A Non-Prepper’s Guide to Emergency Preparedness

I have a confession to make. I am a prepper.

Well, kinda. Not really. Not one of those crazy doomsday preppers with an underground bunker stocked with ammo and stupplies. I’m not preparing for the end of life as we know it, or the collapse of civilization, or aliens, or zombies. So I guess hard core preppers probably wouldn’t consider me as a part of their group. I’m more preparing for a massive ice storm that knocks out power for a couple weeks (how will we cook food?) or an evacuation for some reason (what will we take with us?). Thankfully Iowa isn’t prone to devastating earthquakes or hurricanes or tsunamis, but we do have flooding (2008 anyone?) and blizzards and tornadoes.

If I’m being completely honest, this all started back when the Mister and I started watching the NBC show Revolution. In the show, all electricity is knocked out and quite literally, life as we know it today reverted to a time before all the modern luxuries. The show gets you thinking… what would happen if we suddenly were without all of the comforts we are used to. Obviously I’m not expecting Nanotech to wipe out power forever like it did in the show, but an ice storm could definitely do that for a period of time.

So, here’s a (mostly) normal person’s guide to preparing for emergencies.

72-Hour Kits

First and foremost, a 72 hour kit is a collection of food, water, and supplies that will get you through three days. This is how long FEMA says it could take for help to arrive after a disaster.

The very first thought that got me into this came into my brain last winter. There was a big snowstorm coming so we were stocking up on food, and then it hit me. If we lost power, how would we cook any of this food? In short, we couldn’t! With only an electric stove/oven and a microwave to heat things, there would be no warm food for us.

So the first thing I bought was a Sterno foldable stove. You can’t use propane stoves in the house because of carbon monoxide, but these little stoves use sterno candles to heat things up. Then I stocked up on (shelf stable) things you could eat cold or that only needs to be warmed up and not cooked thoroughly. Canned fruit. Canned soup. Kraft Mac & Cheese (if you get the Deluxe kind, you don’t need milk and butter).

I know it’s not all super healthy stuff, but the point of this is just to get through whatever emergency situation you’re in. All of this food gets stored in a plastic tote in our spare bedroom, so it’s always on hand if we need it (I’m terrible at keeping our kitchen stocked on a regular basis). We do rotate stuff out though, and check expiration dates regularly.

I also have 4 cases of bottled water stored up, too. This actually came in really handy when we were on a boil order for about 4 days recently. I think we only ended up boiling two pots of water, and that was just so we could use it in our Brita dispenser that was our makeshift faucet (my husband is a genius). Everything else we just used our bottled water.

So that was my original “72 hour kit.” Then I realized that it was so heavy, and if we ever had to leave home in a hurry, we would probably leave without that tote just because of the hassle. So I grabbed a backpack we had on hand and found another on clearance at Target for $10. Now we have legit 72 hour kits we can take with us easily. These are also stored in our spare bedroom closet.

So what’s in these specifically? In short, each bag has:

  • food to last for 3 days (fruit cups, applesauce, jerky, granola bars, raisins, etc, and there are only a couple cans in each bag since they add so much weight)
  • water (about 3-4 bottles per bag – again, weight and space is an issue so we’re going with some is better than nothing)
  • toiletries, feminine supplies, toilet paper
  • first aid supplies and a basic set of medicine (advil, migraine medicine, cough drops)
  • dog food, treats, bones, and an extra collar+leash
  • flashlight and extra batteries
  • change of clothes
  • matches, pen+paper, poncho, emergency mylar blanket

That’s basically it. Here’s a detailed list of what’s in our bags:

Pretty much everything is travel sized (shampoo, body wash, deodorant, etc). As for the medicine, I just put a handful of pills in a tiny ziplock bag with a label of what kind of medicine it is and the directions for usage. Except Excedrin Migraine. I have a whole bottle of that stuff. (Stupid migraines.) Everything is grouped together with like items and sealed in various sizes of ziplock bags. I read a blog post about a woman who’s family had to be rescued off their roof during a hurricane and they were soaked to the bone. So hopefully if we were ever in a situation like that, all of our stuff would still be dry thanks to the baggies.

Emergency Documents

Then I started thinking… what if our house burned down and all of our important stuff went with it? Or what if we had to leave knowing that our home might get washed away (we live close to the river)? The Mister purchased a fireproof/waterproof safe shortly after we were married, so pretty much all of our important documents were in there already. But, if for some reason there was an emergency, I really didn’t think it would be good to be searching through file folders to find everything. So, I went to Staples and got an accordion folder that would fit in the safe. I printed a pretty emergency cover page, and gathered all of our information.

I searched on Pinterest to see what other people were putting in their Emergency Binder, and eventually came up with a list of what to include in ours. I put together a couple intro documents that include the following information typed out:

  • Emergency Contact Numbers (local fire and police numbers, local hospital, poison control, family doctor, and all of our close family’s numbers)
  • Our Family Emergency Plan (meeting place outside the neighborhood, where our 72 hour and first aid kits are stored, plans for pets)
  • Individual Identification Info (current photo of each member of the family, names, birthdays, hight, weight, eye color, hair color, medical allergies, blood type)
  • Pet Info (current photo of Dixie, our Vet’s contact info, breed, weight, coloring, markings, etc)
  • Important Contact Info (basically just all of our close relatives and friends in case our cell phones aren’t working – does anyone have phone numbers memorized anymore?!)
  • Insurance Information (agent contact info, policy numbers, account numbers, etc)

Then, I collected all of our important documents on the list below:

  • Copies of the fronts and backs of credit/debit cards
  • House/car titles
  • Important documents related to employment and/or family business
  • Marriage license
  • Birth certificates
  • Copies of drivers licenses
  • Pet vaccination records
  • Passports
  • Social Security cards
  • Copy of health insurance cards (including dental insurance cards)

These documents (minus things that had to be copied) were all in the safe already but were in different folders throughout the safe. Now they’re all in one place. To go one step further, I scanned ALL of these documents and put them on an encrypted (aka password protected) flash drive that is kept in one of our 72-hour backpacks. I used TrueCrypt to secure the flash drive. I will probably make a copy of one of these flash drives to keep at my parents’ house just for an extra safety measure.

Evacuation Plan

The last part of our emergency prep was to figure out an evacuation plan. I watched an interesting video that showed two families going through an evacuation drill. Each family was given 10 minutes to gather their things and get out of the house. One family had a plan in place, the other did not. Obviously, the family who had a plan was able to leave with time to spare, while the family that didn’t have a plan was in utter chaos. I also read some comments on a blog post from people who had to be evacuated because of fires or flooding, and they said that in moments like that, even the most organized mind locks up. I am very much a list person, so if I can cross things off, I will feel much better knowing my scatterbrain mind didn’t forget something.

If both the Mister and I are home, here is how the evacuation process would (hopefully) go. Each one of us is assigned to different rooms/items, and I also tried to plan out what bag/container things would go in, so items are color coded that way. Anything to make it easier in a panic.

And, in the more likely scenario, if it were just me at home and the Mister was at work or elsewhere, here’s how it would go. I’d just go down the list and get as much done in whatever amount of time I had.

I have two copies of each of these lists hanging up right next to our 72-hour kits (check out the photo above). That way we can each have a copy as we’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off. I also have another copy taped inside one of our cabinet doors in the kitchen.

We haven’t actually practiced our evacuation plan yet, but hopefully when it warms up we can. If you think about it, schools, businesses, and workplaces all have evacuation plans and regular drills, so wouldn’t it make sense to have one at home as well. Even if you work full time outside of the home, you still spend the majority of your life at your house.

More Information on Emergency Prep

Keep this in mind… the government highly recommends having an emergency plan! Ready.gov is a whole website devoted to helping you prepare for disasters. And if you think it won’t happen to you, check out this video:

So, if you’ve got the bug, or that feeling in your gut that you should probably start being a bit more prepared for life, I have a board on Pinterest that you might like. And if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments! Happy prepping!

Follow Rachel Ruffer’s board Prep on Pinterest.


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  • Chelsea - I really love this post! I’m glad I’m not the only one who kind of feels like the situation in “Revolution” could be entirely possible, haha! When I was in school we had a speaker/survivor of Katrina visit and she told us an incredible survival story – and one of her tips really stuck with me: peanut butter! High in calories, high protein and it’s safe for dogs. Her son and his wife survived walked and waded for a couple of days with only peanut butter (and rescued her 7 dogs and 2 cats). Thought you might appreciate the idea! :)ReplyCancel

    • Rachel Ruffer - A lot of people had peanut butter in their kits but I didn’t include it because the jars are so big/heavy! But yes, it’s a very good emergency food… I wonder if I could find some smaller containers of it somewhere?! :)ReplyCancel

  • That Time I Face Planted During a Photo Shoot » Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Waterloo Wedding Photographer | Rachel Ruffer Photography - […] it. We continued the shoot with no issues other than the burning in my arm. Luckily I am (almost) always prepared and there was some Neosporin in my car first aid kit which really helped my arm stop stinging. The […]ReplyCancel

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