Whenever a natural disaster strikes we usually hear a renewed discussion about what the public can do to prepare for an emergency. One of the things that often gets recommended is keeping a 72-hour kit or a survival backpack in your home or car. Whatever you call it, it is an important tool to help protect your family.
A 72-hour kit is a bag or backpack filled with items that will help you in the event of an emergency. Some refer to it as a bug-out bag, an emergency kit or a survival backpack.
What is the significance of 72 hours? This length of time is not arbitrary. Disaster response and emergency management agencies have identified 72 hours (3 days) as the length of time that it can take for rescue or emergency personnel to arrive after an unexpected disaster. This is known as “lag time”. If a disaster strikes, you may find yourself without food, water, electricity, communication and much more during this time. A 72-hour kit can carry you through when you have little time to prepare and limited to no access to outside resources.
When building your 3-day emergency kit, it doesn’t take long for the weight to start adding up. After you add enough food and water for each person along with hygiene items, flashlights, and first aid, your kit can become quite cumbersome. One of the most important attributes of any good go-bag or bug-out bag is the ability to be easily grabbed from your storage spot and loaded in your car or carried on foot. If your bag is too heavy to easily carry then you are limiting the effectiveness and value of your emergency kit. This is why it is important to prioritise what you pack in your 72-hour bag.
However, this is easier said than done. The potential items you could pack is essentially limitless. The main issues are 1) disasters by their very nature are unpredictable and 2) your family’s daily needs are not going to be the same as everyone else.
You know that food, water and shelter are the necessities for everyone and it’s vital to include those items in your 72-hour kit. However, different natural disasters or emergencies bring different problems, and each household has different, unique needs. If you take medication or you have someone in your home who requires any medical equipment daily, this needs to be included in your survival pack. If you have small children or pets, you may need an entire bag just for them.
If you live in the mountains, flooding may not be likely, but if you live near a major river, obviously it would be prudent to take this into account. What type of natural disasters can occur in your area? Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes? What local and regional features could pose a possible threat? Nuclear power plants, large urban centers, high crime areas? Considering these questions will help you choose appropriate items.
You can also do a mental walkthrough of your normal day. Think about every part of your daily routine from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed. Think about the things you do that require electricity; what requires freshwater? You need to have something included in your emergency pack to replace or provide these needs if you were without electricity, access to food/water, or medical care. Start with a need you would have in an emergency, then consider the item(s) that would meet this need rather than thinking of specific items and what uses they may have. After all, when you buy a drill bit you aren’t buying a drill bit, you are buying a hole in your wall.
When you have a list of all you need for your family to survive 72-hours, you can get creative and find the most efficient and lightweight way to get these items in your survival kit.
Here are suggestions to get started assembling your 72-hour kit:
A Good Backpack – There are many options out there, find something that is comfortable and well built. There are lots of great military-style tactical backpacks but you can also use something more subtle without sacrificing the functionality and tactical features.
Smartphone/Charger – While 90 % of the time we don’t use these remarkable tools for productive things, during an emergency they can provide you with communication to loved ones, access to government warnings, GPS location, maps, first aid guides, and practically any information you may need. Of course, if they are not charged and you don’t have access to electricity or the network is down you obviously can’t rely on these. Despite this, they are light enough that they should be included in your emergency evacuation planning. BONUS TIP: even if the network is down, as long your battery is charged, you will have access to the photos you store on your smartphone. This can be a real morale boost in a bad situation!
Personal/hygiene items – Speaking of morale. Cleanliness is also tied to your emotional and mental state. Keeping yourself and your loved ones clean and comfortable during an emergency or evacuation can make all the difference. Not being able to brush your teeth or wash your face like you do every day can make a stressful situation become even more so. Make hygiene/personal items a priority in your go-bag.
First Aid – Disasters are dangerous by their very nature. Injuries are to be expected and if you don’t have even basic first aid items, a minor injury can become life-threatening. A good first aid kit will have bandages, adhesive tape, absorbent pads, antibiotic ointment, antiseptic, cold compress, aspirin, a roll of gauze, non latex gloves, triangular bandage, tweezers, oral thermometer and more. The purpose of first aid is to prevent further injury and stabilize the victim until further medical help is available. In many cases, even simple first-aid treatment can greatly increase a victim’s chances of survival. CPR can increase someone’s chances of survival by 50% according to studies. In addition to keeping a quality first aid kit, you can educate yourself on the basic first aid techniques and treatments.
Clothes – Imagine wearing the same pair of clothes for a few days. You will be glad you included a change of clothes in your emergency backpack.
Medications/medical equipment – Pain relievers and other common medicines should be included in your first aid kit. But, If you have any medications or special medical needs, you should include at least a 3 day supply in your disaster prep backpack.
Important Documents – Insurance cards, IDs, contact info list (if your phone is dead would you remember anyone’s number?). Tip: If you pack your phone and charger you can take photos of your important documents and store them on your phone instead of bringing along fragile paper that may be lost or damaged.
Food/water – It is recommended that you have 1200 calories of food per day for each person. 1 gallon of clean water a day is needed for each person as well. Water can be heavy to carry, therefore having something like water purification tabs are great and allow you to find a water source rather than lugging gallons of freshwater with you. It is suggested that you carry at least one reusable water bottle per person.
Cash – Cash is king. Don’t plan on being able to use credit/debit cards or your phone. Cash may even be rejected by some people during an emergency, silver or gold coins could be the solution but you have to take the risk of carrying something of that much value.
Light – Hand crank flashlight/radio combos are a great way to kill two birds with one stone. Candles are perfect in a power outage and for a safe option, you can use glow sticks.
Communication – If your cell phone doesn’t work you will want to have access to news and emergency updates. Keep an AM/FM/Weather-band radio, as mentioned above, many hand-crank radio/flashlight combos are available.
Weather protection – Many of the emergencies that would force you from your home are weather-related. You should have something in your kit to protect you from the elements. A tent would be great but may not be practical to carry with you, however, there are many great alternatives. Emergency sleeping bags, hand warmers, emergency blankets are lightweight and extremely effective.
Fire – Whether you just need to light a candle or you need to start a fire to keep from freezing, you should have some reliable fire-starting tool in your emergency kit. Ferrous rods are lightweight and small. Matches require no skill to use but can be affected by wet/windy conditions. There are wind/waterproof matches available but there is no substitute for learning how to start a fire with limited tools.
Multi-tool – There is no way to know what kind of tools or gear may help save your life in an emergency. However, a multi-tool knife is a compact way to ensure you won’t be kicking yourself when all you need is a screwdriver and you don’t have one around.
Misc – Can opener (if not in your multi-tool), plastic trash bags, dust mask, duct tape, extra batteries, baby formula, pet food.