Dust Mask for Your Survival Kit

dust mask for survival kit
Useful for emergencies?

Update as of 9-2020. Because of COVID-19, supplies of commercial masks may be limited. Take steps NOW to get the masks you need.

Do I need a dust mask for my survival kit?

As the pandemic continues, and fires explode in California, we are taking yet another look at the role masks play in protecting our health.

This week, a question first asked over a year ago was raised again.

What’s the best dust mask to protect me from smoke from a wildfire?

In my neighboring county here in southern California the overall Air Quality Index today registers more than 5 times the “safe” levels as set by the EPA!

Air quality considers gases and particles. Particles are the first thing a dust mask attempts to stop. Masks are labeled according to how much particle protection they offer. For example, a mask will get a measurement like “90” or “95” or even “100.”  This tells you the percentage of particles this mask can block from entering your lungs.

Particles are also measured by size. Some masks protect against particles down to 10 microns in size. Others protect against particles down to 2.5 microns. The smaller, the better.

Let’s look more closely at some of the options from the standpoint of preparedness.

1-Option One – standard disposable paper or cloth dust mask

(FYI, the child in the image at the top of this Advisory is wearing a standard surgical style disposable paper mask.)

As we wrote just a couple of weeks ago, your Go-Bag should include a supply of surgical style paper masks as protection against the spread of COVID-19 in a evacuation or shelter situation. Thin paper masks are meant to stop YOU from transmitting virus via droplets from your breath.

They can also protect you from breathing in larger particle pollutants that may be in smoke.

These masks typically have thin elastic straps that go around the ears or around the head. You can see that the one in the image has only one strap. This means it probably won’t fit too well — particularly if you have a beard or mustache.

These masks are for one-time use only.

Inexpensive cloth masks – or just a bandana — can be washed and reused but tend to get wet around the mouth. These masks may give you the impression of providing security. They may stop you from passing on the virus. But they can really only prevent some of the very largest smoke particles from getting into your lungs.

2-Option Two – “respirator” built for better protection

It appears that the best all-purpose masks are those labeled N95. They filter out 95% of pollutants that aren’t oil-based. (Some masks are labeled N99 or even N100 and are more effective.) These are the masks that health care workers, first responders and volunteers working in the burn areas of California wear – or should be wearing.

Like the Option One masks discussed above, these masks are also disposable. But they fit better (two straps, nose piece) and are more comfortable and thus can be worn longer before being replaced. One additional comfort feature is an exhalation valve. The valve makes it easier to wear the mask in hot or humid conditions.

Here’s an example from Amazon (where we are Associates) of an N95 mask with exhalation valve. This model comes 10 to a box.

3M 8511 Respirator, N95, Cool Flow Valve (10-Pack)

Caution: While a mask with an exhalation valve may make it easier for you to work in smoky conditions,, it does not protect you from harmful gases. Moreover, the CDC warns that because an exhalation valve makes it easier to breathe out, the mask will not keep you from transmitting a virus to others.

Masks can also be combined with additional layers or filters to keep out specific pollutants. The more layers, the more effective (as long as the fit is good). The mask below, for example,  is designed with extra layers of activated charcoal. (Note adjustable ear straps.) My research does suggest that while these masks with filters can protect against particles as small as 2.5 microns, they are NOT rated by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the one that gives us the “N95” rating.

Mouth Mask,Aniwon 3 Pack Anti Dust Pollution Mask with 6 Pcs Activated Carbon Filter Insert Fashion Cotton Face Mask PM2.5 Dust Mask for Men Women

3-Option Three – masks for specialty use

If you find yourself in a specialty situation — for example, where you are engaged in grinding or welding, or working in heavy pollution caused by a fire – you need a reusable respirator. Typically, it will have one or dual cartridge holders permanently affixed to a half-face or full-face mask. You add filters or cartridges to the holders to match the job you’re performing. If you’re looking for the highest level of protection, go for P100. It filters out 100 percent of both oil-based and non-oil-based particles.

3M Rugged Comfort Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator 6502/49489, Medium

You can probably find specialty, reusable masks like the one above starting as low as $25. (Prices quickly go up to well over $100). Be sure you’re getting the filters and/or cartridges you need. In particular, be sure the mask fits WELL. Any air leakage defeats the purpose entirely. Straps that are too tight will keep you from wearing the mask when you need to.

If you prefer a half-face mask, you may want to add goggles or some sort of eye protection.

For everyday survival kits, a full face respirator is probably more than you need. But if you know you are heading into a dangerous air situation, and can grab some extras from your stash of supplies, having a reusable mask with the appropriate cartridges would certainly be useful.

Some final thoughts about a dust mask for your survival kit.

Putting on a mask seems simple, but wearing one for hours can be difficult for some people. The masks become hot and scratchy, and if they get wet they may become soggy and block air altogether. People with facial hair and small children can’t get the fit that’s necessary for the best protection.

But in an emergency, it makes no sense to be without sensible simple protection.

I recommend you buy a box of surgical masks and another of N95 masks and put some in each survival kit you own — family members, the car, and the office. Practice putting on one of the masks to check its fit.

Now, take that mask off and tuck it back in the bag with the others and know protection is there when you need it.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Have you had experience with face masks? Tell us your story!

Safety Checklist for New Employees


Safety Is Your Responsibility

Where's the nearest fire extinguisher?
Will a new employee be able to answer this question?

Are you a business owner? in charge of emergency response at your work? an employee of any sort?

If you’ve been there a while, you should be able to check off every item on the Safety Checklist below. There are only 12 items.

A new employee, however, will have to make an effort to figure out all the answers. And if an emergency hits before he or she has done so, your business may be in jeopardy!

12-point safety checklist

Download the full-sized safety checklist here.

Share it with new employees and, for that matter, with ALL employees.

More In-Depth Info on Employee Safety

Some Advisories with more details for workplace preparedness:

If you want a more thorough discussion of how to build a Simple Business Contingency Plan – get a copy of our book, Emergency Preparedness for Small Business.

Suggested Next Steps for the Company

You can put this checklist to work in just about any workplace – office, factory, hotel, retail operation – wherever your business is located. Of course, you may prefer to use it as a sample and make your own, more customized version.

Either way, here are 3 suggestions for how to proceed:

  1. Share this article and the safety checklist with management. See what items they can check off; are there any items no one has thought of, or knows the answer to? Be sure you understand which items might have some liability connected to them.
  2. Decide on a plan for sharing the checklist (or a customized version) with all current employees. Turn it into a team effort, or a competition — whatever works to engage people and get them more aware of safety and their surroundings!
  3. Add the safety checklist to your on-boarding process for new employees. Obviously, they will need a helpful partner to be able to get through the list. I think they’ll find it to be a comforting exercise and one that will impress upon them the company’s commitment to preparedness and to safety.

Disclaimer from EmergencyPlanGuide.org

This handy checklist is not meant to be a full assessment of employee or workplace preparedness. Rather, it is meant as a simple, easy tool to create more awareness among people who are working together.

If the checklist starts a conversation about what’s missing, consider it a bonus. And then, put together a plan to fill those gaps!

We are committed to a continuing conversation about being ready for emergencies. As always, the more the people around us know, the better off we ALL will be!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Survival Vocab Quiz


Survival VocabularyOK, so you’re in good shape when it comes to preparedness.

But can you talk to people about preparedness using THEIR words?

Here are three quick quizzes for three different groups. See how you do!

Group One: Your Prepper Relatives

While you may not be a red-hot survivalist, you probably have a few in the family. Maintain your dignity by knowing these prepper acronyms:

  1. EDC – Every day carry – collection of essential, small items that the survivalist has at all times in a pocket or purse.
  2. ATV – All-terrain-vehicle – A three or four-wheeled “buggy” that can carry preppers to safety through the woods or over the hills, when roads are impassible or too dangerous.
  3. BOB – Bug-Out-Bag – What you need to have ready to grab and go and that will keep you alive for at least 72 hours. At a minimum it contains shelter, water, and food.
  4. OTG – Off the grid – Surviving without access to electricity, municipal water, grocery stores, etc. Usually, it means setting up alternative living arrangements in an isolated area where you won’t be bothered by people who haven’t prepared in advance.
  5. SHTF – Shit Hits The Fan – All your preparations are made so that you will survive when the SHTF.

Group Two: Your Emergency Response Team Volunteers

These folks are committed and concerned. You owe it to them to provide good leadership by knowing what you’re taking about.

  1. CERT – Community Emergency Response Team member – Someone who has taken the (free) 24 hour course designed by FEMA (see DHS, below), offered by a city or other local organization. CERT members are volunteers who have received training in basic disaster response skills and who agree to provide emergency care until professionals arrive, and then support those professionals as needed.
  2. DHS – Department of Homeland Security – DHS was established in 2002, combining 22 different federal departments and agencies into one cabinet-level agency that now has 240,000 employees. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is part of DHS.
  3. EMT – Emergency Medical Technicians — EMTs are trained to provide emergency medical care before a person arrives at a hospital. EMTs may be associated with an ambulance company or a fire department; they may have different levels of training depending on their state or employer.
  4. SOP – Standard Operating Procedure – “The way we do things.” If you don’t have an SOP for your team, then you can’t expect any given outcome.
  5. Triage — Triage is the first step in an emergency. It is the process for sorting injured people into groups based on their need for medical treatment. Triage, by definition means that as a volunteer you don’t stop to help the first injured person you see.

Group Three: Co-workers

People at work deserve a plan for emergencies. If you’re involved, here are formal and informal terms you should be using:

  1. OSHA – Occupational Safety and Health Administration – OSHA is part of the Department of Labor. For our purposes, it is important to realize that OSHA’s purpose is to “provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards.” Generally, this does NOT require any sort of emergency preparedness plan.
  2. BC/DR Plan – Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery Plan — These terms are often used interchangeably but they both contain an approach to (1) preparing for emergencies, (2) taking action to limit damage before anything happens, (3) understanding how to get through the disaster when it does it, and then, (4) how to get back to BAU (see below).
  3. BIA – Business Impact Analysis – This is the first step to a Disaster Recovery plan. It’s a process that will identify and evaluate the potential effects of a disaster, accident or emergency on your critical business operations. The BIA will help set priorities for your planning.
  4. BAU – Business As Usual — After an emergency, BAU is what you want to get to. However, it’s possible that today in your workplace, if changes aren’t made right away, your current BAU will lead to a worse disaster than was necessary!
  5. SOW – Statement of Work — If your organization decides to hire a consultant to help in developing your BC or DR Plan, you’ll likely ask for, or actually provide yourself as part of the consulting contract, a statement of work that outlines exactly what is to be done.

Ok, had enough?! Here are a couple of suggestions to make this exercise valuable for a bigger audience.

  • Action Item #1: Consider printing out these definitions for your emergency response team members. Go over them out loud at a training meeting so everyone knows how they sound and can say them easily. Some of this will be new to some of your members, I can guarantee it!
  • Action Item #2: At work, share this list with co-workers or with your boss. If emergency preparedness and emergency planning are relatively new subjects, people will get a sense of confidence having been exposed to this vocab.

Let us know how you used the list!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. And one last acronym I just can’t resist putting in here: TEOTWAWKI:

If you’ve spent time on survival websites, you’ll know that this stands for The End Of The World As We Know It. TEOTWAWKI usually assumes a BIG disaster – total economic collapse, cosmic event, pandemic, etc. I don’t know how the acronym is pronounced, if it even can be pronounced!

P.P.S. More preparedness vocabulary for people who like this sort of thing:






How Small Business Owners React to Questions about Emergency Preparedness


Who do you think you're kiddingLast week we attended a business expo: 1,000+ people talking, laughing, and sharing their business ideas. Energy and American ingenuity on display!

We figured these people wanted their business to succeed, so we offered a couple of quizzes to get a conversation started about Emergency Preparedness. As you can imagine, results were mixed.

  • Some people (10%) took one look at us, saw the word “Emergency,” and shouldered their way past. Not interested, or threatened.
  • A few (5%) grabbed the quiz and proceeded to show off how well they and their businesses were prepared. They were enthusiastic!
  • Most (85%) came out with a version of the same thing: “Oh, I know I should be doing something, but . . .” (They usually said this with a shrug and a weak smile.)

Do these reactions sound familiar?

They should. As we’ve reported before, more than 60% of small businesses have no plan for emergency preparedness or response. In this crowd of very small businesses – many being operated out of home offices – apparently things were even worse.

Familiar doesn’t mean good. The impact of an emergency on a business with no plan is just plain dreadful. Historically, in nearly half the cases,

  1. The business shuts down and never reopens.
  2. Employees lose their income.
  3. The owner loses his or her income and the entire investment.

Here’s our answer – and our commitment.

At Emergency Plan Guide we research and write about all aspects of preparedness, focusing on three main groups of people: families, neighborhoods and business.

Naturally, there is overlap. A family that is prepared can be an inspiration to neighbors. A neighborhood response group can attract resources to benefit many. A prepared business can stay afloat and support its families and the wider economy.

So, our Advisories and our articles and books strive to meet the needs of each of these groups. But . . .

We think the small business community is most often overlooked.

Resources for the small business seem to fall into two categories – free government websites and programs, and commercial business continuity services including insurance.

All of these have plenty of excellent information, in fact, page after page of it.

And there’s the problem. The typical small business owner is already overwhelmed!

So, here at Emergency Plan Guide . . .

We present basic business continuation information in small, easily digestible bites.

Emergency Preparedness PosterOne of our favorite business tools is a simple, one-page flyer that lists 7 things you can do at work to improve preparedness. The list could be used to develop a full-blown preparedness plan, or it could be used, just one question at a time, to start informal conversations around the lunch table or at a staff meeting.

However you want to use it at your business, feel free. You can get your copy of the flyer here and take a look at how you want to proceed.

Disclosure: Yes, we know this one-pager is awfully lean. We’ll take a look at each item in more detail in coming months. The main thing is for you and your business to get started!

Planning for emergencies will save lives and jobs. There’s no time for planning or training once a disaster strikes.


Virginia and Joe
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Small business owners sometimes confuse emergency preparedness with workplace safety as required by OSHA. Click to get our Advisory that gives more info on OSHA and its limitations.


Emergency Action Plan in Your Workplace – What Protection Does It Really Provide?


Fire exit signThe US Department of Labor has a division called Occupational Safety and Health Administration, otherwise known as OSHA. I’m sure you’ve heard of it!

OSHA deals with a wide variety of employment issues, including protecting privacy, procedures for non-discrimination and retaliation, etc. OSHA also sets standards for safety, including requirements for Emergency Action Plans.  Does your workplace have a Plan?  Is it working for you?  Here’s an overview to start the conversation . . .

Who needs an Emergency Action Plan?

Just about every business. Take a look around your workplace. Do you see any fire extinguishers? If there were a fire, would you and co-workers need to evacuate the premises? These are the two key questions, so if you answer “Yes” to either one, you need to have an Emergency Action Plan!

What are the requirements for a Plan?

  • It must be in writing.
  • It must be kept in the workplace.
  • It must be available to employees for review. (An employer with 10 or fewer employees may simply announce the plan contents in a staff meeting or otherwise orally.)


What does the plan contain?

  • Information about how to report a fire or other emergency (Public address system? Call 911? Pull fire alarm?)
  • Evacuation procedures and identification of escape routes (Nearest exit? Maps or diagrams?)
  • Location of fire extinguishers and who is authorized to use them (Not everyone?)
  • Critical steps to be taken before the workplace is emptied (Shut down equipment? Close doors? Do nothing, just get out?)
  • Procedures for keeping track of all employees after an evacuation (Where are records?)
  • Rescue and medical duties for those employees who are to perform them
  • Who to contact for more information


How often does the plan have to be updated, or shared with employees?

Clearly, a number of plan items need to be regularly updated, such as the list of employees and the list of employees with special emergency skills or who require special training. There doesn’t seem to be a requirement to revise the plan on any regular basis, or to actually practice it. The plan must be shared with all employees covered by it, however, including new employees.

What if we should have a plan, but don’t?

OSHA provides an on-line eTool that you can use to create a basic plan. Just fill in the blanks and print it out. (Note that the material is NOT SAVED if you stop in the middle, so you need to complete all sections in one sitting.) You will discover that the questions, while simple, will force you to make some important distinctions about employee behavior in an emergency. You can find the eTool at:


What’s the bottom line?
An Emergency Action Plan is really only a FIRE EVACUATION PLAN

It is not an emergency preparedness plan or a disaster response plan. It has no provisions for assembling emergency supplies to protect employees or plans to protect the business itself in the event of a disaster. Still, it is a first step to survival awareness.

Action Item: Be sure your workplace has an Emergency Action Plan as a bare minimum

Stay tuned to Emergency Plan Guide Advisories, because we’ll be dealing in more detail on Business Continuity planning.

Virginia and Joe
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team



OSHA Fact Sheets


If you are an employer looking for more guidance regarding workplace preparedness, and are ready to delve into the regulations surrounding this area, OSHA – Occupational Safety and Health Administration — has published a number of informational factsheets on workplace emergencies and workplace preparedness.

Among them:

Planning and Responding to Workplace Emergencies

This two-page overview lists requirements for companies with more than 10 employees. Sections of the report include:

o Planning
o Chain of Command
o Emergency Response Teams
o Response Activities
o Employee Training
o Personal Protection
o Medical Assistance

How to Plan for Workplace Emergencies and Evacuations (OSHA 3088)

A far more comprehensive document, this 25-page report is written for the employer, to make sure the employer is following all required and recommended procedures to protect the business. This document covers all the items listed in the fact sheet above, with particular attention to fires and evacuations. A comprehensive flowchart on page 11 determines just who is required to have a written Emergency Action Plan.

Both OSHA reports are available at www.osha.gov.

Emergency Plan for Workplace

Step-by-step to workplace preparedness

Simple Plans for Small Businesses

If you own or work in a small business, you may still require a plan.  In the absense of more formal arrangements, download the Emergency Plan Guide’s Seven Steps to Workplace Preparedness.  It will give you a place to start.

Follow up with other Advisories that deal with finding workplace leaders and assembling your workplace emergency response team.