First things first – Don’t be intimidated by the task. Don’t feel that you must be prepared for every single eventuality. Having some preparation is better than having no preparation. Do the best you can. Get what you can afford. But have SOMETHING. A five gallon jug of water set somewhere safe could make all the difference. A bottle of iodine or tube of Neosporin could protect your kid from a potentially fatal infection.
WHAT: If you are worried about what you need to have there are many lists available to work off of. Every list I’ve found is pretty much the same and the web is stock full of them so I won’t reiterate them here other than to say that most recommend having enough food and water to last three days. I think that’s on the optimistic side should a massive earthquake strike. I figure it’s going to take at least three days for them to just evaluate the damage let alone mobilize a response. Local governments will do what they can in the interim but they will have to triage. If you already have what you need, they can help somebody else. I will say that I’ve found the Red Cross to be the best one-stop-shop for disaster preparedness information. http://www.redcross.org/prepare. This organization has seen it all and even breaks things down based on what type of disaster you are likely to face.
I do have some lessons to share, however. My biggest lesson-learned for WHAT you should keep in your kit is to treat it less as a Disaster Kit and more as a “Food Reservoir”. What I mean by this is that you should buy non-perishables that you would consume in the normal course of your life as well and think of your disaster kit as excess storage. Don’t go buying $1000.00 worth of military grade MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) for a disaster that might not strike for twenty years and that you are not going to want to eat if that disaster never comes. Buy food that you can easily rotate out of your disaster kit and right back into your home pantry.
I learned this lesson the hard way when I bought some canned chicken to have some protein in our kit. We don’t eat canned chicken. So, when it came time to change out our kit, the chicken that I took out went into our pantry and stayed there. I still have a can of chicken in there from that original kit. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn that lesson until this time around so I again have a bunch of canned chicken that I’m gonna have to get super creative with if I have any hopes of getting my family to eat it.
Finally, there are some things in my kit that you’re either not likely to find on other lists or that I want to make absolutely certain you don’t forget.
-Information (I have printed out every bit of survival knowledge I think will be important i.e. how to treat water for drinking. Anyone that can read will then have access to vital information)
-Lollipops (they store very well and I want to have something sweet to give to my kids if their world has just turned upside down)
-Gatorade mix (loss of electrolytes could be an issue but mostly I just want to have something to flavor the water that’s been sitting in a tank for several months)
-Krusteaz Pancake Batter (all you do is add water)
-Instant Coffee (a caffeine headache on day one of epic disaster would really suck)
-1.75 milliliters of Vodka (call it a sedative or anesthetic or antiseptic if you wish but we all know why it’s important)
-Don’t forget the lady products (Let’s just imagine a woman at her “time” without the necessities. OK let’s stop imagining that because it scares the shit out of me)
-Hammer (I always see wrench, pliers and multi-tool on the lists but rarely do I see ‘hammer’ but I’ve definitely got one in my kit. Why??? Who knows. But have you ever needed a hammer and not had one. Nothing else works nearly as well.)
-Toilet and don’t forget the T.P. (As a US Marine and former avid backpacker, I’ve got no problem copping a squat over a hole in the ground and using leaves and other natural materials. My wife, on the other hand, is gonna need a place to sit and some Charmin)
-Baby Wipes (Because their uses are never ending and hygiene will be even more important when the shower doesn’t work)
-Garbage bags (Their uses are infinite)
OK, I guess that’s everything. Let move on to HOW to store everything.
HOW: When I first set up my disaster kit I put everything in what I thought was THE perfect container. It was a 55 gallon drum. It was air tight. It was water tight. Unfortunately, it was also black and metal. What I found when I finally opened it back up was that, during the hot summer days, it had become a giant pressure cooker. The water jugs I had inside it burst, soaking everything, rusting the cans of food and basically ruining everything inside.
After that mishap I moved in another direction. I bought two 32 gallon Rubbermaid Brute trash cans. These are made of a durable plastic that doesn’t break down under the sun’s rays. The lids fit tight and keep out the heaviest of rains. The only thing that gets in is the occasional spider but other than that, they work perfectly. I picked them up at Home Depot ($35 apiece) and was ready to go that day. In those two containers I put all of our food, tools, paper products and electronics.
I store items that I might need immediately, i.e. flashlights, tools and first aid stuff towards the top and less necessary items toward the bottom. I also double wrap everything in plastic trash bags to ensure dryness.
My water container is a little on the “doomsday prepper nut job” side of things. It’s a ninety gallon tank from a place called Ronco Plastics. Every so often I put the requisite amount of bleach in to keep the microbes from ruining it and I wash it out completely at least once, if not twice a year.
I don’t remember how much I paid for mine (I got the buddy discount because I used to go to Ronco for work frequently and I always brought some beer for the guys) but their online price for that tank is $207. You can find similar tanks at marine or RV supply stores and I imagine you can find them second hand as well. The price is steep but water is the single most important thing you will need when the time comes.
My reasoning for having so much water is two-fold. When I bought it there were four adults and four children living in our house. The second and biggest reason I wanted a large water reservoir, though, is that I live in southern California and it gets very hot. If “the big one” hits in the middle of August we’re probably going to need more than the Red Cross recommendation of one gallon per person per day.
On the plus side, living in So Cal means I don’t need to put cold weather gear in my kit though.
If the massive water tank is not in your budget, my next choice would be several five gallon water jugs. I would say at least one for each person in your family. The main problem with them is that they take up A TON of space and are difficult to stack and store. Finally, my least favorite option is a bunch of two gallon containers from the store (at least two per person). My main problem with them is that they are not made of really durable plastic and are easily punctured (that’s what I first had in my 55 gallon drum that burst).
That’s really all I’ve got with regard to HOW, now let’s move on to WHERE.
WHERE: Because I live in California and the disaster I am most likely to encounter is a major earthquake I have stored my disaster kit away from any structures so that, in the case of building collapse, I will still have access to our kit. I’ve found, over the years, that the site I’ve chosen gets a lot of sun and our kit gets pretty hot so I am planning to build a shade for it but otherwise the site works fine. Now if a tornado strikes, I’m screwed but I’ll have to live with that risk.
That’s all I can really think of to aid you in getting your disaster kit started. I hope this has helped. I’m still out of work right now, and have time so if you need help getting stuff put together let me know. For a nominal fee I’d be more than happy to get things set up for you.