ELIZABETH, Illinois—The big red bucket on the floor in the corner of the Jo-Carroll Energy conference room is hard to miss. And when you see it's labeled "CRISIS KIT," it piques your interest.

In 2017, Jo-Carroll had a former police officer train staff on how to handle a violent workplace incident. He suggested creating crisis kits to be used if employees have to shelter in place.

What is a crisis kit? It's not a first-aid kit, though there are elements of that. When Jeff Harrelson opens the bucket and explains what's inside and why, you realize the uniqueness. That starts with the hammer.

"If you need to escape and the only way you can go is out a window, and you need to break the window, a hammer can be a good thing," said Harrelson, the co-op's director of safety and loss control, who noted the hammer is multipurpose. "It can also be used as a weapon, if necessary, to defend yourself."

It's not the only self-defense item in the kit. There's also pepper gel.

"We decided on pepper gel instead of pepper spray because not only is it a little easier to aim and get to the right spots, it also doesn't have the blowback," said Harrelson.

The kit also contains "items that we don't keep in our normal first-aid kits like chest seals and large compression bandages," said Harrelson. "There's a couple of emergency blankets in there. If somebody is wounded, we can at least keep them warm."

And what about the bundle of zip ties? Harrelson called it an "extremely versatile" item with many potential uses. "It can be used if absolutely necessary for keeping bandages in place or maybe constraining someone if you needed to do that," he said.

In short, the kit contains things you hope you never need, but would be glad to have on hand in the event of a shooting or other act of violence.

And the crisis kit isn't just for those once-unimaginable horrors.

"We got to thinking about emergencies. God forbid we should be trapped in our facility for a length of time, what would be necessary?" said Harrelson.

Tornadoes are a real possibility. So are earthquakes, as Jo-Carroll's territory is at the edge of the New Madrid fault.

"Other things that we then put in there include simple hygiene-type things like toilet paper. We added flashlights in case there's no power. We did not put the batteries in the flashlights because they'll go bad faster. There's duct tape and rope, which can be used for a lot of different things," said Harrelson.

Jo-Carroll has four crisis kits at its headquarters and one each at its two branch offices. Each kit is easily accessible—not in a locked office or closet—and all employees know the locations. Certain items have expiration dates, and Harrelson keeps every kit updated.

For other co-ops considering creating a crisis kit, Harrelson sees no need to buy the readymade ones you'll find online, which he said are "very expensive and contain a whole bunch of stuff that really isn't necessary, like food for 10 days."

Instead, Jo-Carroll made its own, purchasing a few items online and the rest at local stores. Some items it already had in stock. Total cost of each bucket and its contents: $155.

Over the summer, two young women were killed in separate homicides in neighboring Iowa—the state line is just 10 miles west of Jo-Carroll headquarters. Harrelson called it a tragic reminder of the times we live in.

"It's apparent that just being in the rural communities doesn't make you safe anymore."