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Disaster Preparedness: How to Start Building Your Smart Survival Kit

February 17, 2020

No one wants to think about the possibility of a natural disaster. But the fact is that any one of us could find ourselves in an emergency situation at some point in life. While we can’t guarantee we’ll never be a victim of a natural disaster, we can do our best to be prepared.

When you are in the middle of a dangerous situation, it will be hard to remember everything that is essential to survival during a disaster. That’s why it’s best to make a list now and start organizing your things, so that when the time comes, you will be ready to get yourself and your family out of harm’s way. We’re not recommending alarmist thinking, just some basic preparedness. 

Here are tips from survival preparation experts on what to pack in your survival kit, including foods and supplements to have on hand to stay healthy while waiting or escaping for help.

In what situations would you need a survival kit?

There are a variety of situations where having a survival kit on hand might be helpful to protect your valuables and support your health until you receive help. Instances in which you would need a survival kit might include:

  • Fires
  • Hurricanes
  • Floods or monsoons
  • Snowstorm, blizzard, or avalanche
  • Earthquake
  • Tornado
  • Tsunami 
  • Outbreak of a foreign pathogen
  • Radiation

In some of these situations, you will need to evacuate and stay at a safe shelter for a period of time until you’re able to return home or other shelter can be provided. These situations may include floods, fires, tornadoes, and earthquakes. On the other hand, in the case of snow-related storms, hurricanes, outbreaks, or a radiation emergency, you may need to stay indoors until it’s deemed safe to exit your home, or whatever building you’re in at that time.

What should I include in my survival kit?

According to the Red Cross, the following items are vital to your survival kit for any disaster.

  • Bottled water: The Red Cross recommends that you pack one-gallon (or eight (16.9-ounce) bottles of water) per person, per day. For two people for three days, this would be 48 standard size bottles of water, or 6 1-gallon bottles of water.  It’s recommended to prepare at least a three-day supply for an evacuation, or a two-week supply if you could be stranded at home.
  • Canned and pre-packaged dried foods (see food list in the next section for details)
  • Basic emergency supplies such as flashlights, batteries, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, and a deluxe first aid kit
  • Medications 
  • Hygiene care items such as antibacterial and hygiene wipes, toilet tissue, garbage bags, hand sanitizer, toothpaste and toothbrushes, deodorant, soap, and washcloths
  • Cell phone chargers and fully charged back-up chargers
  • Extra cash
  • Emergency blanket

In addition to these things, it’s vital that you have your personal documents such as:

  • Social security cards
  • Birth certificates
  • Passports
  • Licenses
  • Insurance policies
  • Important medical documents
  • Proof of address/deed or lease to home

These items should be kept in a portable, yet waterproof and durable container to keep with you. This, along with your family’s personal information, will be very important if you must evacuate and your home is at risk of being destroyed in the disaster.

What else should I add to my survival kit?

Besides the essentials listed above, you may also have to add such things to your survival kit like:

  • Medical supplies like hearing aids with batteries, contact lenses, syringes, blood glucose testing meter and strips, etc.
  • Baby supplies (diapers, wipes, ointments, baby food, etc)
  • Pet supplies
  • Extra set of house and car keys
  • Manual can opener for opening cans of food and beverages
  • Games and activities for adults and kids alike to keep them calm during this stressful time
  • A whistle and/or flares to signal for help
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Paper and writing utensil such as a pen or pencil

Depending on the disaster at hand, you may also need rain gear, snow gear, an ice scraper and brush, surgical masks, waterproof matches, towels, extra clothing and socks, jackets, and/or blankets. You will know how to adjust this list depending on where you live, and the type of inclement weather your region is most prone to. If you need to protect your home from a disaster, it may also help to have work gloves, supplies like plywood, duct tape, tools, hardware, and plastic sheeting on hand in your storage area.

Experts recommend that everyone in your home knows where your kit is kept and that it’s in a place that’s easily accessible in the time of an emergency. Also, be sure to keep an emergency kit in your car that can be stored in a backpack or duffel bag. Adding jumper cables, a rope for towing, and an emergency signaling device such as a flashing light or light sticks may be helpful in this kit according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  

What foods should I include in my survival kit?

During an emergency, you may not have access to the foods you normally have access to (steaming fresh greens on your way out the door will probably not be an option). And the amount of time you may be away from such access may be unknown, depending upon the emergency. Therefore, it’s important to include nutrient-dense, non-perishable foods in your survival kit, and even some dietary supplements, so you can stay healthy until you can return to your daily routine and your fresh, whole foods.

This is because certain emergency situations can put you at risk for certain nutrient deficiencies. According to the United States Department of Homeland Security, examples of such foods you should add to your survival kit include:

  • Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, and vegetables
  • Dried fruit or fruit bars
  • Dry cereal or granola
  • Almond or peanut butter
  • Canned juices
  • Non-perishable pasteurized milk
  • High-energy foods such as nutrient-dense protein bars, trail mix, or protein powders
  • Food for infants (if needed) such as dried rice cereal, formula, prepackaged baby foods, etc.
  • Comfort/stress foods

These foods are all easy to prepare without electricity or cooking and have a long shelf life. It’s also important to consider that long-standing disasters may put vulnerable populations, like women and children, at risk for micronutrient deficiencies. According to experts at the Helen Keller International, such people are at most risk for deficiencies like:

  • Vitamin A
  • Iron
  • Iodine
  • Folate (women)
  • Zinc

To make sure you’re not missing out on essential daily nutrients, bring a good multivitamin and mineral supplement with you.

Do any foods or supplements provide health protection in emergencies?

If there was a radiation emergency, you would want to be in an isolated location until evacuation was safe, and you would most likely be given a special protocol to follow. According to the CDC, if instructed by public health or emergency officials to do so, you may be told to take a dietary supplement called potassium iodide (KI).

Since the thyroid gland in your neck area doesn't know the difference between stable and radioactive iodine, it will absorb both. Taking KI, allows the thyroid to fill up on stable iodine which can help prevent your body from absorbing as much of the radioactive iodine.

Foods you could consume to receive a rich source of stable iodine may include sea vegetables like seaweed, from which alginates can be extracted. A 2013 animal study in the Biological & pharmaceutical bulletin by Idota and colleagues shows that calcium alginate reduces absorption and promotes excretion of strontium (-90) and cesium (-137), which are radioactive products of nuclear fission. It’s a good idea to pick up both dried seaweed and potassium iodide to have in your home just to be safe.

Bottom Line

There is much more to be said about disaster preparedness than what is listed above, but this compilation of basic kit items can get you started. If you know the area where you live is prone to certain disasters, then it will be helpful to start planning and assembling your survival kit today with those potential problems in mind. For example if you live in a tornado-prone area, you’ll want to have a plan for reaching the nearest underground shelter, or if you know you live on a fault line, your plan should be oriented toward earthquake preparedness. Think of it not as a chore, but as a simple and necessary thing you must do to protect you and your loved ones in case disaster strikes. The time and energy assembling your survival kit will be well worth it if you really need it one day.

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