Being a volunteer EMT, and at times an outdoorsy-type person, I occasionally get emails from friends about disaster-related topics. Especially in the post-9/11 days. Recently, I got an email asking me if I’d seen the Department of Homeland Security’s disaster preparedness site, I’d heard a bit about it, but hadn’t really looked around. The site’s main premise is to educate people about how to prepare for a disaster - “get a kit”, “make a plan”, “be informed”.

The site’s own About page states that it is “designed to educate and empower Americans to prepare for and respond to emergencies including natural and man-made disasters. The goal of the campaign is to get the public involved and ultimately to increase the level of basic preparedness across the nation.”

The first step on the site, “Get a Kit”, includes a list of supplies to have on hand as a basic disaster kit. The introduction to the page reads:

You may need to survive on your own after an emergency. This means having your own food, water, and other supplies in sufficient quantity to last for at least three days. Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster, but they cannot reach everyone immediately. You could get help in hours, or it might take days. In addition, basic services such as electricity, gas, water, sewage treatment, and telephones may be cut off for days, or even a week or longer.


I will admit, I assumed this would be geared more towards urbanites, not those of us in the suburbs or rural America (the latter generally being more accustomed to self-sufficiency), so I adjusted my expectations accordingly. At first glance, it seems to include most of the things that the EMT in me would want it to:

  • Food and water
  • First aid kit
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off gas line
  • Prescription medications
  • Bleach (as a disinfectant and for water purification)
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Matches

However, I found a number of things obviously missing. Sure, some are minor - matches but no mention of fuel, bleach but not even coffee filters to remove particulate matter from water. I also find it comical that so many years after the Cold War “Duck and Cover” approach to nuclear safety, the government is now telling people to Shelter-In-Place in the event of a biological attack - by covering their doors and windows with plastic sheeting!

But by far the most egregious omission from the list - something learned by man at least 5,000 years ago, and taught to every Boy Scout - is the simplest tool: a knife. Yup, that’s right, the Disaster Kit list doesn’t include any variety of cutting implement. I don’t know if whoever wrote up the list is just scared of getting sued when little Bobby finds the knife and kills himself, or whether they’re really that stupid. But I, for one, never leave my house without some variety of the oldest real tool devised by man, and can’t imagine anyone thrown into any sort of “survival” situation without at least a rudimentary way to cut, scrape, pry, etc. I’d say that if I were without utilities or organized public safety for “at least three days”, I’d sure want to be able to make simple repairs, fashion simple tools, or perhaps cut something.

On another (albeit less important) note, there are still many, many Americans, not just in rural areas, who have a fireplace or wood stove. What about a few days’ worth of wood?


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