Did you ever think about dipping your big toe into the waters of “prepping” but it just all sounded so “out there” that you weren’t quite sure it was something you wanted to be involved in? Then this is the guide for you.
Maybe it made sense in principle, but then you watched that guy and his wife filter and drink their own pee on Doomsday Preppers and you said, “Oh, heck no.”
Maybe you were considering the wisdom of storing some extra supplies when you read about the survivalist who holed up in a fully stocked bunker with a little boy he had kidnapped, and you thought, “That’s way too much crazy for me. No way.”
Maybe you’ve been witnessing the mainstream media’s demonization that makes it sound like those in the preparedness community are angry militia members, hoarders, or fruitcakes who are preparing for the next Great Flood. Well, I can’t tell you that extreme people don’t exist – they do, in every segment of the population. But most of the time, you’d never realize someone was a prepper unless they came right out and told you.
One prepping family a know has a dad, a mom, 3 kids, a cat, and a dog. They live in the country with a few acres of farmland. They raise chickens. They stockpile. But they also go out to the movies, shop at department stores, and let their children go to sleepovers at other kids’ houses. They barbecue on the 4th of July, and they have ham on Christmas.
Another family I know consists of a grandma and grandpa. They prep not only for themselves, but for their daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren. They go to church on Sunday, are active volunteers in their community, and have the best garden I’ve ever seen.
My family is relatively normal too. I’m a single mom, with one daughter away at college on an academic scholarship and another daughter in high school. We live in a cute little Victorian house in the country. We grow veggies and there’s a chicken coop in the yard. I preserve what we grow and we have a tidy little stockpile stashed away just in case. For fun, we like to read and hike, and this year at Christmas, we’re having a Mexican fiesta instead of a turkey. I drive a “Mom” SUV and last year I was part of the PTA.
You’d never know, running into any of us, that we are prepared to handle all sorts of crazy situations. We don’t wrap our heads in tinfoil, we don’t have bunkers (although, holy cow, it sure would be cool to find one already there when you bought that little old wartime bungalow you’ve been eying), and we don’t have to walk sideways through our halls to squeeze between all the boxes of supplies. The fact of the matter is, if you take OPSEC (OPerational SECurity) seriously, there are absolutely no obvious signs that your family is into preparedness.
But that kind of prepper doesn’t make for good television or dramatic headlines. That’s why it seems like we’re ALL extreme, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
When they aren’t pushing the kooky extremist stuff or warning of a dangerous survivalist-run-amok, the mainstream media likes to poke fun at preppers. In pretty much every article, you see the word “preppers” residing inside a pair of quotation marks, like it isn’t even a real word, but is some kind of made-up term. Sometimes they go past poking fun to all-out scorn and derision.
However, recently the media has warmed up to the idea of preparedness. It only took one man dying in Texas of a horrifying virus to get them to see that maybe preppers aren’t so crazy after all. Maybe this more positive coverage is why you’re here, reading this article. With all of the things going on in the world right now, you may be considering adding some preparedness supplies to your life. Read on and learn why you should take the plunge.
Fact #1: Disasters strike.
I know, that sounds sort of gloomy. And I’m not a gloom and doom prepper at all. But sometimes disaster is the only word that fits. These are NOT outrageous Armageddon-style situations, but things that can happen to any of us. Nearly everyone has experienced one or more of these scenarios, and in each of them, some basic preparedness supplies would have made their lives much easier. We can’t control whether or not disasters happen, but we can control our response to them.
- A terrible storm: Most areas are subject to one or more types of bad weather. It could be hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding rains, blizzards, or ice storms. Whatever the case, weather can wreak havoc on entire regions. Businesses close, so you can’t get supplies. Sometimes roads are impassable, so you can’t leave home. Sometimes the power goes out (more on that below). Sometimes your area is battered for days, making it unsafe to do anything but ride it out at home.
- Contamination of the water supply: This seems to have been a recurring theme over the past year here in the US. First, there was a chemical spill in West Virginia that left 300,000+ residents without usable running water. Then there was an algae bloom in Ohio. Another chemical spill dumped arsenic into the water in North Carolina. After Superstorm Sandy, millions of gallons of raw sewage contaminated the water supply. These are not far-fetched scenarios, and in each of them, stores sold out of bottled water within an hour.
- Civil unrest: You need look no further than Ferguson, Missouri to get a glimpse of the kind of havoc civil unrest can wreak on a community. Riots, looting, and mayhem broke out after police shot a young black man. Many residents had to shelter in their homes because it was unsafe to venture out. There were reports of people running out of food after only 2 days of being in lockdown mode. There’s no warning before this kind of thing breaks out – you just have to be prepared ahead of time.
- Natural disasters: Earthquakes are not a far-fetched scenario for many of us either. Depending where you live, the likelihood of this type of situation increases. Earthquakes can cause structural damage, close down roads, cause power outages, and taint both municipal and well water supplies. Many areas are prone to specific natural disasters.
- An extended power outage: This happens in the wake of many different disasters – think Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, Washington, DC’s Derecho, that horrible ice storm in the mid-south a few years back. The list of extended power outages is endless. natural disaster doesn’t have to occur, either. An attack on the power infrastructure or plain old computer or mechanical failure could also cause outages. A power outage may mean you can’t make purchases at any local stores because a) you only have a debit card and b) they can’t accept a plastic transaction without power, so they’ve closed for the duration. You may sit there and watch all the food in your refrigerator spoil. You may have no way to cook, no way to heat, and no light for nighttime. A little prepping goes a long way in events like this.
- Financial problems: This is a different kind of disaster, but one many of us can relate to, given the current state of the economy. What would you do if the primary breadwinner in your family suffered a job loss or a serious illness that made them unable to work? Would you run out of food within the week, be unable to keep the utilities on, or even lose your home? There are things you can do ahead of time to weather a financial storm. If you have a stockpile of food, health and beauty supplies, and other basic needs on hand, your limited money can be directed towards keeping a roof over your head instead of meeting your basic day-to-day needs.
See what I mean? Is it really THAT unreasonable that any of the above scenarios could occur? They’ve happened before and they’ll definitely happen again. You can’t control the weather or the economy or the actions of an irresponsible industry, but you can be prepared to take care of your family.
Fact #2: Official responses vary.
Remember when you were a little kid, and something bad happened? You went to your mom or dad, and they fixed it. You didn’t have to resolve the issue yourself, because there was an adult who would handle it. But remember also that you had no choice whatsoever on how it was handled. If their solution was that you would have to go without an item you felt you needed, you went without. If they sent you to your room and took away your privileges, you didn’t have much recourse. If they replaced a lost or damaged item with one you didn’t actually want or like, well, you were totally at the mercy of their decision. If they were busy and delayed resolving your problem until they had time, you had no option but to abide by their schedule, waiting until they decided (and if they decided) to help. Maybe their assistance was qualified: “I’ll replace X broken item as soon as you finish cleaning your room and mowing the lawn.”
It’s a lot like that with FEMA and other governmental response agencies. They get there when they get there, they dole out the supplies they deem necessary in the quantities that they deem appropriate. They can use these supplies to control you by requiring certain actions from you before you are allowed to have your rations doled out. You have to wait in line behind the others who got there first and take whatever is left. Heaven forbid you’re at the end of the line and supplies run out before you get any.
Doesn’t that sound a lot like reverting to childhood? Do you really want to be dependent upon the whims of others for your basic necessities?
Preparedness means you’ve taken responsibility for your family no matter what situation arises. You won’t be standing in the FEMA lines with an angry crowd, waiting for an MRE and a bottle of water to ration out across your family. It means you’ve embraced adulthood and you aren’t waiting to be rescued.
Fact #3: Personal responsibility is actually a sign of excellent mental health.
Speaking to the whole “preppers are crazy” stigma, don’t you think that taking responsibility for your own well-being is a sign of great sanity?
In fact, wouldn’t the following be signs of poor mental health?
- A refusal to plan for the future
- An inability to meet your own basic needs
- An unwillingness to accept reality
- Closing your eyes and hoping a threat just goes away or doesn’t happen
Someone who can prepare for and accept reality is much more easily able to adapt to a fluid situation. It gives you the ability to think on your feet and move immediately to a solution, instead of wallowing in the cognitive dissonance of, “This can’t be happening.”
When you look at the scenarios listed above, is it really at all rational to say, “This won’t happen so I don’t need to prepare”? They have happened, and they will again. Preparedness is the sanest possible response in the face of this evidence.
Fact #4: Prepping is not gloomy.
Although we have the mainstream reputation of being immersed in gloom and doom all the time, there is nothing more optimistic than preparedness. I wrote about this recently:
Does this sound familiar?
You’re talking to a friend or family member who isn’t on board with preparedness. (And it’s even worse when they think they know what’s going on in the world but garner their so-called “information” from network news sources.) You try for the millionth time to get them to consider stocking up on a few things and they say this:
Life’s too short for all of this doom and gloom. Live a little! You’re such a pessimist!
My response to this is that preparedness is the ultimate form of optimism.
One who practices skills, makes dramatic lifestyle changes, and studies current events critically may come across to the uninitiated as a person who has buried himself or herself in negativity, but in fact, one who prepares is saying to life, “Whatever comes, we are not only going to live through it, my family is going to thrive, and I will not bend my knee to tyranny for an MRE and a bottle of water.”
I think that methods of preparedness can be compared to love songs on the radio. Bear with me through this analogy.
If the songs that make you think of your significant other are sad, with reference to breaking up and getting back together, unsatisfied yearnings, arguments, frustration, anger, and broken hearts, you just might be doing the whole “love” thing wrong.
Shouldn’t the song that makes you think of the one you love be happy, upbeat, full of joy? Shouldn’t thoughts of that special someone make you more prone to goofy smiles and a warm glow than to melancholy longing or the urge to gleefully burn all of their belongings in a great pile in the front yard?
It’s exactly the same with preparedness. Thoughts of your plans, your lifestyle, and your loaded pantry room should give you a sense of peace and security. If your state of preparedness makes you feel unhappy, stressed, angry, or resentful, you’re doing something wrong.
If you want to be able to peacefully meet challenges and provide for your family without panic, prepping is where it’s at. Even the kids deal better with scary situations when they know that mom and dad have things under control. Developing your skills and survival mindset will take you far in facing any challenge.
How to get started prepping
Maybe the recent news headlines have brought you here, or perhaps a friend who cares about you emailed you a link to this article. If you’ve gotten this far and what I’ve said makes sense to you, here are a few tips to get your started. There are links in each section where you can go to learn more about that topic. At the end is a resource list with some shortcuts and some useful books. Don’t feel like you have to do every single thing RIGHT NOW. This is just a preparedness overview.
Practice Water Preparedness
If you never buy a single canned good or bag of pasta for long term food storage, please store water. Just this year, three communities have suddenly had water crises that left shelves cleared.
A full month’s supply of drinking water for a family of 4 is approximately $150, give or take a little, depending on the prices in your area. I recommend the refillable 5 gallon water jugs for this. As well, fill empty containers with tap water that can be safely used for pets, for flushing, and for cleaning and hygiene purposes. This is a small investment to make for your family’s security and well-being in the event of an emergency.
Once you have water stored, consider adding filtration devices, secondary water sources, and water harvesting to your preparedness endeavors. You can learn more about water storage HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Build a Pantry
Lots of preppers like to keep a year’s supply of food on hand. If you’re just getting started out, that can be incredibly overwhelming. Start out smaller than that – focus first on an extra two weeks, then on a month’s supply. You can always build from there.
Keep in mind when building your emergency food supply that you might not have electricity during some disasters. In that case, you’ll want to have food that doesn’t require lengthy (or any) cooking times. Look for just-add-water dehydrated foods, or better yet, foods that don’t need to be cooked at all. Find a list of foods that don’t require cooking HERE.
Do not make the mistake of loading your pantry with nutritionless processed foods. In a crisis event, you want your body to work optimally, and junk in means junk out. Focus on nutrient-dense foods for good health and energy no matter what’s going on in the world around you.
Learn how to build a pantry HERE.
Find a short-term food supply list HERE.
Power Outage Survival
A great starting point for someone who is just getting started on a preparedness journey is prepping specifically for a two-week power outage. If you can comfortably survive for two weeks without electricity, you will be in a far better position than most of the people in North America.
Lighting is absolutely vital, especially if there are children in the house. Nothing is more frightening than being completely in the dark during a stressful situation. Fortunately, it’s one of the easiest things to plan for, as well as one of the least expensive.
Some lighting solutions are:
- Garden stake solar lights
- Long-burning candles
- Kerosene lamp and fuel
- Flashlights (don’t forget batteries)
- Hand crank/solar lantern
- Don’t forget matches or lighters
Learn about prepping for a two week power outage in more detail HERE.
Plan Ahead for Home Defense
It’s an unfortunate fact that disaster situations bring out the worst in many people. Because of this, even if you stay safely at home, you could be called upon to defend your property or family. Some people loot for the sheer “fun” of it, others consider chaos a free pass to commit crimes, and still others are frightened and desperate. You can have a 10-year supply of food, water, and medicine, but if you can’t defend it, you don’t own it. The article The Anatomy of a Breakdown explains the predictable patterns of social unrest.
Here are some tips to make your home less of a target:
Keep the curtains closed. There’s no need for people walking past to be able to see what you have or to do reconnaissance on how many people are present.
Don’t answer the door. Many home invasions start with an innocent-seeming knock at the door to gain access to your house.
Keep pets indoors. Sometimes criminals use an animal in distress to get a homeowner to open the door for them. Sometimes people are just mean and hurt animals for “fun”. Either way, it’s safer for your furry friends to be inside with you.
If, despite your best efforts, your property draws the attention of people with ill intent, you must be ready to defend your family and your home.
Be armed and know how to use your weapon of choice. When the door of your home is breached, you can be pretty sure the people coming in are not there to make friendly conversation over a nice cup of tea. Make a plan to greet them with a deterring amount of force. Whatever your choice of weapon, practice, practice, practice. A weapon you don’t know how to use is more dangerous than having no weapon at all. Here’s some advice from someone who knows a lot more about weapons than I do.
Have a safe room established for children or other vulnerable family members. If the worst happens and your home is breached, you need to have a room into which family members can escape. This room needs to have a heavy exterior door instead of a regular hollow core interior door. There should be communications devices in the room so that the person can call for help, as well as a reliable weapon to be used in the event that the safe room is breached. The family members should be instructed not to come out of that room FOR ANY REASON until you give them the all clear or help has arrived.
Plan an escape route. If the odds are against you, devise a way to get your family to safety. Your property is not worth your life.
It’s very important to make a defense plan well before you need one. You want to act, no react.
Have a Plan for Sanitation Preparedness
A common cause of illness, and even death, during a down-grid situation is lack of sanitation. We’ve discussed the importance of clean drinking water, but you won’t want to use your drinking water to keep things clean or to flush the toilet.
For cleaning, reduce your need to wash things. Stock up on paper plates, paper towels, and disposable cups and flatware. Keep some disinfecting cleaning wipes and sprays (I don’t recommend using antibacterial products on a regular basis, however in the event of an emergency they can help to keep you healthy.) Use hand sanitizer after using the bathroom and before handing food or beverages – there may be a lot more germs afoot in a disaster.
Look at your options for sanitation. Does your toilet still flush when the electricity is out? Many people discovered the hard way that the toilets didn’t work when the sewage backed up in the highrises in New York City in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. At our cabin, the toilet won’t flush without power because the pump is electric.
If you are on a septic system, with no risk of the toilet backing up into the house, simply store some water for flushing in the bathroom. (At the first sign of a storm, we always fill the bathtub for this purpose.) Add the water to the tank so that you can flush.
If this is not an option, another solution is to stock up on extremely heavy duty garbage bags (like the kind that contractors use at construction sites) and kitty litter. Place a bag either in your drained toilet or in a bucket. Sprinkle some kitty litter in the bottom of the bag. Each time someone uses the bathroom, add another handful of litter. Be very careful that the bag doesn’t get too heavy for you to handle it. Tie it up very securely and store it outside until services are restored.
Heat (depending on your climate)
If your power outage takes place in the winter and you live in a colder climate, heat is another necessity. During the first 24 hours after a power outage, you can stay fairly warm if you block off one room of the house for everyone to group together in. Keep the door closed and keep a towel or blanket folded along the bottom of the door to conserve warmth. You can safely burn a couple of candles also, and in the enclosed space, your body heat will keep it relatively warm. As well, dress in layers and keep everything covered – wear a hat, gloves (fingerless ones allow you to still function), and a scarf.
Click HERE to learn how to stay warm with less heat.
However, after about 48 hours, that’s not going to be enough in very cold weather. You will require back-up heat at this point in certain climates. If you are lucky enough to have a source of heat like a fireplace or woodstove, you’ll be just fine as long as you have a supply of wood.
Consider a portable propane heater (and propane) or an oil heater. You have to be very careful what type of backup heat you plan on using, as many of them can cause carbon monoxide poisoning if used in a poorly ventilated area. Also invest in a CO alarm that is not grid-dependent.
Learn more about off-grid heat options HERE.
First Aid kit
It’s important to have a basic first aid kit on hand at all times, but particularly in the event of an emergency. Your kit should include basic wound care items like bandages, antibiotic ointments, and sprays. As well, if you use them, keep on hand a supply of basic over-the-counter medications, like pain relief capsules, cold medicine, cough syrup, anti-nausea pills, and allergy medication. Particularly important if sanitation is a problem are anti-diarrheal medications.
If you want to put together a more advanced medical kit, you can find a list HERE.
This is something that will be unique to every family. Consider the things that are needed on a daily basis in your household. It might be prescription medications, diapers, or special foods. If you have pets, you’ll need supplies for them too. The best way to figure out what you need is to jot things down as you use them over the course of a week or so.
In light of the current panic over Ebola, pandemic preparedness may be the very reason you’re reading this article and considering taking the leap. The good news is, if you’re prepared for other situations, you’re also prepared for many types of pandemics with only a few additions like protective clothing and specific sanitation supplies. In the event of a pandemic, the standard preparedness advice is to self-quarantine. You can learn more about Ebola-specific preparations HERE.
Here is a general list of supplies to have on hand. Remember that sometimes power supplies are lost during a variety of situations, so keep the potential for a down-grid situation in mind when preparing. You don’t have to get everything all at once. Just get started and build your supplies as you can. After a quick inventory and re-organization, you may be pleasantly surprised at how many supplies you actually have on hand.
- Water: 1 gallon per person per day (We use 5 gallon jugs and a gravity water dispenser
- Water filter (We have a Big Berkey)
- Necessary prescription medications
- A well stocked pantry – you need at least a one-month supply of food for the entire family, including pets
- This is a one-month food supply for one person – it’s not the highest quality food in the world, but it is one way to jump start your food storage
- An off grid cooking method (We have a Char-Broil Offset Smoker American Gourmet Grill, an outdoor burner, and a woodstove inside)
- Or food that requires no cooking
- A tactical quality first aid kit
- Lighting in the event of a power outage
- Sanitation supplies (in the event that the municipal water system is unusable, this would include cleaning supplies and toilet supplies)
- A way to stay warm in harsh winter weather (This Little Buddy propane heater with a supply of propane is a very popular choice)
- Over-the-counter medications and/or herbal remedies to treat illnesses at home
- A diverse survival guide and first aid manual (hard copies in case the Internet and power grid are down)
- Alternative communications devices (such as a hand crank radio) so that you can get updates about the outside world
- Off-grid entertainment: arts and craft supplies, puzzles, games, books, crossword or word search puzzles, needlework, journals (Find more ideas HERE and HERE)
Books to Help You on Your Journey
The Prepper’s Blueprint: The Step-By-Step Guide To Help You Through Any Disaster (This is the be-all and end-all Bible of prepping)
The Pantry Primer: How to Build a One Year Food Supply in Three Months
Ebola Survival Handbook: A Collection of Tips, Strategies, and Supply Lists From Some of the World’s Best Preparedness Professionals
Welcome to the preparedness community!
We’re always glad to welcome people who are new to preparedness. Read books, go to websites, and join forums. While there ARE some curmudgeonly folks out there, most are delighted to answer questions and help you on your way.
Please, don’t let the thought of all of the preps that you do not yet have bring you down. It’s a process. Once you know the possibilities, accept them, and begin to prepare, you are already far ahead of most of the neighborhood. Don’t be discouraged by how much you have left to do, instead, be encouraged by how far ahead you are compared to your former unawareness. Just making the decision to get started is the biggest step towards preparedness you’ll ever take.
Daisy Luther is a freelance writer and editor. Her website, The Organic Prepper, where this first appeared, offers information on healthy prepping, including premium nutritional choices, general wellness and non-tech solutions. You can follow Daisy on Facebook and Twitter, and you can email her at [email protected]
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