Disaster Preparation Basics

Disaster-HurricaneThere is something about fall and winter that sets our disaster preparedness minds in action.  Perhaps it is due to our reflection on years past when wind, snow and ice kept us indoors.  Or perhaps it is due to a single, violent winter storm, power outage or hurricane that left a path of destruction and many families without food, water and supplies.

Whatever the reason, short term emergencies do happen and my guess is that there is not a single one of us that that’s wants to suffer the consequences of not being ready to bug in for a few days or more when mother nature misbehaves.  And most certainly, none of us wants to rely upon the government to take care our needs.

Today on Survival Friday I am going to get down to some emergency and disaster preparation basics as defined by a reader shortly after Hurricane Sandy in November 2012. Tom in Hawaii posted this article on his blog to help others come to terms with the need for emergency and disaster preparedness.  I share it with just a few minor edits made for clarity.

Emergency & Disaster Preparation Basics

“…most of the people who should read and take heed probably won’t get by the first paragraph. The rest of us will read it to see what you forgot or what you add to their lists.” by G.B.S.

“Hopefully, some will read and heed. Otherwise, folks generally get what they deserve.” K.A.F.

“Think of it as evolution in action.” Oath of Fealty by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

All you living in hurricanistan, blizzardistan, and earthquakistan?

Have you noticed that a lot of people on Long Island are still basically screwed? Lots because they didn’t high tail it from Hurricane Sandy when they should have, but a lot didn’t need to skedaddle. They did need more preparation than they made, though. Maybe they thought the government would soon be there to help them.

You could rely on FEMA’s promise to help you someday, or do something yourself about your impending doom. You might slyly forward this to your ancestral units with an appropriate note like: “Oh, Mater! Oh, Pater! I say, Christmas approaches! Ahem!” They may mutter darkly about devolution versus evolution, but at least you’ll have given them the opportunity to declare themselves cold, uncaring wretches more concerned with their next round of golf than with preserving the bloodline.

Why stand in long lines to compete with the unprepared neighbors for the last moldy donut within six miles?

Some of them may be armed. That little tube which connects us to Amazon.com makes it easy to prep for a natural disaster. When the larder is full and disaster strikes, you can sorrowfully gaze out the window as the neighbors stagger through the frozen night in search of a crust of bread. As your windows reverberate with their wailing and gnashing of teeth, you will be able to put up your feet and kick back in comfort with a cup of hot cocoa, reflecting that “There, but for the grace of Amazon, go I.”

Sooooooo….. I’ve written a long blog post with suggestions, complete with Amazon keywords for ease of finding stuff. It’s about basic preparing for short term comfort during relatively short term emergencies. Prepping for a couple days or even a few weeks is pretty simple, and the only difference between one day and some weeks is largely just adding more of the same stuff.

If you have absolutely nothing on the list already (not likely), the total should run less than $400 for the whole maximal shebang, not including food, which is pretty much free. More about that below.

All you grandparents and parents of young adults: Do you want to see too late the breathless news reports of little Ethelbert wrestling the family cat for a drowned mouse, only for him to watch with tear-filled eyes as Mummsie sautéed it in her chafing dish and popped it into her own mouth?  Keep in mind: there isn’t much meat on a waterlogged mouse. “Oh, Ethelbert! Oh Bertie! Come to Mummsie, Dear. Yes, a little closer…”

The veneer of civilization hangs thin on some of the Mummsies of the world. Why tempt them? Just remember: It’s for the bloodline.

And by the way, the idea that being prepared means cooking on a chafing dish is from the FEMA site. Someone over there has a sick sense of humor.


You may have a lot of this on hand already. The rest you can fill in. It isn’t even a pain to shop for: most of it can be gotten with a few clicks at Amazon. The food is nearly free because you need merely to buy ahead, rather than as you need it.


Rock bottom minimum is one gallon per person per day, for as many days as you contemplate being without city water. If you live in a high rise, think about having to carry jugs of water up the stairs. It’s easy to avoid.

A 5 gallon water fountain jug from Home Depot or similar place, carried up in the elevator and stashed in a closet, is a lot better than nothing, and the plastic jug will last for years. You can find heavy duty water jugs smaller than 5 gallons. They are lots lighter, especially if you carry them up empty and fill them at home. If you are a bottled water junkie, inventory more.

You can also get collapsible water jugs which you fill when you have warning of a storm. They don’t do any good for sudden emergencies like earthquakes, or even a burst water main, but if your concern is storms, you will have notice. Sporting goods sections sometimes have them. Amazon keywords: “collapsible water jugs“.

There are also lightweight bathtub liners available which let you store a tub full of water without it getting dirty from the tub or from windblown debris. They are very light plastic because they rely on the tub for support. A tub full is a lot. Amazon keywords are “tub liner“.

Heavy duty juice jugs (like cranberry juice) can be washed thoroughly, disinfected with a cap-full of unscented chlorine bleach in water for an hour, then emptied and filled. Stash in a dark place. Milk jugs are not so good because they are designed for short term storage of perishable milk. They self destruct in a few months and soak everything under them. They work fine for short term storage when you get a storm warning though.


The emergency food supply costs next to nothing because all you need to do is store more of what you normally use. The trick is in building up your stock of food, using the oldest first so you never have to throw away out-dated stock, and in not letting it get run down before an emergency. Keep an inventory of food which will last for as long as you think is appropriate: a few days to a few weeks. Think of it as an insurance policy which you will eat.

Buying weird survival foods in nitrogen packs, or military MREs is not only expensive, it isn’t even optimal for a couple days to a few weeks on your own. Switching to weird food during an already stressful time is just adding stress, especially so for kids. Stock what you and they normally eat, just more of it. If you have kids who are used to cereal, make a game of occasionally practicing for storms with canned milk.

Buy more of all your canned goods and pasta, all the standard foods you use but which do not need refrigeration. Figure out what you use frequently, and stock up. Instead of a couple of cans of this and one of that, buy a couple cases at Costco or Sam’s. Stack ‘em up, and when you open a new case, buy another or maybe two and put them on the bottom of the stack. That way you are always using the oldest first. The bigger the stack of each food, the longer you are prepared for.

This costs nothing except the small opportunity cost of not having the purchase price in the bank earning money. You are going to spend the money on the food anyway: better to do it before a problem. That reduces stress: you aren’t standing in long lines, competing with other last minute buyers. You have less stress, the unprepared neighbors have more food. Win/Win.

A gallon of water per person does not leave any for washing dishes, so paper plates, cups, bowls, napkins, paper towels, and disposable cutlery are very handy. Also, don’t forget a good supply of trash bags. You can throw all these in a plastic storage crate, put them in the closet so they are all together, and they don’t get used before an emergency. Costco and Sam’s Club are great places for all that.

Don’t forget some Wet Ones. They are great for waterless hand and face washing. You can also use them for washing pots and pans after using paper towels to get the gunk out.

Don’t forget a manual can opener. The electric one may not work well when the lights go out.

Cookbook: “Apocalypse Chow” by Jon Robertson and Robin Robertson does a good job with recipes designed for cooking during power outages. I liked it enough to write a review on Amazon, so if you are curious, go there and plug in “apocalypse chow” for all the pro and con reviews.

If you see a hurricane coming, and you have some freezer space, thoroughly wash out milk jugs or similar, fill them nearly full with water, and freeze them. Leave some space for the water to expand as it freezes so they don’t burst. Each gallon jug makes a 7+ pound block of ice, and they won’t make a mess as they melt. Cardboard milk cartons work too. It will keep the food in your refrigerator usable longer, maybe even until the electricity comes back on. Ice is good stuff. When it passes its Use By date, you can even drink it.


I would add one very important thing which is frequently overlooked in preparation lists: a two burner propane camping stove. There is nothing which will stress out kids -and adults, too, for that matter- more than several days of eating room temperature canned food, especially in the northern states in winter. A stove will also let you cook food which has to be cooked, like rice, potatoes or noodles. Hot food and drinks are really important physically and for morale, and you can have it for about $70, several fuel canisters included.

For another ten or twenty bucks, get one with push button ignition, but store a box or two of matches in it just in case. Also, of course, several of the small propane canisters. You can currently get a two burner Coleman at Amazon (keywords: propane camp stove) for $49.88, free shipping if you have Amazon Prime.

You can shave five to ten dollars by getting a single burner stove, but unless storage space is really tight, the two burner versions are far superior for stability and ease of use. You do not want to tip over a pot of very hot food on yourself or a kid during an emergency. Get a two burner. Keep it simple: no need for the dual fuel models. We have a Coleman, and love it for camping three or four times a year. They are very easy to use.

Added comfort and reduced stress during an already stressful time is important, especially if you have kids to care for. Cook your food.


At least one good flashlight per person, and I suggest at least one spare. LEDs are far better than bulbs: they don’t burn out or break if you drop the light. Maglites are no longer state of the art by a long shot, but if you get a good deal on a twin pack (usually a 3 D cell and a AA Mini Mag) at Costco, Sam’s Club, or Sears, I think they are a best buy. They are very sturdy lights. Just be sure someone doesn’t stick you with old stock using bulbs. They are around, even on Amazon. If it doesn’t say LED, it isn’t.

Much better, but more expensive, are Coast flashlights. We have several models and they are great lights, both the pocket/purse models and the bigger ones. They are machined from aluminum, with lenses which throw an even beam with no dark spot or dark rings. Unlike some other very good high end lights, they run on D, C, AA, and AAA so you can get batteries at pretty much any gas station if you are so improvident as to run out. Coasts are startlingly bright. Plug “Coast flashlights” into the search field at Amazon for the best prices. Maglites will do a good job though.

Get at least one battery powered lantern. Again, I prefer the LED models for durability and longer battery life. Ideally they run on the same batteries as the big flashlights: D cells. Two lanterns are better than one, of course, but if you are on a budget, get the flashlights, then a lantern, then another. Amazon keywords: “LED Lantern“. Coleman and Coast both make good ones for $25 to $35. No need for the $90 variety.

And don’t forget batteries! Sam’s Club and Costco have very good prices for the big packages, and that is what you want for a week without electricity. If you have room in the refrigerator, batteries will last longer there. Not in the freezer, though.

I have a very low opinion of every hand cranked flashlight and radio I have tried. Some work great for a few months but then the batteries refuse to take a charge which lasts more than about three seconds. I think they are worse than a waste of money because they are a false promise. They claim to take care of you, but they won’t. Instead of spending money on them, buy either extra batteries for radios and lights, or some liquid paraffin candles for light. (see UPDATE III at the bottom for a source)


You should have this already, so mostly you need to review what you have to be sure you aren’t running out of stuff like band-aids, triple anti-biotic cream, square bandages, tape, and peroxide, Betadine, or other disinfectant.

If your concerns are with hurricanes or earthquakes, you should be thinking about responding to much more serious cuts than usual, so consider more and much bigger bandages, too, as well as some pain pills. A couple of ace bandages and some anti-diarrhea medicine would be nice. So would a good first aid manual.

Also, of course, you should have several days of medicine for anyone who needs daily doses.


Rolls of toilet paper, stashed where they will not be used in daily life. Also tampons or pads. If you don’t need them, someone else might. The pads are also excellent expedient bandages for major wounds- say, after a hurricane or earthquake crunches a house. A five gallon plastic bucket with a top on it can serve as a toilet, especially if you line it with a couple plastic trash bags. You can even get toilet seats for them at Amazon if you like: plug “bucket toilet seat” into the search field.

The $12 variety are just fine. Home Depot has wonderful hideous orange buckets with covers for less than $4.00, and you can store emergency supplies in them, labeled with a felt tip marker if you want to get compulsive.

Again, don’t forget some Wet Ones or a couple bottles of disinfectant gel.


Several rolls of it if you are in a hurricane zone. You want to put big X’s on every window so if they get hit with debris you are less likely to get a face full of fast moving shattered glass. Consider fiberglass filament reinforced strapping tape for the same purpose. U-Haul carries it if your store doesn’t. So does Amazon. Clear packaging tape is worthless: it tears at the slightest nick. Forget it.


We almost never use a radio, except in the vehicles, but if you want to know how things are going around you, you need a battery powered AM/FM radio. Better to store it without the batteries in it, because they can leak and wreck the radio.

Cell phones may or may not work. A cell phone car charger doesn’t cost much, though.  Neither do inverters, which let you charge a laptop or tablet from the car. A landline with one of the old fashioned rotary phones will work as long as the lines are up, as the phone company lines supply the power needed.


How much money do you spend in a couple weeks? Consider having some cash on hand, in small bills, in case the stores are open but the ATMs and credit/debit card machines aren’t working. Again, anything is better than nothing.


Extra food, a transportation cage for pets if you need to evacuate, and tranquilizers for same. Our cats freaked when we put them in a tent in the front yard while having the house tented for termites. They were too stressed to eat or drink. Kitty tranks (acepromazine), saved the day. Your vet should be happy to provide some if you explain why. Don’t forget extra kitty litter.


If the phones aren’t working you will have a tough time calling the police. You will be on your own if a problem person or persons show up. How will you deal with him, her, or them if they are violent?

If you are not a gun person, you probably shouldn’t get one unless you are willing to use it on someone who desperately needs shooting, and willing to spend the time, effort, and money to really learn how to use it, the laws and morality of using it, and stay in practice.

One option to consider is pepper spray. It isn’t as effective, but it won’t kill anyone, either. Also, it is available and legal to carry in some jurisdictions where guns are hard to get and impossible to carry legally. Check local laws before getting it though. The penalty in DC for unregistered pepper spray is the same as for an unregistered gun. And DC is ugly about unregistered guns, or even ammunition. Felony ugly. Check the law.

Barring pepper spray or a gun, an aluminum baseball bat is a fearsome weapon, but you have the same moral and emotional issues as guns, without the effectiveness. Still, a bat is a lot better than poking an assailant with a mop.

If you are a gun person, you probably have your own opinion about what to use.


For many natural disasters you are better off sheltering at home. At some point though you may need to leave. If your house or high rise is on fire, or you are in the path of a wildfire, you may need to leave in a hurry. Think about what you want to take ahead of time. Some things you may decide to keep ready to go in a small duffle, rollaway suitcase, or backpack.

A printed list of things to grab in an emergency evacuation, and spare car and house keys, attached with a sturdy safety pin to the outside for quick access if you wake up to a fire, will be a huge help if you are under pressure.

Things to keep inside it are a spare pair of glasses. The pair you just replaced should be good enough, and free. Also a supply of your important medications, with the prescription bottles so you can re-supply. Contact information for family, friends, and insurance agents could be very useful. A flashlight can come in handy.

If there is any reason to think you might have to evacuate, fill the car’s gas tank early on. You do not want to be in line with the people who waited until they were sure they needed to get out of town. Plan ahead.

Think about evacuation routes in advance. This does not have to be a big hairy military exercise: just consider alternate routes to safe areas in case your regular route is closed. You should have a good local map anyway, so get one and keep it in the car.

Strictly speaking, if you have a few manual tools, you may not need a pocket knife or multi-tool at home, but I like Victorinox Swiss Army Knives enough to wear one on my belt daily. They are useful for a host of things, including food prep if you have to leave home. They include a can opener which, once you have practiced a little, is easy to use. They also have a lot of other tools which come in handy although some of the models have too many tools for my taste. The Spartan and the Climber models are basic, no frills models, and I’d be strongly inclined to consider one for about $22 to $30.

The Amazon keywords “Victorinox Swiss Army knife” will get you the whole panoply to peruse. They are high quality tools.

Alternate possibilities are Leatherman or Gerber multi-tools. They are heavier duty, and you can get them in a bewildering array of configurations. They also are more expensive than Swiss Army knives, but for some are worth the expense. If you are interested in looking at them, the Amazon keywords are “Leatherman multi-tool” and “Gerber multi-tool“.

If you have no routine use for a knife or multi-tool, just toss it in your Go Bag. Then you’ll know where it is.


All of this may seem like a lot to do all at once, but you don’t have to do it all at once. Just start, and plug away. Anything we do is better than nothing, and will help the relief crews who are helping others.

Grandparents: What better gift can you give the grandchildren than hot food, water, and light during an emergency which lasts a day or twenty? Help Little Ethelbert. Help Mummsie.

Other Information

I’m not wild about the clarity and ease of navigation of the Red Cross site, but it is worth checking out here.

FEMA also has some decent lists. They don’t seem to think hot food is important enough to include a camping stove, either. I wonder if they have ever tried living on cold canned food for a couple days, much less a week. Stoves and charcoal grills are mentioned, along with candles and fondue pots, but not listed in the supply lists.

A site with lots of disaster preparation supplies is Emergency Essentials. It caters more to people who are preparing for situations which may last a great deal longer than two or three weeks, but it has a lot of interesting stuff, including handy interactive map for preparing for standard emergencies to expect in each state.

They also have first aid kits, liquid paraffin candles (lamps, really) and folding sheet metal stoves which run on canned heat. The stoves may be more difficult to use than twin burner camp stoves, but they are quite a bit cheaper and they can be stored forever. If you visit the site only for the disaster preparations map, it will be well worth a few minutes.

Gaye Levy aka The Survival Woman has a good post on how to prep over the course of a year. If you are interested in helping yourself prepare for emergencies but feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the stuff above, you might check her out. See 12 Months of Prepping – The First Year.

Here is a link to our experience in the Hawaii earthquake of October 15th, 2006.We made out fine, but we did modify our emergency supplies by adding three 5 gallon water fountain jugs of water so we always have at least some in stock.

Plan to Bug-In in Comfort

One thing Tom did not mention is the need to have some books, games and other forms of entertainment to keep you occupied until the disaster is over.  Keep that in mind as you set aside emergency supplies and remember, amusements are important for adults as well as the kiddos.

The other thing is that by now, you should realize that for most emergencies, bugging in (also referred to as hunkering down) is the most practical solution to waiting out a disaster.  The exception is when the local authorities mandate an evacuation.  When that happens, grab your stuff, avoid the crowds and the chaos, and be the first to go!  Remember, bugging out holds no glamour except on television.  Instead, focus on maintaining a safe and secure environment in the comfort of your own home. Ninety-nine percent of the time, you will be just fine.  For the remaining one percent, keep a well-stocked bug-out bag accessible and ready to go.

The Final Word

I am very fortunate to be on the receiving end of insightful and useful information from a variety of sources, not the least of which are Backdoor Survival readers.  More and more, I plan to share this information so that you, too, can gain a perspective from someone who is walking the walk, right along side you.



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