Why You Need An Emergency Survival Kit

Tornado in Wyoming
Tornado in Wyoming

Lately, I’ve been thinking about why having an emergency survival kit is so important, so I started searching for information about it. I was able to find a lot of articles with lists showing what to include in a survival kit, and I get that, I mean, I have suggested lists and information about what to include in survival kits myself on this website. But I found it kind of difficult to find information specifically geared towards why it’s important to have a survival kit. Should we have an emergency kit in addition to our short- and long-term food storage?

Well, what good would long-term food storage do us if a natural or man-made disaster makes it necessary for us to Bug Out? What if we are stranded at work? What if we are a student living in a dorm at college and we don’t have food storage? What if we are stranded in our car in the middle of nowhere? These are some of the questions I’ve been contemplating.

To be sure, having a survival kit will not prevent disasters from happening, but they sure can help increase our odds of survival if a disaster does strike. So I thought I would relate some examples of disaster situations and maybe add some personal experiences where emergency kits would have been useful, if not absolutely necessary for survival.

For years government officials have recommended having a 72-hour survival kit with enough food, water, first aid, and other supplies to keep you alive for three days. More recently, officials are now recommending that we have a 96-hour survival kit. When I asked why this was the case, I was told that experience has taught them that it can take up to four days after a disaster strikes before help will arrive. So basically, we’re on our own for four days.

Are disasters common? Where do they happen? Are some locations safer than others?

What are the chances that a disaster (natural or otherwise) will take place where we live?

The National Association of Realtors® has provided some interesting statistics. This first chart shows what kinds of natural disasters are most likely to occur in each of the United States:

Where natural disasters occur

As you can see, floods and wildfires can happen anywhere. And in reality, tornadoes and earthquakes can also happen anywhere as this second chart (also from The National Association of Realtors®shows:

Misconceptions about natural disasters

It’s interesting to note that floods cause the most damage, but heatwaves are the most deadly. In fact, I learned that heat/drought takes the lives of more people than floods, earthquakes, and tornadoes. Heat/drought causes 19.6% of the total hazard deaths in the United States, closely followed by severe summer weather (e.g. thunderstorms, wind, and hail) at 18.8% and winter weather (18.1%). Wildfires, geophysical events (such as earthquakes), and hurricanes are responsible for less than 5% of the total disaster-related deaths combined. It is notable that highly destructive, highly publicized, often catastrophic events such as hurricanes and earthquakes are responsible for relatively few deaths when compared to the more frequent, less catastrophic events such as heat waves, and severe weather (summer or winter).

disaster death percentages

Which place is safest?

Are some locations safer than others? Susan Cutter, director of the Hazards & Vulnerability and Research Institute at the University of South Carolina said: “There’s really no safe place from natural hazards, every place has some kind of exposure.”

Let me give a few examples of some disasters that affected me personally along with a couple of others:

Teton Dam

It was 1976 and I was sixteen years old when the Teton Dam collapsed. At the time I was living in Utah and a group of us were bused up to Idaho to help with cleanup and other relief efforts. The devastation was enormous. Hundreds of miles were affected. Cities had been destroyed, homes were washed away, cattle and other animals had been carried away and drowned. Thankfully only eleven people were killed. It could have been so much worse, but word of the coming flood was spread through the city of Rexburg by police using loudspeakers and neighbors went door to door. According to Mark G. Ricks, a local religious leader, “The vast majority of people moved out with just the clothes that were on their back”. In all, billions of dollars worth of damage had taken place.


When I was a teenager I visited the Custer Battlefield National Monument (now named Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument) in Montana. During my visit there a hail storm took place. I sought refuge in the visitor’s center with others because the hailstones were enormous. I’ll never forget a little girl that came into the building with her family and she was crying because she had been hit by one of the hailstones. I saw that her leg was bleeding.

Salt Lake City Floods

Sand BagsIn 1983, Salt Lake City had rivers running down city streets, including State Street. The winter of 1982-3 had brought record snows to the area and the temperatures remained really cold into May. Then, the last week of May the temperature reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius). With the rising temperature, the snows began melting faster than the creeks could handle the volume of water and it overflowed the banks and started flooding. I remember volunteering to help sandbag to protect buildings in Salt Lake City and nearby Bountiful City. I saw a house in Bountiful that had split in two caused by the flooding water and mud. My Uncle’s house had been protected by a fence that diverted the mud and water around his home. That small fence should not have been sufficient to stop the force of the mudslide, but it did. I believe his home was protected by divine providence.

Arizona Monsoon Storm

I used to live in England and it rained probably five out of every seven days on average. If it didn’t rain for a week to ten days it was considered a drought. Anyway, there were times when the strength of the wind and rain would collapse my umbrella. I remember one time when the water was running down the street like a river and the height of the water reached my ankles as I was walking down the middle of the street. That was a lot of water, but it was nothing compared to the time my wife and I (along with our sick baby boy) were driving in Phoenix, Arizona in 1984. We were in a rag-top Jeep and got caught in a Monsoon storm. I have never seen so much water! We could not see past the front of our vehicle. I had to hold the door closed so it would not blow off. It was a harrowing experience. We did not have any emergency kit in our Jeep and no food supplies or anything. I thought that the rag-top would rip apart at any moment. I can only attribute our safety to divine intervention. When we finally arrived back home in Utah I took the door off and laid it across the street gutter and jumped up and down on it to straighten it out so it would properly fit on my Jeep again.


San Francisco had a 6.9 earthquake in 1989 which only lasted about 15 seconds. It caused 69 deaths and 5 billion dollars worth of damage. I remember seeing the images of the freeway collapse on TV. The collapse of the top deck of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge particularly made an impression on me. My wife’s sister was living in Sunnyvale with her family at the time of the earthquake. She said the water from the swimming pool in their apartment complex splashed up to the 2nd story of their building.

I have lived through a number of earthquakes here in Utah, although none have been as severe as the San Francisco earthquake. However, I do remember one where my dad, who was a fireman at the time, described the concrete floor of the firehouse rolling like a wave of the sea. I should add that we have been informed by scientists that Salt Lake City is long overdue for “The Big One” as they call it and we are situated right on the Wasatch Fault.

Salt Lake City Tornado

On August 11, 1999
, I was on the 17th floor of an office building in Salt Lake City talking to my wife on the telephone, when I noticed people running over to the windows. I looked to see what the commotion was about when I saw what looked like a tornado outside. I mean, it looked just like what you see in movies. Debris was blowing all around sideways. I said to my wife, “There’s a tornado outside!”

uprooted treeSure enough, it was a tornado. I went down the center stairwell of the office building and spent the better part of the day helping out with security and other relief efforts. The physical damage was tremendous. Huge trees had been uprooted, cars were trashed, roofs had been torn off of homes. And this tornado was only rated a strong F2 on the Fujita scale. Thankfully, there was only one fatality, but many people were injured (twelve critically).

The Conference Center building was under construction and there was a crane operator in the crane at the time of the tornado. The operator crawled down in the slewing unit below the operator’s cab. The crane was blown over against the Conference Center and caused some damage to the building, but the crane did not come down and the operator was unhurt.

Another interesting thing that happened was the tornado hopped over Temple Square. There was some damage to some trees, but all in all the buildings on Temple Square (The Tabernacle, Assembly Hall, Visitor’s Centers, and the Temple) were left unscathed. Authorities say that tornadoes normally do not hop over things, but this one did. Again, I attribute it to divine intervention.

My friend’s wife was driving on North Temple street when the tornado appeared right next to her car. She had her baby in the car with her. The car was bounced around, but the tornado continued east and she and her baby were unhurt.

Earthquakes and Tsunamis

In 2004 there was an earthquake and tsunami the day after Christmas in South Asia (Sumatra) which resulted in between 230,000 and 280,000 fatalities. A total of 1.75 million people were left homeless. Then in 2011 the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami (often credited as the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami) resulted in 15,893 fatalities according to National Police records.


Earlier this year we had a hailstorm where I live where the hailstones were golf ball sized, with a few a bit bigger. The hailstones damaged our car, and part of the roof on our house was also damaged. During the storm, my dog was really frightened inside our house. I have recently seen videos on YouTube of hailstorms where the stones were about baseball sized. When they were landing in a swimming pool the water looked like a rolling boil. I have never seen anything like it, and the noise was very loud. That would be a frightening experience, and the potential damage to crops and buildings and cars is something to consider.

In Conclusion

Natural hazards such as wildfires, storms, tornadoes and hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes are an inevitable part of our existence. Natural disasters can be sudden and unpredictable, often impacting the community with devastating consequences. I believe that having an emergency survival kit is an important part of preparation for unforeseen events. Having an emergency kit can be essential for short-term survival, as it provides items that are vital for you and your family.

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