29 April 2009

Preparing for an emergency

I slept in this morning, on the morning when I have no thought of what to write, but here goes. Let's talk about one of my favourite topics, stockpiling. :- )

I was asked the other day in an email about what kind of food and groceries I thought it wise to have on hand for an emergency situation like the swine flu outbreak. I have to tell you that while our stockpile and backyard supplies (eggs, fruit and vegetables) would come in very handy in an emergency, I stockpile mainly for the purpose of saving money and time, and the convenience of having a little shop sitting in my home. I am really pleased my little shop is full of our favourite foods and has almost all been bought on sale or made here at home. But let me address the question of emergency preparedness here. None of us know what will happen in the future and I for one do not want to rely on anyone else to provide for me unless it's absolutely unavoidable. I am thankful to have been in only one cyclone (hurricane) and no other large scale emergency. I have seen and read reports of plenty of them over my many years and I know one thing to be true: in a large scale emergency until the government organises help on a large scale through the SES, police and army, everyone is on their own. In Australia, when help arrives, it usually comes in the form of shelter, food and medical assistance, but often the help maybe a few days coming, so in those first few days, you'll need to provide for yourself. You all know Hanno and I prefer to be self-reliant and being able to look after ourselves in an emergency is no exception. We want to do it ourselves and we want to offer our help to our family and friends if they need it. And to do that, we must have a stockpile of various goods.

The easy way to answer the question of what we should have on hand in an emergency is to ask yourself: what food do we eat? what do we drink? what is easy to cook and store? how do we cook? how do we stay clean? if there is no electricity or gas how do we provide light and heat? how do we keep the children occupied? I guess that some emergencies will be like the swine flu outbreak and will mean we don't want to go to the shops and risk picking up the virus, other emergencies will be more severe and will cut off water and electricity supplies. There are so many variables, so let's talk about generalities, but please ask yourself the questions above.

The most obvious thing to stockpile is food. Food is what will keep us going through storms, outbreaks of illness or when we lose our jobs. But we all eat different things, so what should we stockpile? Stockpile what your family eats but try not to clog your stockpile space with boxes of prepared food, buy the basics and cook from scratch what you need. You will save money doing that, it's healthier and your food will last longer. For instance, if you buy a box or packet of macaroni and cheese mix, that will feed one, maybe two people. If you buy a few kilograms (pounds) of dried pasta, a bag of milk powder, some cheese and seasonings, you could feed a family for several meals.

If you're building your stockpile from scratch, start with the basics like rice, pasta, beans, lentils, chickpeas, couscous, milk powder, flour, yeast, salt and sugar, then add more specialised foods like honey, tea, coffee, peanut butter, jam, dried fruit, seeds for sprouting, tins of tuna and salmon. Make sure you have a bunch of your favourite spices, as well as pepper, vinegar and oil. Add your homemade sauces, jams, cordials, and some tins of baked beans and soup to that stockpile and you'd be able to feed your family for quite some time without outside help. If you buy large amounts, which I consider to be 5 kg (11 lbs) but others might buy larger packs, you will need to think about containers to store your food in. I have several lidded, food grade 5 kg plastic buckets I got from the local baker and some smaller buckets with lids that hold 1 kilo (2.2lbs). These are wonderful containers as they keep out insects, rodents and moisture. So before you buy large quantities, think about where you'll store it and in what. Don't forget a can opener

Other products worth storing are our old standbys - baking soda (bicarb), washing soda, soap, cheap vinegar (for cleaning), as well as toothpaste, tissues, latex gloves, toothbrushes, deodorant and shampoo (if you're not just using baking soda), razors and razor blades, toilet paper, any medications you need and a well-stocked first aid kit. You'll need a large container of liquid chlorine bleach for sanitation purposes. Make sure you add a dozen knitted dishcloths, some food covers, Tupperware containers or plastic bags, rubbish bags, batteries, candles, kerosene or oil lamps and matches. You should have torches, a battery-driven radio, or a combined torch-radio-siren that can be fully charged by winding. We have one of them and they're very good.

Our little windup torch-radio.

You'll need water too. If you have no water tanks or rain barrels, start collecting plastic drink bottles and fill a number of them with water. You can improve the quality of drinking water by solarising it. Read here and here about the SODIS method of sanitising water.

Wind up torch radio with winder.

If you have a baby or young children you'll need to think carefully about what they need. There are obvious things like nappies (diapers), bottles, sippy cups and toys, but think also about how you'll prepare their food. If they are still on mushy food, you might need to add the means to make it, so add a masher or little food mill as well as their favourite spoon and bowl. Of course, a breastfed baby is prepared for anything if they have their mum. Put in books and games for the older children and they might all like their own torch. It will give them a feeling of security if they have control of their own means of light. The wind-up ones with a little radio are ideal for children (and 61 year old women).

Don't forget your pets. Add dog and cat food and if you have chooks, rabbits or ducks, make sure you have enough food on hand for them.

Talk about your emergency plan and depending on the impending emergency, work out how you'll cope with it. Some emergencies will mean you just stay at home, others will mean you need to leave. There is some additional reading here, it's a wise thing to read all of them and take what you need from each:

SES Australia and the PantryList Australia
Ready America
Emergency Preparedness Canada
UK Resilience

If it takes a potential emergency like swine flu to make you think about stockpiling, so be it, but don't think stockpiling is useful only in emergencies. I believe a stockpile is one of the best tools we have to help us live a more simple and mindful life. I have written about stockpiling here. I'd be very interested to know if you have a stockpile and how you prepare for emergencies. As always, I look forward to reading your shared wisdom.



  1. Wow, Rhonda. I did not expect the detail in which you answered my question.You really took your time and gave a thoughtful answer to a complete stranger. I appreciate it so very much. Thank you.
    I will start my emergency plans based on your answer.
    Again, thank you.

  2. I always ask myself ' can I stay home for 14 days'. That gets me thinking about food, medications etc. From there I think in a heirachy - how would that change if the electricity goes off or I lose our water supply. Then I think of ways to resolve those issues.

    I am not too worried about the swine flu breakout or any other emergency too much because I feel that we are pretty well prepared.

    Having said that, we have a type one diabetic in the family. Yesterday we stocked up on insulin and other requirements because if there is a flu outbreak the last place we want to be hanging out is the chemist! lol

  3. I have a store cupboard (quite a large one) which is always filled up with basic ingredients (tinned and dried etc). My rule is (as taught by my mother) that as I use something, it gets replaced, so I've always got a decent supply of my basic foodstuffs to hand.

    Good post, and well timed. What is annoying me at the moment is the way that the media is increasing the level of panic rather than providing any helpful news, advice or support. Makes me mad!

  4. Wow! Great column. I am going to print it out so I can follow it closely.

  5. Good morning Rhonda,

    This is such a good post. I was particularly interested in purifying water in an emergency. The sites recommended were very informative. Clean water is something that we absolutely must have in the case of emergencies where we are lefy without utilities. So thank you for this timely information and lets all pray that our stock pile will never have to be used for emergency purposes.

    Blessings Gail

  6. Like Jennieworld I too have a cupboard with stuff in that as I use I replace and rotate. I buy what we like when it is on special, some goes in the 'today' cupboard the rest goes in the stockpile cupboard. I also have cleaning vinegar, bicarb etc. I have a couple of spare batteries for the big torch and radio but they go past their 'use by' date quite quickly.
    I have also started a 'go container', in case we have to leave quickly, first aid kit, torch, cans of food,blanket,matches, candles etc. A lot of medications can only be obtained as needed, the government has stopped people trying to stock up longer than a month for safety reasons.
    I think we need to be sensible, have a stockpile, and backups for stuff in case we are stranded or can't go out but not get too paranoid and start having so much stuff it overwhelms us and goes out of date, that would be a waste of money.
    The media, well I work in the media and they drive me nuts with their constant focus on the worst case scenerio, they push the public to panic in my opinion. They are rarely positive or in any way helpful, one reason I stopped purchasing newspapers and hardly ever watch tv, too depressing and their lack of language skills! well don't get me started!
    Good post, enjoy reading your blog Rhonda.
    Best Wishes
    Virginia K

  7. When I lived in NZ, I used to have an earthquake kit (food and essentials in a container that I could grab and take with me) I also used to keep some supplies at work (blanket, walking shoes, food bars, etc) because if the big one happened while at work, I had something at least.

    Another thing to consider is food that can be eaten cold, without the need for heating up, it might not be particularly pleasant like that, but sometimes you mightn't have power or gas or fire.

    Also try to store food that you like to eat.


  8. Thank you for the great advice as always Rhonda, this was a really great post.

  9. I love food storage! It has become a passion for me. It really came in handy when my husband suffered a job reversal and we had to make our limited resources stretch until he found new employment.

    Lately I have been learning how to cook with alternate sources of heat, primarily a dutchoven over coals in the back yard. My family has been enjoying our experiments.

  10. (Please ignore my first comment as it posted before I was ready!)

    Thanks for so much food for thought, Rhonda! I live in a very small condo with a limit on my small pantry, so I can't put in as much of a stockpile as I might want, but I will definitely rearrange it and try to stockpile things that keep well. At the very least, I can probably have a couple weeks' worth in my pantry (I think I've got a good start already, rather unintentionally!)

    I appreciate the kick in my rear to get to take stock of what I've got and what I need (I tend to be an ostrich!)

  11. Well, what can I say!! Unfortunatly it comes as no surprise to me that governments in Canada and Australia appear to trust their citizens enought to give them detailed appropriate and clearly undestandable advice and instructions on how to prepare and handle emergency situations...Uk and US, well if you can find the information it seems they are more intrested in giving stats on how many employees will not be at work..alwasy nice to see the good old British government is more intrested than finance than citizens...two of my kids live in the area in Scotland confirmed with cases and my grand daughter aged three is sick, I think its coincodence,,everyone stay safe and look after each other

  12. Great post.
    One of the things that most amazes me when it comes to preparedness is the issue of water. I have been twice to Russia and once come home with a parasite from the water. Water to us is a critical issue.
    We have an reverse osmosis system.
    The US has reported that our water and electric grid has already been electronically compromised on more than one occasion. Water is paramount to survival.
    We keep a large stockpile for several reasons many you have stated.
    Please folks think about water.

  13. thanks for the great post, rhonda. i've often thought about having an emergency kit ready (especially with bottled water) in case of tornado, and after our major recent ice storm (some people in louisville lost power for weeks), and i've never done it. this swine flu thing ... well the paranoia's a bit too much under my skin. maybe acting proactively will help. i'm going to get my water, extra batteries etc. ready pronto. thanks!

  14. Rhonda -

    We've started a garden for the first time this year but unfortunately we can't garden year round in this part of the US.

    Our first vegetables are ripening and we plan on pickling, drying, etc but would like to freeze certain things (like tomatoes, berries and peas) for winter. Do you have any tips for freezing fresh produce without having problems later on? We've successfully frozen cooked veggies in the past but fresh things never last more than a month or so.

    Would greatly appreciate any advice you have for me!


  15. had to smile when I read your clever tips. One year we had a warning that a bushfire was nearing our little town and we should make plans to go. I immediately rounded up my beloved cats and Husband packed his precious c.ds. Luckily the all clear was given but we did feel so stupid thinking we would have been camped miles from home with 4 hungry cats....I never gave their food or water a thought....and Husband with a stack od c.ds and nothing to play them on. It was a good wake up call to us though and we have an emergency supply box all ready. By the way I have convinced him that we could replace the c.ds.It just goes to show how panic can affect the clear thoughts. Much better to have an emergency plan

  16. Hi Rhonda, I started to stockpile last year, and got into doing it seriously at the beginning of this. All our meals are cooked from scratch, and my way of starting off was to list everything we would need for a month and work towards storing that, then move onto two months and so on. I did it this way to avoid the situation of having six months supply of one item but only two weeks of another. I also have a mini store in the kitchen cupboards. What I have at the moment is at least a months supply in the kitchen cupboards, and another one in the larder.

    I shop on a monthly basis, so buy bulk at the beginning of the month, moving items from my larder into the kitchen to replenish them (and so don't have very old things lingering in the larder) then compile my shopping list from the gaps in the larder, and each month buy something extra to add to the larder so that there is always more going in than comes out. Slowly, the larder increases in size and it doesn't seem as much financially when you do it this way.

    When I cook I generally always make an extra portion to freeze, but don't have too much in the freezer in case the power goes off for a long time. I was looking into a generator but for various reasons have decided not to go down that route at this point in time.

    We have a stockpile of wood in case the gas supply is interrupted and we can cook on top of the woodburner if necessary. Which of course give us heat too.

    Our only real problem is water. We have a lot of water butts but I'm not entirely sure how one goes about converting the water into something drinkable. That seems to me to be the most important thing and I need to look into it because we can do without food for a while but water is vital.

    Best wishes, Mara

  17. the rural fire service has tips on emergency preparedness too - http://www.bushfire.nsw.gov.au/file_system/attachments/State/Attachment_20080624_B95AD964.pdf

    It's funny, we often tell people to fill up their bathtubs with water and the presumption is often so that they can hide it in where as the water is really to be used for putting out any small spot fires or for drinking water should they lose their water supply.

    I think many people don't realise just how much water you need per person per day either - you really need 2 litres per person per day and that's just for drinking. That doesn't include water for cooking or washing or anything else.

  18. Hi Rhonda - me again. I live at 51deg latitude (southern UK), SODIS wouldn't work here. Apart from boiling water there is also a product called Clorox bleach which can be used to sanitise water. I think I may get some to keep on hand.


  19. very good post Rhonda. I started an emergency stockpile of goods many moons ago, only to have hubby raid it when he needed something like matches or batteries.

    I realise I need to start again quietly, take an inventory, replenish it and this time hide it!

  20. Very good post Rhonda. I want to support your view that stockpiling is not just for emergencies such as disasters. My husband was injured 4 months ago on the job and we have had no income coming in since then. We have been living on our stockpile of everything, including money and are doing very well.

    In my group of friends, we started to be concerned after we watched the horror of Katrina where FEMA failed to bring timely aid for so many. As a result, we have no faith in our government to come to our rescue during times like that. It was a lesson well learned about self reliance.

    My suggestion for what to stockpile is to have a "bug out" supply too, foods and supplies that you can easily carry or transport if you have to leave your home. Have one bag for each person who can carry it. Its a subject all its own but worth exploring.

  21. Very informative post! Thanks! As a New Yorker, after 9/11, I becamse very concerned about how to gather my familiy in the event of an emergency. I work in Nassau County and live in Suffolk. Our kids are older, and could conceivably be any where on any given day. Everyone has cell phones, but in a disaster, I'm willing to bet that local lines would be jammed with everyone making calls.
    We have decided that everyone would do teir best to try and reach our home to meet up, and we picked an out of state relative to be our calling center, one who could relay messages backa nd forth for us. Other than that, we just pray and thank God we have been so fortunate as to have NOT had to use this plan!

  22. Great post Rhonda,i am obsessed about always having can's of Heinz Bake Bean's in the cupboard, i love them,plus lot,s of toilet paper,anyway about purifying water, everyday i place 2, 2litre glass bottles filled with tap water outside on black plastic and they sit there for at least 8 hour's,and i can really taste the difference, it's delicious drinking water, especially here in Adelaide.

  23. Dear Rhonda,

    You are amazing!

    I am always fascinated and inspired by your posts -- which are always informative and beautifully written.

    Josh and I stockpile, too. We buy items like flour and sugar in bulk in order to reduce our need to run to the store for staples all the time. One day, I hope to have a mill of my own so I can make the flour.

    I thought I would try and catch you up on the children and our attempt to adopt. I know that you are wildly busy with your blog (such a lovely blog) and your book as well as your daily chores. The children will be returning to their birth parents. We are praying that everything works out for them but are fearful that the birth parents are not capable of caring for four special needs children -- two of which are severely mentally disabled.

    We are continuing on with our farming plans. Josh is adding fence to our front lot and has planted grass for dairy and meat goats. We are truly excited about our next step in sustainability.

    It looks like we'll be at the house for just a few more years and then we'll move to Kentucky/Tennessee area where land is less expensive and the soil is better. We hope to expand then.

    While I may not always comment, I always read your posts. They are so peaceful and comforting. During this very tumultuous time in our lives, Josh and I have really needed your soothing prose to encourage us.

    Thank you.

    With much gratitude,
    Josh and Lacy Razor


  24. Excellent post ~ thank you.

    It is always good to be prepared whether for an outbreak of illness or it could be for financial reasons too. I do have to disagree with a previous poster and say that the US has several sights to go to for information to help with preparedness.

    In our house I set aside a bit of money every week assigned to purchase something for our stockpile. Slowly and surely this has been building up and makes us feel a bit more secure.

    Thanks again for this post:)

  25. Another source for food storage and emergency preparedness can be found at http://www.providentliving.org This site is from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; they have been recommending stockpiling for years so they have some very useful tips. Thanks for the inspiration to be prepared. My next project is to try and figure out how to make my own soap. Wish me luck.

  26. My husband works as an emergency planner so you can imagine we have quite a strong emergency plan at home. We have purchased 5 gallon water containers to store a stockpile of water (we rotate them through, using the water to wash up and refilling about every six month) as well as a purifier we can use to make our rain barrel water drinkable. One other thing we have done is have a specific kit we can take if an emergency means we must leave home. We each have a list of what to get first (wallets, car keys, the dog) and we have all of our important paperwork (identification, marriage license, dog vaccination records) scanned and on small portable (keychain sized) USB drives so we will have them if needed. Our on the go kit contains a few changes of clothes (mostly worn clothing that is not great for everyday anymore, but not quite ready for rags either that has been replaced with other things in closets), a few military meals and canned goods, some blankets, etc. Many of the items or simply things we had plenty of in the house (blankets) that we pulled one out to be specifically in the kit.
    So, long story short, we are ready if the disaster keeps us at home or if it calls us away.

  27. I'm adding this post to my permanent emergency preparedness links on my side bar. Great info.

    I remember reading in a book from the 1970s about making an emergency list that one keeps in case of crisis (the author went through the Cuban Missile Crisis).

    He's a Mormon so he assumes a very deep pantry but he said he wished they had a list for what they'd buy if given only a couple of hours to get to the grocery store and stock up...

    Kind of like "topping off" emergency supplies. I now keep a list in a place I can grab it if necessary. I used such a list after 9/11.

    We're just the same as you (although you have inspired me to start a garden this year), we stock up to save money.

    Great work, once again. :)

  28. A couple of years ago we lost our electricity for a week in the summer and a week in the winter. The entire town lost electricity INCLUDING the grocery stores. The first day or so was fun. Everyone in the area was having a massive outdoor BBQ (the meat in the freezers was thawing, might as well eat it). But having no electricy in 102 degree weather got pretty old pretty quick. All of my seven kids were home at the time. I spent most of my time washing clothes in a bucket and hanging them out to dry. We do have food storage, it served us well. The very hardest part of the entire ordeal was that we were under a "boil water" order. Purifying our water was awful. It was a full eight days before the electricity was turned on again. Overall it was a good experience. Then, just six months later, we lost it again in the cold of winter. All of my kids agreed it was much more pleasant losing it in the winter, when you can put on a coat and climb under the blanket, then in the heat of summer, when you just suffer. Once again we used our food storage. This time there was no boil water order, so it wasn't near so bad. Those two experiences taught me a lot. #1, my kids do a really good job of entertaining themselves when they have no TV or computer (they staged the entire play of Othello. It took four hours, but they didn't have anything else to do). #2 I can cook just fine with my food storage. #3 Washing clothes by hand isn't that bad. #4 Make sure you have candles/oil lanterns.

  29. What a wonderful post!!!!! THIS is one of the reasons I keep coming back to read you. I'm going to print this up and work on a stockpile that I can keep in our basement, just in case we ever have to go down there for safety purposes and need food available. Of course, there's no cooking down there. But based on your information, I can still put together a good box or two of food and water.


  30. Hi there, I love your blog, and I hope you dont mind but I've added your blog onto my blogroll on my site.
    I am hosting a swap at the moment on my site, please feel free to pop over and take a look, and to join the swap if you wish.
    Take Care
    Love Melanie xxx

  31. thank you so much for posting this! I always love what you have to say about everything! We too stockpile (not a lot) only because we live in the country and it's easier to "shop" from my pantry than to drive the 45 minutes to the store every day. We tend to worry more about having enough food for the cats and chickens than us since feed can go bad if you buy too much of it.

  32. thank you all so much for sharing your stories. I found the comments here today to be very interesting and encouraging.

  33. We've had a stockpile for sometime but it's gotten a bit run down of later. This dh suggested it was time for a top up. $700 later I've got PLENTY of food and no worries at all if worst to comes worst. And if nothing happens it's all food we eat and enjoy so none will be wasted and we'll have a few months of low food bills.


  34. I do have a stockpile and one of the reasons is to be prepared for an emergency. It isn't the main reason though. It is a security blanket for me too. Emergencies don't have to be because of natural disasters or illnesses. What about a job loss or an unexpected medical bill? It is nice to have a stockpile to eat from and divert my grocery budget to the medical bill and not have to worry so much.

    You have me thinking though, we do need more water because when we lose power we lose water. Also, I am out of powdered milk and need to buy another box. Then I think we could live comfortable off of our stockpile for a few weeks and then live with a weird diet for another few LOl. Thanks!

  35. Very timely as we have (today) reached the DELAY phase of pandemic preparedness. The information here at http://www.health.gov.au/internet/panflu/publishing.nsf/Content/ahmppi~ahmppi-part2~ahmppi-part2-a says we should all "develop a plan in case you and your household have to stay at home for a week or so during a pandemic". I only have to add a couple of things to my shopping list!

  36. Because I live in the part of the US known as Tornady Alley, I have had to deal with storms before that have left us without power for days on end. Also, we've had more than one ice storm and were without power for days in December of 2007 while it was still cold & icy. So I always keep several days worth of canned food on hand as well as a few other supplies such as medical & first aid, batteries, candles & matches, flashlights & radios, etc. I use canned food that I buy, not home canned for this. Stuff like stews, fruit, juices and bottled water, peanut butter, tuna, crackers. I don't normally use bottled water, but it is easiest to store for this purpose. I have plastic cutlery and disposable plates as well but we would only use them if we absolutely had to. I also have things like rice & dried beans. We have homemade "sterno" can cookers. Also personal items that my daughter or I might need. When she was a baby I had a supply of baby food & diapers with our storm supplies. Also included in our supplies are a couple of changes of clothing and good sturdy shoes because if we have to evacuate because of storm damage we might have to deal with glass or other debris we don't want to step on. I also have extra dog food stored. We have plenty of blankets also. I rotate out my supplies on a seasonal basis, in the late summer or early fall I'll use up what is in the storage and replace it with fresher stuff although perishable things like crackers get rotated out more often. We learned early on that we have to be ready for anything. It's just common sense for anybody to be prepared. One more thing - I also have instant coffee & tea bags!

  37. We also have always kept as much food storage as we can. Also any other supplies we think will be needed. Since we use cloth napkins and such I almost forgot to add some paper items to the list. We had friends save the plastic forks and such they got when eating out and washed them and have them for use if needed. I read somewhere where someone saved their old toilet seat lid when they replaced it with a new one. The idea was they would have a seat to put over the big tall bucket lined with plastic grocery bags} they had set aside for that use in an emergency! Don't forget to add baby whipes and or the individual packets of hand cleaners. These will save on using water to wash up your hands and face. Plus of course they will be needed for a baby's use. Also keep several pairs of heavy use work gloves if you are stocking for an emergency such as tornado/earthquake. If you had to do work removing wood etc to rescue someone you will need them and sturdy shoes with hard soles. A crow bar is good too. I know we are mainly talking of stockpiling foods but thought I would throw this in too. Like you said don't forget that can opener!! Thank you again Rhonda for compiling such a list and everyone for adding their ideas... I always learn something new. Jody


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