As someone who has established a self-sufficient lifestyle, you understand the world you live in has no certainties. Storms may damage your food and water supplies, a particularly harsh winter may readily deplete your heating sources, and a power grid failure can put a strain on even the most eco-friendly homes.
The only thing you can do to protect your family is to be prepared for whatever eventually may happen. Indeed, this may be the reason you began a self-sufficient home in the first place. No matter your goals, it is imperative to be prepared for any situation.
Create a seventy-two-hour kit
Prior to hurricane Katrina, FEMA used to encourage people to have a seventy-two-hour kit for each member of the family, because it was assumed that within seventy-two hours, government agencies would be able to get to the scene of any disaster or emergency and bring aid.
Katrina proved that when there is a disaster of large scale, or one that affects a large portion of the country, you might have to rely on yourself for more than seventy-two hours.
However, the idea of having a seventy-two-hour kit or a “bug-out bag” is still good. If you need to leave your home quickly, whether in case of fire, flooding, or other natural disasters, each family member can quickly grab his or her seventy-two-hour kit and have some supplies that will make being displaced a lot more tolerable.
Each kit should be contained in something that is easy to grab and carry. It’s best to have a container that’s waterproof. Some people use five-gallon buckets for their seventy-two-hour kits, and backpacks are also often used. The following section provides some ideas of things you could place in your kit. Be sure to customize the list in order to meet the needs your family.
Food and water
You should have a three-day supply of food and water, per person, that requires no refrigeration or cooking. If you prefer, a small water filtration device can take the place of a three-day supply of bottled water, which can be heavy to carry.
Remember to create the bags to meet the needs of your family. If you have infants and use formula, be sure to include formula and diapers in one of the seventy-two-hour kits
Bedding and clothing
Having warm, dry clothing and blankets is important during any emergency and can sometimes be the difference between life and death.
- Blankets and emergency heat blankets (the kind that keep in warmth)
- Change of clothing: inexpensive sweatshirts and sweatpants are excellent choices—and don’t forget socks
- Cloth sheet: to place over you
- Plastic sheet: to lie on if the ground is damp or to shield you from rain
- Raincoat/Poncho: small emergency ponchos work well
- Undergarments Be sure to keep your stockpile of clothing up to date as your family grows.
The last thing you need when faced with an emergency is a set of clothing that doesn’t fit your children (or you!).
Fuel and light
Heating food/water and escaping from a dangerous situation at night are only two reasons to have sufficient fuel and light. Another is to provide comfort in a scary situation.
As with your other supplies, make sure your lighting materials are well maintained. Batteries can die, matches can get wet, and lighter fluid can evaporate. Well-stocked and well-cared-for supplies will make an enormous difference in life-or-death situations.
These are some of the items that will make life much easier in case of an emergency.
Be wary of where you store these materials if you have little ones. While they are emergency essentials, they should be kept away from youngsters and curious hands. Make sure they are accessible for adults, but tucked safely away from children.
Bathroom and medication
You can’t take your bathroom medicine cabinet with you, but you should be sure you have the life-sustaining medical supplies you need during an emergency.
- Cleaning supplies (mini hand sanitizer, soap, shampoo, dish soap, etc.)
- Extra pair of glasses
- First-aid kit and supplies
- Medicine (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, children’s medication, etc.)
- Prescription medication (for three weeks or more)
- Toiletries (roll of toilet paper—remove the center tube to easily flatten into a zip-top bag—feminine hygiene, folding brush, etc.)
Having medical, cleaning, and personal hygiene supplies will bring comfort to your family during stressful times. Make sure all medications are up to date and that they haven’t passed any expiration dates.
Documents and money
If your home was devastated by a flood or fire, what legal documents would you need as you put your life back together? Here’s a list of some of the items. You might think of others that are important to you. Place these items in plastic bags, so they are waterproof.
- Copies of insurance policies
- Copies of legal documents (birth/marriage certificates, wills, passports, contracts, etc.)
- Copies of vaccination papers
- Credit card
Having an ample supply of clean water is a top priority in an emergency. A normally active person needs to drink at least two quarts of water each day. If an emergency occurs in the summer, or if you live in a hot or arid environment, you will require more.
In all cases, children, nursing mothers, and ill people will require more than two quarts of water a day.
Because you will also need water for food preparation and personal hygiene, you should store one gallon per person per day.
FEMA recommends that, if possible, you store a two-week supply of water for each member of your family. And if supplies run low, don’t ration water.
Drink the amount you need today, and try to find more for tomorrow. You can minimize the amount of water your body needs by reducing activity and staying cool.
Store drinking water in food-grade containers. Two-liter plastic soft-drink bottles work well. You can store water to be used for personal hygiene, flushing toilets, and general cleaning in old bleach and laundry detergent containers. An alternative would be to buy stackable storage containers like the WaterBrick and use them to store water.
During an emergency, remember that you can use some of the “hidden” sources of water in your home, including your hot-water heater, accumulated water in your pipes (accessed by unscrewing a pipe in the lowest area of your home, such as a basement), and water from ice cubes in your freezer.
You should not drink the water from toilet flush tanks or bowls, radiators, waterbeds, or swimming pools and spas. If you use the water in your hot water tank, be sure the electricity or gas is shut off, and then drain the water from the bottom of the tank.
When the power and/or water is restored, be sure to fill your tank back up before turning on the power.
Backup heat source
It’s the middle of winter, and a major ice storm has swept through not only your state but also an entire five-state region. Electric lines are down, and hundreds of thousands of people are without power. You live in a rural community, so you are among one of the last groups that get power restored.
If you have already installed a wood stove, you have both an alternative heat source and a way to cook for your family. Wood stoves need no electricity to run and can warm just one room or, in some cases, an entire house.
With a wood stove, you can also use non-electric heat-powered fans that can sit on the stove and move the heat throughout the room. Wood stoves are more efficient than fireplaces because they don’t pull warm air out of the house.
Portable propane heaters are another good option for emergency home heating. The advantage of a propane heater is that propane is easily stored and, if you have a propane grill, you may already have a tank on hand.
Propane is clean, burning with little odor, and is relatively safe. Because portable propane heaters are unvented, you must crack open a window. If you use a larger, 20-pound tank to run the stove, it is recommended that you place the tank on the outside of the house and run an extension hose from the tank to the stove.
A portable propane heater puts out about 9,000 BTUs (British thermal units), which is enough to heat one medium-sized room. Larger propane heaters can put out about 12,000 BTUs.
Portable kerosene heaters are one of the most popular ways to provide emergency home heat. Most modern kerosene heaters are safe, but you still need to keep a window cracked open to prevent carbon monoxide buildup.
Kerosene heaters are generally round, with a wick that pulls up the fuel and burns it to create heat. Newer models have an automatic shutoff system in case the heater is tipped over. Some models have a battery-powered ignition to light the wick.
Kerosene heaters produce a slight odor, mostly when they are extinguished. Floor-standing kerosene heaters can put out 20,000 BTUs or more, enough to keep a modest-sized home warm. If this is your choice of emergency heat, you will have to be sure you keep a supply of kerosene on hand.
Even if you have a gas, liquid propane, or oil-fired furnace, you might still need electricity to start the pilot light or make the blower work. In order to use your furnace during a power outage, you will need a backup generator. Have an electrician add a bypass switch and connection for the portable generator.
At the least, you will need a 5-kW generator, which will also be able to power some other circuits, including a fridge and lights; however, it will not likely be able to power your whole house. Expect to spend at least $3,000 on a quality generator, plus the bypass box and electrician’s fees.
Store your documents
Many of the documents you have in your home are very important but could be lost during a fire, flood, or another disaster.
It is a good policy to make several copies of these important documents. The original copies should be kept in a safe deposit box in a bank. Another copy could be given to family members who don’t live in your household, another copy should be filed away in your home office, and the final copy should be laminated and stored in your seventy-two-hour kit.
If an emergency arises and you have to leave your home, all of your important documents are with you.
Nancy Wears has written this article for Prepper’s Will.
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Putting Together A Seventy-two-hour Kit And Other Tips is written by Bob Rodgers for prepperswill.com