When disaster strikes, the amount and kind of emergency provisions you’ve secured pre-disaster is directly related to your overall survival potential. Stockpiling gear and provisions is only half of the equation, though. Knowing how to store and replace certain survival supplies, and how to increase their longevity before disaster strikes, is the other half of the preparedness process that many neglect.

Water, ammunition, gasoline, batteries, med kits and even those seemingly immortal long-term food storage items do have an expiration date and are susceptible to corruption from the elements and age. By keeping your survival supplies well maintained and knowing how long they will last, you can greatly increase your chances for successful survival in the aftermath of a natural or manmade disaster.

Supply Safeguards

The average person requires approximately 1 gallon of clean water for consumption per day. This does not include water for cooking or bathing. Calculate the total water usage requirements of your group and store a little overage for good measure. Only use containers that have never been used for the storage of toxic chemicals, are BPA free and can prohibit light penetration. The latter will help to lessen or slow algae growth and maintain the freshness of the water over a longer time period. When using a hose to fill your containers, make sure it is certified as “drink safe.”

To sanitize containers for water storage, one reliable method includes adding 1 teaspoon of unscented bleach for every quart of water that the container holds. Fill the container with water and let it sit for 30 seconds before emptying and rinsing with fresh water. Replace stored water every six months or add a water preserver to increase shelf life up to five years in some cases.

During long-term water shortages, you may find yourself collecting rainwater or accessing open-air water sources (ponds, pools, etc.). Keep a stock of bleach for sanitizing containers and a quality water filtration device and water purification tablets on hand to help keep your water sources free from harmful bacterial levels and toxins. Don’t forget to account for your pets as well by including at least a half gallon per day per pet in your planning. Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), canned goods, vacuum-sealed foods in Mylar bags and 5-gallon buckets of dehydrated sustenance all come to mind when thinking about “survival food.” The advertised shelf lives of some of these items have increased significantly in recent years, with some boasting 30 years as their expiration period. Regardless, the four factors that will impact the longevity of all stored food items are temperature, moisture, oxygen and light levels. The optimal temperature range for such food stores is between 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher temperatures encourage the breakdown of nutritional proteins and destroy certain vitamins while potentially altering the color, taste and smell of the sustainment products.

Keeping your food storage containers tightly sealed and maintaining low moisture levels discourages micro-organism growth (mold and bacteria), which can contaminate food sources and lead to illness or death if consumed. In contrast, too much oxygen promotes such conditions, which is why dry-packing your own long-term food resources with oxygen absorbers (silica gel packets) is a good practice. Lastly, light can cause deterioration of foodstuffs, breaking down oils, fats, vitamins and proteins. By keeping your food stores in low-light environments and maintaining these conditions, you will extend your food storage shelf life considerably.

Fuel To Live

Fuel comes in many forms and can be used for cooking, warmth and light, and it can be used to power vehicles and generators. The five most common and readily available types of fuel for long-term storage include firewood, gasoline, diesel, kerosene and propane. Firewood is often the most abundant and free fuel resource. Outdoor storage is as simple as stacking split logs in open-air storage and allowing them to season (dry) for six months or more before use. When possible, select hardwoods over softwoods, as it will burn hotter, cleaner and for a longer duration.

As the majority of vehicles and emergency generators in the U.S. are gasoline fueled, gasoline represents the second most popular fuel to store. By ensuring that your vehicle’s gas tank is kept at least half full at all times, you will have a decent driving range for evacuation and an immediate fuel storage solution on hand if hunkering down is necessary. Always store extra gasoline in OSHA-approved gasoline containers and maintain your gas stores away from living quarters. Avoid high temperatures, moisture, direct sunlight and any possible ignition sources, such as pilot lights or other open flames. Examine gas containers regularly and ensure they are properly sealed, as escaping vapors can easily combust. Gasoline can be kept for approximately one year before degrading, but additives and stabilizers can be added annually to extend the life of this fuel for up to five years.

Cycle your older fuel stores by using the stored gasoline in vehicles and generators, and then refill storage containers with fresh fuel immediately. The same storage principles apply to diesel and all other combustible fuel types, such as kerosene and propane, which are efficient, clean-burning fuels that can be used to heat, cook and provide light. Propane and kerosene can be stored safely for many years without degrading and each are affordable and readily available (pre-disaster). Whereas it is important to undertake stocking fuel resources pre-disaster, a fuel siphon and hand pump are valuable tools to have on hand should scavenging fuel from abandoned vehicles and machinery be necessary.

Maintaining a variety of household batteries for flashlights, emergency radios and other devices is also essential. Take stock of what devices in your survival kit require battery power and back those types up. Whether storing carbon-zinc, lithium or alkaline batteries, do not put them in the fridge or freezer. Leading battery manufacturers note that this storage method is neither recommended nor required. The increased moisture and condensation can actually accelerate corrosion on the battery contacts.

For the longest life, maintain your batteries in a dry environment between 68 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit and consider purchasing rechargeable batteries and a solar-powered battery recharging station that will recharge these AAA, AA, C and D batteries for use over and over again.

Lifesaving Storage

For ammo storage, moisture is the biggest factor to contend with. Moisture and subsequent corrosion can lead to ammunition degradation and failure. Corrosion can compromise the charge elements and primers and can weaken casings, which could lead to an explosive rupture when fired. By using airtight storage containers, carefully selecting overall storage climates and employing dehumidification methods to reduce moisture, you can lessen the possibility of ammo becoming compromised.

Household room temperature conditions are typically more than adequate for long-term ammo storage. However, if you are storing your ammo in a humid environment, or intend on burying ammunition in a survival cache for retrieval later, you can take a few basic precautions to ensure the ammo is going to be safe, reliable and in good operating condition when retrieved. Vacuum sealing, using airtight ammo canisters, rotating ammo stores (like food and gasoline) and using dehumidifiers and moisture-absorption packets are good ways to mitigate moisture damage in the storage area.

If refrigerated medication such as insulin or antibiotics are required by a member of your group and conventional coolers are not available, a last resort may require a little digging. By maintaining your medication below ground in a watertight container at a depth of 4 feet or more, temperatures around 50 degrees Fahrenheit may be achieved in even moderate to warm environments.

By storing your survival supplies in optimal conditions, you will dramatically increase your chances to ride out any catastrophe. After all, a bug-out bag stocked with damaged, useless supplies is no longer a life preserver—it’s simply dead weight. 

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Winter 2016 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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