My neighbor Enola Gay recently posted a blog entry called "Preparedness 101." (She's having some technical difficulties with her blog's format but hopes to have it straightened out shortly; please stand by.) Enola and I are both ramping up our preparedness efforts and feel the need to share our thoughts. Besides, several readers have asked, "What can I do to prepare?"
So, between Enola and myself, here are some ideas.
Talk to anyone about preparedness and you’ll get all sorts of advice on what to do. Certainly most or all of the advice focuses on our core needs – food, water, heat, and sanitation – but after that the advice spills over into whatever personal obsession the preparer has.
And, except for those core areas, there is no one-size-fits-all advice for preparing, because everyone’s circumstances and living situations are different. What applies to a farm family won’t apply to a suburban family or an urban family.
Remember, you can’t do everything. You can’t get a cow if you live in the city. Beyond supplying your immediate needs (food, water, heat, sanitation), the most important thing you can acquire is knowledge and skills. As one reader put it, you prepare the same way you eat an elephant: one bite at a time. And, anything is better than nothing. Wise words.
What are you preparing for? I believe everyone should be prepared for a loss of services (electricity, heat, and water) for a minimum of 24 hours. This means providing whatever it takes to keep you comfortable for at least one day of no services. We recently had a five-hour power outage and ended up having some neighbors over for dinner and pleasant conversation because they had no way to heat or light their home, no way to get water, no way to cook food. Folks, that’s ridiculous.
Beyond that, it depends on your particular interests, concerns, and circumstances to decide how much to prepare.
If you’re preparing for TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it), that’s a whole lot different than preparing for a single day without electricity.
You also have to consider the circumstances of your particular family. The needs of teenagers are different than the needs of babies. The needs of elderly relatives are different than the needs of someone who is handicapped or chronically ill. These must all be taken into consideration during your preparedness efforts.
One thing to keep in mind is what Enola’s family calls the “Rule of Three.” You should have three ways to do all the critical things necessary for daily comfort or survival. This way if one thing is unavailable, you have at least two other backup options. Right now most people in this country have a “Rule of One.” If that one thing goes out – say, electricity – you’re stuck. Vulnerable. Stranded.
The Rule of Three should apply minimally to heating, food, water, and sanitation. You should have three ways to keep warm, to eat, to drink, and to use the toilet.
Obviously these “threes” will differ according to where and how you live. Our “Rule of Three” for cooking, for example, is as follows: our propane stove, our wood cookstove, and our wood heating stove. If we run out of propane, we fall back on our wood cookstove. If for whatever reason we can’t use that (though I cannot fathom how or why we couldn’t), there’s always our wood parlor stove where we can at least heat things on its surface.
But if you live on a 7th-floor apartment in Manhattan, your “Rule of Three” will be different. Your first option will be your electrical stove, of course. But if the power goes out, perhaps you can fire up the barbecue on your balcony. If that can’t be done, then have some MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) on hand.
Same with water. Same with heat. Same with sanitation. Think it through.
Water: everyone should have at least ten gallons of potable water stored up, no excuses. Heat: if you have no way to heat your home except electricity, you should have sufficient blankets and warm clothing on hand. Sanitation: if your toilet cannot be flushed, have a five-gallon bucket lined with a heavy-duty trash bag and a seat ready to go.
So those are your core basics: food, water, heat, sanitation. Rule of Three. Get busy.
Once those are established, there are a zillion other areas where preparedness can be applied.
For example, firearms. I happen to think you should have a minimal arsenal on hand (with lots of extra ammunition) to protect yourself, your family, and your property against violent marauders. It’s one thing to voluntarily help those who need help by distributing food or inviting someone in to stay warm. It’s a whole different issue if someone is determined to remove your supplies by force, and who doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process. See the difference?
Lighting. Oil lamps are cheap. Even cheaper, considering ordering some mason cap/burners (a set of ten for $22, item #10BR3273, from Southern Lamp Supply). These will turn any canning jar into an oil lamp (glass globes aren’t included, so you’ll need to get those separately). You don’t need to buy that ridiculously overpriced scented lamp oil – a few gallons of kerosene (available in most hardware stores) will do just fine. Keep extra glass globes handy in case you break one (you can find them at thrift stores for pennies).
And matches – got enough? Your rule of three might include a firestarter kit. How about feminine hygiene? Forgot that, didn’t you? Cloth diapers? Cheap washcloths (3/$1) at the dollar store for back-up toilet paper?
You also need to prepare for whatever natural disasters your location is subject to. Here in the inland northwest, we don’t ever have to worry about hurricanes or tornadoes. We DO have to worry about earthquakes and wildfires. Your preparations should include natural disasters. When a hurricane is bearing down on Florida, it always stuns me to see the obligatory news reports of massive crowds at Home Depot buying plywood, duct tape, and bottled water. For pete’s sake, Florida gets hurricanes nearly every year. What the hell are people doing waiting so long to prepare? What kind of madness is that?
Don’t ever, ever think you can prepare for something after the fact. By definition, “preparing” means your actions precede the event. Duh.
A couple people have asked the question, which is more important? Getting out of debt or preparing? The answer is, both. Your resources, limited as they are, should be divided for awhile. Keep paying down your debts, but divert some of your money and efforts into preparing as well. Remember, a lot of preparing can be done cheap. Lots of things can be found at thrift stores. You can buy bulk foods at restaurant supply stores (in our area, we go to Cash & Carry) a whole lot cheaper than retail groceries. You can pick up food-grade storage buckets with gasketed lids at many grocery-store bakeries (in Coeur d'Alene, I get 3.5 gallon buckets with lids for $2 each at Super 1 Foods).
Here’s an interesting side-note. One time, just out of curiosity, I got onto a forum that occasionally deals with preparedness issues, and I asked a pointed question of urban dwellers: what would you do if the bleep hit the fan?
Answers ranged from the sensible (folks who were fairly prepared in their urban dwellings) to folks who simply planned to leave the city (how?) and bunk with more prepared friends.
The funniest answers were those who confidently planned to harvest wild greens and other freely-available edibles and survive that way. I nearly fell over laughing. Can you imagine millions of people in Chicago or Los Angeles scouring edges of sidewalks for filthy polluted plantain leaves? If they even knew what plantain looked like? And what if it’s winter and there isn’t any plantain growing? And how will you eat it? I hope you weren’t planning on washing or cooking it, because you can’t wash or cook, remember? And you’d better not need to use the toilet either, otherwise you’ll be peeing in some empty lot (just don’t pee on the plantain, okay?).
In other words, the depth of peoples’ naïveté, ignorance, cockiness, and idiocy was breathless to behold. If the bleep were to hit the fan, these people would be holed up terrified in their dark, cold apartments, fearful of setting foot outside to look for plantain because of the gangs of violent marauders roaming the streets.
So if you live in the city, have enough preparations on hand to hunker down for a week or more in some comfort without setting foot outside your apartment. Have those four core needs addressed (food, water, heat, sanitation). Then, as your finances permit, consider longer-term preparedness as well.
That’s all I’ll address in this rather long post. I’ll keep posting as questions arise or as I think of more stuff to add.