A pandemic is a major event, no two ways about it. On the lower end of the intensity scale, they can bring entire nations, and potentially even the entire globe grinding to a halt.
On the higher end, civilizations can be severely disrupted, and it may kill a truly unimaginable amount of people; mountains of dead, tens or even hundreds of millions deep.
It has happened before, and it is a certainty that it will happen again. But as terrifying as it is trying to resist, much less counter, something that you cannot see, something that is silent and offers no trace of its presence aside from what symptoms it manifests in those who have contracted it, there are ways to prepare for it.
Just like anything else, preparing for a pandemic and surviving it is a matter of knowing what to do and having the right supplies on hand before it reaches a fever pitch.
In today’s article I will provide a list of preps that you should have on hand and in abundance before the notice goes out that you are under a pandemic warning. If you stay calm, act fast and take no chances, you and yours can make it through.
More than Masks and Gloves
When people imagine pandemic preparation, their thoughts usually turn to the three big items: face masks, disposable gloves, and hand sanitizer. Seemingly the Trifecta Absolute that will keep anyone from contracting whenever contagion is burning its way across the globe.
Those items are important, no doubt, but you’ll need a lot more than that to be truly ready for the effects of a pandemic, as well as the second- and third-order effects that it induces.
Any serious pandemic will disrupt nations and even the world to a greater or lesser degree. You can certainly expect many businesses to shut down, and social services like schools, administrative offices and so on to slow way down if they remain open at all.
This invariably leads to an economic domino effect where there will be shortages on all kinds of goods and services. The prices for what remains will often go up, way up.
Sure, you can expect the government to issue emergency orders, and to crack down on anybody, at least individuals, who are selling goods at a significant markup, but eventually the economic laws of supply and demand will flex their inviolable muscles and many goods and quite a few services will be priced out of reach everyone except those who need them the most.
And no matter how much money you have, you cannot buy something that is simply unavailable at any price.
This is why you must be prepared for a pandemic in much the same way that you are prepared for any other society-toppling disaster; things will very literally not be the same for the duration, and even for a significant amount of time after the pandemic is declared over.
Essential Pandemic Preps
You’ll need far more than masks, gloves and hand sanitizer to be prepared for a pandemic. Bracing for the second and third order effects is just as important. Review the list of essential items below and see what you’ll need to endure it.
No matter what kind of disaster you are facing, you always need food. And no matter what kind of pandemic it is, it is a safe bet that grocery stores will remain open in some way, and the fewer options for groceries there are the more people will be packing the aisles at your local store, ensuring excellent transmissibility of the germ.
Any place that people congregate during a pandemic will become a hot spot of new, freshly-minted vectors. You will want to minimize your time at the grocery store, and your contact with everything and everyone in the grocery store as much as possible.
The best way to do this is simply to have plenty of food on hand. The more and greater variety of all comestibles you have, the better off you’ll be. You’ll be even better off if you have most of them in a ready-to-eat form, or if they’re easy to prepare.
Even having a comparatively small stash of food as far as prepping is concerned, four weeks’ worth to a couple of months’, might be all that is necessary for the worst of the pandemic pass to you by.
Unlike most other disasters you should be able to count on water still being readily available during any pandemic, so you might want to rely more on staples like dry rice, dry beans, flour and honey to pad your reserves.
And don’t just settle for junk food; nutrition is always important, but it’s especially so when you’re trying to give your body the tools that it needs to resist a germ, and keep your immune system healthy.
You aren’t really prepping if you don’t have a supply of water on hand in case of emergency.
Even though a pandemic, more than most disasters, will afford you the ability to still draw water from the nearest tap and do so safely and reliably, this does not excuse you from having an ample supply of potable water as part of your survival stash.
Depending on water to come out of a tap at a moment’s notice is still a recipe for failure. You want about a gallon per person in the family, per day, ideally.
You can buy and stash water in any form that you want, small bottles or large jugs, water bricks – it doesn’t make much difference. Buy whichever one works the best with your lifestyle and with however much room you have for storage.
An alternative is to buy large 25- to 55-gallon water barrels for the purpose of storing truly huge quantities, but these will require treatment and periodic rotation to ensure they remain fresh and safe to drink.
Factory sealed bottled water might be expensive for what you get, but it will stay fresher than almost anything else so long as the seals are not broken.
It is also a good idea to have some form of water filtration equipment and purification chemicals on hand. In a real bind this will allow you to draw water from a natural source, and render it safe to drink when needed urgently.
3. Electrolyte / Powder Drinks
All kinds of nasty bugs can result in gastrointestinal upset that can see you losing fluids, rapidly, through both ends with shocking frequency.
Aside from losing water you’ll be losing electrolytes and when either or both get too low that’s when real trouble starts. It can easily turn into a life-threatening condition all on its own, or finish someone off if they are already in bad shape.
To prevent or at least slow this potential outcome, you must have a ready supply of electrolyte replacement powder or drink on hand. Rehydrating with water alone, especially when you are losing fluids through severe diarrhea or vomiting, is just not enough to get the job done properly.
What you really need is an IV, but so long as someone is not very bad off you can do a good job with your favorite sports drink, dedicated electrolyte replacement formula or additive powder that you can just pour into a bottle of water.
Do take care of that you try to keep the sugar level under control. Sugars are important, but a great many brand name sports drinks have way too much sugar in them. So long as you keep an eye on that you’ll be in good shape with many off-the-shelf products.
4. Disposable Cutlery
You shouldn’t see any disruption to dish duty while the pandemic is underway, but you can remove another potential vector of germs inside your home by relying on disposable picnic plates and cutlery.
This is especially important if you are taking care of someone who is already sick.
Instead of transporting potentially contaminated dishes back to the kitchen, which is typically the highest traffic area of the house, the “beating heart” of the home if you will, you can simply throw them in the trash can or a baggie, tie it off and dispose of it with no fuss in a far more sanitary manner.
Paper plates, plastic utensils, styrofoam or plastic cups, and napkins will be all that you need, and a small investment into pandemic preparedness that can greatly ease your day-to-day material handling procedures and sanitation protocols.
When you have to live inside your own home as if you were working in a viral laboratory just because you have an ill family member to take care of you will be glad for anything that will save you time and effort. This is one of those things!
5. Medicine (OTC and Prescription)
It is imperative that you have your own mini-pharmacy in your home for dealing with a pandemic.
This is not to say you need to stock up on a variety of exotic drugs just in case they are the cure for what is ailing the globe; consider that there might not be one!
But what you should do is build up a good supply of over-the-counter medications for a variety of ailments as well as an equally ample supply of any and all prescription medications that you or your family members need.
There are two factors you must keep in mind: The first, if a pandemic gets bad enough there is no guarantee you will be able to see your regular family doctor, or any doctor for that matter.
The pandemic will be an all-hands-on-deck type of situation that will see all professionals in the medical field bent to the task of treating those affected by the plague, and working to contain it.
Non-vital office visits, evaluations and surgeries will likely be put on moratorium. They’re also more doctors than you think who will turn the lights off in their offices and go home for the duration, not willing to take the chance of getting their own family sick.
The second factor is that you will see people gobble up all kinds of medications off of store shelves with frightening rapidity, along with many other commodities, at the onset phase of the pandemic.
Everything from painkillers to allergy medications to heartburn meds and eye drops will start disappearing. In conjunction with reduced production capacity due to shutdowns, this means you might not be able to reliably obtain the various medicines you take for granted.
Make sure to stock up a variety of pain relievers, allergy meds, nausea, upset stomach and diarrhea medications.
Talk to your doctor now about your plans and intentions, and have them help you analyze how much medicine you should keep on hand any given time as well as its storage and shelf life requirements.
Medicines are another item that loses potency over time, and you’ll have to rotate them the same way you rotate food.
6. Hand Sanitizer
You knew this was going to show up on this list somewhere. Hand sanitizer should be your constant companion whenever you leave your house during a pandemic. The single best defense against germs and all conditions is the washing of hands.
If washing your hands with soap and water is inconvenient or unavailable, you can use hand sanitizer and its powerful alcohol to kill germs with absolutely no water required.
This is another one of those items that you take for granted until everybody and their brothers, sisters and mothers wants it and then it is too late to get any more.
Make sure you stock up now, and you can make your life easier by buying economy-size bottles to refill your smaller, travel containers that can fit in your pocket or your purse.
It is not out of the question that you should be washing your hands every time you touch something in public that has likely been contaminated.
Frequent washing of the hands is absolutely necessary to prevent cross-contamination, which will further spread the disease. Only by diligent hand washing and adherence to other protocols intended to reduce or stop cross-contamination can you minimize the chances you’ll bring the germ home with you.
7. Face Masks / Respirator
Another crucial pandemic prep, this one designed to reduce your chances of infection by preventing you from inhaling any airborne viral or bacterial particles, or moisture droplets that may carry them.
Unfortunately this is also another item it will evaporate seemingly overnight as the pandemic takes hold, so make sure you stock up now, buy them cheap and stack them deep before you need them.
Let me be clear: not all masks and respirators are created equal. Plenty of people rely on face masks that are completely inadequate to the task, and while they may be better than nothing, their efficacy can be in the single or low double digits.
At the bare minimum, you want a mask that is N95-rated or better, and that is for the disposable paper or fabric masks.
A much better option, the one that is not likely to make you feel good in a social setting, is a half face respirator with P100 cartridges, or even a full face mask with visor.
Most paper masks with the crappy elastic straps do not seal against your face well, and leave gaps where contaminated air or other droplets could be sucked in without going through the filter.
A half face respirator or full face mask will not suffer from that problem, I know they can be uncomfortable especially in warm-weather they are for drastically better protection than any disposable mask.
Another good perk about the replaceable high-end filter cartridges; you can get weeks or even a month or more worth of life out of them in constant use so long as they’re not exposed to very wet or extremely dusty environments.
You should buy a handful of respirators for your family and then a case of filters to be ready for any pandemic.
8. Surgical Gloves
Disposable gloves complete the trifecta of pandemic preparedness PPE (personal protection equipment).
Regrettably, most people use these completely wrong, donning a pair when they leave their house, and keeping it on until they are done with their last errand before discarding them. This is completely backwards!
You obviously want to use gloves anytime you’re dealing with something that you suspect or fear may be contaminated by the pestilence, but you want to ditch the gloves before you get back in your car, handle your own personal equipment or re-enter your home. That is the whole point of the gloves!
You ditched them before you touch anything that you don’t want to spread the germs to! If you wear them all day long without changing them, you are better off foregoing them entirely and just washing your hands fanatically on the regular.
As you probably predicted this is another item that will be in excruciating short supply immediately before and for the duration of any pandemic.
You can use any disposable gloves you want here, latex, rubber or nitrile, but you should keep in mind that nitrile gloves are typically more durable than latex gloves and do not carry with them any risk of allergic reaction as latex does.
Heavy rubber gloves can be washed or decontaminated and worn again if you are worried about longevity or saving a few bucks.
No matter what kind of gloves you choose, make sure you have several pairs handy when you are heading out of your house or preparing to deal with anyone that you know is sick.
A small belt mounted carrier that presents the gloves akin to tissues in a Kleenex box, ready to pluck, is a good investment that will further help reduce contamination and increase convenience.
9. Face Shield
A fully transparent, wraparound polycarbonate face shield is a great piece of equipment to have when you’re dealing with anyone that is sick inside your home, especially if the illness involves coughing, sneezing or any other symptom which expels droplets of moisture.
Come to think of it, that is pretty much all of them so you had better get one of these!
A wraparound face shield creates a reliable, wide barrier between the most vulnerable part of your body, your face with all of its many mucous membranes, and forcefully expelled airborne contaminants.
The simple construction of a typical face shield means they’re easy to wear, even for extended periods of time, and easy to decontaminate.
Even if you are relying on a full face mask respirator, a face shield is still a good idea since it can form a sort of ablative barrier between your mask and contamination.
I would much rather disinfect a face shield then a respirator, since the former is much easier to deal with. If you are working with disposable face masks or a half face respirator, then one of these is absolutely mandatory to shield your eyes against contaminants.
10. Heavy Rubber Gloves
Aside from the disposable gloves we talked about above, you also want a pair of reusable gloves that are suitable for handling various hazardous materials, the kind with the gauntlets that come up too or just past your elbows.
These gloves will be useful for a variety of tasks, they are valuable because they are easy to decontaminate, and will hold up to repeated wearings and repeated washings.
If you’re on decontamination duty washing down a variety of goods or equipment that you’re bringing into your home, or even someone who has been out in public and is fairly certain they were exposed to sick people repeatedly for extended duration, these will be useful for a partner who is helping them decontaminate. More on that in a little bit.
Also, not for nothing, there’s a high likelihood that if you’re taking care of someone inside your home who is sick, it could call for more protection, and simple disposable gloves.
In the worst case scenario, is not out of the question that a severe pandemic could lead to a breakdown of services that are typically responsible for taking care of the dead in a timely fashion. If you have to do it yourself, you want to do so with the aid of heavy-duty protective apparel.
11. Smocks / Suits
Disposable or semi disposable surgical smocks and chemically resistant suits are not necessarily the item you want to wear out in the public (although you may have calls to justify it!) but, nonetheless, come in handy when you are dealing with a pathogen of extraordinary lethality.
Having a one-piece overgarment that you can dispose of entirely or easily decontaminate all at once by dunking or washing it is invaluable.
You have a wide variety of options in this category and, once again, they will all disappear in very short order once a pandemic is underway, principally consumed by the medical sector.
You can obtain paper and fabric aprons with sleeves or full bodysuits that zip up and seal shut tightly at the ankles, wrists and neck. All have advantages and disadvantages. All of them are surprisingly hot if they are enclosed.
The kind that is made out of vinyl or plastic and completely impermeable to any outside contaminants are mandatory for operating in a proper hot zone when used in conjunction with a full face respirator.
These can turn into an expensive proposition, and are not something that will always be used or be useful depending on your circumstances.
Nonetheless, when you have to have one you really must have one; trying to fashion one out of trash bags or some other impermeable material is extremely frustrating and time-consuming.
12. Dunk Tanks and Trays
Protocols for the prevention of contamination are serious business, and if you are serious about preventing pathogenic intrusion into your home, you must establish and strictly adhere to these procedures.
A big part of cutting down on contamination coming in is accomplished by washing down everything that is coming into the home: equipment, goods and people.
In order to expedite this it is useful to have a variety of containers just for the purpose of holding and catching your disinfectant solution, whatever that might be.
A wide, short and shallow tray is useful when a person needs to stand in it in order to catch the solution that is dripping off of them. Larger containers are good for dunking goods and even clothing in.
You have a variety of options here, and do not necessarily need to obtain any special container for the purpose.
Any heavy-duty rubberized material or plastic that is chemically resistant and durable will do the job. If you do have a choice however, try to obtain something with a slick, glossy surface since they are far easier to disinfect.
By setting these up in a dedicated decontamination area or part of the home, like a mud room or garage, you will make decontamination procedures safer, more reliable and easier.
13. Chemical Sprayer
A common, pump-action chemical sprayer of the kind typically used in deploying herbicides and pesticides around gardens and farmyards is a good piece of equipment to keep handy (and unused!) in case of pandemic.
The utility and simplicity of the sprayers cannot be beaten when it comes time to sanitize people, possessions or purchased goods.
Many of these devices come with a wand that is already set up to spray a fine mist, working very much like an analog decontamination chamber that you always see in those movies.
It is an easy thing when working with a partner to decontaminate yourself, a vehicle or anything else that you don’t want to handle directly but want to do a thorough job on.
Even better, these sprayers can handle virtually any liquid with a low viscosity, so no matter what kind of solution you are relying on to combat the germs, you can depend on your handy pump-and-go sprayer to do it.
One important tip however: you must never use for this task any sprayer that you have previously filled with herbicide or pesticide, since the chances that the plastic vessel might have absorbed these chemicals previously only to release them later to mix with whatever disinfectant you have inside is too great a risk.
Use only a new and unused sprayer for this purpose.
14. Bleach / Disinfectant
If there is one item you will be going through a lot, it is disinfectant. At least you will be if you are serious about keeping the germs at bay. There are all kinds of disinfectants you can use.
Modern household cleaners that are effective against various viruses and good old-fashioned bleach lead the way.
It is entirely possible to buy concentrated bleach or some other concentrated disinfectant, and then mix your own solution using water to achieve the desired strength. This can save you both money and room on your shelf.
You will use this disinfectant in all kinds of ways: spraying it on surfaces, spraying it on people, dunking clothing and equipment in it, you name it.
It is not out of the question that you might use a weaker solution for rinsing your hands or for cleaning up after a truly hideous spill.
Whatever type you prefer make sure you get plenty of it, just make sure you get the concentrations right to maximize their effectiveness against the virus.
And one more thing: you must never, ever mix together two different kinds of cleaner under any conditions, and be especially cautious that this does not happen accidentally when changing types of cleaner in the same container.
The result is often a poisonous or caustic gas that can make you extremely ill all by itself.
15. Plastic Sheeting
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Heavy-duty plastic sheeting will form one of your first defensive barriers inside the home. It is extremely useful for lining your decontamination area, or lining any area where you are keeping the sick people.
It can be used as a curtain to prevent moisture droplets from coughs or sneezes traveling too far beyond the confines of a bed or room, and even used to set up a sort of airlock to further prevent aerosolized particles from drifting on the air.
If things are getting very messy, it of course, works as an excellent ground cover, and you can use it ahead of time to securely wrap and seal a mattress in order to prevent accidents if someone has grown unable to control their bladder or bowels.
Generally, any wide plastic sheeting will work, just make sure you get one that is sturdy enough to resist rough handling and walking on it. Lighter and thinner varieties will tear easily, compromising their protection.
In a pinch, this works better than most other materials if you need to fashion a temporary smock or other body covering since it is both very flexible and tough. In a pinch you can even use it to create upper and lower garments and in effect fashion your own coverall suit.
You might wind up going through more of this than you are expecting, especially if you’re using it in several parts of the house so make sure you have several large “contractor” rolls on hand.
16. Duct Tape
If there is ever a list of preps that does not include duct tape on it for some reason, I don’t want to see it and don’t want any part of it! Duct tape is perennially useful, and its usefulness during a pandemic is no exception.
You can use duct tape to easily hang and seal the plastic sheeting or shower curtains we have mentioned above, but also use it around any suit or overgarment that you are wearing in order to close off gaps for maximum protection.
If any clothing or other gear gets a puncture, you can seal it up by repairing it with duct tape.
This is, of course, in addition to all the other many survival and repair uses around the home, and you may yet need it for that during a pandemic despite being focused on the invisible, looming threat that has imperiled the globe.
Duct tape is one of those items where you really do get what you pay for, and the higher-end brands are both dramatically stronger, far more moisture resistant and much less likely to tear or rip compared to the cheaper brands.
If you plan on erecting semi-permanent airlocks or installing large swaths of plastic sheeting throughout your home, buy the good stuff and you won’t have to mess with it until you decide to take it down.
17. Shower Curtains
Shower curtains can be used in much the same way that plastic sheeting can, only in a less obtrusive and easier way. You can use you shower curtains in conjunction with a rod or any sturdy cordage to create dividers between beds or barriers between rooms.
If you are worried about damaging your walls with tape or other semi-permanent fixatives, a shower curtain tacked up or hung from twine or even the telescopic rods that you have in your bathroom can still work well and will cut down on the transmission of germs inside the home.
This is also a sure thing for creating barriers where doors do not exist. You do not need any special kind of shower curtain, so get the cheapest ones you can find. These are easily obtained at dollar stores or any big box department store.
If you are in doubt, get the tallest ones you can since they are simple to shorten or fold under themselves to make them fit an opening precisely and securely.
18. Sheets and Linens
No home pandemic preparedness kit is complete without an abundance of linens for all of your beds. Your pillowcases, sheets, blankets and comforters can all hang onto germs, and all can become soiled when someone is very sick.
Even if they don’t get soiled, fevers mean people will sweat a lot while resting in bed, and resting on cold, clammy, damp sheets is not going to make anyone more comfortable or help them get better.
This one is simply a no-brainer. You can, of course, wash sheets and reliably expect them to come out clean and sanitary but you’ll need something to put back on the bed in the meantime.
A few extra sets of simple, inexpensive, white sheets (or any other color but white is easy to bleach!) will definitely do the job even on a budget.
19. Gun and Ammo
As much as I hate to say it, the gravest threat during a severe pandemic might not come from the germ at all, but instead come from your fellow man driven half-mad with desperation, paranoia, anger and the doldrums.
It never fails that people’s attitudes precipitously dip during pandemics and it takes little imagination to see why.
If it is from long weeks and months being cooped up at home under mandatory lockdown with no fun and not even co-workers to keep them company, or from the stress that is attendant with an inherently life-threatening situation, be it from the germ or from financial implosion, it makes no difference.
You should not be surprised to see interpersonal violence start climbing during a pandemic, as well as certain types of suspicious activities. You must be prepared for this eventuality even at your own home and nothing says “get off my property” like a gun.
Bad guys of all stripes have historically taken advantage of societal disruptions to ply their trade and there is no reason to think that just because there is a potentially lethal pathogen going around that they will do any different.
Indeed, the climate and terrain of society, as it were, is likely to play into their favor: if everyone is wearing masks, hoods and assorted identity concealing-garb this will not only make identifying them far harder but also help them blend into a crowd when they need to make their escape.
Your best bet for defending yourself from such bold and ruthless people is a firearm along with the skills to use it. Additionally, a firearm’s best advantage, range, is doubly important during a pandemic when your attacker might be a carrier of the pathogen themselves.
The gun is a weapon that will do very little good, and indeed you can be a bigger hazard to yourself then your opponent if you do not have training and significant practice in its use under stress. Make sure you get armed and get the training before the pandemic takes hold.
When times are tough, cash is king, even when people are worried about viruses. It is imperative that you have a good stash of cash as part of your preparations for any disaster, but especially during a pandemic.
As we have seen time and time again throughout history, pandemics have a way of turning economies upside down, toppling stock markets, housing markets and all of the other pillars of commerce. This means that the price of goods can fluctuate wildly.
And it also means you may not be able to get a loan. It means that your credit cards may see their limits rolled down or even closed. It is hard to predict everything that can happen in times like these.
If there is one thing that will be valuable and more dependable then credit, it is cash- at least for a good while- and even when you see the price of goods going up.
If things get really dire, a big wad of cash can get you favors that other things cannot. It is also worth considering having a small stash of precious metals like gold and silver, historic currencies that are universally valuable throughout the world and throughout time.
21. Trade Goods
You might consider stocking up on simple commodities well in excess of what you think you will need for the duration of a pandemic crisis.
Food, water, medicines, tobacco, liquor and alcohol, hand sanitizer, guns, ammo, you name it; when things start to run out and the people who want them, who need them, cannot get them you can stand to capitalize and help your fellow man at the same time.
If you are convinced that you are sitting pretty you might want cold hard cash for it. If not that, they might have some goods or some piece of equipment that you do want and are willing to trade for.
The sky’s the limit, and barter is both historically and today a common form of commerce that will remain viable even when the inner workings of our intricately connected modern economy grinds to a halt.
As we have learned from our own current predicament, pandemic-specific protective supplies like masks, gloves and hand sanitizer are in extremely high demand and there is no reason to think that future pandemics will be any different.
If you are able to secure a stockpile of these goods ahead of time and just sit on them until the next go ‘round, you’ll be able to deliver when no one else can.
Also, do not skip on stocking things like liquor and cigarettes, or even loose chewing tobacco even when you yourself do not partake of these vices.
They have always been historically coveted and valued, especially when stress is running high and supplies are running low.
Many people, especially those who already have solidly fomented habits, will be willing to pay for them handsomely when they are jonesing. And even better, you won’t have anything to feel bad about since they are not life-saving goods, but instead are luxury items.
Pandemics are definitely frightening, and can be extremely dangerous depending on the nature of the germ that is spreading.
Nonetheless, they are completely survivable if you are prepared, know what to do and have the supplies on hand that you need to avoid contact and interaction with other people for as long and as often as you can.
Review this list above, see what you are lacking and set about diligently collecting these things in the appropriate quantities.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.
1 thought on “Pandemic Preparedness: Full List of 21 Essentials”
Well written article Charles. There are two items on this list that I am low on and need to restock. Thank you.