How To Survive An Emergency

In light of the recent fires raging in California, it's become clear: We need to prepare for emergencies.


These short-term emergency kits should be readily accessible and cover the basic daily needs of your family for a period of at least 3 days. Please note that 3 days is a minimal time period and that you should have at least a 2-week supply of food stored in or around your home. You may purchase ready-made, 72-hour kits from various survival supply outlets, or you can put together your own. Large families should probably divide up the stores between several easily grabbed small backpacks or plastic containers. One advantage to building your own kits is that you get to choose foods that you like. Remember that all foods have some kind of shelf life. Rotate stores, and use them or lose them. Bug-infested, rancid, or rotten food doesn't do anyone any good. Consider placing all of the following items in your 72-hour survival kit:

• Portable radio, preferably one that works with dead or no batteries, such as by a hand crank or combination powered with solar cells (available through survival and surplus outlets).

• First aid kit with first aid and survival handbooks (this book covers both).

• Water, water purification chemicals, and /or purifying filter. Enough to provide 1 gallon per person per day (see Chapter 5). Retort (foil) pouches can handle freezing in a car trunk, but most other water containers can't handle freezing without the potential for bursting. Three gallons per person is heavy (24 lb), so I strongly suggest that you include a water filter and water treatment chemicals. I suggest pump-type backcountry filters, such as those made by Katadyn or MSR, that are rated to filter out all bacteria and have a carbon core to remove toxic chemicals. Also, supplement your filter(s) with purifying iodine crystals (or other chemicals), such as a "Polar Pure" water purification kit, to kill all viruses. Pump filters that are rated for virus removal have tiny pore sizes and tend to clog quickly (a clogged filter is worthless). Sports bottle-type purifying water filters are simple, reliable, compact, and inexpensive, but clog easier and won't purify nearly as many gallons of water as the pump-type filters.

• Waterproof and windproof matches in a waterproof container, and a utility-type butane (large, with extended tip) lighter.

• Wool or pile blankets (avoid cotton) because they are warm when wet, or a sleeping bag. Also, a heat-reflective, waterproof "space blanket." Fiber-pile, mountaineering-quality sleeping bags are great, if you have the space (avoid down sleeping bags, because they are worthless if wet).

• Flashlight with spare batteries, or a solar recharge flashlight. I highly recommend that you purchase a headlamp with LED bulbs. Headlamps leave your hands free to carry things, or work on things. LED bulbs use a fraction of the power, are far more shock resistant, and last far longer than traditional light bulbs, so your batteries last many times longer.

• Candles (useful for lighting fires with damp wood) and light sticks (emergency light when nothing else works or explosive gases are present).

• Toiletries, including toilet paper, toothbrush, soap, razor, shampoo, sanitary napkins (also good for severe bleeding wounds), a pack of dental floss (for sewing and tying things), sunscreen, extra eyeglasses, diapers, and so on.

• Food for 3 days per person, minimum. Use foods you will eat and that store well, such as nuts, sport bars, canned vegetables, fruits, meats, dry cereals, and military-type preserved meals (available at surplus and survival stores).

• A Swiss Army knife, Leatherman, or other stainless steel multitool knife with scissors, can opener, blades, and screwdrivers.

• Map, compass, and whistle. When you are in a weakened state, or have a parched throat, a whistle may draw someone's attention and save your life. In smoke or fog, a compass may be the only thing pointing you in the right direction. The dial on the compass should glow in the dark.

• Sewing kit with extra heavy-duty thread. Should be strong enough to stitch a torn strap onto your backpack (I never travel in the backcountry without a sewing kit).

• Towel or dishcloth.

• Knives, forks, spoons, and so on. A camping "mess kit" is a compact set of utensils.

• Tent and/or 50-foot roll of plastic sheeting for shelter.

• Extra clothing, such as long underwear, hat, jacket, waterproof mittens, leather work gloves, rain coat or poncho, sturdy boots, and so on. Remember that cotton is very cold when wet, but wool and specialty outdoor clothing (usually polyester) wick moisture and are warm when wet.

• Entertainment for kids and other special needs (prescription medicines, diapers, extra glasses, etc.).

• 25 kitchen-size garbage bags and lime or sewage treatment chemicals (powdered type preferred) for garbage and toilet sewage. A few large heavy-duty garbage bags can double for raincoats, ground cloths, and shelter.

• 50 feet of heavy-duty nylon string or light rope.

• Record of bank numbers and important telephone numbers.

• Spare checks and cash. Many Katrina victims were caught without any cash. TIP: Use a bank that has widespread branch locations so their records won't disappear in a severe local disaster, leaving you with no bank account access.

• OPTIONAL ITEMS: A compact stove with fuel, like one of the MSR multifuel stoves.


  • Place 72-hour emergency survival kits in your cars and convenient "grab kits" in your home.
  • Determine a local meeting place with a large open area, such as a park or school, where your household can gather if you are separated and do not have access to your home during emergencies.
  • Make sure that all capable members of your family know how and where to shut off the water, gas, and electricity for your home in the event of an emergency.
  • Stash spare keys to your vehicles somewhere on the vehicle and an additional supply of keys somewhere outside of your home (securely hidden).
  • Store at least one week's supply of food for your household.
  • Store a combination of water, water treatment chemicals, and water-purifying filters to provide for your household for at least a week (see Chapter 5, "Water," for more information on filters and purification)
  • Keep a survival manual in each car with your 72-hour kit.
  • Get proper first aid and CPR training for all capable members of your family. See the American Red Cross for first aid training and assistance with local emergency planning.
  • Arrange for an out-of-state emergency contact to reach for coordination and communication. After an emergency, it may be easier to call long distance than locally, or your family may be separated and need an outside contact to communicate through.
  • Locate your nearest emergency shelter (call your local Red Cross for this information). Practice the route to the shelter, if it's not conveniently located.
  • Make sure that you have smoke detectors in your home. Change their batteries at least once each year.
  • Store your important papers in one easily accessible location, preferably in a waterproof and flameproof box.
  • Discuss your emergency preparedness plans with all members of your household. Keep the discussion light and positive.