Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Emergency preparations, Part 3: Get real!

(Other articles in this series are listed in the sidebar, or you can click here to display them all in reverse chronological order.)

When making emergency preparations, it's vitally important to be realistic and pragmatic about what you can, and cannot, reasonably expect to accomplish, and the threats with which you're likely to be confronted. Far too many people spend an awful lot of time on survival strategies that are so badly flawed, they can't possibly succeed. For example:

  • I'm glad to hear you've prepared a well-stocked retreat, 300 miles away, for use when disaster strikes. However, you've got no reserve supplies of gasoline at home. In an emergency situation, everybody will be trying to fill their vehicles at the same time - and there probably won't be any deliveries to restock gas stations. Your vehicle's fuel consumption will also be at least double the norm en route to your retreat, thanks to the heavy traffic that will undoubtedly clog most evacuation routes. If you don't have enough gasoline on hand to make the trip, and cater for the higher fuel consumption, your well-stocked retreat won't help you at all . . . although those living near it may pause to thank you for your generosity as they take your stuff!
  • It's great that you've laid in a year's supply of food . . . but you've only got one month's supply of the medication you need to survive. Just how long do you expect to live, in order to eat all that food?
  • You've got a backup generator, and plenty of fuel. You can run your suburban home on self-generated electricity for a month. However, after two or three days, when everyone else has run out of food and other essentials needed to survive, your glowing lights and the hum of your furnace or air-conditioner are going to act as great big flashing beacons, announcing to everyone around you that this house has the supplies they're desperately seeking! If you think they won't try to take them from you - by force if necessary - then you're living in cloud cuckoo land . . .

We certainly don't have space in this short article to cover all those scenarios in depth, or the many others that might arise. I refer you to the two Web sites I linked in my first article on emergency preparedness. Their archives will provide you with plenty of material to take into account in your planning. You'll also glean a lot from my 'Lessons Learned' series of posts following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. If you're new to the field, I recommend James Wesley Rawles' 'Quick-Start Guide'. It may seem daunting in its complexity, but remember - take one step at a time. You don't have to do it all overnight! (If you do, it's too late anyway!)

Here are a few basic thoughts on realism in your planning.

Money: If you're like me, you simply can't afford to invest thousands of dollars in emergency preparations all at once. To accumulate a single month's emergency supply of food, personal hygiene materials, medication, and other essential items (including storage containers, shelving, etc.) will probably cost a minimum of $500-$750 per person. At the low end, that means you'll be eating mostly rice and beans for a month! By the time you've provided a reasonable-quality camp-type cooker/burner or other means to prepare food (because your kitchen appliances may not be working, thanks to power and/or gas cuts), accumulated at least one to two tanks worth of fuel for your vehicle(s) (in approved containers and stored safely, of course), bought a water filter to provide purified water for drinking, cooking, etc. if the mains are cut, and so on, the cost per person can easily reach $1,000 - and that's for one month's supplies only! You'll probably have to build up to that level of preparedness over time, as funds allow. You should also plan to keep a month's expenditure on hand, in cash. If a major disaster occurs, the odds are pretty good that the banks will be closed, and/or you may not be able to get to them. Again, for most of us, it'll take time to save that much money, particularly when we're faced with the expense of providing emergency supplies as well.

Cost Of Food: Many 'survivalists' use and recommend freeze-dried foods such as those from Mountain House. They have many advantages: they taste good, take up minimal space, are lightweight in case you have to carry them on your back, and last for several years with careful storage. However, you pay for all those advantages in the price per portion. It's many times higher than you can achieve using conventional canned goods. The latter may not taste as good (although they're tasty enough), and are heavier and take up more space, but they're much more economical and have at least an adequate shelf life (usually 2-3 years), during which you can use up the older cans in your regular cooking and replace them with newer ones. To give just one example: a #10 can of freeze-dried cut green beans from Mountain House currently sells for $22.90 at Amazon.com. The manufacturer states that it provides 20 servings of half a cup each. For the same amount of money, I can buy 35 cans of cut green beans at the local Aldi supermarket (including sales tax). Those 35 cans provide 3½ half-cup servings apiece, for a total of 122½ servings. That means I can provide more than six servings of canned green beans for the price of one serving of Mountain House freeze-dried green beans. Since I'm on a disability income, and don't have much cash to spare, guess which option is more practical and affordable for me?

Mobility: Many people plan to 'bug out' in an emergency situation, heading for family or friends in a safer location, or making for their private retreat in the country. As mentioned above, the roads are likely to be clogged with others trying to do likewise, and fuel supplies may be very limited. Your 'bug out' plans may therefore be less than realistic. Also, some people assume that if their vehicle breaks down, or the roads are so clogged that movement becomes impossible, they'll simply put their emergency supplies in a backpack and walk out, or use a bicycle. When last did you put a pack on your back, of a realistic weight, and try to walk or cycle the distance necessary to 'get out of Dodge'? Many people are too unfit to make it, or have children or elderly family members who can't do so without assistance, hampering everyone else. In my case, I'm partly disabled. I can't walk more than a mile (slowly!) without experiencing severe back and leg pain, and there's absolutely no way I can carry more than a few pounds on my back. For me, 'bugging out' on foot is simply not an option, so I've discarded it from my plans altogether.

Security: If you have enough to survive, you're highly likely to be targeted by those who haven't made similar preparations. (It happened after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and it's happened in other disaster situations. It may even be done by the authorities, who might decide to commandeer what you've got in order to share it among those who have nothing. Unconstitutional, you say? In an emergency, who says the authorities will observe the Constitution? They may even try to illegally disarm private citizens, as they did after Hurricane Katrina and after the tornado in Greensburg, KS.) Your emergency preparations should include a way of hiding the fact that you have supplies - at least by blocking the windows of your home so that your candles, flashlights, etc. can't be seen from outside at night, and others can't see that you're eating while they aren't. I'd suggest leaving a small store of food in plain sight, so that anyone trying to steal (or confiscate) supplies will take that in their haste, but may miss the rest of your (hopefully well-hidden) stash. You should also be equipped, trained and prepared to defend yourself, your family, your supplies and your home. I'm not saying you'll encounter some sort of apocalyptic collapse of society - if that happens, very few of us will survive, no matter how well prepared we may be! - but you should expect (and prepare for) increased crime and social unrest, at a minimum.

Scope of your preparations: You can't accumulate only food supplies. You'll need personal hygiene items such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. What happens if the water supply is cut off? Do you have enough water stored for your hygiene needs? If not, you'll need to provide alternative means to clean yourself. You'll need a supply of prescription medication, plus routine first-aid treatments (disinfectant, bandages, headache, allergy, cold and fever medications, etc.). If your kitchen appliances no longer work because of power or gas cuts, you may end up cooking over a campfire in your back yard. Do you have firewood stored for the purpose? Are your cooking utensils suitable for campfire cooking? It'll ruin your expensive stainless-steel-and-copper pans within a week. Better plan on some cheaper, tougher substitutes for emergency use! There are many other areas where you'll need to make preparations and store supplies, most of which we'll cover in future articles. Emergencies aren't just about food!

I hope these suggestions have broadened your thinking about emergency preparations. In the next several articles, we'll look at accumulating food supplies.



MrG's said...

Excellent article, Thanks Peter.
I am a fan of survive in place. At home you are ok, once you" bug out" you are a refugee and more dependent on others.

ironrailsironweights said...

There was a huge run on generators here on Long Island after Hurricane (well, Tropical Storm) Irene caused many people to lose power for days. The problem is, portable gasoline-powered generators use so much fuel that you really have to have a large fuel cache if you expect to use a generator for any length of time. One that's large enough to power a refrigerator and some lights and appliances is going to use close to ten gallons a day. That's a major annoyance if there are open gas stations in the area and pretty much a showstopper if they're closed.

Permanently installed generators using propane or natural gas are much more practical during extended power failures, but they're also much more expensive than the portable ones.


DanG said...

Right on, Peter! Just the other day, I responded similarly to a guy who was bragging about all the ammo he was buying up. I suggested that he would be better off buying canning jars and lots of lids for them. You can use them to store subsistence rations, such as dry beans and rice, until you can get a garden,chickens and rabbits going. It's better to prepare for the very likely economic problems than to waste your resources on preparations for an apocolyptic disaster that you might not survive anyway.

Jenny said...

On the whole canned/dried thing I think it's a great big "it depends."

Normally I don't like canned stuff except for a few meats and a small stock of "eat when I'm tired and want something *now*" - starches and carbs are much cheaper dried, and canned greens taste nasty to me. But I've had homemade dried green beans and such come back from the dead ok, so I'm thinking a Harmony House sampler is in order. At least until I get my hands on a dehydrator.

Honestly, this is one of those times when a living history hobby comes in handy. All that old-timey laying stuff by is fun. Gonna make some blue cheese soon!
Also you already have lots of pots for cooking in your backyard!.... when your drama-hungry neighbor doesn't call the Fire Department that is. :)