Friday, April 12, 2024

Emergency preparations: don't fool yourself - get real


Following the series of posts I've put up in recent weeks about various aspects of emergency preparations, I've been surprised by some of the feedback I've received.  Some readers are annoyed that I haven't addressed long-term survival by growing our own food;  others think that buying this, or that, or the other gadget(s) will solve all their problems and guarantee they'll survive;  and yet more think that they can continue to enjoy a risk-free existence if some form of disaster continues beyond a few days or a couple of weeks.  They're all wrong.

There are practical realities we have to keep in mind when planning for emergencies.  If we ignore them, we're living in a fool's paradise;  thinking we're prepared, but in fact being blind to reality.  In this post, I'll try to address some basic, fundamental issues that underpin all our emergency preparations.

The first is our own health and fitness.  How healthy are we?  If we have no major medical issues, that's great.  However, the older we get, the more likely such issues become.  If we're fit and strong right now, that's also great:  but the risk of injury, illness, etc. will become much greater if we have to do more and more emergency-related work (e.g. cutting firewood;  fetching and carrying heavy supplies such as water;  exposure to severe weather, insects, pollution, etc.;  diseases spreading among the victims of an emergency situation;  and so on).  A healthy, fit person has an excellent foundation for coming through such circumstances without too much difficulty;  but the longer they go on, the more likely it becomes that our foundation will deteriorate - sometimes a lot more quickly than we would believe.  (That also raises the question of prescription medicines, which we covered a short while ago;  add to that analgesics, allergy medications, laxatives, anti-diarrhea and other over-the-counter medications that address common conditions, because those are likely to become more common in an extended emergency.)

Let's face it:  death is the normal, inevitable end to life, and it comes to us all sooner or later.  While I'm all in favor of postponing that as long as possible, death remains inevitable.  We should not fear what we cannot avoid.  Instead, let's plan to avoid it as long as possible.  That means keeping ourselves as fit and healthy as possible, and stockpiling things that can help us achieve that.

That said, we need to be realistic in making preparations that are consistent with our health and strength.  I'll use myself as an example.  I was left semi-crippled by a work-related accident two decades ago.  My mobility is very limited, and my permanent pain level is high.  As a result, I'm very unfit (because it hurts to exercise), and have no effective way of regaining a reasonable level of fitness - my body will go on strike if I try too hard.  (I know this.  I've tried.)  Those factors mean there's no way I can keep up with a group trying to evacuate to a safer area if that relies on physical exertion (walking, running, climbing, carrying a heavy load, and so on).  Vehicular traffic is going to be extremely limited by factors such as limited fuel supply, obstacles blocking roads, and interference by those who didn't make any preparations for an emergency, trying to take what they need from those who did.  (If you think that won't happen, there's this bridge in Brooklyn, NYC I'd like to sell you . . . )  Therefore, I have little choice but to "bug in":  stay where I am and try to ride out the problem.  That decision alone already eliminates many approaches to emergencies, and forces me to concentrate on others.  Those who don't share my health issues will, of course, make choices appropriate to their own status.

Next, we have to choose emergency foods that are suitable for our likely needs.  If we may have to "bug out" to another area, we need foods that are relatively light for ease of carrying;  take up as little space as possible;  and are easy to prepare, so as to avoid needing heavy, bulky kitchen equipment.  Freeze-dried foods fit those requirements pretty well, but they're also very expensive on a per-calorie basis, which might be a serious disadvantage if money is tight.  Canned foods are bulkier and heavier, not helpful in a "bug out" situation:  but they cost a lot less on a per-calorie basis, making them a lot more affordable if you're "bugging in".  Many of them can also be eaten cold, straight out of the can if necessary, avoiding the need to prepare them.

Let's take an example from current pricing at Walmart.  Dinty Moore beef stew in a 2½-serving can (200 calories per serving) costs $3.32.  Mountain House freeze-dried beef stew in a 2-serving pack (210 calories per serving) costs $11.26.  (Given our calorie intake needs, both containers realistically offer only a single main course for one person - half that if we're expending a lot of energy, working hard to stay alive - and therefore should be supplemented by other foods as well.)  The freeze-dried meal costs almost 3½ times more than the canned meal.  How much of that cost differential can your wallet afford?  That's a major factor in emergency preparations.  Spend each penny wisely, because they're in limited supply for most of us!

I won't go into details of what foods to choose, how to store them, and all that.  We've covered most of it in earlier articles, and there's a wealth of information online.  The main thing is to choose foods suitable for our plan to deal with emergencies (i.e. "bugging out" or "bugging in"), that we can afford, and that offer as much nutrition as possible for our dollars and cents.

We've spoken about water needs quite a lot in recent weeks, so I won't duplicate those posts here.  Follow the links in this paragraph to read them.

Next, what sort of weather and environmental conditions are we likely to encounter in an emergency?  This is important whether we're "bugging out" or "bugging in".  Remember, the power's likely to be out, so our normal standbys of air-conditioning, heating, etc. are almost certainly not going to be available.  Do we live in an area where winters are cold, snowy, icy?  Then we're going to need a lot more warm clothes, indoors or outside, to keep going (that includes warm bedclothes, wraps, etc.).  Are we in an area with very warm summers?  Then we'll need clothing that allows sweat to evaporate, but also protects us against the sun, insect bites, etc.  We'll also need a lot of it, because normal laundry facilities will most likely not be functioning, and it's a lot of hard work (and water, and detergent) to wash clothes by hand, rinse them, and hang them out to dry.  If the weather doesn't help the drying process, it may be several days before they're fit to wear again.  Our footwear and work clothing needs to suit our climate, and additionally provide protection when we're more physically active than usual (e.g. chopping firewood, collecting water from nearby sources, walking longer and further than usual, etc.)  The factors mentioned in this paragraph also mean we need to add reserve supplies of laundry detergent, insect repellent, sun block, personal hygiene items, etc. to our emergency stash:  also, perhaps, overalls, work gloves and boots, hard hats, sun hats, etc.

There's also the question of the duration of an emergency.  If it's something like a large coronal mass ejection (a so-called "Carrington Event") or major nuclear war, then the effects will be felt for not just years, but decades.  There's no way we can stockpile enough supplies to cater for something like that.  Those who can farm, growing their own food, will have an edge:  but everyone else who survives will be doing their best to raid farms for food, so keeping it is likely to be a very serious problem.  Certainly, if we are not already growing at least some of our own food, we're very unlikely to be able to grow enough from scratch to survive.  We lack the knowledge, tools, seeds, and experience to do so.  Tempting advertisements to buy a certain brand of seed, or a particular tool, or land on which to establish an "emergency farm", are likely to benefit only those selling them.  Realistically, most of us can afford to plan, and stockpile supplies, for an emergency lasting from a few weeks to a year.  Anything beyond that . . . well, it's unlikely we'll live through it.  That's just the way it is.

What about transport and travel?  Sure, we can stockpile a certain amount of gasoline or diesel;  but it won't last forever, and besides, we'll need to power our generators and other engines.  Even if you put 100 gallons of fuel in your stash (which is far more than most of us are legally allowed to store at home), that's only a few tanks' worth for most modern vehicles, and when it's gone, it's gone.  That's why a small electrically-powered vehicle such as an e-bike, a golf cart or a tiny electric car or truck actually makes sense in a "bug in" situation, if we can afford it.  They can be recharged via solar panels or generators, and run around the neighborhood (e.g. to fetch water from a pond or stream).  They may be very practical local emergency vehicles.  (On the other hand, when no other vehicles are running, our electric vehicles will become very tempting targets for looters, whether official or criminal.  We should plan our security arrangements accordingly, and use the vehicles as little as possible to avoid such encounters.)

I could go on, but I hope the examples I've provided illustrate how we need to be extremely practical in our emergency planning.  It's no good planning for pie in the sky when there won't be much pie, and the sky will have fallen!  We should also accept that we'll never get everything right.  There are bound to be things - some of them very important - that we forget, or ignore, or of which we don't stockpile enough.  No sense in kicking ourselves about that when the time comes.  Instead, let's do what we can to stockpile what we're most likely to need in our own situation in life, and then get on with the business of living through hard times using what we've got.  As the late President Theodore Roosevelt put it:

Words to live by.



Anonymous said...

You are one of the few bloggers I have read that actually has a realistic view of survival/prepping. I personally don't believe it to be practical to prep for anything longer than a couple of months. If the emergency situation continues beyond that, chances are it will last for more than a year. Each day the emergency situation lasts, it decreases your chance for survival as those who are not prepared will become more desperate and be more of a danger to those who have prepared.

I have argued with several that having a garden for survival isn't feasible unless you live in an isolated area, because of others who will raid, or ruin, it. A garden is only useful to offset grocery costs and provide fresh veggies during normal times.

A couple things to add when it comes to water. If you are relying on freeze dried food, you will likely need extra water to reconstitute the meals. In the event of a grid down situation, most streams and lakes are likely to become polluted rather quickly due to the failure of municipal sewer systems that discharge into the streams that feed into the lakes. Your best bet for safe water will be a well or spring that supplies potable water, or a rain collection system.

For those who think they can defend their home, gardens, and supplies, I am of the opinion that you are deluding yourself. We now live in a time where there is a large number of people who believe that if they can't have what is yours, then they won't allow you to have it either. They would rather burn your house down, ruin your garden, etc. than to move along and leave you alone with what you have. Sure, you can defend what is yours so long as they come one or two at a time, but you won't be able to stand against a large organized gang.

James said...

Anon,you build trusted tribe you can to a large degree deal with problem people,tis worth the effort.

Peter,have you tried Tai Chi,have seen it do amazing things for a friend who was really thrashed in a car wreck and for years very limited mobility.He will not now be winning Iron Man events but has great mobility and a lot less pain then he did in the past.

I have also seen seniors who had very limited mobility make great strides in regain said mobility,worth a shot perhaps?

I am old but still can be thrown into walls ect.,when can no longer do hard styles of martial arts will certainly practice Tai Chi,thanks for read.

Old NFO said...

Water...really the 'key' ingredient to our survival, and most don't even think about it.

Carteach said...

A piece of 'old-man' advice I was given years ago.

Do you want to see how ready for a shitstorm you are? Go to the electrical mains and shut them off. Also, drop your phones in a box and tape the lid on.

The number of days you survive gives you a *clue* of how ready you are. Most people don't make it to day three.

tsquared said...

I moved to the largest farming area in Georgia. The county I live in produces 20% of the nations onions, 12% of the pecans, and has the south east's largest chicken hatchery. Row crops surpass the acreage of the onions. There are dairy ranches and vegetable farms with greenhouses that supply multiple grocery store chains. That doesn't count the two large cattle ranches that spill over into different counties.

I planted a small garden. It is growing at a rate I did not experience when I was growing up on the farm that is 50 miles away. The soil is much richer and the water table is less than 15 feet down. There are two stocked ponds bordering my property and a catfish farm 75 yars from the property. I think my prepping is all about location.

Rob said...

There is the ice storm, recovery from a hurricane/earthquake or unemployment type of disaster prep which is doable on the preps you've stored away and there is the general breakdown of society which is a whole different kettle of fish.

8+ billion people in the world, 330+ million in this country, if things fall apart big time you'll need a walled town & the people in it on your side plus you'll need a huge chunk of luck.

If you want to see what a year long break down looks like see what Selco wrote about his year in the Balkans. This link gets you the story as a .pdf
His story is other places too.

Hammer said...

I have had health issues since I had a two level back fusion as part of a workman’s injury in 2010. Further decline from gouty arthritis since. This has been further affected by three years of fighting difficult to heal wounds on my feet. Since I live off grid we sometimes need a little help from community or relatives. Part of preps should be developing such links could help with long term survival and could help both the young and fit and us elderly. Many older people have knowledge and skills that our younger counterparts lack. How many of the younger cohorts in our population rely solely on the internet for how to information to solve problems or even to find a recipe on how to cook something? Perhaps some young relatives who live in places that may have to bug out could come help gramps who lives in the country. If you were to help instill a love of doing such tasks by encouraging visits on school vacations and making them fun. Whenever you have an opportunity of helping those in need in your community di and be willing to accept help if offered. Make it a habit in fairly good times and it will continue in bad times!

Anonymous said...

I have to admit....we are very well organized for the couple of weeks/month scenario. We don't even notice if I decide not to go food shopping for a week or two! We are in a better place than most for long term, ie. months to years. (controlled water supply, decent food prep, garden area, lots of fuel that is standing timber for heating, and readily controlled perimeter). But you know what? I'm not really interested in trying to live through the latter scenario...maybe because we have and will have no children, maybe because the people I am supporting are older, maybe just...I don't know. If the apocalypse happens, I would sort of like to go out with a bang. I could linger, but God? Why?

Anonymous said...

One of the preps that we should all work on is knowledge. My new years resolution each year is to learn a new skill to a usable level.

One year I taught myself cheese making and by the end of year i was turning out cheese consistently better than the cheap grocery cheeses. Other years i've been less successful, lets not talk about knitting....
Each skill you learn can keep you alive that bit longer or give you a way to trade for things you need.


Anonymous said...

I agree that location helps - but it also matters who is nearby; for example, how far is Atlanta or another big city from you?
As for the food you mention nearby - how much of it is dependent on electricity?

Anonymous said...

And even with all of your gathered preps stored at home, at least make some plans to be able to walk away from a catastrophic event that destroys your home and leaves you with no option but walking away. Yeah - I'm talking bug out bag.

I'm getting up there in years and moving to 'The Forest' to begin anew probably isn't in the cards for me. Daily required meds alone will likely give me a shelf life of only several months with no re-supply. After that - its in God's Hands.

Great topic - thanks for writing them and the additional comments as well.