January 21, 2010

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Disaster Prep: Food & Water

This post is part of a series on disaster preparedness. Each entry will cover one part of the preparations I’m making for a “disaster kit”, along with why I’m including the items, how important they are, and how much it cost. See the initial posting for more details.

This is one of those posts that falls under the “duh” category, but it is by far the most critical and inversely the easiest preparation to make. In the event of a disaster, be it natural or man made, you will still need to eat and drink. You can go without food, but you certainly can’t go without water. If you’re like me and live in earthquake country, you cannot drink the water after a moderately strong quake. Pipes can break cutting you off all together or worse, sewage can leak in contaminating what seems to be “good” water. Lets look at each category separately.

Water

According to FEMA, you need one gallon of water per day, per person. More is always a bonus, but for my preparation of 72 hours+, I need at least 3 gallons, though more is better. You might be tempted to use a gallon milk jug or similar “recycled” container… don’t. Simply put they weren’t designed for the purpose. “Recycled” water storage containers have a tendency to leech chemicals (also, do you enjoy your water tasting like whatever strange thing was in there before?) and generally don’t hold up over the rigors of time (I can vouch from experience that milk jugs will leak after a year or two… and that isn’t pretty to clean up).

While I could have bought a collapsible 5 gallon container, I instead decided to buy two 2.5 gallon rigid containers. Simple reason for this was twofold: #1 — I wanted something that I could stack easily. #2 — 1 gallon of water weights about 8 pounds, 5 gallons weights 40 pounds… not something that is easy to carry.

When storing the water, you want to add a couple of drops of non-scented liquid bleach (like the kind you buy at the grocery store). This won’t adversely effect the taste of the water, and it keeps it sterile enough to keep for longer than 6 months. Some say you can keep water stored in a cool, dark place, in a proper container, with bleach for nearly 5 years. Personally, I’m going to play it on the safe side and dump the water every year. This way it stays freshest and if I happen to neglect it one year, I’m not totally screwed in case of emergency.

Lastly, you may want to consider keeping a supply of water purifying iodine tablets around. These new versions have a taste neutralizer tablet too, which is quite the awesome addition (and anyone who has EVER had water purified by iodine will concur). The tablets will make a good “Plan B” in case your stored water is somehow lost or contaminated, plus they’ll keep you going if you need more water than what you have purified.

Food

Food is something you can live without for a decent while, but it will make things immensely more pleasant if you have it. Additionally, if you are in the aftermath of an emergency, you may be doing a lot of hard work (like digging through rubble for family, friends, or just your possessions). If you are expending a lot of energy, you need food to keep your strength up. Luckily long term food is also super simple.

The answer is Meals, Ready-to-Eat, or more commonly, MREs. One of the best sites for information on MREs is MREinfo.com which I highly recommend. You may have heard terrible things about MREs, don’t listen to them all. Having previous eaten MREs (by choice) I can safely tell you that some of them are anything but gourmet, but they are decent foodstuffs. They also tend to have a limited menu with most brands only having 6 different entrees. The most important fact of MREs is that they can be stored from 3 to 10+ years (Depending on storage temperature). You can buy a case of 12 MREs (good enough for ~6 days worth of food), toss them in a cool, dark place (with your water) and be fairly safe. My MRE’s will be replaced every 5 years, even though I know they probably could survive longer. As with the water, I’d prefer to spend a little more and know that my food supply is safe, rather than have an emergency and discover that all my MREs have rotted away.

In addition to MREs, I’m also supplementing my food supply with “emergency rations” or “survival food bars” (depending on your preference in nomenclature). Basically they are like your PowerBar or other snack bar, except they have a LOT of calories and tend to be “non-thirst provoking” (Translation: they don’t make you thirsty). Always important because in an emergency you want to have something that is small, ready to go, and doesn’t make you drink more of your already limited water supply.

Summary

$165 for enough food and water to be living good for about a week, is a price I’m willing to accept. Plus if you wanted to, you could take that cost down to about $100 simply by removing the meal bars and only buying one water container. Granted the MREs and Food Bars will be repurchased every 5 years but that doesn’t mean the “old” ones will be bad. It simply means I’ll eat them (take them camping or something). The above links are exactly what I’ve purchased and where I’ve purchased it.

Two last items of importance.

#1 Even if you aren’t making a proper “disaster kit”, you can buy the above supplies and toss them in the back of a cupboard in your kitchen or garage. That way if disaster strikes and you’ve got absolutely nothing else, you’ll have food and water.

#2 — Label the MREs and the water. Slap a piece of duct tape on the outside of each container with the expiration date (1 year for water and 5 years for MREs). That way you know what to replace, and more importantly when, with a quick glance.