There are nine members of my wife's family in the Bay Area, and when I found out no one had the 72-hour emergency kits we're supposed to have, I put them together as presents (in-laws loved the kits, too). My emphases were making them easy for me to put together, easy for people with no camping experience to use, and ones that would last as many years as possible without needing replacement or maintenance. In return I was willing to pay more, be more bulky than the minimum possible, and have limited control over food selection.
72-Hour Home kits:
- Water in plastic jugs, 3 gallons/person
- Iodine water-purification pills in case water goes bad (after 6 months, assume it's bad), in case it's leaked away, or in case you need more water (UPDATE: chlorine tabs have been suggested as lasting longer in storage than iodine)
- Mountain House 72-Hour Emergency Meal Kit, 1 per person
- Mountain Oven Flameless Heating Kit: each kit can be used 5 times and can prepare 2 meals at a time. So 2 kits per two people in a household, but also 2 kits in a single-person household.
- Plastic silverware
- Emergency phone numbers/contact list
The above is the absolute minimum. Meals can be eaten in their pouches, so no dishes are needed. Flameless heating kits eliminate the need for cooking stoves (water has to be purified, though). Emergency meals also can be eaten with cold (purified) water although they taste bad. The food and flameless kits should be good for at least 3 or 4 years, and probably more than twice that long.
Your kit should be stored outside your home in case you can't get inside. So in your yard, your car, or somewhere else. The only maintenance this requires is to simply look every six months to see if the water's leaked through the seams of the plastic jugs - it happens fairly often.
Additional useful items:
- Cheap flashlight/headlamp
- Spare batteries in clear plastic bag so you can see if they've become corroded over time
- Plastic tarp and cord as a rain shelter
- Swiss Army knife
- Emergency shelter, 1 per 2 people
- Cheap or expensive first aid kit (I went with cheap kits from the local drugstore)
- Cheap rain gear, spare shoes and clothes
I also made better-than-nothing emergency kits for everyone's car, in case you're stuck on the road:
- Half-liter water bottle (enough to keep you hydrated for a few hours until you can find a water source. Keep more than one if you have kids.)
- Iodine (can disinfect murky water from ditches, and you might need to) (or chlorine tabs)
- Emergency shelter
- Small amount of long-lasting food (I found tins of honey-roasted peanuts that were good for four years)
- Cheap rain poncho (I didn't include this, but should have)
- Emergency contact list
- Shoes you can walk many miles in, if that's not what you normally wear
- Cheap, tiny flashlight
Additional tricks for both kits: put the contact lists in their own ziplock plastic bags to reduce the chance that they'll mold/get wet over the years. I've also found that the metal caps on the iodine bottles tend to rust over a few years, so I bagged them in their own ziplock bags, and poured a little table salt in the bags to absorb humidity.
Hopefully this is all unnecessary.
Comments/suggestions welcome, as always.