Could you survive on what's in your bucket?

Thursday , September 28, 2017 - 10:13 AM

D. LOUISE BROWN, special to the Standard-Examiner

As Hurricane Irma barreled across the western end of Florida, my friends hunkered down, listening to the thundering wind and praying their home would stand. They’d braced for the onslaught by putting up “hurricane shutters” — pieces of particle board fastened over their windows — and a large piece of metal fastened over their front door. They came through it without any structural damage. To feed themselves for a week until power was restored, they rigged up a fire ring on their driveway. And they kept the kids away from the roads which were underwater, leaving their property an island.

Grateful to get through it so unscathed while others nearby suffered much more damage, they said the experience made them take a serious look at their emergency preparations. They’re determined to be more prepared for the next time.

Their report inspired my husband and me to do the same. Saturday seemed a good day to take stock, since Sept. 23 was supposed to be a doomsday (again). So we pulled from our coat closet the two buckets that constitute our “72-hour kit” and assessed our level of preparation.

For the uninitiated, a 72-hour kit is a transportable pile of stuff (usually housed in a common 5-gallon bucket) that’s supposed to keep you alive for 72 hours, the idea being that within three days, either you’ll find shelter and food and other bare essentials, or, if the disaster is exceptionally global, you’ll to be gone along with the rest of the human population.

(One of our kids once suggested we make 73-hour kits, explaining that all we need to do is outlast everyone else by one hour and the world is ours. If that’s what it came to, I’m not sure I’d want what was left to be ours.)

I was shocked at what I found. And didn’t find. The contents of the three buckets might keep us alive for 72 hours, but barely. The only food was one small can of peaches dated 2008, a carton of dehydrated potatoes that require hot water to reconstitute, and some extremely expired MREs (meals ready to eat) that would expire us. Two large bottles of water might be eked out to three days, provided we didn’t have to do anything but sit still. Our changes of clothing were sweat pants with deteriorated elastic waistbands, and shirts that no longer fit. And socks.

On the upside, we have an overabundance of first aid supplies, a hand-cranked radio, a “tube tent” (a glorified piece of plastic that two people could lay underneath in a really desperate situation), some candles (no matches), three whistles and three ponchos (for two people), a bag of toiletries (presuming we wanted to brush our teeth despite having no food to eat), and three rolls of toilet paper (presuming we needed to go to the bathroom despite having no food to eat). Probably the most valuable items were an 8-foot by 10-foot tarp, a roll of duct tape, and some twine. Life can be sustained with tarps and duct tape and twine. Ask any scoutmaster.

Staring at the contents piled around us, our initial thought was, “What were we thinking?” Well, we were thinking we should do something to prepare, and at the time, we gave it our best shot. And then we didn’t think about it again. That’s the biggest challenge with a survival kit — to think about it often enough that it stays usable.

We ditched the expired food, the excess items, and the useless clothing. We’re in start-over mode. I found a reliable list online — there are dozens to choose from (though most don’t seem like they’d fit into a 5-gallon bucket unless you’re a really good at Tetris).

There’s a decent sense of satisfaction in working on this. The latest rounds of hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, fires and other natural disasters have us all on edge. So here’s a challenge for you. If you can’t remember the last time you checked your survival kit, it’s probably time to do it again. Pull it out, spend some time going through it, and email me the weirdest (or most awful or grossest) thing you find. And send your favorite list of things that you think should be in a survival kit. (It’s your opinion, so there are no wrong answers).

I’d like to hear your collective experiences. I’d also like to share them back out. So crack open your kits, let me know what you discover, and let’s get prepared.

D. Louise Brown lives in Layton.

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