“Semper Paratus,” which is Latin for “always ready,” is the motto for the U.S. Coast Guard and has always has had a deep significance to me. As a former Guardian, I learned the importance of being ready at a moment’s notice for a host of emergencies and actions in service of our country. It was drilled into me through training and then through scenarios that simulated actual emergencies, all to build a sense of competency and preparedness.
Because the Coast Guard is an agency under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), I was afforded the opportunity to train with DHS counterparts and with other law enforcement, public safety, and military units. Being prepared and maintaining readiness was a common theme and bond that joined us together. Now that I am retired and serve in other public safety roles, including training and education, I seek to continue that mentality of being ready.
But what does being ready really mean? With the start of hurricane season in June, coupled with all the other potential emergencies that exist in our communities, it is only fitting that we discuss preparedness.
Not all emergencies are the same but there are some general guidelines and supplies that individuals can have in order to be prepared when the time comes.
What You Need to be Prepared
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) website, Ready.gov, suggests one gallon of water, per person, per day for three days. This is to be used for drinking, cooking, and sanitation. However, the reality is you will probably need more. There are other factors to consider including injuries requiring water, water for pets, and unexpected delays in getting water restored.
Jugs and packs of bottled water are sold everywhere before an emergency occurs, but it will be one of the first things sold out. Water is easily stored in a pantry or basement and you can store it for long periods of time. To be more prepared, look at getting 1.5 gallons per day for children, 2 gallons for adults, and 1 gallon for pets.
Calculate how much water you will need for a week and use that figure to buy your water supply. Another way to estimate your water would be to separate out the uses (drinking, cooking, basic washing, toilet, etc.). You can store non-drinking water in old, cleaned out milk jugs. This will also help you determine how much you will need because the average toilet uses approximately 2 gallons of water per flush (just be sure to limit your usage to one toilet during emergencies to conserve water).
This runs along the same line as water. You should have enough non-perishable food for everyone in your family, including pet food, for a week. Military meals-ready-to-eat (MREs) are a good source of easily stored food that will cover one per day, per person that is not working (they can be split up for two meals) and two per day for those that are using a lot of energy. These are sold in many military surplus and camping supply stores.
However, if you have the storage space and the ability to heat your food (gas or charcoal grill, fire pit, camping stove, etc.), you may want to consider planning out your supplies yourself. This will give you more variety and you can tailor the food choices based on personal tastes or dietary needs. This is also a good way to help family members stay occupied during an emergency by helping prepare meals. Just be sure to plan your food supplies with utensils and material you would use for camping, such as paper plates, cups, a manual can opener, sandwich/quart/gallon size bags for storage, and cutlery.
There are many good sources for a basic first aid kit but building your own may be more practical and save you money in the long run because you will purchase items that will actually be used. A small duffle bag or backpack can be used to store your kit. Most everything in the kit will last for a long time, provided you store it in an area away from heat and moisture.
Your kit should have the same basics that you may already find in your home but should be stored away for emergency use only. Your kit should have both a variety size box of bandages and a variety of sizes of gauze pads with surgical tape. Just like all emergencies are not the same, all injuries are not the same and may require something more than a simple bandage. You should also have both hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol in your kit; both can be used to sterilize small wounds and rubbing alcohol can be used to sterilize tools or hands.
There should also be a set of tweezers, triangle bandages (you can make these yourself), a CPR mask (the basic barriers are very small and inexpensive), antibacterial cream, anti-itch cream, a week’s worth of medication that you are taking (rotate out regularly), a pair of scissors, over the counter anti-histamine medication, and a bottle of acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Having a tourniquet in the kit would be a valid addition but proper training is needed for application purposes (along with other basic first aid training).
There are a few tools and other items that I would encourage everyone to have.
- Manual can opener: It seems like a simple item, but a lot of people overlook this and if you have no electricity, an electric can opener is useless.
- Camping shovel: There are a variety of uses for them and they are compact so they are easy to store.
- Roll of sheet plastic and duct tape: This can be used for anything from sealing up broken windows to making shelters.
- Multi-tool and a machete: Both can be used for survival situations and can help with issues like making repairs, cutting firewood, clearing brush, or signaling.
This is not a comprehensive list of all tools needed but these are tools that should be some of the first to include.
[Related Article: Give the Gift of Preparedness: Ensure Loved Ones Are Ready for Disaster]
Your personal kit can be adapted to meet your needs and the particular incidents you face locally, but this list should give you a good start. There is information available through FEMA and your local emergency management agency that can help you decide what else you should add.
One of the most important items in any survival kit is you. By being prepared and keeping a cool head in emergencies, you can help yourself, your family, and your community.
About the Author: Professor Giles Hoback serves as adjunct faculty in the School of Security and Global Studies. He has more than 20 years of experience in public safety and is a retired Lieutenant (O-3) with the U.S. Coast Guard. His experience includes tactical law enforcement, emergency response, incident command, anti-terrorism, narcotics, and homeland security. He has held leadership roles, written training and response plans, is a firefighter with advanced training, and a member of the International Association of Emergency Managers. His passion for serving others is matched only by his passion for training and educating others to do the same. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @PublicSafetyEDU.