January 26, 2010

1260 words 6 mins read

Disaster Prep: Tools

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.

In the case of a natural disaster, probably the most important thing to have directly after the disaster strikes is some tools. In the cases of earthquakes, you may find doors will not open because of shifting foundations causing damage to doorjambs. In any case, if things are really bad you will be digging through rubble, be it for loved ones, friends, pets, random survivors or even down the line, personal possessions.

Leather Gloves (Importance — Medium — 3/5)

If you need to dig through rubble, gloves are the first thing you should have and they are extremely cheap. You don’t need to get anything fancy, all you need are a pair of reinforced cowhide work gloves. You can get them online, or at your local hardware store for $5. You are going to be digging through rubble that is filled with nails, screws, metal, broken glass, and numerous other dangerous bits. The last thing you want to do, especially if you are on your own for a long while, is severely lacerate your hands.

Dust Mask (Importance — Medium — 3/5)

Dust masks aren’t deathly required, but they are cheap, small, and make your life so much better. All you need to get is a small pack of your run of the mill home dust masks, the same kind you use for painting. Again, you can go to your local hardware store and pick these up for less than dollar a piece. Your domicile structure could have all sorts of strange stuff in that will quickly turn to airborne particulate matter (dust) in a disaster and if you’re home is more than 20 years old, you could even have asbestos in it. The last thing you want to be doing is digging through the rubble and breathing that stuff in. You can even take a look at the September 11th attacks where a number of people got sick from breathing in the dust, and it killed at least one person.

Crowbar/Axe (Importance — High — 4/5)

Having a large tool of destruction is oddly handy to have after a disaster. While there are many styles of crowbars, wrecking bars are my personal preference. You can get a 14” wrecking bar for $13 and it will serve as a handy multitool. You could get larger but that proves to be much harder to store if your space is limited, but they will be more useful in case you need to lever debris off someone/something. In some cases, doors will be completely immobilized and in those cases, going through drywall will be much easier (hence the “wrecking” portion). If nothing else, video games have taught us that crowbars are fantastic weapons and you should never leave home without one.

As a passing note, I happen to have a small, well built, hand axe which I’m including in my kit instead. This is for much the same reasons, and has similar uses. Long term an axe will be slightly more useful in case you need to start doing things like cutting up wood for fires.

Fixed Blade Knife (Importance — Critical — 5/5)

Anyone who says “Knives are weapons, not tools” obviously has not carried a knife with them on a regular basis. A good knife can fulfill dozens of different uses including; screwdriver, pry bar, package opener, food utensil (Preparation and consumption), as well as being a cutting edge. While I carry a folding knife with me, in case of emergency you’ll want a sturdy fixed blade knife. Personally, I believe that Ka-Bar’s are some of the best for this purpose, but any well made fixed blade will do. Never under estimate the amount you may need to simply cut in a disaster. What about cutting lengths or rope, cutting up food, cutting or whittling small twigs for tinder and fire wood, gutting critters and fish, just to name a few. It might not sound hygienic to use a large knife for food preparation after using it cut up firewood, but not eating is a much worse option in my book. Of course, if worse comes to worse, you can use a knife for fighting. Ka-Bar’s have a long history in war and if they are good enough for the US Marines, then they are good enough for you.

Rope (Importance — Medium — 3/5)

While not strictly considered a tool, rope is always useful to have. My preference is 550 cord (also know as Parachute cord) due to its lightweight, high strength and versatility (Can you say your standard rope has been used to repair the Hubble Telescope?). 50′ lengths are very easy to find and I grabbed some from the local military surplus store for less than $4. In a disaster rope has a few uses, like lifting debris and being used for tourniquets. Later down the line you can use rope for all the standard uses it has in camping, plus other fun things like being the backbone for an impromptu tent.

(Editor’s note: Always with the f***ing ropes)


Unlike the last post on Food & Water, nothing on this list is perishable or needs replacing on a regular basis. For the most part if you store everything decently (cool, dry place), it should last forever. The “soft” items like the gloves, 550 cord and dust masks can be tossed in a zip lock bag and sealed, which should give them a longer life, in addition to preventing them from getting soaked should your cool, dry place turn into a cool, wet place.

You’ll note that I didn’t mark some of the items as terribly critical. Items like dust masks are “nice to have” rather than “must have”, but at the same time I balance in how much they cost and how much space they take up. Spending $2 for dust masks seems like a good investment to me, especially if it prevents respiratory distress or lung disease. If you need to reduce the cost on this list, you can get dirt cheap dust masks and gloves and even step down to a less beefy crowbar.

Please, if you buy nothing else on this list, get a good knife. You’ll notice I’ve emphasized “well made” and “good” every time, because buying a $15 knife might work fine for non-life-or-death situations, but it simply won’t do in an emergency. The better made knives will hold an edge longer and be much less likely to break. You can even get the shealthless Ka-Bar to knock $10 off the price (but do something to protect the blade from damage during storage). While the knife you buy doesn’t need to be a Ka-Bar, at least stick with a respected name like Emerson, Benchmade, Kershaw, or Cold steel, for example. If you don’t know what good brands are, ask a knife person (such as myself), they’ll tell you. Having a good knife is more likely to save your life than almost anything else you can pack.