Submitted November 6, 2008

It's best to build your own survival kit

Dear Tom,

For what it's worth, I've been through a few earthquakes and a few big fires. In my opinion, pre-packaged "emergency kits" are largely useless.

As Napoleon said, "Plans are useless but planning is indispensable." Pre-packaged emergency kits give people a false sense of security because they think they've done something. But people typically have no idea what to do with the contents of these kits and they don't even think about what to do with them until they're in the middle of an emergency. It's like -- and I have seen this -- someone with a fancy, pre-packaged first-aid kit trying to treat an accident victim. They don't know what they've got and they don't know how to use it. Trying to read instructions while someone is bleeding is not good.

So, in my opinion, the key to any good emergency kit is not what's in it but what you put in it. Even just a few minutes thought about what kind of emergencies you're likely to face and what you need in your kit to face that emergency is much more useful than a generic emergency kit. To take one simple example, in Southern California we don't have to worry about freezing to death. People can survive fairly comfortably outside with minimal shelter even for fairly long periods if forced to do so by, say, an earthquake. In the Northeast, however, a severe winter storm can knock out power for several days and you can freeze to death inside your house or apartment if you haven't taken precautions. Having a tube tent and a candle lantern and having thought about how to use them safely could save your life.

Now, of course, that's just one example. People in the Northeast are aware that it gets cold and most have (hopefully) arranged for back-up heating. But I think it illustrates the principle. A good emergency kit is one that you designed to meet the emergencies that you are likely to face.

Having said all that, I have a suggestion. Why not offer a variety of items for people to choose from, each with a brief description of how it might be used in an emergency, and a variety of containers to hold them in. Allow people to "build their own" emergency kit "ala carte." You might even offer people progressive discounts, i.e., the more they buy, the more they save on the total kit. You could even assign an approximate size in cubic inches to each item and keep a running count of which container is big enough to hold the kit they've designed. Provide brief guides discussing what sort of problems people are likely to face in earthquakes, hurricanes, wild fires, tornadoes, power outages, etc., and I think you'll have something unique. I certainly don't know of any place on the Internet that offers a similar service.

I see from the kits you've designed that you've already gotten the germ of this idea. The descriptions of your kits immediately jump into discussions of what you should add and why. Why not take the next step and let people design their own kits from scratch?

Best Regards,

Chris, San Diego

A Note from Survival Authority, Tom Sciacca of

"Even just a few minutes thought about what kind of emergencies you're likely to face". Great place to start. Don't over react to the latest news, or a something you read on the internet or what you heard from a friend. Sit down, think or even write about what types of threats you face in your area and how you can overcome it.

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