Stretching the 72-Hour Emergency Preparedness Window


So, first the question: why today’s focus on 72-hours’ worth of food and water?  Do most disasters only last 72-hours?  Do statistics prove that three days of prepared sustainment is sufficient in most situations?  We can find no supporting statistical data or resources to adequately address these questions.  So then why the three days?  Certainly 72-hours of sustainment will cover the typical short-term power outage, the heavy snow storm or the rockslide closing the main route into town.  It will also somewhat mitigate longer times of limited resources occurring during serious hurricanes, and destructive earthquakes.  However, these facts aside, the 72-hour target has most likely been chosen by the industry in general, and FEMA in particular, simply because it is considered a goal which is “prudent and reasonably attained” by the American public.  Storing a week or two weeks’ worth of supplies can be a daunting task.  Start talking a month or longer and the conversation quickly becomes overwhelming.

The reality is that many disasters leave a particular population without necessary resources and infrastructure far longer than three days.  Indeed it is true that over two months after the devastation in Japan, 80,000 people are homeless just due to the Fukushima crisis alone.  Closer to home, thousands remain homeless after the devastating tornadoes that ripped across southern parts of our country at the end of April and which continue to wreak havoc as early as just yesterday with the loss of 89 people in Joplin, Missouri.  Both of these events, however, as well as many others like them, simply nullify any stored supplies one might have in the home.  When the home is gone or no longer inhabitable, it really becomes a moot point as to whether you had 72-hours’ worth of food or a year’s worth.  Gone is gone.

However, there are far less dramatic emergencies, relatively speaking, where individuals or families can indeed benefit from long-term, self-sustainment storage.  Just last year, our own company had employees without electricity for over ten days during an historic snowfall.  What about the very real personal emergency of becoming unemployed?  In today’s economy, this particular emergency has impacted hundreds of thousands of Americans.

So how do you expand 72-hours’ worth of emergency food and water supplies into a three month sustainment system (or even longer for that matter)?  Like eating the proverbial elephant – it’s one bite at a time.

Bite #1

Determine what you and your family typically eat in a 2-week period.  Plan three meals a day.  Don’t forget to include beverages.  Sure, water is going to be your main staple in this department, but what about adding flavored drink mixes for variety?  Also consider adding one or two snacks each day depending on your own needs or the needs of your family.

Bite #2

Take that plan, put recipes against it and itemize a list of ingredients and quantities required.  A simple example: If you have a PB&J sandwich for lunch, determine how much peanut butter, jelly and bread will be used for each sandwich, determine how many sandwiches are needed for lunch, and then determine how many times you’ll be having PB&J for lunch during that two week period of time.

Bite #3

Do the math.  Using your itemized list, simply calculate the amount needed of every ingredient if you were to duplicate that same 2-week meal plan over the course of three months.  Divide these numbers by the serving size and numbers of servings per container of each ingredient.

  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter x 2 sandwiches x 14 lunches = 56 tablespoons x 6 (to calculate three months worth) = 336 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • 336 tablespoons ÷ 14 servings per 18 oz. container (2 T per serving) = 24 jars of peanut butter need for your 3-month storage

Bite #4

Simply add the purchase of an additional jar of peanut butter to your regular shopping list.

You might want to use some of the many tools out there available to help simplify this process even further, such as the 3-month planning spreadsheet made available from

Things to Keep in Mind

  • Expiration dates. As you build up your storage of food to cover weeks and months and even longer, have a plan in place to rotate those resources into your daily consumption so you don’t end up with a basement full of food that expired in 1983.
  • Not just food & water. As you continue your “one bite at a time” approach, remember that it’s not just food and water you need to be storing for whatever time period you’ve defined.  We’ve certainly gone over these suggestions in previous blog posts, but to point out just a few reminders:
    • Batteries
    • Emergency Lighting
    • Medications (over-the-counter & prescriptions)
    • Medical First Aid (consider more than just your average First Aid kit)
    • Entertainment (10 days without electricity – well things can get pretty boring)
    • Shelter repair materials and equipment
    • Alternative power sources
    • Water filtration and means of purification such as chlorine dioxide tablets (be careful how you store your water – certain plastics may leach chemicals and water can simply become contaminated over time if not properly stored)
  • Choose containers wisely.  Keep in mind that containers can be compromised by water, insects, rodents, or even time itself.

72-hour sustainment is an absolute must-have.  No arguments here.  However, we encourage that you examine your own circumstances and determine if you might not consider expanding your own personal sustainment into weeks and even months.

Facta Non Verba


1 comment

1 Time to Lose the 3-day Preparedness Message | Emergency Preparedness News { 07.11.11 at 6:59 pm }

[…] So, before we toss out the previous “marketing angle” on emergency preparedness, we think you have to answer one question.  Has the majority of the American People (or even a small minority for that matter) bought into the original message?  From our prespective we would have to answer no.  How do you “sell” or educate a population on a week, two weeks, or more worth of preparation, when you’ve failed to sell a meager 72-hours?  We’ve explored ways to help the general popluation look beyond the 72-hour sustainment mark, to include the ICE PACK Blog post on Stretching the 72-Hour Emergency Preparedness Window. […]

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