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How to prepare a family emergency plan part 3: Safe Room Supplies

By the time disaster strikes, it's too late to hit the grocery store.  Put aside emergency supplies now.
By the time disaster strikes, it's too late to hit the grocery store. Put aside emergency supplies now.
Chris McGrath Getty images

When putting together a family emergency plan, you have to assume that you will be without basic services. This means no power, no water, no phone, no police, no fire department and no last minute trips to the grocery store or the ATM. In other words, your family might have to fend for themselves and that is much easier if you have some supplies put aside. This "worst case scenario" line of thinking means that if an emergency situation turns out to be little more than an interruption of services or a false alarm, your family will be more than prepared to deal with whatever fate throws at you.

While the mindset and skills that you take into an emergency are important, having some basic supplies on hand can mean the difference between reacting with confidence and scrambling for survival. Supplies should be stockpiled using the concentric circles model from Part 1. If your supplies are already in your staging areas, you will not be running amok trying to find them at zero hour.

Multiple stockpiles, even small ones, stashed in multiple locations means always having something to fall back to if we are forced to abandon our comfort zone. The amount and type of supplies you put aside will depend heavily upon the location of your staging areas and the amount of disposable income you are willing to devote to the project. With that in mind, here are my recomendations for the minimum amount of emergency supplies every family should have on hand and, considering the dire situation of the economy, I'm going to do it all on the cheap.

Supplies for the Safe Room

- Security: Disasters bring out the best and the worst in people. In the aftermath of a major disaster, you may have to defend your family against roving bands of looters or plain ol' anti-social types taking advantage of the lack of law and order. Of course, I'm going to recommend a firearm as the preferred method of crime deterrence but if you can't afford one, get a machete or two. They're cheap, scary, require very little practice to use effectively and are just as effective at cutting brush as they are at discouraging creeps.

- Water: Begin by buying a case of bottled water. You should be able to buy at least one case for less than five dollars. While this will give you some drinking water, you're going to need more for sanitation and cooking. If you have space, stash water in two liter plastic soft drink bottles (sanitize with a 1/10 bleach/water solution and stabilize with a 4 drops of bleach). Don't forget to wash the threads of the caps with bleach. If you have the space and the money, invest in a long term water container and stabilizer. Collapsible containers and Water Bobs make great water storage methods if your safe room has access to running water. Water is often the last basic service to disappear and, if you act fast at the beginning of a disaster, you can put aside quite a bit of water rapidly without taking up much space during the non-emergency times. Remember the bathtub scene in The Road?

- Blankets and Warm Clothes: Hypothermia is as dangerous and insidious as dehydration and both have killed more than their share of folks just trying to stay alive. Make sure your safe room contains a warm change of clothes (including shoes and rain gear) for each member of the family, blankets and/or sleeping bags for everyone. These need not be fancy and if money is tight, buy a ponchos and a mylar blanket for everyone in your family. These simple items are cheap, take up little space and will keep you warm and dry in a pinch.

- First Aid Kit: Get one. No excuses here. I once built a serviceable FAK from items I bought at the Dollar Store for around $12.

- Non-Perishable Food: Don't make this more complicated than it has to be. Stash a week's worth of canned food, boxed meals, MREs or freeze dried food along with some way to prepare it. If you're short on cash, spend twenty bucks on rice, beans and sterno and stash all of it in a couple of old coffee cans. If worse comes to worst, use one can as a stove and one as a cooking pot.

- Sanitation Items: Assume you will be in your safe room for at least a week and prepare to dispose of your waste accordingly. If your safe room has a toilet, stockpile more water than you need and flush the commode with a bucket. If not, put a camp toilet or a homemade equivalent in the room along with a gallon of Pine Sol. Experience has taught me that a bucket of Pine Sol is the next best thing to a chemical toilet. It keeps the smell down and forms a semi-solid gel that is less likely to spill when disturbed. Some wet wipes and soap will also come in handy if the emergency lasts for more than a day.

- Important Papers: Do this as quickly as you can because it's easy to procrastinate on this part. Make copies of your driver's licenses, passports, deeds, titles, insurance policies, birth certificates, SSN cards and bank account information. While you're at it, write down a list of all emergency numbers including names, numbers and addresses for all your family members, out-of-state contacts, doctors etc. Take all these papers, put them in a waterproof container (a pair of ziploc bags works great) and put it in your safe room.

- Battery powered items: Get a well made, powerful flashlight, a couple of headlamps, a battery powered or hand cranked radio and plenty of batteries. None of these items should break the bank.

- Other Items: Some other items you might want to include are prescription medications, items for infants, the elderly and family members with special needs, extra glasses, spare keys, a small stash of cash, a multitool or Swiss army knife, 550 cord, lighters and/or matches, duct tape, garbage bags and reading material (I recommend religious/inspirational works and survival manuals).

Next time, we will look at what supplies we need to bring with us should we have to abandon our homes.

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