As we enter into the winter here in New England, it is time to consider your disaster kit. If you don’t have one, it’s time to put one together and if you do have one, it’s a good time to double-check it to make sure everything is in working order.

Different regions have different potential disasters that residents might have to deal with. Things ranging from large scale problems such as hurricanes, earthquakes, pandemics, flooding, wildfires, and man-made disasters to small scale things such as short term power failures. Any of these may leave you without aid anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Of course, in the northeast our most likely adversities are severe blizzards interspersed with the occasional long-term power outage (as many of our neighbors experienced in recent weeks).

It is critical that you prepare for problems ahead of time. Once a major disaster strikes, you may not have the time or resources to prepare. Even with an anticipated disaster (hurricanes, blizzards) you may find that store shelves have been cleared out before you can get there… especially given the limits of what you can eat.

There are plenty of good resources on the internet for advice on setting up disaster kits (http://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit, http://emergency.cdc.gov/preparedness/kit/disasters/, http://www.fema.gov/pdf/library/f&web.pdf, http://72hours.org/build_kit.html). As celiacs, we need to give extra consideration to our kits to make sure that we are able to safely sustain ourselves through adverse periods.

Relief supplies may take a long time to reach your municipality, and resources may be so severely stretched that even if aid does come, it might not be enough, and will almost certainly be celiac-unfriendly. Food supplies delivered by relief organizations tend to be bulk lightweight staples, i.e. wheat heavy. Potable water may be at a premium. You should plan to be self sufficient for as long as possible.

There are two types of kits that you should consider putting together:

  1. A “Grab-and-Go” mobile kit, for when you must flee your home or when your home is no longer structurally safe. I use a good backpack with food for two for about four days, water, and general wilderness survival equipment (including a water filtration device, iodine water purification, fire starting equipment, emergency radio, flashlights, portable battery charger, rope, tarps, etc.). This is for the type of emergency when you have to flee quickly; for example, earthquakes, wildfires, and floods.
  2. A Longer term shelter-in-place kit, for when your home is your best (or only) available sheltering location. For this, I keep a box in my pantry filled with supplies for a couple of weeks. Since space and weight is less of a concern, you can stock far more supplies. Of course, this type of kit is only useful if you are not in a hurry to escape. This is for emergencies where you are sheltering in your home (blizzards) or where you have enough fore-warning that a “leisurely” evacuation might be practical (hurricanes).

I’m not going to go into heavier detail about the kinds of things that you need in each (although feel free to comment or send mail if you want advice) since the resources listed above have decent information. What I want to go into is the best options for a GF stock.

The first thing to consider is that there is a good chance that you will not have the ability to cook your food. Electricity and gas utilities may be down, you might not have enough camp-stove fuel to last long, and you might not have the ability to get any sort other means of cooking. One thing that you must be sure to remember is do not use any sort of outdoor cooking appliance (coal/wood/gas grills) indoors — carbon monoxide poisoning is a killer, as is exemplified from the recent deaths in MA following the October storm. Additionally, be very careful if you decide to try using a fireplace to cook; numerous fatalities have occurred due to clogged or damaged chimneys causing house fires or releasing toxic fumes. Remember that following a disaster, emergency personnel might not be able to reach you in a reasonable amount of time to save life and property.

With that rant out of the way, I will say that your best course is to get food that does not require any sort of cooking. You want food that has a long shelf life, is high calorie and nutrition by volume, and can be prepared/eaten without heat or water (this issue caused me to remove rice from my guaranteed stores).

Here are a few things that I like to stock for my portable pack:

  • Canned Beans
  • SPAM
  • Canned Tuna
  • Canned Sardines
  • Peanut Butter (one of the best high-nutrition, high-calorie, long shelf life, lightweight things around!)
  • Dried Fruit

In addition to those, my SIP kit contains things like:

  • Canned Fruits and Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Soybeans
  • GF crackers
  • Chocolate (do not underestimate the psychological effect of a comfort food during disaster)

I also keep an extra bulk bag of rice, but I don’t count on being able to use it since cooking may be an issue. This is more for blizzards where I probably still have gas, but may not have much else.

I’ve never bought into the organic trend, but your emergency supplies are definitely a place where you do not want to go organic. The lack of preservatives will mean a rather short shelf life, and you don’t want to break into your supplies after a disaster only to find a nice thick layer of mold.

Remember to cycle through your supplies a couple of times a year. Use your supplies or donate them (make sure they are still good!) and replace them with fresh ones. I also set a rule for myself that I am not allowed to raid the kits because “I need that item for a meal” … I only let myself touch it in the case of an actual emergency, even if it is inconvenient.

Finally, there are a few companies that sell GF emergency rations, for example Disaster Ready Depot. While it may sound like a good idea, I feel that the cost per meal (roughly $3.50 per serving) isn’t really worth it given the other possible alternatives. If you are considering it for your go pack, consider the weight (1/4 lb. per serving) and the bulk compared to self-assembled alternatives. Also note,  importantly, that many of them appear to require water and cooking … things that may be in short supply during a disaster.

Chances are, you will never need your kits. But it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Stay safe.