Creating a Disaster Survival Kit

MAKING IT THROUGH THE FIRST THREE days of a natural or human-made disaster are crucial to surviving in the long run. For working people, who are often limited in resources and ability to flee from a disaster area, this is especially important. It is during that time that making sure you have the basic necessities covered can be the difference between life and death. One of the easiest ways to make sure you can survive is to have a disaster survival kit.

A disaster survival kit is something you can put together relatively inexpensively, and even at short notice. You can keep it in a corner or the bottom of a closet in an apartment, or in a basement or crawlspace in a house. A large plastic storage container (2x2x3’ with a lid) can provide an excellent space for your kit.

Below is a list of items per person for your survival kit. The kit is designed to provide three days’ worth of items for one person, so scale it up depending on the number of people you’re providing assistance for and the number of days you might be on your own. If you live in rural areas, you might want to expand your kit to meet the needs of five to seven days.

  • Three gallons of clean water, half for drinking and half for hygiene
  • Nine balanced meals1
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio with NOAA weather band, or separate NOAA weather radio, and three spare sets of batteries for each radio2
  • Flashlight and three spare sets of batteries2
  • First aid kit3
  • Whistle or air horn to signal for help
  • Six dust masks or three bandanas to filter air particles
  • Four 9×12’ pieces of plastic sheeting and 2 rolls of duct tape to cover broken windows or holes in structure, or to build a shelter-in-place
  • One large pack of moist towelettes, 1 roll of toilet paper, 1 box of feminine hygiene products (pads or tampons), and 1 box of garbage bags and twist ties for sanitation and hygiene
  • Two full changes of clothing (undergarments, socks, shirts [long-sleeve and short-sleeve], pants, closed-toed shoes)
  • Local maps
  • Pens and notebook
  • Two one-time re-chargers for cell phone4

In addition to these basic items, you may also need or want to have the following:

  • Any prescription or non-prescription medicine taken on a daily basis
  • Infant formula and diapers
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet (same ratios as with humans)
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container
  • Cash or traveler’s checks and change
  • Emergency reference material such as a first aid book
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person, and additional bedding if you live in a cold-weather climate
  • Coats and jackets if you live in a cold-weather climate; caps and hats for all climates (sunny or cold weather)
  • A tent or tents as potential alternate housing
  • Small gas-powered generator
  • Unscented, plain chlorine bleach and medicine dropper5
  • Class A-B-C Fire Extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Paper cups, plates and plastic utensils, paper towels
  • Activities or favorite toys for children

1. We recommend military-style Meals Ready-to-Eat (MREs). They are longer-lasting than most canned or other pre-packaged food, come contained in waterproof wrappers, and can provide proper nutrition to all ages. Most military-surplus and outdoor-supply stores sell MREs relatively inexpensively, with a variety of meals that include breakfast and vegetarian. If you cannot find MREs or otherwise choose to store canned food, be sure to include a can opener or purchase canned goods with pull-tab tops.

2. There is often a temptation to run a radio or flashlight at all times after a disaster. We recommend keeping their use to a minimum until power is restored. News often does not come quickly after a disaster, so it is best to not “watch the pot until it boils” — i.e., not listen for hours on end expecting quick developments. Conservation of necessary resources is survival in times of disaster.

3. The RSS Protester’s First Aid Kit (essentials and basics) can serve as an excellent first aid kit in a disaster.

4. Not all one-time cell phone rechargers work with any phone. Be sure to check and make sure the chargers are compatible with your phone before purchase. If they are not, get a cheap cell phone with only a few minutes on it to use as an emergency back-up.

5. When diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant. In an emergency, you can use it to treat tainted water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Be sure to not use scented or color-safe bleach, or bleaches with added cleaners.

Other Tips:

If you have advance knowledge of the kind of natural disasters your area is prone to (floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes), consider adding specific supplies to your kit that are designed to help you make it through these events (e.g., a blow-up raft in case of flooding). Also, do you best to take precautionary measures that could prevent increased damage to where you live based on the possible disaster (e.g., opening windows when a tornado is coming to allow for the pressure to equalize and minimize the risk of broken glass).

If you have it, you may want to keep clean-up equipment (heavy broom, large garbage bags, shovel, heavy gloves, etc.) protected but accessible for use after a disaster.

Hygiene and sanitation are essentail after a disaster. More deaths are often caused by illness and disease after major disasters than by the event itself. Keeping clean, keeping waste contained and away from living areas, and being on alert for potential sanitation problems can mean the difference between survival and perishing after a catastrophe. The RSS Post-Disaster Sanitation Guide can help you use the limited resources you have available to maintain as healthy an environment as possible.

If you have casualties that are beyond care you can provide, it is important to either get them to a hospital or to triage services immediately. If that is not possible, do everything you can to stabilize their condition (i.e., make sure it’s not getting worse) and search out help. There are several guides and books available that can walk you through such stabilization techniques available for purchase from bookstores and online.

In the event of a death and your inability to get the body to a hospital or triage service, the most important thing you need to do is contain it and keep it from contaminating the area around you. Keep the body in a cool, dry area, away from where survivors are gathered (preferably downwind and downstream, at least 50-100 feet). If possible, wrap the body in waterproof materials (e.g., garbage bags or plastic sheeting sealed with duct tape) to keep out moisture and predators (bugs, rats, etc.), and keep in noxious fumes and bodily fluids. If you have to leave the area where the body is, try to leave a visible notice for salvage or recovery crews, alerting them to the presence of a body.