Some people may question whether or not you need to stockpile food and supplies enough for long periods of time, but very few will argue that you don’t need a disaster kit. Disaster kits are portable supplies of food, water, clothing, and other essentials to last about 72 hours, or three days. That is usually the amount of time it takes to restore basic services in the event of a disaster.
Disasters can take on many forms. For example, the area where we live is known to have earthquakes. There is also the possibility of severe winter storms. Add to that, we live about a quarter mile from a major road in one direction, a quarter mile from a rail line in the other direction, and about half a mile from a major freeway. We are also not far from several industrial areas. An accident resulting in a chemical or oil spill could easily result in our evacuation.
Of course unless a disaster is very large in scope very few will be in a position where they cannot simply go stay with friends or family. But even then, if you catch them unprepared it may be better to have at least some basic supplies for yourselves.
What goes in a disaster kit? A lot depends on you, but Jodi and Julie over at Food Storage Made Easy have a good page dedicated to the topic of disaster kits. They also discuss different approaches to getting a kit here. The main thing is to get one. We bought small plastic totes and put together a tote for each member of the family. Once a year we go through them and rotate the food and make sure the clothing still fits. We have three children, aged nine and under, so we should probably update our kits more often than that.
Waterproof things when you can. During one recent inspection we found that a can of liquid had rusted through and leaked into one tote, making a stinky, sticky mess. Several other items were ruined by the moisture. If it is absolutely essential that some items be dry (such as matches, candles, or important documents) it’s worth putting them in a sturdy zip-lock bag, or even sealing them in durable plastic with a vacuum sealer.
Another very important factor is location. Disaster kits should be stored where you can get at them quickly during or immediately following an emergency. If you had ten minutes to evacuate, would you be able to get everything you need into your family vehicle in time? Store your kits near the most likely escape route from your home. Ours, for example, are right next to our garage door. I can have them loaded in the back of our mini-van in the time it takes to get all the kids into the van and buckled in.
It’s true that disaster kits take time and money to maintain, but if you ever need them they will be valuable beyond estimation. Just ask anyone in New Orleans during Katrina, the Indonesian tsunami, or the Haiti earthquake. Three days of basic supplies can literally be the difference between life or death.