Is 72 Hours Long Enough?

Why Does FEMA Suggest 72 Hours of Preparedness?

Build a kit, make a plan, stay informed...  I'm sure we all know that mantra and that we use it to help encourage our unprepared neighbors, friends and family.  But why does FEMA suggest a 72 hour kit?

As many of you know, I am enrolled in a graduate degree program for emergency management.  My first class is research methods.  We are not tasked with writing a research paper, but with learning how to properly cite and format one, along with how to develop hypotheses and collect data.  Stuff that I learned years and years ago and either have forgotten or the rules have changed.  Anyway, the goal through this 8 week class is to develop a research proposal paper for a topic that interests me.  Although this is my first class in the program, this proposal idea could theoretically see me through all the way to my master's thesis before graduating.  Being an old prepper, my thoughts turned away from topics such as "which emergency operations center staffing model works best" or "interagency mutual aid agreement development" and to the topic I've chosen to work with, "is 72 hours long enough?"

I'm not going to go a lot into my actual paper with you because it is a work in progress.  But I am going to share a couple of revelations that have popped into my head.

Why 72 hours?  Why not 24 hours or two weeks?  FEMA says it is because a person might be on his own for up to three days following a disaster before services can be restored or outside aid and assistance can be provided.

I have a different theory.

I believe it is based on political correctness.  Most people, even the poor on food stamps, can probably make do just fine on what they have in their cupboards for three days.  It might be a 2 liter of "Dr. Perky," a box of store brand Pop Tarts, and a box or two of mac & cheese...  they might even get a little hungry...  but most people will do OK for three days without any preparations.  The government does not want to hurt their feelings and self esteem by saying that a person should have two weeks of food, water and supplies when someone may not be able to achieve that goal.

I think the other reason is to breed dependency.  I recently found out that my county had three points of distribution set up to pass out ice, water and food after Hurricane Irene.  The fire chief seemed very proud of that fact.  Personally, I was pretty proud of the fact that my wife and I didn't know about the "freebies" and more importantly, didn't care if they were available or not.  We were prepared for our full 7 1/2 days without power.  Government agencies and bureaucrats have as one of their primary goals, "protect our phony baloney jobs," as Governor William J. LePetomane stated so artfully in Blazing Saddles.  They need to be needed.  They are the ultimate codependents.

My position is that if "the authorities" were to promote a week or two as the ideal amount of time for people to be prepared, then more people would be likely to come through a disaster without needing government resources.  They would also likely have additional food, water and supplies that they would consider distributing as charity to immediate neighbors and friends.  Doing all of this would drastically reduce the demands on the scarce government resources, thereby freeing them up to help those who truly are unable to prepare for themselves.

Just some late night thoughts after working on my paper.  What do you think?

P.S. - I hope you all had a great and blessed Easter or Passover celebration!


  1. I planned for five to seven days with my vehicle kit (which includes my Get Home bag). I admit that I've only got 2+ days worth of water but I'm in Minnesota (Land of 10,000 Lakes) so finding water generally isn't a problem. Add in a Sport Berkey and water shouldn't really be an issue.

    In general though, the three day time frame is probably based on what the commonly effected area size is. Somebody probably made (or made up) a formula to guesstimate how long someone would be on their own depending on how many square miles got hammered.


  2. Steelheart - I think "made up" might be the key

  3. It was 3 days before the roads were open enough to safely travel more than a mile or two after Irene...the distribution flyers went out down certain roads (still haven't figured out how they put them on the mailboxes the first go around) then posted in various central locations like the post office (in New Kent) and man, the lines were long on route 60 and at the race track...no one at the jail :) (wonder why lol, sorry, but I just had to go and look) but anyway, 3 days I believe is a psychological thing...people can do anything for 3 days (3 day weekends and all)...it looks and FEELS normal to have a 'holiday' 'weekend'. It also gives a false feeling that things will be back to normal real quick (going back to the 3 day holiday weekend) and a psychological effect that the FEDS or SOMEONE is/will be in control and on top of it. Okay...sure...its all about keeping people calm...I think, no make that FEEL that if they were to say for one week people would freak out...heck, they freak out when the kids are out of school for spring break or the summer...could you imagine having to plan for a week without power for those who stress out over planning for a holiday weekend let alone spring break with the kids. The unimaginable then starts to become real and people might start to realize just how dependant they are on the system to make sure their life keeps going...psychology is all it is...then screw'em when it hits...they will be too busy saving the 'important' people first.

  4. Here's some text from Ready.Gov that does indeed try to walk a fine line between telling people to get their butt in gear but not make them think that their government won't be there to help them.

    Note near the bottom where it says that services may be out for a week or longer. I was happy to see that. But still, the larger emphasis everywhere else on this site (and others) sure seems to be focused on 3 days, which is a joke even for "minor" regional events especially if you live in a rural area.

    -- Pasted text: ready.gov/build-a-kit

    You may need to survive on your own after an emergency. This means having your own food, water and other supplies in sufficient quantity to last for at least 72 hours. Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster but they cannot reach everyone immediately. You could get help in hours or it might take days.

    Additionally, basic services such as electricity, gas, water, sewage treatment and telephones may be cut off for days or even a week, or longer. Your supplies kit should contain items to help you manage during these outages.


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