Household Emergency Supplies: Food & Water

Food and water are the most essential of your household emergency supplies.  And many disaster scenarios will threaten the availability of consumable food and potable water in your home and from local merchants, including anything that impacts the power utilities infrastructure (see hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc.).

For example, here in New York City, much of the electrical power infrastructure is located below ground and close to sea-level.  In the event of a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, storm surges could reach the height of 20 ft around much of the City, which would flood electrical vaults with sea water.  ConEd rightly has plans to shut down the power supply throughout the City before the storm surge reaches the City to avoid severe damage when the conductive sea water inundates the power infrastructure.   And they admit that it will take weeks, if not months, to pump out seawater from the vaults and dry them out and then to restore regular service throughout the City.  So without power, how long do you think fresh food will be available in your neighborhood?

Other disasters have similarly foreseeable impacts, which is why everyone from FEMA and the American Red Cross to Living Prepared™ recommends that everyone store two weeks of food and water in the home for “shelter-in-place” scenarios where you may remain in the home after a disaster – and 3 days ready for your evacuation kit (or go-bag).

Strategies for Food and Water Storage

So…  as I noted in my previous post, I believe in keeping your emergency supplies accessible, isolated and safe – and as far as food and water storage is concerned, do keep it separate from your regular household consumables.  Generally, I believe that there are two main strategies for emergency food and water storage:

Strategy #1: The Costco Solution: Buy in bulk and rotate.  This is the strategy I used to follow and for many, it may work out best.  For food – buy cases of canned foods that don’t require refrigeration or cooking/heating before you eat them.  Some examples:   baked beans, chili, tuna, peas, corn, fruit and most of all – soups.  You will find lots of other options at your local warehouse store.

Despite the long shelf life of many of these products, I would recommend replacing them annually and consuming the old stock rather than trying to stretch their longevity until the expiration dates near.  It also avoids having to track the expiration dates of many different products – some may be five years or longer – others only a year.

Many cans are self-opening, but you may need to stock a good manual (not electric!) can opener or two with the supplies.

For me, the problem with this solution for food was that I hate eating canned vegetables and prefer fresh fruits, vegetables and proteins.  I didn’t want to have to consume this stock regularly in order to rotate it.  I suppose I could have regularly donated it during holiday food drives.

For water: buy cases of bottled water in the largest bottles available (12 x 1 gallon bottles at my local Costco costs under $5).  You may elect to buy the smaller bottles (3/4 liter size or smaller) and use them as drinking water.  These clear plastic bottles are not designed for long-term water storage, so you should constantly use and rotate this stock of water.  Personally, I found that during the hot summer months, I was constantly poaching my emergency storage supply of bottled water.  I used a filtered water pitcher on tap water for drinking (and now have a filtered cold- and hot-water tap on my counter, so large storage bottles never got used – except to rotate them.  This wasn’t a sustainable, economic or green solution for me but it may work for you.

The advantages to the Costco Solution to emergency food and water supplies are cost, convenience and variety.

The negatives are mostly that it is a high maintenance solution – you need to rotate or check for differing expiration dates.  It is also an extremely excessive and un-green use of plastic bottles for water storage.

For me, these negatives made me turn to:

Strategy #2: The Living Prepared Solution: Buy dehydrated or other food designed for long-term storage and store water in large storage containers.  This is the strategy I follow now for my family.

Many suppliers of camping supplies have recently repackaged and remarketed a lot of their foodstuffs for emergency and disaster preparedness.  This is good because it has increased the options we have for long-term food storage.

These items have extraordinarily long shelf-lives – up to 30 years – and are designed for weight and storage efficiency.  Again, you will need to store a good manual can opener or two with the supplies, and in the case of dehydrated food, an extra allotment of water.  And mixing them with hot water is recommended, which could honestly be a challenge in a post-disaster environment.

I am counting on being able to heat some water – either through electrical means (hotpot, microwave) off of mains or generator power – through my gas range or propane grill with its own tank (and I should always have an extra filled tank on hand – but I don’t yet) – or even by building a small camp fire if I have to.  Time to consider a solar cooker as well.

Honestly, if I can’t heat some water after a disaster, I’m probably going to have bigger problems than eating cold meals!

You could also stock ready-to-eat food bars; these provide a balanced diet and lots of energy and require no cooking or preparation.  They are the true survivor’s solution.  I stock some for evacuation and emergency purposes.  But I decided that if my family had to eat emergency food rations for a couple of weeks, I wanted to have a little bit more variety and something resembling the food they are used to.

For water, I decided to purchase 5-gallon food-grade plastic water containers designed for long-term storage.  I tried out a couple of different models that are available online.  My favorites come from the Ready Store – they are rectangular, stack really well, and have a lid that really closes tightly.  Be wary when looking for water storage containers online – some merchants chart a ridiculous shipping charge (I know that water containers are large – but Amazon.com manages to ship with Free Supersaver Shipping and The Ready Store has free shipping on all orders over $100 – so shop around for the best buy.

8 of my 12 5-gallon Water Containers in Storage

8 of my 12 5-gallon Water Containers in Storage

5-gallon containers made the most sense for me.  They are light enough to be able to tip and pour, load into the car for evacuation, and carry up and down the stairs – but still hold a decent amount of water.  30-gallon drums are also available which are not going to be as portable, especially once filled, but may work for you and your home..

Don’t forget water saver – which will extend the shelf-life of your stored tap water for at least 5 years!  This is absolutely necessary for any planned long-term storage of water.

Date of Filling Written in Sharpie on Water Container

Date of Filling Written in Sharpie on Water Container

Is Mark Living Prepared?

I feel pretty good right now about my food and water preparedness, though I still have some ways to go.

For food – I purchased a 45-day supply of dehydrated food from the Ready Store – that’s for one person.  To cover my family of four, I supplemented this stock by ordering additional cans of food to ensure 3-meals a day for four persons for at least two weeks, as follows:

  • Breakfast – 72 servings (that’s 18 days x 4 persons)
  • Lunch & Dinner Entrees – 122 servings (that’s 15.25 days x 4 persons)
  • Vegetables – 120 servings (that’s 15 days x 4 persons)
  • Sides – 72 servings (rice – 18 days x 4 persons – once per day)
  • Fruits – 120 servings (that’s 15 days x 4 persons)

Assuming that my kids probably won’t eat a full portion, we’re in good shape for food.  (I have not yet planned for my poor 20 lb cat, however… although I think having an extra 20 lb bag of his diet “lite” cat food and keeping it rotated every few months will probably cover the poor little guy for a couple of weeks).  For my sheltering-in-place, I am assuming that I have access to my home – including plates, cups, pots, etc., so am not storing those with my emergency food supplies (though I am storing an extra manual can opener with it).  I will need to consider this for evacuation preparedness.

I also stock some ready-to-eat food bars – enough for more than 3 days for my entire family – that is suitable for go-bag/evacuation purposes as it requires no preparation and is rich in energy and nutrients.  These came in a transportable case with a handle so it is ready to go when needed.

For water, I have stored 40 gallons of water in 12x 5-gallon containers.  At one gallon per person per day, that should provide water for drinking and sanitation for 15 days for four people.  But that’s actually not enough.  I forgot to plan for the water I need to reconstitute my dehydrated food (or for my cat).  I am going to need almost 15 gallons of water just to reconstitute the 29 cans of food I have in storage, so I will need to order another 3x 5-gallon cans from the Ready Store.

For portable water, I am considering purchasing some packs of water designed for long-term storage – then I don’t have to worry about cups or drink containers, but for now, I plan to take 4 of the 5-gallon containers with me in the car should I need to evacuate my family.  The round ones come with dispensing spouts so those are the ones I have designated (but still need to separate and label as the evacuation supplies).  Our family is pretty attached to our stainless steel drink containers, so those will be designated as part of our evacuation kit as well.  (Part of what you never leave home without).

The water has been treated with water saver and is stored in my cellar – and labeled with the date or storage.  In five years – or probably in a little less, I will replace the water.  The food as long as it remains sealed in its cans, has a 30-year shelf life.

Hey – I know it is August already, and the Atlantic Hurricane season – quiet so far – is about to hit its peak for the year.  The summer in New York has been mild – and the wettest I can remember.  This is the first year I haven’t had to water the plants in our window boxes since I planted them in May.  The pendulum will swing the other way and we could be in for a hot and humid August and September, which brings its own risks of utility and infrastructure challenges and potential failures.   I’m going to continue to get my home and my family prepared for any disaster and I recommend you do the same.

Remember it’s never too late to start Living Prepared™.

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Hurricane Preparedness: Household Emergency Supplies

The current tenets of emergency preparedness – as espoused by FEMA (Ready America) and the American Red Cross is:

  • Get a Kit
  • Make a Plan
  • Be Informed

Not a bad way to organize things, though I know there are some dissenters out there.  In getting ready for this year’s Hurricane Season, we’ll start with the Kit – what I call your “Household Emergency Supplies”.  These are the things you should be storing in your home – set aside for emergencies – not used or consumed on a regular basis.  They don’t need to be put in a bag (a go-bag is a different animal – more on that later), but should be easily transportable should you need or want to take (some of) them with you.

Is this practical?  Depends on where you live, how much storage space you have, and how disciplined you can be about not pilfering your emergency stash of granola bars and bottled water.

Household Emergency Supplies

So… where to start?  Ready America says:

“When preparing for a possible emergency situation, it’s best to think first about the basics of survival: fresh water, food, clean air and warmth.”

So while this sounds like good advice and simple enough, but these categories don’t cover several items on their recommended list (health and sanitation) and no items on their list actually cover “warmth”.

So in putting together the Living Prepared list of essential household emergency kit items, I’ve recategorized items into groups that are inspired by my background in international humanitarian relief and assistance, namely (alphabetically):  clothing, communications & power, documents & information, food & water, health & sanitation, pet care, shelter, and tools.  And what’s critical is that you set aside a 14-day supply of all consumables.

The Living Prepared™ List of Household Emergency Supplies:

Clothing

  • Complete changes of sturdy clothing (including footwear) for all seasons and all family members

Communications & Power

  • Battery-powered or hand-cranked radio
  • NOAA Weather radio with tone-alert
  • Flashlights & Light Sticks
  • Extra charger for your cellphone(s)
  • Extra batteries for radios & flashlights
  • Solar chargers or generator

Documents & Information

  • Maps of the local area (including neighboring states or areas that are part of your evacuation plan)
  • Copies of all important documents (including property deeds/proof of residency, photo ID, insurance and bank information)
  • Cash ($400 in small bills / nothing larger than a $20)
  • Paper, pencils and pens
  • Copy of Household Emergency Plan
  • Emergency guides and reference materials

Food & Water

  • 14-day supply of water based on 1-gallon per person per day
  • 14-day supply of non-perishable food
  • infant formula (14-day supply with additional water ration as required)

Health & Sanitation

  • First Aid Kit & First Aid Guide
  • N95 Dust Masks
  • Moist towelettes / hand sanitizer / disinfectant wipes or spray
  • Garbage bags
  • 14-day supply of prescription and non-prescription medications
  • 14-day supply of feminine hygiene supplies
  • 14-day supply of personal hygiene items (including a toothbrush, paste, soap, toilet paper)
  • 14-day supply of diapers (if required)
  • Chlorine bleach & medicine dropper
  • Bug repellent
  • Sun block

Pet Care

  • 14-day supply of pet food, medications, & extra water ration as required

Shelter

  • Plastic sheeting
  • Sleeping bag / emergency blankets / bedding
  • Mess kits – including paper or plastic plates, cups, utensils
  • Towels (cloth and paper)
  • Books, games, puzzles

Tools

  • Gas shut off tool / crowbar
  • Ziplock bags in various sizes
  • Manual can opener (if needed for food)
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Waterproof matches or matches in a waterproof container
  • Multi-purpose tool

You can also find two very good and similar standard lists of recommended household emergency supplies from Ready America and the American Red Cross.

Where to Store your Household Emergency Supplies:

  • Somewhere accessible – the top shelf of a closet – the cellar (if you have one and as long as you can expect it to remain dry/flood free after foreseeable hazards depending on where you live).
  • Somewhere isolated from regular consumables (not in your kitchen pantry)
  • Somewhere safe – think earthquake safe – not in a detached garage or storage shed that may be damaged by wind/rain/flood/debris.  Someplace likely to survive an emergency or disaster impacting your home.

Exceptions may be made for particular items (for example, flashlights, light sticks and fire extinguishers which should be distributed throughout the house so they can be easily grabbed when needed).

In the next series of postings, I’ll go through the details of each category of the Household Emergency Supply lisy to give some practical advice on what to get, where to get them, and how to store these items such that they will be accessible, isolated and safe for your use after an emergency.  And I’ll document what I am doing in my own home to get these items together.

So put together your Household Emergency Supplies.  If you do, you will be Living Prepared™.

A Note on Go-Bags and Evacuation Kits

If you are single and living alone, it is easy to prepare a go-bag with everything you need to evacuate and be self-sufficient for three days that fits into a backpack or small duffle bag.  You can keep it in your coat or clothes closet or under the bed.  Simple and compact.  Now try fitting everything you need for yourself, a spouse, two kids, a cat and two parakeets into a backpack – including food and water for three days.  Forget it!  Your go-bag probably doesn’t fit in the trunk of your car.  I know when I pack the family for a long-weekend at Grammy’s, we fill the back of a mid-sized SUV with all the stuff we think we need; and that doesn’t include life-sustaining consumables beyond snacks and sandwiches for the ride.

So while I like the concept of go-bags for individuals, I don’t think they work for families all that well.

So what should families do?  Multi-task.  I’m going to be storing 15 days worth of drinking water in my cellar based on the standard calculation of 1 gallon per person per day – in 12x five-gallon containers.  If I need to evacuate, I am taking three days worth of water with me – I grab three of those five-gallon containers and put them in the back of the car.  Same story with non-perishable food.  Keep one stock for what you need in the home – but store it such that it is easily transportable and will be taken with you as part of your evacuation kit.  Keep the supplies that are part of the evacuation kit together and labeled so there is no confusion at the time as to how much or what items you should be taking with you.

I’ll come back to Go-Bags and Evacuation Kits after this series on Household Emergency Supplies is finished.

Twitter Feeds for Emergency Alerts & Preparedness Information

A friend has been bugging me to micro-blog on Twitter for some time now.  I resisted for a while as I find it difficult to keep up with updating my status and activities already on Facebook and LinkedIn.  I finally signed up to better be able to understand Twitter’s use in support of the Sahana Disaster Management Software project, which I am involved with as a member of its Project Management Committee and long-standing contributor.  Yesterday, I was playing around with a couple of plug-ins – twitterfeed pushes my blog posts automatically to my twitter feed (very cool); a Facebook plug-in pulls my twitter status to update my Facebook status (also very cool); and a third and final one – Pidgin-Twitter plug-in – makes my twitter feed readable on my Pidgin instant messaging client (unbelievably cool).  [Follow the instructions here on how to set this up].

Somewhere along the way, I noticed someone else was following ReliefWeb, which is an information service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA).  So I started following the ReliefWeb twitter feed.  After a little research, I realized that a number of official sources of emergency and disaster information push information to their Twitter feeds.  I became obsessed.

I searched for “FEMA” and found a few official feeds.  I searched for “emergency” and found a bunch more.  “Redcross” led to a number of hits – one from the National Red Cross and a ton of local chapters.  Then the floodgates really started to open.  See, a lot of these twitter feeds from government and non-governmental organizations follow other “official” sources of emergency alerts and information.  I am up to a list of over 40 that I am now following – including one from BreakingNewsNY that pushes out up to 500 alerts per day about incidents in New York City – that is monitored by FDNY and other public safety agencies in the City.

Being better informed is absolutely a better way of Living Prepared™.

Integrated into my instant messaging client (Pidgin), I now have a scrolling feed of emergency and disaster preparedness public information notices, as well as emergency alerts and notifications.  It flashes when a new one comes in, and there is an audio alert as well (that can be turned off).  It’s the perfect solution for me as I’ve always struggled to have to check information websites (a pull system); and the e-mail notifications that I get (a push system) clog my e-mail folders (where they are filed automatically by rules).

A desktop applet has always been the solution, but most – whether a google desktop widget or simply adding a web-page to my desktop – I have always found lacking as either they remain in the background and I am unable to quickly view them on top of other applications – or they consume desktop space by occupying a bar perpetually on the right or left or top or bottom of my screen.  All dissatisfying solutions that I’ve done away with after a short while.  An instant messaging client solution is perfect for me.  It provides visual and auditory notification of new alerts and messages, which is useful when I am following a situation closely, but I can also turn down when I need to.

For outgoing updates, I have the following paths to update my twitter feed.  I can post to this blog, and it will update twitter.  I can also update my twitter status through a browser; through sending an instant message from Pidgin (it using gtalk – googletalk protocol/XMPP); through sending an e-mail to a twittermail address; through sending an SMS message from my smartphone; or through the browser on my Smartphone (whose homepage I set to my twitter homepage so I can pick up all my alerts).  I think that is pretty cool.

And by posting to Twitter, I am also updating my Facebook page; and you will also note that you can also view the Living Prepared and Globaliist twitter feeds through the widget on the right of this page.  In coming weeks, this site will be launching a number of feeds to help you be better informed about emergency and disaster preparedness – aggregated from official government and non-governmental sources.

This is the short version of this story; a longer one with step-by-step instructions will follow soon in a longer post, but I wanted to get this out to get you thinking about the possibilities.

Here is something you can help me with – I am looking to compile a list of relevant twitter, blogs and RSS feeds from governmental and non-governmental sources related to disaster preparedness, as well as alerts and warnings issued at actual time of an event (such as tornado warning, earthquake notifications, and hurricane tracking).  I’m going to organize these into separate RSS and twitter feeds that you will be able to subscribe to and follow.

In a few days, I will post a list of the feeds I have identified so far, and would be glad to receive lists of any others from you.

And I’ll do some quality control and weeding out before making any aggregated feed public.  There’s nothing worse than having an unqualified source mixed in and creating confusion.  All postings from Living Prepared™ will be clearly identified with the source – and you will always be able to look them up from this site.