Basic elements of preparation:
Levels of disaster (a lot of opinion here):
[Pretty much from most likely to least likely.]
- Personal disaster for your family. Major illness or accident, job loss, house fire.
- Short-term local disruption. Hurricane or blizzard or earthquake interrupts food stores and
utilities (electric, water, gas, sewage, internet, roads)
for a week or two.
- Medium-term local disruption. Major local destruction due to flooding, hurricane, tornado, wildfire.
Maybe your neighborhood and house are badly damaged.
- National economic crisis or war-based boycott. Such as Venezuela is going through in 2018. Currency collapses,
govt services are minimal, stores don't have basic food or supplies.
- Complete national societal breakdown. Your country turns into a war-zone.
- Worldwide societal breakdown. World war, or a major asteroid strike, or a major pandemic.
Elements of preparedness:
And that's probably in order of hardest-to-easiest. Getting your partner and family on
board, getting them to cooperate and learn skills and agree to spend the money, might be hard and take a long time.
Last-minute buying of some materials you overlooked, such as more food and water, probably is easy.
- Integrate preparation into your life. It's not some separate mode that you switch into
in the event of a disaster. You have to practice the skills, use the materials and replenish them,
maintain relationships, on a continuing basis. If you want to buy some rural retreat to flee to in
a disaster, buy something that also works as a vacation place you can enjoy routinely.
- Your goal (before and after a disaster) is to have a good life, not just to survive. Fix problems
in your "normal" life, don't just provide for a disaster. Fix your finances, your health, your physical fitness, your relationships.
Fixing those will pay off in a post-disaster situation too.
- Simplify your life. If you're driving 100 miles from home to work to school each day, a disaster could catch you
stuck in the wrong place. If you're driving 40 miles every other day to go take care of your parents,
what will happen to them during/after a disaster ? If the nearest store is 5 miles away, how will you
get there after a disaster ?
- Do things that will be useful even if no disaster ever comes. Avoid things that only pay off
if the global economy collapses, or an asteroid hits, or something. Don't go into massive
debt to build a bunker, assuming the bank will disappear when the global nuclear war happens.
- Prepare for the most likely problem first. Probably a weather event; depending on your location,
it might be a hurricane or blizzard or earthquake or flood. Maybe you'll be on your own for a week,
with no utilities. Can you handle that ?
- In terms of "likely problems", your death is inevitable, someday. How will your family cope ?
Do you have life insurance ? Savings ? Do you have legal stuff and other documents prepared for them ?
See my "Legal Stuff" page.
- Maybe start with some very simple, easy steps: Make sure everyone in the family
knows when and how to call ambulance or police. Make sure children and the elderly carry
phone numbers of the adults at all times. Buy a basic First-Aid kit,
a fire-extinguisher, fire blanket, 10 gallons
of water, extra nonperishable food. A simple, easy start will give you a sense of accomplishment,
get you over the hurdle of getting started.
- Get training before buying anything more than the most basic stuff. Training will help you find
out the right things to buy.
- Don't try to keep up with other preppers. You have to find your own path, your own cost/benefit tradeoffs.
Some people will move to a farm and try to become completely self-sufficient so they could survive forever
in a complete societal breakdown. Well, I don't want to be a farmer, I don't want to slaughter my own animals,
I don't want to live out in the middle of nowhere. Decide what is right for you. And you can change that
over time, if necessary.
- Similarly, decide what your limits are. Personally, I'm comfortable accepting that if
a full-out global nuclear war or a complete global economic collapse or an enormous asteroid strike happens,
my family and I will die (along with 99% of humanity). I'm not going to worry about those. I'm not
going to do anything special to try to survive those.
- Mostly ignore the (non-disaster) news. Some preppers obsessively read the world news, looking for and maybe hoping for
signs of coming civil war, signs of world economy collapsing, signs of coming racial war, or whatever.
That's a waste of time. Prepare for more likely, smaller things such as weather events.
Over time, you can increase your level of preparation.
Now, when a disaster is imminent or happening or just past, you want to listen to the news
for specific info: what's down, what's happening, what does the govt say to do, where are aid distribution points, etc.
- Be aware that a lot of people are making a very good living off scaring people:
- "D's/Obama/Hillary are coming for your guns": the R's, the NRA, the gun-manufacturers are laughing all
the way to the bank about how gullible you are.
- Alex Jones gets fame and lots of fortune by panicking people and selling expensive buckets of crap-food to them.
- "Fiat money is about to collapse, buy gold/silver from me".
- "The government and media are evil, don't accept anything they say": the Russians love this.
There is a tiny amount of truth in each of these things. The D's do favor more gun-control. People should
have some extra food in storage. Governments do have a lot of debt and keep printing more money. Some media is biased, and some media
flat-out lies. But mostly
the people hard-selling these stories are trying to manipulate you into doing what they want.
- You want balance. It's not good if you have plenty of food, water and weapons, but no medical skills or supplies.
Or some other imbalance.
- You want backups and fallbacks. You shouldn't be the only person in your family who knows how
to operate everything. You don't want a fire in your kitchen or a flood in your basement to destroy all your food.
- For any material item, think of storage, procurement, and production. How much do you have, how can you get more,
how can you make more ?
- Maybe do an occasional test-run. Turn off all the utilities (electric, water, gas) for a day, and see how
well you can function.
- Preparation is a marathon, not a sprint. Don't go crazy quickly buying tons of stuff. You'll soon find yourself
sitting around bored and hoping a catastrophe happens soon. And minus a lot of money.
Smaller, more specific items:
- You can buy just about everything you need in "normal" stores: supermarket, Walmart, hardware store. Don't pay 3x for something
just because it comes from a "prepper" store and comes in a camoflauge-colored box.
- If you get evacuated, or cut off from your home, can you access electronic copies of your ID documents ?
- Redundancy/resilience: you don't want all your water in one tank, or all of your medical stuff in one bag.
What if it gets contaminated or stolen or destroyed somehow ?
- Things to have in your house/apartment:
- Water (stock, empty containers, filtration, disinfectant, rain capture).
- First Aid.
- Medicines (your prescriptions, anti-biotics, spare eyeglasses).
- Security (locks, alarms, whistles, weapons, dogs).
- Support network (family, friends, neighbors).
- Tools/spares to maintain and repair stuff.
- Information (disaster plans, important documents, how-to books, equipment manuals).
- Comfort items (entertainment, alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, caffeine, sugar, etc).
- Shelter (if you're away from home, or home is damaged).
- How to acquire skills: camping/backpacking classes, FirstAid/medical classes, Emergency Response classes,
Super Prepper's "How to Store Tap Water for Emergencies"
Brett & Kate McKay's "Hydration for the Apocalypse: How to Store Water for Long-Term Emergencies"
Emergency Essentials' "5 Myths about Water Storage"
Will Brendza's "9 Best Water Storage Solutions and Mistakes To Avoid"
- Don't worry about subtleties such as chemicals from plastic containers leaching into the water over time.
The water is there to keep you alive, and drinking a little extra chemicals for a month or so won't really harm you.
- Consider adding a tap to the bottom of your hot-water heater, or check out the existing drain plug, so you can extract the water
from it easily if needed after a disaster. You might also need a backflow-preventer, to prevent
the water from running back out into the city supply when the pressure fails.
- Boiling, cooling, and then simple filtration (e.g. Brita) will make most water quite safe.
Purification pills and chlorine also are useful. Don't worry about rare viruses or chemicals or prions or whatever.
- Water-quality test kits ?
- If you need hoses, use specialty food-quality or drinking-water hose instead of normal garden hose.
- If you're going to store barrels or tanks of water, maybe it would be good to plumb your normal
water supply right through the tanks/barrels ? So you're constantly using and refreshing that water,
and you know the quality of it. But this may violate some plumbing code ? And you might have to
elevate the tanks so they gravity-feed the system when the external pressure fails. The plumbing
has to be good; you don't want to use a hose that could burst and flood your house.
Categories of food:
- Non-perishables you eat normally, but require cooking.
- Non-perishables you eat normally, and don't require cooking.
- Non-perishables you don't eat normally (MREs, dehydrated stuff, emergency rations).
- There's really no downside to buying loads of extra non-perishable food as long as it is stuff you eat normally.
You will eat it sooner or later. Don't go straight to buying the custom survivalist food. Don't pay 3x for something
just because it comes from a "prepper" store and comes in a camoflauge-colored box.
- We have two children (10 and 20 years old) who tend to ransack the kitchen for anything tasty (other than fruit or vegetables).
So we'd need a locking cupboard to store emergency food.
- You do know how to cook for yourself at home, right ? If you're one of those people
who eat at bars/restaurants several times each week, or have their main meal at work at lunchtime, and
otherwise just snack, maybe you'd better learn to cook.
- Don't expect to scavenge food from dumpsters; there may be lots of competition, or less discarded by the stores.
- Don't expect to scavenge food from parks or farm fields, unless you already do that routinely and have the skills.
First Aid And Medicine:
KidsHealth's "First-Aid Kit"
Wikipedia's "First aid kit"
- Ahead of time, know the allergies and medical conditions of everyone in your family,
what medicines they're taking (and doses), generic
names for the medicines and any alternative medicines, symptoms of their condition getting worse,
what to do if they get worse. Other than serious pain medicine, it should be easy
to get larger-than-normal supplies of the medicines.
- Most common conditions to avoid: dehydration; overheating.
- Common illnesses to treat: diarrhea, constipation, and other GI-tract problems; cold/flu/bronchitis/pneumonia.
- I'm very ambivalent about guns:
- I know how to fire guns; I've shot handguns and shotguns a fair amount, not much with rifles.
I don't know how to maintain guns.
- Ownership of guns (even by "good guys") takes a huge toll on our society, every day. We in USA have
a homicide rate 2x to 6x that of most other major Western countries, because we have higher guns per capita than they do.
- Some 500,000 guns are stolen each year in USA.
- Legal ownership of guns by adults often leads to accidents, or crimes, or suicides, or theft of the gun.
Using your gun to defend yourself from a criminal is the LEAST likely result of owning a gun.
Christopher Ingraham's "Guns in America: For every criminal killed in self-defense, 34 innocent people die".
Keeping a gun in your house is dangerous to you and your family.
- I know you want to prepare before a disaster happens, but maybe buying a simple gun is something you could do at the last minute
if society started breaking down. That way you've avoided the danger of owning a gun, for years.
So maybe it would cost 10x as much as usual at the last minute; no problem.
- Somehow every gun owner I talk to online is the PERFECT owner, their guns stored as safely as if they were in Fort Knox,
yet instantly at hand to slay hordes of evil home invaders. They're never careless for a second, never will make a mistake,
they're flawless. And if we armed a lot more people to stop criminals, all those new owners would be flawless too. It's amazing !
- Some preppers talk about their guns as if they can't wait for a chance to kill people.
They seem to look forward to a time when society has broken down and they will have the chance to shoot people with impunity.
- In a disaster situation, aggressive people who go looking for conflict have a higher chance of getting injured. Which
you don't want when medical facilities are scarce.
- Maybe 1 or 2 guns could be useful. Having 30 guns and 100K rounds of ammunition probably means you spent a lot of money that
might have been spent better on something else.
- Have a gun that you are confident about, you know how to use effectively, you know how to maintain.
Don't fall for experts claiming that model X is the only gun worth having.
- Many people live in cities or countries where it's very hard to own a handgun, and firing a rifle could endanger
innocent people. Maybe the answer is a shotgun.
- Dogs: I'm not a pet person. Seems to me you really should have at least two dogs, so they can
keep each other company when you're not home. Hard to have dogs in an apartment.
- Very loud alarm, like a rape-whistle thing, to scare away people or call for help.
Power / fuel:
- If you never power down your various devices (phone, computer), test what happens if you do power them down:
turn them off and back on. Do you know the passwords ?
- If your power hasn't failed in a long time, test what happens if it does go out:
turn off all the power in your whole house and turn it back on.
- If the power goes out, how will you power your devices ?
- If the power goes out, will anything critical such as door-locks stop working ?
- Candles: be very careful that you don't burn yourself or start a fire.
- Be prepared to repair or patch likely damage, such as blown-out windows or a tree-branch hole in your roof.
- Some alternative shelters are your usual home, your second/vacation home, hotel, friend's home, work/office, RV, boat, camping, govt camp.
Some people jump straight to camping as the solution, but that's just about the least-desirable situation.
- If you end up being evacuated to a camp, some key items to have are your own portable toilet,
toothbrushes and toothpaste, strong antibiotics.
- Better to be in an urban or rural place in a disaster ? It depends. Urban areas will have more people, so get
more aid from govt. Rural areas will tend to have room or regulations that allow generators, guns, dogs, fences, etc.
Don't expect rural people to be all small-town old-timey-America friendly and nice.
Plenty of poverty and unemployment and drugs out there. People will scout your property and steal
anything that's not well-secured, especially if you're not there most of the time.
- For an apartment, better to be on 2nd or 3rd floor. 1st (ground) floor has less security and might flood.
Higher floors would be difficult if the power goes out for a while (so the elevator doesn't work) and
maybe won't have good water pressure.
Behavior / choices:
- Do you run away or do you stay ? Suppose a big hurricane is coming right for you. Do you hunker down in
your well-prepared house, or do you get into your car and drive out of the area to a friend's house ?
It would be hard to leave most of your supplies behind, but why spend a week with no power/water/sewage/communication if
you don't have to ?
- Don't escalate a situation.
- After the huge storm passes, you shouldn't run out onto your balcony with your
biggest gun and yell "don't anyone come here, I'm armed !". People will call the police.
- If a bunch of armed people want to loot your store or apartment, should you hunker down and shoot
it out ? Or are you better off leaving by the back door and running away ? Do you want to kill people
and risk dying yourself to defend your possessions ?
Going out during/after the disaster probably is not a good idea; stay home.
You could go out to be a:
But stepping on a downed powerline or something sharp could ruin your whole day.
Stray dogs, police, some idiot with a gun. You don't want any part of it. Why take risks you don't have to ?
- Hero: rescue other people.
- Tourist: go look at the damage.
- Enforcer: go looking for trouble to stop.
- Try to minimize everyday risks. Jumping down from a chair or steps or something,
you could sprain or break an ankle. In normal times, a nuisance. During a disaster,
it could be very serious. Same with opening food-cans, handling boiling water,
doing any kind of repair or construction, clearing away damaged stuff.
Be extra-careful, because an injury could be disastrous.
- What are you going to do if family, friends, neighbors, or strangers come asking for help ?
Leigh Anderson's "Doomsday Prep For Non-Paranoid People"
Alan Henry's "The Complete Guide to What To Do Before, During, and After a Disaster"
Patrick Allan's "Seven Emergency Preparedness Tips You May Not Know"
Many ideas gleaned from
In The Rabbit Hole Urban Survival podcast.
A couple of good big-picture episodes:
ITRH's "E33: 7 Habits Of Effective Living"
ITRH's "E75: Urban Survival Techniques".
TSP Wiki's "Modern Survivalism"
Many survivalists seem to have some Ayn Rand or cowboy-movie fantasy. They seem to
think that the world would be better off if we had no government, every man manufactured all his possessions
himself (smelting ore directly, presumably), everyone could do what they wanted, etc.
- It's hypocritical. I'm sure many of the "no government" people are just fine with a big military, a
big border patrol, lots of prisons for bad people, government banning abortion, government banning gays, government
banning Muslims, etc. They're just against government taxing them or putting
limits on them.
- It's impractical. We mostly gave up self-sufficiency when we went through the Industrial Revolution.
Life was pretty grim when you had to make something yourself or do without it. We specialize
because it's more efficient and gives us a higher standard of living. And I doubt the current world population
could be supported if we returned to family-farming and gave up most of industry.
- It conjures up some time (especially in USA) that mostly never existed. Right from the start of the Colonies,
we had government and organization and specialization, not to mention slave labor. We've had government corruption
and economic manipulation and huge booms and crashes for a long time.
- Often it claims there's something unique about America, somehow we're uniquely blessed with a Constitution
and democracy and the right to guns. That's nonsense. What we have came here from elsewhere, from ancient Greece and
Enlightenment Europe and other places. Other frontier-type countries (Canada, Australia, maybe South Africa) had
much of the same history and individualism and gun-dependence that we did.
Are you black or a woman or American Indian or some other minority ?
The Founders didn't intend for you to own a gun.
- It ignores the plight of the poor and the sick and the weak, the unlucky and the victims. We have to help each other,
and much of that help has to be organized and even mandated.
- We need government, at least to balance against other countries, criminals, and corporations.
- I kind of like rule of law, instead of rule of "whatever the nearest gang with the most weapons feels like doing today".
- Sure, there are lots of things wrong with our current government, and wrong with both political parties.
These are not things that can be fixed by simplistic solutions such as getting rid of all of it.
My preparation status:
Zero. We are 5-6 people living in a smallish apartment, and we'll probably have to move in the next 6 or 12 months.
Two somewhat-elderly parents, two middle-aged us, sometimes 20ish very overweight son, 10-year-old niece.
Already have moving-boxes full from another apartment, stacked in our living room.
Little room for storing additional water or food. No medical kit or fire-extinguisher, smoke alarm, or fume alarm.
We do have almost no debt, and my wife is a doctor. So a couple of pluses. She's worked in Peruvian hills where
she was the only doctor for several villages. I lived and cruised by myself for 13 years on a sailboat, catching rainwater and using
solar and wind power, repairing engine etc. So a couple more pluses.
11/2018: Installed a couple of smoke-alarms. Bought a 6-KG ABC fire-extinguisher.
6/2019: improved locks on doors and windows.