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.
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18 thoughts on “Three Layers of 72 Hour Preparedness”
A very fun idea to do with the kids for a very simple but important part of the "lets move on out fast" scenerio are the hiking vests. Purchase
one for each child and have them fill the pockets with tissue, rain gear, food bars, packages of m&ms, small flashlights, mints and chewing gum,band aids, socks, roll of quarters and anything you think you might need to have in an emergency. The adults could have the matches, water packets, maps, cash, gun/ammo and other items. If you get separated from your car (and your 72 hour prep kit) you are still in survival mode!
Debbie, I love the idea of using vests with lots of pockets. I've heard of adults using a fisherman's style vest with lots of pockets for holding all sorts of survival items but hadn't thought of applying that idea to kids! I'll be looking online for a source for these vests.
As far as food goes in a 72 hour emergency supply kit, many folks assume that since it's an emergency, that they will just eat the most basic food items just to replace the calories they would be lacking. Food you keep in a kit might include bland tasting calorie bars or for extended periods, so form of basic wheat or grains. If you are not accustomed to eating this stuff on a regular basis, it's good bet that this food is going to upset your stomach. What if that's the only food you had available? It won't make for good moral for your family to get through an emergency. The "comfort food" aspect of this post is what's important. If you can be disciplined enough to rotate better tasting food in your preparedness kits, it will go a long way toward keeping your spirits up while you wait for rescue or escape.
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This is probably more related to another thread on what's your disaster, but I just realized that the picture of the raging wildfire didn't evoke much emotional response from me. I lived in LA for over a decade. I only experienced a few quakes big enough to feel and non big enough to even knock anything over, but there were at least five raging wildfires not far from our home. Your most immediate dangers are not always the most obvious ones.
The fires in southern CA last August were so bad we could see flames from the highway as we drove through the L.A. area. The air quality is poor anyway and the smoke from the fires made the air barely breathable. It's interesting that the fires caused you far more concern than the earthquakes normally associated with life in CA.
One item you can generally find cheaply: plain, brightly colored t-shirts. This makes it easier to find you in an emergency, especially for the kids. If you want something in a brash hot pink or uncomfortably bright neon yellow, you can usually find them cheap. This can be one of your emergency tshirts – and you will never, ever be tempted to take it out to wear for any other purpose.
SurvivalMom – I followed you suggestion of using a portable CD player and ipod in the 72 hour kits. On one of my recent rehearsal I found some 'issues' I'd like to share with you.
First the portable CD player sounds good at first but I found this problematic for 3 reasons. 1) The size/weight ratio for the CD player takes up a lot of precious room and adds to the weight. When you factor in content and 72 hours worth of batteries, you have a load. 2) you are going going to get 3-4 hours of playtime per battery set. 3) you get 80 minutes (max) our of a CD. a 12 hour audiobook is 9 CD's. Of course you can get more utility out of a newer player that supports .MP3 files. you can store 700 megs of content in that format.
The iPod seems like a better choice but does have its issues too. The iPod does not hold its charge very long so if it sits in the BOB for very long, its not going to be usable when put in to service. I did find several options for external power for the iPod option that doesnt add significantly to size/weight. there are solar chargers, hand crank chargers and chargers that use Alkaline AA batteries that will store for years. A new iPod Nano can hold tons of music, a dozen audiobooks, and still have room for a couple of movies/tv shows.
Having a fully loaded iPod would be Godsend if you have little ones and are stuck hunkering down somewhere.
I am looking in to a B&N color Nook. it does books, audio books, games, and video. I have not found a suitable external power option yet but am still looking.
Thanks for a great resource.
Don't forget hats as part of the necessary clothing if you live anywhere that's remotely sunny during any part of the year! In the southwest, at least, they are almost as necessary as sunblock and water. Also, my kids and I read a book that I saw recommended on survivalcommonsense.com, "I Sit and Stay", and they recommend a large plastic garbage bag for shelter/poncho alternative. I bought an 8-pack of large garbage bags at Ace and stuck them in my car kit, but may take 4 of them out and put one in each personal backpack.
On a side note, is there any place where all these essentials lists can be found in one place? I guess I'm just getting started (I've had water and wheat stocked up for a year or two, but the rest I'm just beginning) and so far I've partially put together a car kit, as noted above, and some of the personal bags, but am still confused on exactly *all* the things y'all recommend for preparedness. It seems like a lot of the links in your older posts are broken so it's hard to find the original referenced articles–maybe an FAQ listing all these posts would help for those of us getting started? I tend to like to have something to print out and take around the house with me (or put in my purse so that the next time I'm at Lowe's or Ace I can remember what I was going to get next). Thank you so much for such a wonderful resource!
Bella, could you email or post here the blog articles with broken links? Some of my articles are close to two years old, and I\’m not surprised that there are some invalid links. I\’ll check around myself and try to find them, but your help would be appreciated!
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What if help does not arrive after 72 hours? Are you going to take those kits wherever you go? If not and a disaster strikes what good is it if you can’t get to it? What if you are all at home when the disaster occurred? Wouldn’t it best if you stayed there? Where will you go? There is a lot said about what to put into these 72 hour kits but I have not seen any answers to these questions.
I don’t have a 72 hour bag and will never have one. Instead I have a well stocked emergency shelter. It is underground and will protect me from forest fires, earth quakes, hurricanes or any other disaster but maybe not a nuclear bomb. After the disaster I will be in a position to help others instead of being a burden to others. To me that is what being prepared means. I cannot think of a safer place to evacuate to.
I don’t know what a comfort food is. All the food I eat tastes good and is a comfort to eat. Back in the dirty thirties we didn’t have any of the things that are considered essential today. I now live in a backwater community and we have little of your essentials by choice. Yet we are strong, happy and confident in our ability to handle any disaster without needing to be rescued by others. Stress and boredom is almost unknown here. Preparedness or lack of comes from your daily life style.
I see 72 hour kits as a “get to a safe place” intermediary measure. They are not and never were meant to insure longterm disasters. In the real world, help is almost always available within 3 days or so, Puerto Rico not withstanding! Your point about staying at home when a disaster occurs is common sense. I can’t imagine that anyone would think they have to rush out into danger just because they have a 72 hour kit. However, these kits become important when your home isn’t safe any longer.
Looking at the downloadable plan, I see that one of the steps is “lock all windows and doors.” If evacuating for a fire, fire personnel are now recommending NOT locking your doors or they will have to bust them in when checking for anyone to rescue or survivors.
Great article. I have only thought of family kit and car kit.
Regarding clothing. If you are living in cold climate, cloth made of wool is gold. Wool keeps you warm when wet, is lightweight and will not smell so quickly.
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