The first 72 hours following any disaster are the most critical, but it’s also during those intial hours that emergency services and personnel are stretched to the limit. With a system of carefully planned 72 Hour Kits, your family can be self-sufficient until help arrives.
A 72 Hour Kit is one of those handy-dandy, all-in-one grab bags that, theoretically, could keep you and your family in good shape during a three day emergency. How well they do their job depends on how well-equipped they are for your family’s particular needs. Why 3 days? Well, that’s about how long it usually takes for some other help to arrive or for the crisis to be over. Following a disaster, within 3 days you should be in alternative housing or back home. Churches and other non-profit groups spring into action quickly and within that amount of time can usually offer support, meals, temporary housing, clothing, etc.
Think of your 72 Hour System as three layers that include kits for each individual, a kit of general items, and a vehicle kit. With these in place, you’ll be prepared for those first critical hours whenever and wherever they might occur.
Layer 1: Individual 72 Hour Kits
The first layer of this emergency system is the Individual Kit. These kits contain clothing, a change of shoes, toiletries, and anything else required by a specific person. The contents can be packed in any type of bag, preferably something you already have on hand or can pick up at a garage sale. Some people prefer medium sized duffle bags, and one gal has hers’ packed in a plastic bin. A variety of containers is probably a good idea to give you more flexibility on your journey.
Think of layers, too, when planning the clothing for each Individual Kit and try to select items that aren’t bulky. In a nutshell, here is a list of clothing items that would be suitable for most people and situations.
- two short-sleeved cotton knit t-shirts
- one long-sleeved, light-colored cotton knit shirt
- two pairs light-weight pants
- one pair shorts – useful for swimming and as pajamas
- 3 pairs underwear
- an extra bra or two
- 3 pairs socks
- a waterproof, light weight jacket
- shoes – comfortable, practical
- other clothing items according to the season and your climate
I suppose you could worry about color coordinated outfits and accessories if you really want the added stress, but comfort and packability are far more important factors! Also, since there really is a lot involved with this whole “preparedness” thing, save money by using clothing you already have or can purchase very inexpensively. Second hand stores are your friend! Save the cutest, newest things to wear right now!
By the way, Individual Kits for children should be a size and weight they can handle on their own. Even a preschooler can wear a backpack for a good long while if it’s the right size and isn’t too heavy. Heck, you could even pack a kit for your dogs with some sort of carrier harness! In a dire situation, no one gets a free ride!
Speaking of kids, include a few items to provide comfort and entertainment, such as a favorite toy or a lovie of some sort. Other than taking into consideration the size and weight of an item, I would suggest giving your child plenty of leeway when they make their choice of their comfort item. A puzzle book, pad of paper, and colored pencils can help keep older kids occupied, and a small bag of hard candy can provide a much-needed treat in a stressful situation. Audiobooks, along with a portable CD player or iPod take up very little room for the hours of entertainment they provide.
Speaking of comfort items, what activities do you turn to when you’re stressed out? Is there something you could pack in your own kit that would help you become centered? Knitting usually does the trick for me. When I focus on those tiny stitches, I forget, for a time, everything else around me. Perhaps your comfort item might be a well-loved book, the Bible, or a journal. Remember, we have to take care of ourselves in order to help lead our families in good times and bad.
And for your husband? I know mine would vote for a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke and a large Butterfinger candy bar for his comfort items, but you just pack whatever will keep your husband in his happy place!
Each person should have either their own canteen or a couple of small water bottles in their kits. Hopefully, you’ve equipped your vehicle with larger water containers and have those as part of your Family Evacuation Plan, but the small bottles will insure that everyone gets a drink as soon as they’re thirsty, and you, the mom, won’t have to be in charge of handing out drinks. On a warm day, that could become a part-time job!
The last item for the Individual Kits is a small toiletry bag. Consider which items are necessary to keep everyone healthy and fresh smelling, and pack those. Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, a hairbrush or comb, and hand sanitizer would provide the basics for most people. Again, consider personal needs such as contact lens solution and case, a spare pair of glasses, or an inhaler. The rule of thumb is to pack things most often used by that individual.
Got pets? Pack a small bag for them as well. I have complete details here.
Layer 2: A Family Kit
When I packed my first 72 Hour Kit, I put everything in one large Rubbermaid tub and then had second thoughts when I had to dig through multiple shirts, socks, and cans of beef stew just to reach a bottle of shampoo.
A separate Family Kit will contain everything else needed by the family as a whole. Feel free to divide this kit into more than one container. In fact, one gal uses a plastic garbage can as part of her 72 hour system, and another friend packs blankets and inflatable pillows in a 5-gallon bucket that can double as an emergency toilet.
The Family Kit will contain the majority of your food. You know what your family will eat and any food allergies, so plan accordingly. If you pack food that must be warmed up, make sure you include a way to do that. There are a number of very tiny, portable stoves that weigh just a few ounces and fit easily into emergency kits. This stainless steel version is reliable and only needs tiny bits of fuel from nature, such as twigs, pinecones, and leaves. I figured that a warm meal is far more satisfying and comforting than eating cold ravioli three days in a row. A few food items I’ve packed are:
- energy bars
- cans of fruit
- beef jerky
- peanut butter/cracker sandwiches
- cans of beef stew and ravioli
- packages of freeze dried meals
This printable list of no-cook foods will give you other ideas. Just be sure not over-pack and keep the weight of food in mind. There’s no need for everyone in the family to have a hatchet, for example, unless you’re a family of fire-fighters!
One family I know of keeps a tent, sleeping bags and a camp stove all packed together and ready to go at a moment’s notice. They are ready to camp anywhere and, if they ever have to evacuate to a shelter, the tent provides privacy and security for their belongings.
You can buy ready-made kits, but I think making your own is a useful process. It forces you to take into consideration your family’s unique needs rather than trying to fit your family to a prepackaged product. Also, by making selections yourself, you’ll be intimately familiar with every item and where it’s located.
Layer 3: Vehicle Kits
With my luck, the worst disaster to hit my city will happen when I’m 30 miles from home on the hottest day of the year! Some of us busy SurvivalMoms practically live in our vehicles! It only makes sense to have a few extra supplies in the trunk of our car, just in case.
Check out my articles on Vehicle 72 Hour Kits for details. I’ve even included separate instructions for a kit to store in your husband’s vehicle. Remember to make a plan for storing a few gallons of water, either by using 2-liter soda bottles that have been cleaned and refilled with water, collapsible water containers, or something similar. Regardless of the season, if you’re stranded somewhere in your car, water will be an issue.
Putting all the layers together
One of the final pieces of your preparedness plan is to write out an evacuation plan. You can find worksheets from my book, Survival Mom: How to Prepare Your Family for Everyday Disasters and Worst Case Scenarios, here. This step is important because it puts the 72 Hour Kits in motion, literally.
Your personalized plan will designate who loads the Kits, who will be in charge of pets, and steps for preparing your home for an extended absence. It’s vital to put this plan in writing, post copies around the house, include a copy in your Survival Mom Binder, and then rehearse your plan. Only then will you know if everything will fit in your minivan!
It’s a good feeling to know you’re ready for whatever comes. Chances are, you may never need these 72 Hour Kits, but the problem with emergencies is that they never arrive announced, and that is what makes preparedness a worthy goal.
This article updated on December 12, 2017.