-This post is a part of a series I am writing—
72 hours is often cited as the golden rule in preparedness for disasters. There are numerous blogs,youtube videos posted by users who claim their SHTF bag has enough supplies to cover 72 hours. FEMA and RED CROSS both state on their website to stock up enough supplies to last 72 hours. So as long as you have 72 hours of supplies you and your loved ones will be fine right? Wrong. 72 hours is an average based on numerous variables , also when does the 72 hours start , the moment the disaster such as a tornado or earthquake, tsunami hit ? Or does the countdown start once the initial impact of the disaster has been assessed?
I can only draw from my own experience having been there when the 3.11 earthquake hit norther Japan in 2011, that 72 hours might be enough or it might not be. Let me recap the events of 3.11 before I explain why I believe 72 hours might be enough or might not be.
Recap of the event:
2011/3/11 14:46 Magnitude 9.0 earthquake hits northern Japan.
14:46 Fukushima nuclear plant shuts down.
14:49 Tsumani warning issued
15:55 Tsumani arrives.
05:22 Fukushima reactor becomes uncontrollable
15:36 Reactor 1 explodes
2011 there were 10487 earthquakes that could be felt=28 earthquakes /day
702 earthquakes in 9 months in Tokyo alone.
Death Toll:15,881, Missing:2,688, Injured:6,142 people.
Evacuated: 1,540,000 people (as of May.2013)
As you can see the devastating tsunami that wiped out towns along the northern shore line of Japan arrived one hour after the tsunami warning was issued. So 72 hours from the arrival of the tsunami or 72 hours from the initial earthquake that caused the tsunami?
Neither. Before I start arguing my case let me write out what I think. 72 hours the moment you run out of your current supplies. Unless you are moving away from the disaster’s impact zone as soon as the disaster hits, you will have supplies around for a couple of hours minimum maybe even a couple of days. When the 3.11 earthquake hit people were rushing to the local stores to stock up on food and water and other material. However the stores shelf did not really become empty after the a day and a half since the earthquake and stayed empty for much longer post-first-impact.
Right after a major disaster hits an urban area, the urban area usually has enough implicit surplus to last at least one day or a couple of days depending on the distribution mechanism. Also after the disaster hits, unless you are a super strong minded individual without any family members usually the first step you would take is to establish contact with people you care. If you are in the office you would try to reach home and or relatives to see if they are ok. If you have kids you certainly will try to reach them either by calling them on their cellphone or calling the school to see if they are all right. During the initial post disaster timeframe carriers will throttle their network capacity to allow emergency responders to communicate to each other. In other words your capability to reach somebody your care will be limited as long as you try to use their network (i.e: Cellphones,texting) After the 3.11 earthquake hit I spend a good hour or so trying to reach my family. Once I established contact with them and I knew they were fine I started to asses the situation I was in. Do I head home or do I stay put? I was in my office working , I knew my family was safe so I decided to stay put. Bug-in , in prepped-talk. Technically since I was at work and not at home I’m not sure it would have qualified as bugging-in, I work as a freelance consultant and office is just a fancy word for my work pad which has been dubbed by others as “the bat cave” like Batman’s secret hideout. Its not an office in a high rise, its an old house that has been converted from residential to commercial use. I did have a fridge which at the time of the earthquake was filled with beer and energy drinks.
I decided to hit the nearby convenience store to stock up on some food and snacks since I knew it was going to be a long night. As reports started to come in about the 3.11 earthquake people were forced to make similar decisions like myself. Many of them choose to walk home from their office to their homes, public transportation was shutdown due to safety concerns of the tracks and roads. People started to tweet offering shelter and food/drinks to the evacuates many of them walked for more than several hours to get home. One of my reasons to decide to stay put that day was the fact that by the time I got hold off my family and had assed the situation it was already close to 6pm and I was loosing daylight. I wasn’t sure if the city was going to have electricity at full capacity or not,wether the street light would be working and TV news showed a constant stream of people trying to get home walking on the major roads. I have always avoided crowds since I was a kid and I wasn’t going to change that day. So contrary to many I decided to hunker down. Which proved to be the right decision given the fact that it was early March and night time temperatures became very low and unlike today I would have been way under equipped to survive a cold spring night trying to get home.
I think the next day or the next next day, can’t really remember anymore but I decided to finally go home, during those days I was in constant contact with my family while the city kept rumbling in aftershocks. I remember reports coming in on the television of store shelves becoming empty the city had exhausted its inherent supply. The earthquake had caused significant damage to the distribution system what supplied the city, like any urban city much of the supplies used in the city are produced not inside the city but in other regions within the domestic borders or produced in other countries only to be imported and distributed. Much like a pond drying up if it doesn’t rain enough without the constant flow of daily stuff coming into the city the real dangers of not having supplies comes slowly after the initial disaster impact. This is where I think you should start considering about using your emergency supplies should start, not right after the initial impact but once you realise that the distribution or flow of supplies has been disrupted.
Not all supplies will dry up at the same time, at least thats what I experienced after 3.11. For example water, although I newer lost any access to tap water there were towns and villages where they lost access to municipal water. Losing access to municipal water not only increases stress of dehydration but also you can’t shower nor use the toilet. Municipal water refers to water that is being supplied by the municipal government, obviously if you live close to a river the situation will be different. It usually takes a couple of days before water can be supplied back into towns/villages which loose their water supply by delivering water using water tank trucks. Even then usually the governing body will restrict the water volume assigned to each individual/household far below what you would usually use to live comfortably. Ideally you would not only stock water in either gallon containers or bottles you would have a way to collect/reuse water. At my house I have a water cooler with a water delivery subscription, I started to use this service when the local city government issued an advisory not to drink tap water right after the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the rain that followed was believed to pose a public health crisis by contaminating the water supply. The water cooler is great for daily use, I get access to cold and hot water very conveniently but also I have ordered extra water periodically to stock. With the subscription service I can rotate my water supply constantly making sure that the water is safe for consumption. Water supplies is interesting because in my case although I did not lose access to municipal water, we did have a period post-disaster when we could not consume the water. The toilets worked, we could wash the dishes etc etc, but we couldn’t drink the water or rather we were advised not to drink the water. Its like being adrift in the ocean, there is so much water around you but you just can’t drink it. Once the government issued the warning/advisory about warning against the drinking of the water, bottled water disappeared from the store shelves any consumable liquid like soda, beer, bottled water disappeared. Not right after the disaster but quite some time later.
Understanding when and what might run out is crucial in building your preparation survival plan. Do you enjoy that you have access to those freshly made sandwiches,salads,cut fruits and smoothies at your local grocery stores? These types for “fresh food” will quickly dry up when they are not constantly being replenished by the underlying distribution system that supplies them to your local grocery store. The fresher your food is despite the fact you don’t grow them yourself the higher the likely hood is that you will loose access to those in case of a disaster. Fresh food depends distribution system much like your blood delivers much needed oxygen through out your body.
Another element required for keeping food fresh is electricity,is there a strong likelihood of losing electricity in a disaster scenario?
Food will also go bad quicker during the summer than the winter due to the difference in temperature and humidity depending on where you live.
All of these questions contribute to calculating how much supplies you need. So how much do you need? Do you watch the news? I mean real news, not some made up comedy news nor news where guys are yelling at each other over who has the moral majority on his or her side. A tornado devastates a town, a tsunami wipes out village , a hurricane floods a whole city and earthquake destroys a village in the mountains of China. All these scenarios do happen on a regular basis, although in regards to similarity of disaster scenarios the earthquake in China might look like a good example for me to use as a guide to determine my preparation it actually isn’t. My situation is radically different from a village in the mountains of China, the only thing I have in common is the likelihood of an earthquake. I always try to gauge the governments response capabilities by looking at disasters that happen within the domestic borders were I live. A typhoon wakes out power and causes flooding in a city, how long till power is restored or the flooding has subsided , a landslide takes out the one road to the village how long before water trucks are on the scene delivering water? Observing what the government response is at different crisis points allows you to set a base line of expectations for your preparation needs.
So yes , maybe 72 hours is a good starting point, certainly it is better than 48 or 24 hours however, consider that the 72 hours start once the inherent supplies start to dry up and not everything dries up at once. If you are in a rural area it might take longer for the government to respond or for the distribution to reestablish.