By Matthew Stein, P.E., Author of When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability and Surviving the Long Emergency,

ISBN #978-1933392455, Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT (800) 639-4099


Watching the poor people suffering in Haiti points out our all-too-human vulnerability when disaster strikes, things fall apart, nothing is working, and the few facilities and rescue workers that are functioning are hopelessly overloaded! Most Americans are in the danger zone for some kind of disaster, whether it be terrorism, hurricane, firestorm, flood, or earthquake, yet few of us have developed any type of survival plan, or laid aside supplies and materials that in times of trouble could make the difference between life and death, or between severe discomfort and relative ease.

Interest in disaster prep tends to flare up whenever a calamity of vast proportions befalls some part of the world, but usually fades away a few weeks later when we have tired of endless survivor and rescue interviews, and the media has shifted its focus onto other subjects. If anything, our fascination with disasters should teach us that a little foresight and preparation would go a long ways towards helping weather the storms of man and Mother Nature, but how many of us take heed?

Disaster prep is like car insurance. Everyone hopes that they will never get into an accident, and will never use their insurance, but they thank God they have insurance if the day comes when they get into a wreck. You don’t want to be caught like the thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina, hungry thirsty and sweltering in the heat while they waited for government relief efforts to arrive. A single day without water in hot weather and I guarantee that you will drink from the scummiest most disgusting duck pond or ditch water, if that is all you have access to. When that day comes, you will be quite grateful if you had planned ahead and have a high quality portable water filter on hand to turn foul disgusting water into safe, clean, sweet drinking water!

When disaster strikes is the wrong time to wish you had put together a family emergency plan and a few key supplies. It brings great peace of mind to yourself and your family to know you have a plan and key materials for dealing with emergencies. A good place to start is by putting together a 72-hour grab-and-run kit, which is an assortment of gear and supplies that provides the basics of food, water, shelter and medicines for you and your family to cover the critical first three days during a disaster. Of these items, the most important is water. You may not realize it, but most of us could last for a month without food, but after a single day without water in hot weather we would be in serious trouble, and within three days people start to die. In hot weather, the average adult will consume about a gallon of water a day. For a family of four over the course of three days, that equals about 100 lbs of water—way too much to carry on your back. So, I like to include a back country water filter, like the ones from MSR or Katadyne, which help me transform scummy duck pond water into clear, clean, safe, good tasting drinking water.

Every grab-and-run kit should also include a first aid kit and any necessary prescription medicines as well as compact food that doesn’t spoil quickly. Some of the important, but not-so-obvious items in my grab-and-run kit are:

  1. A battery powered waterproof headlamp that shines a light wherever your head turns while leaving your hands free.
  2. Inch and a half cloth adhesive first aid tape, for taping wounds and sprains, as well as hot spots on your feet before they turn into blisters.
  3. A sewing kit with extra heavy duty thread and tough “furrier” needles for repairing gear and clothing, as well as emergency sutures.
  4. A multi tool knife, like a Leatherman or Swiss Army Knife.
  5. Tea tree oil, which is antiseptic oil that has penetrating qualities to fight infections, even after the skin has sealed over the area of the infection.
  6. A colloidal silver generator for making a broad-band antibiotic solution that can kill all known pathogenic bacteria (if you are without access to pharmaceuticals, this could save your life).

For a comprehensive list of over two dozen items that I recommend you pick up for your emergency kit, click on 72-hour grab-and-run kit.

Here are some key items in a family emergency plan (for a more thorough list, click on the link):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Stash spare keys to your vehicles somewhere on the vehicle and an additional supply of keys somewhere outside of your home (securely hidden).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Store your important papers in one easily accessible location, preferably in a waterproof and flameproof box. Depending upon the age and physical security of your bank (flood zone, hurricane or tornado potential, earthquake resistance, etc.), placing your important papers in a safety deposit box may, or may not, be a good idea.

In these shaky times, it can bring great peace of mind to know that we have set aside a few critical supplies, and made a few plans and preparations, so we may care for our selves, our loved ones, and perhaps even a few neighbors and strangers if some unforeseen event disrupts the local flow of goods, services, food, and water.