How to Build a CBRN Family Survival Kit

How to Build a CBRN Family Survival Kit

by Samantha Biggers

We live in uncertain times. With the ongoing war in Ukraine, increasing tensions between Western and Eastern countries, and the potential for civil unrest, the likelihood of a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) event is higher than most of us realize.

Surviving a nuclear, biological, or chemical attack is possible if you have the right tools and your family knows how to use it. Can you survive without proper gear? Maybe, but your odds will drastically improve if you are able to create an effective CBRN family survival kit.

To learn further prepare yourself, read our article on the Top 4 Common CBRN Threats That You May Encounter.


  • 01

    How to Prepare the Family

  • 02

    The Difficulties of Starting Over

  • 03

    Chemical and Biological CBRN Events

  • 04

    CBRN Preparedness: Applying Your Family Survival Kit

  • 05

    How to Shelter Without a Bunker

  • 06

    How to Know When to Evacuate or Shelter in Place

  • 07

    Supplies for a Longer-Term Shelter

  • 08

    Bug Out Bag for a Quick Escape

  • 09


How to Prepare the Family

(Chuck Liddell and his prepared family!)

It's always a challenge and frustration when you're the only one who takes preparation seriously. This typically means the rest of the family has no idea what the emergency plan is and it can be hard to get family members to see preparation as not about being overly paranoid or buying into every conspiracy theory. As such, it's best to leave the theories out and instead focus on real-world CBRN examples. While Chernobyl was very much brought to light thanks to the HBO series and the bestselling book Midnight at Chernobyl, there are other real-life examples that show CBRN events as an unfortunate part of modern life.

Here are a few examples that reinforce the need to have a readied plan.

Tokyo Subway Sarin Gas Terrorist Attack

Subway systems are particularly vulnerable to chemical attacks. They have a large volume of people underground in a confined area with limited entry and exit points. On March 20, 1995, five men boarded separate branch trains headed to Tsukiji station. At around the same time, they each punctured a bag of sarin and made their getaway. The gas spread through the trains and at stops when the train arrived. Thirteen people died and 5,500 were sickened after exposure to the liquid when assisting those suffering severe reactions. Sarin in small doses is survivable, but large doses can be fatal. If any of the passengers had had a mask on them, they would have been spared prolonged exposure and experienced less effects.

Three Mile Island Partial Meltdown

On March 28, 1979, an electrical or mechanical failure led to water pumps not sending water to the steam generators that were responsible for cooling the core of reactor #2. This caused the turbine generator and reactor at Three Mile Island to shut down. A pressure build-up caused a relief valve to open, and it became stuck.

However, in the reactor control room, the control panel said it was shut, so no one knew that steam was pouring out of the vent despite alarms going off. Thus, decisions were made that escalated the situation and led to a partial meltdown and release of radiation into the surrounding area. Those within a 20-mile radius of the plant were advised to evacuate. By March 30, around 140,000 had taken that advice.

Lack of proper training was at least partially to blame for the incident and changes were made to prevent future incidents. While Three Mile Island didn’t result in disaster, it’s a good example because it sheds light on what you may need to do to escape danger and the importance of preparing a CBRN family survival kit.

When 140,000 people try to leave an area in a short period, it can take some time to get to safety. Having CBRN gear, like a mask, gives you peace of mind because if anything happens during an evacuation, you at least have supplies that decrease your risk of exposure.

Industrial Accidents

There are many chemicals stored and used in industrial settings. Industrial accidents are becoming increasingly common due to a lack of labor and fatigued workers. Fewer staff members on duty make it difficult to maintain safety standards and overall maintenance.

In March 2022, numerous fires destroyed food plants and warehouses. Such incidents can release harmful chemical fumes, which a good gas mask and proper CBRN filters can protect you from.

Train Derailments

The U.S. railway system moves a lot of freight, which includes a lot of industrial chemicals. Many Americans live near railway lines, and the closer you are to one, the more likely you are to experience a derailment and related spill. A CBRN survival plan and gear can help ensure your family's safety.

However, CBRN plans can be challenging because there are a lot of unknowns.

Making a long-term CBRN plan is complicated but not impossible. You must realize that many factors are unknown until such an event occurs. CBRN scenarios are more frightening to think about for some than others. So, be patient and considerate.

Scary situations must be considered when formulating a survival plan. To avoid creating panic, it’s helpful to remind family members that these scenarios are possible but unlikely.

The Difficulties of Starting Over

In the event of a nuclear disaster, getting out of the danger zone should be the priority. You may need to leave the area permanently.

A nuclear event could mean evacuating your house or city, as seen by the Pripyat and the Chernobyl exclusion zones having been long declared unsafe for human habitation for decades. In another instance, the Fukushima nuclear meltdown mean that nearby residents were forced to abandon their homes forever.

In both instances, the residents were not allowed to take anything with them, essentially compelling them to completely start over. There’s a good chance that you’ll be stripped of your belongings if a government entity is overseeing evacuations or permanent relocation. That’s because anything in a nuclear event area will likely be deemed too dangerous and radioactive for you to keep, even if it's low risk, or you're comfortable with the chances.

Therefore, one should heavily consider stagging your survival gear ahead of time. The following items are suggested for those who want to evacuate without exposing themselves to harmful radiation levels and plan to go where assistance is available:

(Image source: Image courtesy of Iridium Group)

Getting to safety may take some time. And even though you might want to avoid eating or drinking contaminated food or water, it may be impossible not to consume something on your way to safety. Luckily, MIRA Safety gas masks come with an integrated drinking system and canteen that allows you to hydrate in the field without taking off the mask. Liquid meal replacements and bottled water can be quickly poured into the included canteens or kid's bottles. Preferably, transfer the fluids from the container to the canteen or kid's bottle in a covered area.

If at all possible, get to safety before eating or drinking, but don’t let yourself or your family members become weak from dehydration or hunger.

Chemical and Biological CBRN Events

Chemical and biological agents don’t have the longevity of nuclear events. While an area that is subject to nuclear attack or meltdown may be uninhabitable for thousands of years, a chemical or biological agent may only make an area unsafe for minutes up to a few days. They break down or dissipate due to the wind, and conditions can quickly return to normal. Of course, it’s best to exercise caution and keep your gear on until you’re absolutely sure it’s safe to remove. A kit for this type of event is the same as a kit to evacuate from a fallout zone.

CBRN Preparedness: Applying Your Family Survival Kit

Everyone needs to know what order to do things in if there’s a CBRN event so that there is no confusion or delay.


Everyone in the family needs to know how to correctly put on their gear.

Kids should always have parents assist or check their gear to make sure it’s on properly. This should be practiced until masks, suits, etc. can be put on without any questions or fumbling.

Adults and older kids should learn how to correctly read a dosimeter.

And it’s important to stress the point of not removing a mask (even for a minute) when danger is present.

Evacuation Plan

Have several known routes mapped out in case you have to evacuate.

Main routes may be blocked or clogged with other people trying to get out. Make sure you have a paper map or road atlas and not just a GPS that relies on satellites and electricity. Driving at least part of the route a few times will make you more familiar with it, so it’s easier to navigate under stress.

The possibility of evacuation is a good reason to always keep your gas tank at least half full. If you have a safe place at home to store an extra 5 gallons of gas, this can help you avoid long lines when you need to get to safety.

Decontamination Plan

After you get to a safe location, you need to be able to decontaminate yourself if you’ve been exposed to nuclear, biological, or chemical agents. The MIRA Safety MDG-1 Personal CBRN Decontamination Glove can help eliminate threats such as Sarin or VX. The glove eliminates up to 90% of contamination.

Any contaminated gear and gloves will need to be disposed of. If government or disaster relief agencies are involved, they may have areas set up for this. If not, you just have to do the best you can. Thick contractor garbage bags are better than nothing. Burying them isn’t ideal, but it gets the bags out of the way, so others are less likely to be harmed by their contents.

The Benefits and Disadvantages of Bunkers

In recent years, many people have invested in bunkers. Bunkers offer a lot of security, but are above the price range for many and are impossible for those who don’t own a home.

While building your own bunker is possible, it’s not a project to be undertaken lightly. It’s essential to plan out air and ventilation systems well, or you’ll have a death chamber. Companies that specialize in bunkers can help you plan yours or sell you a premade bunker that you can outfit with supplies. Atlas Survival Shelters is a particularly popular choice that sells bunkers in a range of sizes.

Bunkers are typically compact unless you’re very wealthy and can afford a massive one. If you or a family member tend to be claustrophobic, you should spend some time working through those fears to be prepared for a lengthy stay in a fallout bunker.

You outfit a bunker in much the same way as you outfit a prepared home. Since space is limited, it’s best to stock it with freeze-dried and dehydrated foods that require little preparation.

With a bunker, you need to plan for an extended period of time without going to the surface. That means what you have is all you have. Outfit your bunker well to avoid the temptation to go out before it’s safe.

How to Shelter Without a Bunker

Even without a bunker, you can do things to reduce exposure to the worst of the fallout from a nuclear blast.

A concrete block basement can increase your chances of survival and greatly reduce fallout exposure. It can provide a space for you to get your gear on and be ready to go if evacuation is required, or it can provide additional protection if you have to stay in place with your gear on.

High-rise buildings in larger cities often have below-ground concrete parking areas and basements that can offer a lot of protection during a CBRN event.

It’s important to remember that anything you can put between yourself and the outside will help.

How to Know When to Evacuate or Shelter in Place

CBRN events often happen quickly and without warning, but sometimes there’s time to prepare and avoid the worst of it.

(Image source: Image courtesy of BBC)

Problems at nuclear power stations or industrial plants can build over time. Paying attention to the local news or setting your phone to receive alerts if a specific station is mentioned may be helpful. It’s especially important to listen to the radio or check the news after natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or tsunamis.

These events can damage power plants and factories. Consider what happened at Fukushima when a monstrous tsunami hit the plant. Many people had to permanently abandon their homes, and it was an ongoing chore to keep the nuclear reactor from releasing even more radiation. In fact, a lot of radioactive water is still being released.

Sheltering in place makes sense in some cases.

When going outside exposes you to more fallout or chemicals, the best approach may be putting on your gear and taking whatever shelter is available, preferably in a basement or other below-ground area.

If there’s a warning, get out of the area as quickly as you can. Nuclear and industrial problems are sometimes known in advance. For example, when Three Mile Island was leaking radioactive particles, people were given warnings and evacuated just in case the situation escalated quickly.

Supplies for a Longer-Term Shelter

A cornerstone of being prepared is having enough food, water, and medical supplies in your family survival kit for at least a month. While you may think that you don’t have space for all of it, you might be surprised what you can fit in a closet or underneath a bed if you plan your supplies accordingly. Here are some examples.

Freeze-Dried and Dehydrated Food Buckets

(Image source: Image Credit: Legacy Food Storage)

Some food buckets have a 10- to 25-year shelf life. A single 5-gallon bucket can hold enough food for one person per month. Most people can find enough space for that. Buckets of emergency food vary in cost, but for $200, you should be able to get enough food.. If you want higher-quality food, then budget $300.

Another advantage of prepackaged survival foods is that most just require water and a short cooking time. Freeze-dried foods often just need some hot water to be edible.

Survival food buckets are lightweight and easy to take with you if you move.

Purchase canned or dried foods for your pantry that can be eaten with little or no preparation.

If you have a bit more room and rotate your food, so it doesn't expire, purchasing canned soups, stews, meats, beans, and tomato sauces is the way to go. Pasta that takes less than 10 minutes to boil is good too.

Rice and beans are prepper staples, but beans take a really long time to cook. During an extended situation, they’re good to have, and you can't beat the price. However, for a short-term sheltering in place, foods with shorter cooking times are preferable.

If you store water, make sure you place it in the proper containers.

(Image source: Image courtesy of Blue Line Syndicate Group)

Cheap bottled water shouldn’t be stored for a long period. It’s nice to have a few cases and rotate them out with fresh water occasionally, but anything beyond that doesn’t make sense. The bottles are flimsy and break down over time. The 5-gallon jugs for water coolers are a better option, or you can buy your own water storage barrels or bricks. A good gravity-fed water filter and light water storage may be a better option. Storing a few days of water is feasible for many, but most don’t have the storage space for much more than that.

Have a good medical kit and at least a 30-day supply of prescription medications on hand.

During and after a CBRN event, you may have to be your own first responder. Even if it’s safe to go outside, medical personnel and services are likely to be busy assisting others. During a major emergency, the wait time for medical care may be very long, if it’s even available. The most seriously injured will be treated first. If you live in a rural area, you’re even more likely to be on your own when it comes to treating injuries.

Always keep something on hand for entertainment, especially if you have children.

Some might say that during a long emergency, you’ll have more important things to worry about than entertainment, but the truth is that at some point, you have to take your mind off things. Keeping up morale during difficult situations is more important to survival than many realize. Children, in particular, can grow bored and antsy if they have to stay put and change their routines for a long period. Here are a few suggestions for entertainment that require little or no electricity.

  • Books or e-readers

  • Paper and pencils or pens for drawing or writing

  • Board games

  • Mp3 player and small speaker with music or audiobooks

A power bank or larger power center like an EcoFlow or Jackery can make things easier if the power is out for long.

Bug Out Bag for a Quick Escape

Even after chemical or biological agents break down, you may need to leave an area. Always have a bug out bag packed for each family member. For an in-depth list of what to put in your bag, check out our "Ultimate Bug Out Bag List."


The likelihood of a CBRN event has dramatically increased in recent years, due in large part to the ever growing tensions between nuclear-capable countries. Additionally, the economic ramifications of COVID-19 have led to fewer workers and increased demand at factories, increasing the likelihood of industrial accidents.

The good news is that CBRN events are more survivable than many would lead you to believe. While the right gear in your family survival kit is important, training and having a good plan are also critical.

For many, the first step is getting family members on board with creating that plan. CBRN gear and equipment can be bought over time if your budget is tight. Remember, the important thing is to get started. You can even create your plan now and buy your gear later.

When creating a CBRN family escape plan, be realistic about what could happen. You may have to leave your home for an extended period or even permanently. You may also have to shelter in place for weeks or months.

This uncertainty may seem overwhelming and hard to prepare for. But the truth is, many of the required preparations are the same for many other disasters such as having plenty of food, water, and medical supplies on hand. This is something that everyone should strive for no matter what type of emergency they’re preparing for.