Seventy-two hour kits? Are you sure?

A previous entry mentioned the folly of the “seventy-two hour kit”, and warned regarding relying upon it (https://762rifleman.wordpress.com/2009/06/27/nobody-cares/). A portable go-bag is worthy, in concept. Unfortunately, most people do not spend the time or effort to examine it in context. It should have the food and equipment to last about three days, in case you have to get out of your domicile in a hurry, for instance. It should most emphatically not be what you rely upon in a disaster or its aftermath if you can shelter in place, or evacuate by car. What will happen when three days passes and the cavalry have not arrived? That is an easy answer: Murphy will screw you. You will find yourself standing in line at the FEMA or Red Cross shelter, taking what you can get, when they do finally arrive. You and your family will be completely reliant upon them to meet all of your needs. They will tell you what to eat, where to sleep, and when and where you can relieve yourselves. That is not what preparedness and survival is about. You should work to continue your lifestyle as seamlessly as possible, before, during, and after a calamity, not that it is likely. The point echoes Tom Petty: “You see you don’t have to live like a refugee.”

You have two choices, two possibilities to make in the face of any disaster: stay, or leave. Making the correct choice there is a science unto itself, with enough consideration for its own essay and discussion. What is important to know is how the so-called seventy-two hour kit relates to staying or going. Let us clarify. A seventy-two hour kit is not for staying. It is for going. Consider this piece of Pollyanna hack writing http://www.healthsafe.uab.edu/pages/emergencyinformation/build_a_72_hour_kit.pdf. Here is another: http://lds.about.com/od/preparednessfoodstorage/a/72hour_kit.htm

The first says, “Experts recommend that you should be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least three days.” Wrong! You should be self-sufficient for as long as possible, period, unless you like the notion of seeing your own likeness in a Sally Struthers commercial. Then, the piece has some recommendations regarding food that it is “ready to eat or requiring minimal water, such as: canned tuna, canned fruit and vegetables, canned beans, raisins, peanut butter, granola bars, canned milk. For children, include comfort food and other items your family will eat.” For every gem here, there is another turd. How many cans of food can you fit into a pack, and carry off? The odds are it is not three days’ worth.

There are two points to consider when packing a three-day bag, nutrition and weight. Unfortunately, weight and nutrition are often in opposition. Empty calories are light. You do not want to eat junk food in a disaster. When your adrenaline is flowing, and your mind is racing, nutrition becomes more important than when the typical American is in his cubical-dwelling, American Idol-watching state. Someone needs to throttle people that with a straight face and clear conscience recommend granola bars, bullion cubes, hard candy, and ramen noodles for emergency food. People that should know better perpetuate this crap at preparedness expos and fairs all of the time. Stop it, please, before you kill someone. People need more calories, and particularly more fat and protein in an emergency than is usual. When people run out of calories in high stress situations, they “bonk”.

There is a whole science devoted to nutrition in stressful situations. There is not the space for it here, but a little investigation of what endurance athletes eat before and during exertion, and what our fighting men and women consume while deployed will help you decide on what to put in your go-bag. Mountain House freeze-dried foods are light, compact, and are of far greater worth than junk food. Similarly, MREs, whether military or civilian versions (often made by the same companies that make the military’s- read the labels carefully) have the calories and balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrate to keep the body active and mind alert in an emergency. There is no place for a groggy and disoriented individual in a disaster. It only exacerbates the problems. Get some quality food for your bags, people.

Finally, when your five-year-old looks up at you and says, “I’m hungry, mommy” are you going to hand her a package of ramen noodles and a Jolly Rancher and say, “Here you go, honey. That’s all we have.” Is that how you take care of your family, how you provide for their needs? Having a hungry family in a disaster will surely drive one to begging, the FEMA/Red Cross shelter, or crime. Children have no place in a shelter; and based on what came out of New Orleans, neither do adults. Begging is haphazard and undignified. As for crime, folks have a tendency to shoot looters, and shoot the survivors sometimes twice. It is better to have your own food squared away, both for staying, if possible, and for leaving, if necessary. Have food.

The most galling point of these lists is that they take a one-size fits all approach. As the “seventy-two hour kits” filled with heavy steel cans, while also recommending dishes, axes, shovels, and bedding. Where are they going, and how are they getting there, by Conestoga wagon? First, prepare to shelter in place. For that, you do not need a sleeping bag, a ground cloth, or an ax. You do need, however, a damn sight more food and water than for seventy-two hours. If you are staying at home, you need a pantry full of the food you already like eat. You need extra toilet paper and paper plates. You need extra feminine hygiene products for the women of the house. You need extra medication, if you have regular prescriptions. Think about everything you normally use in your day-to-day living. You need that, and a lot of it. Start with a single month’s worth, and expand when possible.

Now think. Assess the situation. If you had to go, could you go by automobile? Walking sucks. If you have children, or are infirm, walking is not an option, unless it is to a refugee camp (at which point you have almost lost “survival game”). This is where the two articles above start to make sense. Unfortunately, they are devoid of context, and rely heavily upon the notion that it is not necessary to be self-reliant (one of the oldest lies in the world is “I’m from the government. I’m here to help”). The second article makes this point: “This kit should be put together in a practical manner so that you can carry it with you if you ever need to evacuate your home. It is also important to prepare one for each member of your family who is able to carry one.” Then it lists about two-hundred pounds of gear. Which is it, man-portable, or filling a Winnebago? Build everything up in layers. The military refers to this as “lines” of gear. The first line of gear might fit in your pockets, and include a wallet, keys, cell phone, and knife. The second line of gear might be your go-bag (your real seventy-two hour kit). It needs to be light and handy enough to carry (and try doing that with over twenty-five pounds of water, in addition to extra clothes, and the rest of the superfluous crap on those lists). After that, start loading the car.

If you keep your camping gear together, and add extra food to it, you have the makings of your next line of gear (actually line three/four gear, depending on how you count it). Use Contico-type boxes, the heaviest you can find, and preferably the ones with wheels to load the necessities. Forget cutlery and dishes. Forget heavy bedding. Do remember your wedding pictures and other irreplaceable items. Now, here is the trick. How do you fit your so-called and Pollyanna-recommended kits into your car with the husband, kids, dog and cat? Boxes are bulky. Car trunks are small. Kids may need car seats. Staying at home looks better and better, right? Do not let Murphy screw you. Put together a plan now for staying, going by car, and going by foot. There are quite a few testimonials of hurricane survivors on the web. Contrary to media accounts, folks did drive out of New Orleans before Katrina hit. Even more drove out of Houston before Rita (maybe Texans are smarter). Look to them as examples, for good or ill. Learn from their mistakes. Leave about a day before most of them did. Guard your gas cans against thieves and robbers.

Finally, do not rely upon three-day supply of food as Linus holds to his security blanket. To do that is to live in denial. The food will not last; and the FEMA camp is not worth it. It is better to prepare now, than to explain to the people you love why you did not.

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3 Responses

  1. I love this, Bo. Bravo!

    • Well, coming from an honest-to-goodness endurance athlete, that is a high compliment. I am interested in your recommendations for a three day kit. Ours have MREs, Mountain House Pro Paks, with a Katadyn filter and an MSR WhisperLite stove in the line four gear.

  2. I has a 744 hour pack, but it’s really hard to get out the door.

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