophes that have come to pass and are yet to come to pass….If anyone has any doubt concerning the terrible things that can and will afflict mankind, let him read the 24th chapter of Matthew. ….What we have experienced in the past was all foretold, and the end is not yet. Just as there have been calamities in the past, we expect more in the future. What do we do?….Someone has said it was not raining when Noah built the ark. But he built it, and the rains came.” ( Gordon B Hinckley Priesthood Session General Conference October 2005)

“No member of the Church who has helped provide for those in need ever forgets or regrets the experience. Industry, thrift, self-reliance, and sharing with others are not new to us.

We should remember that the best storehouse system would be for every family in the Church to have a supply of food, clothing, and, where possible, other necessities of life.

We urge all Latter-day Saints to be prudent in their planning, to be conservative in their living, and to avoid excessive or unnecessary debt. Many more people could ride out the storm-tossed waves in their economic lives if they had a supply of food and clothing and were debt-free. Today we find that many have followed this counsel in reverse: they have a supply of debt and are food-free.

We live in turbulent times. Often the future is unknown; therefore, it behooves us to prepare for uncertainties. When the time for decision arrives, the time for preparation is past.” (Thomas S Monson: Are We Prepared? Ensign September 2014)

Let this be the time we all take preparing seriously. Just take that first step. A small step every week and we can be prepared to meet the future without fear.

Watch for a complete list of items for your kits in Carolyn’s next article.

For more preparedness and self reliant living tips and to ask questions visit Carolyn’s facebook page at