Most preparedness campaigns share the message that citizens need to be prepared for 72 hours or three days in an emergency—that you need to count on government resources not being able to make it to your household or location within that amount of time. These campaigns ask you to make a plan for reunification and evacuation with your loved ones who may be at work or at school. They also suggest that you prepare a preparedness kit with items such as food, water, flashlights, batteries and even items like a deck of cards. More recently in the current era of social media and the capability to send focused alerts to communities, emergency management partners are encouraging citizens to also get connected—sign up for alerts, join community facebook pages, and know your neighbors. This social connectedness is a strong thread to keep communities together when day-to- day infrastructure and services that we take for granted may not be available.

A concerning observation about the 72 hour focus remains that year after year, despite dedicated preparedness campaign investments with tactful messages and delivery, citizens are still not prepared for 7 hours let alone the recommended 72 hours. When it snowed a few feet last year in the DC area (with accurate forecasting), I think 90% of residents went to the store within the first day of the storm to buy the essential items that they should have purchased prior to the storm. What’s even more concerning is that it’s widely recognized by honest public safety officials that in a major disaster (major earthquake, hurricane, blizzard, etc.) that planning for even 72 hours is likely not enough!

If a true disaster strikes cities in the mid-Atlantic at a magnitude larger than our last Snowmaggedon, the big box stores, grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, and banks will not be open. Electricity could be out for days or weeks. With this type of infrastructure down, all local, state, and even Federal government resources will be completely surged to capacity to try to maintain a basic level of public safety in our communities. They will not have the capacity to knock on doors to give people food, water, blankets, or fans.

I am not trying to employ scare tactics by any means, but this is a reality that we need to face and an expectation that we need to communicate. I recommend the following tips to stay prepared beyond 72 hours:

  • Plan to use your electronics but also plan for them to go down. Have backup chargers for your mobile devices charged and ready.
  • Sign up for your local emergency management alert system and join your community Facebook pages and Twitter feeds to improve your family’s situational awareness.
  • Say hi to your neighbors. This seems silly but it helps to build the social fabric of our community and will help you understand what they can help with and what they may need help with in a crisis. You and your neighbors will have to partner to get through a major disaster as public safety will be overwhelmed. You may be each other’s first responders.
  • Gather supplies in your home and make a go bag. Make sure to rotate your food and even water supply once a year or so. Gather batteries, buy a few cheap phone chargers, and flashlights. Plan everything with the assumption that you will not have power or government services.
  • Make a reunification and evacuation plan and make sure your family knows the plan.

There are many helpful lists available (see FEMA.gov and many state/local emergency management web sites) with guidance for go bags and preparedness kits. What do you think are the most important items to store to get beyond 72 hours?