Timeline After Disaster: You Will be on Your Own for 72 Hours or Longer Before Any Outside Help Will Arrive


Many experts will note that the first 72 hours following a natural or man-made disaster will likely be the most chaotic, because it will take at least that long (and perhaps longer) for the authorities to get things under control.

A lot can happen – and likely will happen – in that three-day period of time, so it is crucial that you be prepared to essentially stand on your own (or with a small group of family and/or friends). This article will help you prepare.

First, as noted by the Department of Homeland Security, because you never know when disaster will strike, your plan should include the very real possibility that your entire family may not be together at zero hour. So if you plan to try to bug out then you should have a pre-determined location, a “rally point,” already selected. If you have decided that, for the first several days following a disaster you plan to stay in your home as long as possible, then you need to make sure you have enough supplies – food, water and medicine – for everyone.

Secondly, understand that the authorities and emergency services are going to be overwhelmed – so much so that even they may not know where to respond first. In a disaster roads will likely be blocked, the electric grid may be down, and police/fire/EMS personnel will be dispersed and understaffed. Many will refuse to report for duty because they will be busy caring for their own family members. Ditto for the National Guard.

Third, prepare ahead – and prepare to leave on a moment’s notice if the situation demands it.

“You may have to evacuate at a moment’s notice and take essentials with you. You will probably not have time to search for the supplies you need or shop for them. A disaster supplies kit is simply a collection of basic items you may need in the event of an emergency. Assemble your kit well in advance of an emergency so you can survive on your own after an emergency,” DHS says on its website.

Disaster kit contents

“Basic” kits mean just that – basic. Because let’s face it – if you have to leave your home, you can’t take everything with you.

What you will need are food items (enough for everyone) that are non-perishable, water (a gallon a day per person); and basic medical supplies (OTC pain killer like Tylenol or ibuprofen, band-aids and small dressings, antibiotic ointment, and any environmental treatments like bug repellant, depending on where you live. If you take prescription medication, make sure to keep that close so you can grab it before you leave.

Also, consider these items:

— Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both

— Flashlight and extra batteries

— First aid kit

— Whistle to signal for help (or a firearm, if you prefer and are legally permitted to own/keep one – many big cities have strict gun control laws so make sure you consult your local law enforcement on this before you buy)

— Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place

— Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation

— Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities

— Manual can opener for food

— Local maps

— Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger

You may also consider some of the following, though again, you won’t be able to take all of these items with you, so pick out the most important:

— Prescription meds and glasses

— Infant formula and diapers

— Pet food and extra water for your pet

— Cash or traveler’s checks and change

— Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container. You can use the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (EFFAK)[PDF] developed by Operation Hope, FEMA and Citizen Corps to help you organize your information.

— Emergency reference material such as a first aid book or free information from this website

— Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person; consider additional bedding if you live in a cold-weather climate

— Complete change of clothing including a long sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes

— Consider additional clothing if you live in a cold-weather climate

— Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper – when diluted at nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented or color-safe bleach, or bleaches with added cleaners.

— Fire extinguisher

— Matches in a waterproof container

— Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items

— Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils

— Paper and pencil

— Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children

First aid

You’re not going to be performing surgery, of course, so again, your first aid kit ought to be very basic. It should include some or all of the following items: band aids and small dressings for open cuts/wounds; antibiotic ointment; burn ointment; tweezers, sterile gloves (two pair); antiseptic wipes; thermometer; eye wash solution/eye drops; OTC pain killer; anti-diarrhea medication; antacid; laxative; anti-allergy medication; scissors; petroleum jelly and any prescription medications you are taking.

Unique needs

What are these? Well, if you’re a pet lover and you simply can’t leave your pet behind, you’ll need to make sure you have enough pet food and water in your home and/or bugout kit. If you’re a parent with infant children, you will need diapers and baby food, and perhaps even something for diaper rash and a baby’s upset tummy. And so forth.

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