Emergency Prep: Meeting Your Basic Needs

Emergency prep

In last week’s post, I explained that emergency preparation starts with four basic questions:

  1. Why am I preparing?  You should be preparing for
    1. Your personal safety and well being
    2. Your personal comfort
    3. Your survival until help arrives or relief comes.
  2. What am I preparing for?  Natural and manmade disasters.
  3. Who am I preparing for? Start with your immediate household and over time you can expand to cover family members not living in your home, extended family, friends and neighbors, if you wish. Don’t forget to plan for your pets.
  4. How Long am I preparing for?
    1. Shelter in place at home for a minimum of 2 weeks and up to 3 months
    2. Shelter in place at work for 1 day
    3. Evacuate for 3 days
    4. Stranded in your vehicle 1-3 days

Then make preparations for the following 4- Scenarios:

  • Shelter in place
  • Evacuate
  • Get home
  • Stranded in your car

The following basic six needs for health and well being need to be considered with all of your emergency planning.

The Basic Six for Personal Health and Well Being

  1. Water
  2. Food
  3. Health (First Aid / Medications)
  4. Hygiene
  5. Sanitation
  6. Shelter

Shelter in Place

For sheltering in place, you should plan a minimum of two weeks of supplies and up to 3-months or more. Supplies need to be stored in a cool dry place. All food should be stored in tightly sealed containers that are impervious to insects and rodents, shielded from direct sunlight and clearly marked with the expiration dates. They must be replaced as they expire or before they do so.


Store enough water or make provisions to gather, filter and purify water. Calculate a need of one gallon of water per person, per day. That is for drinking, food preparation and hygiene. Yes, there is enough for hygiene as well if done correctly. This does not include water for washing clothes or dishes. There needs to be some additional water set aside for disinfecting food-handling surfaces, utensils and hand washing.

NEVER ration water in emergency situations. It can lead to dehydration, which is much easier to prevent than to treat. NEVER drink water from any unknown or questionable source without purifying it for drinking first. Once again, it is much easier to prevent illness than to treat it during emergency situations.

Purifying Water

There are three primary and practical ways to purify water:

  • mechanically
  • chemically
  • boiling.

There is also distillation, but for the most part, it’s hard to do. It requires equipment that is hard to improvise and requires a large amount of heat energy. It’s also a very slow process. So in my opinion, distillation is not an option that I recommend during an emergency or crisis. The only exception is for salt water or brackish water where it is the only way to remove the salt content.

Of the three primary and practical purification choices, my first choice is the mechanical method using a commercially made filter, which also purifies. It is easy and convenient to use and does not require a heat source. There is a matter of semantics when it comes to filtering and purifying. It can be confusing. Most products that produce safe, purified water are called water filters. These do filter to a fine enough level to remove all pathogens from the water, so it also purifies as it filters.

However, not all water filters purify. So even though water has been filtered, it still may not be safe to drink. A disposable paper coffee filter is a great tool to pre-filter water gathered from a questionable source before boiling it to purify. The coffee filter will remove many of the gross contaminates such as algae, mold and other suspended particulate matter. But many microbes, viruses and harmful bacteria are small enough to pass through the coffee filter, making the water pre-filtered and more appealing but not yet safe to drink.

My close second choice to a commercially made filter is boiling water. It’s the most sure way to purify water, and there is no math involved as there is when chemically treating water. With bleach or other purifying chemicals, getting the exact chemical-to-water ratio correct can be difficult. Too little chemical and the purifying fails; too much and it is unpleasant to drink and could make you ill. There are solid purifying tables that are easier to use, but again, getting the correct ratio can be difficult. In addition, chemically treated water needs to be shaken or stirred and allowed to sit for a minimum of 20 minutes and in some cases, up to 30 minutes.

When boiling water all you need to do is bring it to a boil and it is purified — no measuring, no calculating — whether you have an 8 oz cup or a 10 gallon pot, the same applies. Plus, you can gauge the relative temperature of the water without a thermometer. When the formed bubbles at the bottom of the container begin to break loose and float to the top, the water temperature is about 190 degrees.

Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. But at 185 degrees F, the process of killing microbes, viruses and bacteria begins. Held at that temperature for three minutes, the water is purified, but brought to a boil, it is considered to be purified instantly. However, the EPA and CDC both recommend boiling water for one minute to be sure. In light of that, I too will tell you to bring water to a boil, hold it for one minute, and you will have purified water. Let the water cool down for drinking; it will cool off much more slowly than it heated up.

Health and First Aid

First aid is another top priority. In an emergency situation, a wound (even a small one) may become infected. Serious illness could develop from the infection and jeopardize the person’s overall health and even their life. Keep adequate first aid supplies on hand, and understand how to use them.

Keep additional required medications available to meet the needs of individuals during the crisis period. Check with your pharmacist to learn how to obtain and store additional medications and be sure to find out the expected expiration period for each one. Clearly mark expiration dates on each container, and replenish them with fresh medications before they expire.

Health needs include everything you need to sustain good health:

  • maintain proper hydration
  • meet nutritional intake requirements
  • prevent hypothermia and hyperthermia.

Store items to help keep each person as clean and dry as possible. A simple poncho may greatly help maintain a person’s health. If someone gets wet from rain in cold or even very cool temperatures, there is a risk of suffering from hypothermia. When a person is wet, they lose body heat up to 25 times faster than if they remain dry.


Maintaining good hygiene practices are important to good health in everyday life. It becomes even more important when dealing with a disaster situation. You may have a higher risk of exposure to harmful pathogens and other contaminates than during normal conditions. Flood water for example, very often contains high amounts of harmful substances — microbes, bacteria, viruses, human and animal waste and chemicals such as automobile fluids.

Oral, body and food preparation hygiene become even more important. Becoming ill during a disaster exacerbates the potential difficulties in maintaining good health during a crisis. Include disinfecting agents with your emergency supplies. Household bleach works well as a disinfectant, as do many commercial disinfectant products. Store various types of soap (hand soap, dish soap, shampoo), hand sanitizer, disposable wipes, paper towels, toilet paper, disposable gloves and trash bags.


Plan for an amount of supplies for each person evacuating to last for a minimum of 72 hours (3 days). Have a printed, evacuation list that you can pull out, and delegate items for your family members to gather. Number evacuation tubs or bags so you can check them off as they are loaded. Send someone to gather medications and place them in a pre-designated container. You may want to gather important documents and photos as well. Having cash on hand will be helpful also if ATM’s and credit card transactions are unavailable.

One nice thing about gathering and storing emergency supplies for a shelter in place scenario is that some of those supplies can be stored in bags or containers which double as evacuation supplies for your family. There is no need for any duplication of supplies, just some strategical planning so that appropriate supplies are already on hand and can be quickly loaded into your vehicle for evacuation.

There are some additional items you may want to consider along with things you already have on hand. Your supplies should include, water (bottled water plus water gathering and purification supplies), food, flashlights, hygiene supplies, first aid kit, fire starting supplies, ponchos, dry clothing, extra shoes, and a big one that most people don’t even think about is sanitation supplies.


As you evacuate, hundreds or even thousands of other people will likely be evacuating as well. You may find yourself stuck in your vehicle for an extended period of time. In all likelihood, at some point, someone in your vehicle may need a restroom, which may not be readily available. There are toilet seats made to set on a 5 gallon bucket that function well. The sanitation bucket may be packed ahead of time with sanitation and hygiene supplies — toilet paper, hand sanitizer, disposable gloves, disinfectant products, trash bags and additional bags to line the bucket and capture the waste.

Having a plan and supplies available to meet this need is much better than trying to figure out how you are going to handle it when it arises. The seat and bucket are inexpensive and worth every penny if needed.

Get Home

Get home by having a bag or kit at your workplace called a “get home bag” (there are also other terms used) containing some simple items that could help you safely exit your workplace and possibly even walk home if that is within the realm of possibility.

There is something in survival called the rules of three that could help you plan items for your “get home bag.” We talked about it in greater detail in last week’s post. But here’s a quick overview:

Rules of three

  • 3 Minutes without breathable air
  • 3 Hours without shelter
  • 3 Days without water
  • 3 Weeks without food

The rule regarding three minutes without breathable air could come into play if you work in a multistory building. If a fire occurred on a lower floor, you may be directed to exit down a specific stairway that could be filled with smoke. You may want to consider packing a respirator rated for smoke in your “get home bag.” A pair of tight fitting safety goggles may also be helpful.

These items could help you exit the building more safely. Following the 911 attack, thousands of people had to evacuate. Many walked very long distances that day. There was the presence of heavy smoke, dust and chemicals in the air. Many people developed lung problems as result. A respirator and eye protection would have made a tremendous difference to those who had walk through and breath in that toxic air.

Following a large disaster, getting home could be a survival challenge of its own. A “get home bag,” kept at your place of work, is different from your car survival kit and your home evacuation kit. It is much smaller and will contain many less items than your other kits.

Some of the items that would be appropriate to carry in your “get home bag” or small backpack are

  • respirator
  • safety goggles
  • comfortable walking shoes
  • bottled water
  • energy bar
  • poncho
  • portable cell phone charger
  • small first aid kit
  • perhaps a space blanket, which will help block wind and have other uses (don’t worry, they are pocket size).

The type of kit you assemble and the type of bag you use is totally up to you. A briefcase could make it a bit stealthy if you don’t want co-workers to question what the bag is for. A large fanny pack, small backpack, small duffle bag or gym bag work as well.

The list of items to pack might be long, but pack the items you feel are the most necessary for your circumstances. Three things to consider when packing are the physical size of each item, its weight and the level of importance you feel it has to you.

Consider whether you will be passing through a rural or a wilderness area to get to safety or home. That will help determine some items you should have with you. A compass, fire starting supplies, sheet of plastic for a ground cloth would be examples of items for passing through a wilderness area but would probably not be important if you’re in an urban area.

Stranded in Your Car

Plan on having a three day (72 hour) emergency supply in case you find yourself stranded in your car – stuck in traffic, driven off or slid off the road, road blocked by storm debris, road bed damaged, road flooded or impassable due to snow or ice storm.

Always stay with your vehicle if safe to do so. It is far and away your best choice to use as shelter, unless a solid, safe building structure is readily available. 



If you enjoyed today’s blog and would like to keep the conversation going, tune into the POP Parenting Radio Show. We will be talking this week about covering your basic needs. If the show is not aired on a station local to you, you can always listen live at the GCN website. Or you can click on the link above for Radio. The podcast of week’s show will be posted by January 22nd.

This blog is part of a series. If you want to check out the other posts in the series, click here.

Be sure to come back next Monday, right here at POP Parenting. I’ll be back to talk about making more extended preparations. And if you have any questions, feel free to click on the contact link above, and Jenni and Jody will forward it to me.

Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe is an emergency preparation and survival expert.He was a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy, a volunteer firefighter, a paramedic, a reserve police officer and a Boy Scout Troop Scoutmaster. He has an extensive list of experiences, trainings and certifications that qualify him as an expert among experts. Tom is married to Carla, and between them, they have six children and nine grandchildren. They live in Urbandale, Iowa. Tom also happens to be Jenni’s dad!

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Tom Wolfe is an emergency preparation and survival expert.He was a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy, a volunteer firefighter, a paramedic, a reserve police officer and a Boy Scout Troop Scoutmaster. He has an extensive list of experiences, trainings and certifications that qualify him as an expert among experts. Tom is married to Carla, and between them, they have six children and nine grandchildren. They live in Urbandale, Iowa. Tom also happens to be Jenni’s dad!