There are new people getting into prepping all the time. That's good for those people and ultimately good for the country. The more of us there are who are prepared to deal with a disaster or other emergency, the easier it will be for us as individuals and as a society to overcome whatever disaster might strike.
But prepping is a big step to take, especially for the newbie. Looking over the plethora of information available today, it's easy to become overwhelmed. There are so many aspects of prepping and so many different things that experienced preppers do, that it seems impossible to accomplish.
The truth of the matter is, none of us ever really finish prepping; there's always something else to do. Part of that is because we don't know what sort of disaster we're ultimately going to face, part is because we don't really know if society will recover from that disaster, but another part is brought about by the complexity of modern life. We are all accustomed to having a wide variety of things at our fingertips, so it's easy to think that we need all of that available to us, even after the lights go out and our modern, technology based life comes to an end.
Yet our ancestors made due with much less. In fact, much of the world today still gets by without our modern conveniences. They don't have to have cable television, coffee shops, iPads and smartphones as "necessities." They get by and are happy with a much simpler lifestyle.
A lot of that is because survival is a day-to-day reality for them, whereas it isn't for us. Our modern society has everything we need to survive at our fingertips, and so much more. We easily lose sight of what's needed to survive, simply because our attention is fixed on "more important things." Yet, when push comes to shove, our survival needs, the needs of our ancestors and the needs of African tribesmen living in mud huts are really all the same.
What that means, in a prepping sense, is that some of the things that people talk about aren't as important as they make it seem. Take communications, for example; while it might be nice to have a shortwave radio to get the news and find out what's going on in the world, it isn't an absolute necessity. That's something we could easily do without, if we find ourselves in a survival situation.
There are a host of other things that can fall into that same category. While I'm not against having things in my prepping stockpile to make my life more comfortable, I don't see those things as necessities. Rather, they are lower priority items that I'll do if I can.
Getting Down to Basics - What Do You Need?
For anyone to be able to prep properly, they have to have a good understanding of what it is that they need to have, in order to survive. We are so far removed from a basic survival lifestyle, that few people understand this today; and the younger the person, the more dissociated they are with the truths of survival. Teens today relate survival to their smartphones and X-boxes, not things like heat and water.
There's a phrase I've heard bandied about all my life about the basic needs for survival. People say that those needs are "food, clothing and shelter." Perhaps you've heard that too. But I've got to say, it's wrong. While all three things mentioned there are important for survival, it misses one critical thing, which trumps food. Considering that food made the list, I'd expect it to have made the list too.
In reality, the three most basic needs for survival are:
- Maintaining your body temperature (this includes both shelter and clothing, as well as some means of producing heat)
- Purified water
Preppers often refer to these things in the "Rule of 3s." That is: "You can only survive 30 minutes without maintaining your body temperature; 3 days without water; and 30 days without food." While not 100% accurate in all cases, that's a pretty good guideline to go by. The relative importance of these three survival priorities is made clear by that phrase, and that's all it's intended to do.
But we really need to add to that list slightly, as the top three survival needs interrelate with other important needs as well. Specifically, we need to add:
- Fire (specifically the means to start and maintain a fire)
- Medical care
- Tools (to allow you to do the above mentioned things, specifically building a shelter and cutting firewood)
Everything else that people talk about in the prepping community has to come after these things. So, while it might be nice to go off-grid and turn your home into a solar and wind-powered showcase, that's not really a necessity for survival. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that you really don't even need one solar panel to survive, although having that solar panel would allow you to use things that you otherwise couldn't. So it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand; but it shouldn't be a high priority either.
When you're making decisions about prepping, you need to start with those things that will make the biggest impact on your ability to survive. That means concentrating on the top three survival priorities. When it all comes down to it, water is more important to your survival than a well-stocked first-aid kit.
Where to Start?
Most people start their prepping by buying some basic food to store in their basement or pantry. They might be making a trip to Costco or Sam's Club and pick up a 50 pound bag of rice and another of beans. At this point, the things they're doing are unplanned, more on an instinctive level than anything else.
While there's nothing wrong with that, it's really not prepping. But it does show one very important point; that is, most people start their prepping with food. I'm not sure if that's instinctive or reactionary, but it's actually a fairly good starting point... at least as far as purchases are concerned.
But the real place to start your prepping isn't in the store, but at the kitchen table. That's where you need to sit down and do an analysis of the potential risks you face. A real prepping plan can't be put together without at least some sort of idea what you're prepping for; so you need to figure that part out first. You'll probably be wrong, but the good news is that whatever you decide will put you on the road towards self-sufficiency. Considering that there's really a lot of overlap in what's needed for various disaster situations, you won't be wasting your time.
When I talk about what you need to be prepping for, I'm really talking about four categories of disasters that you could face. These are:
- Natural Disasters - Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, blizzards, etc. Whatever is typical to your area of the country.
- Man-made Disasters - Chemical spills, a nuclear plant meltdown or contamination of your city water supply, whether by accident or intent. Mankind is expert in hurting ourselves.
- Nationwide Disasters - Major events that could conceivably take down the country or a large portion of it; an EMP attack or other attack on the grid, financial collapse, the Yellowstone supervolcano erupting.
- Personal Disasters - While few people talk about these, they are quite real. The loss of a job, major injury, deadly illness or the loss of a loved one. Any of these can have as much impact on you and your family, as a hurricane.
Once you list the possible disasters you could face, you need to do an honest evaluation of them. You want to rate them in two ways: how likely they are to happen and how much of an impact they would have on your life. From there, you can easily see which ones are the most important for you to prep for.
You might be wondering why this is necessary, especially in light of my earlier statement that there is a lot of overlap in the preps you need for a variety of disasters. But there are things that are specific to some types of disasters as well, and by taking the time to do this risk analysis, you will find those. What that relates to is how important some of the specialty equipment and supplies are for your personal situation.
Each of us faces different situations, so there really is no blanket answer to prepping. If you live in an area where you are at high risk of hurricanes, you'll need to do things that people in the Midwest can ignore. Likewise, if you live near a number of nuclear reactors, you might want to be ready for a potential melt-down, whereas someone who is 100 miles away doesn't have to think about that.
The Time Factor
The next thing to consider is the time factor; how long will you have to be in survival mode? When we talk about that, we're not just talking about how long the disaster itself will last, but how long it will take for society to return to some semblance of normal.
Let's say that one of your concerns is an EMP; something that we should all have on our list. As I understand the report from the EMP Commission, the country may never actually recover from such an attack. One key to recovery will be replacing the custom transformers at each substation. Considering how many of those there are, the fact that there are zero spares, the lead-time on an order is a year, and that there are only a few manufacturers of those transformers worldwide, it will be extremely difficult to come up with replacements. Then, when you add in the report's conclusion that as much as 90 percent of the population will die in the first year, you come to the conclusion that there may not be any way of recovery. The very people who have to make the repairs could die off before they can do so.
Granted, that's probably the most extreme situation we could possibly face, but it is a reality. Some other disasters, such as a nationwide epidemic could be similar, especially if it is an air-borne disease. In such a case, the disease would eventually burn itself out, but that would actually happen because people would stop interacting with each other.
In these sorts of examples, there is no real recovery, making the recovery period infinite. Rather than recovering, the nation would have to find a "new normal" which would probably be quite different than the normal we know today. So prepping for those types of disasters means prepping for a new lifestyle, without the technology and infrastructure we have available to us today.
But those are rather extremes situations, which we are less likely to face. So, while they need to be on our radar scope, they don't need to be our number one focus. Rather, we need to focus on the more likely scenarios we could encounter; natural disasters, man-made disasters and personal disasters.
Even these sorts of disasters can have a fairly lengthy recovery time, especially if the disaster is fairly serious. Damage to roadways and bridges can take years to repair, especially if it means rebuilding a bridge. That could leave a community disconnected from their normal supply sources, causing shortages until an alternate supply route can be established.
One of the most common things to have happen in any disaster is the loss of electrical power. While we can survive without our iPads and cell phones, there are many other, more important things that we use electricity for. Of them all, the most important are heating our homes (even gas heating uses electrical controls) and refrigeration.
Electric power companies are great at restoring power after a disaster; but it still takes time. Sometimes, it takes quite a bit of time, especially when the disaster is widespread. When Hurricane Katrina struck the city of New Orleans are surrounding areas, there were people without electrical power for more than six weeks; there was that much damage. Although the news didn't report it, when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, recovery times were similar.
When we think about preparing to survive a natural disaster, we need to think in terms of that six week window. While those are extreme examples for natural disasters, they are fairly realistic from a prepping viewpoint. If anything, we're better off overpreparing, than not having enough.
Getting Down to Brass Tacks
To clarify what I just said, we should plan on a minimum six week recovery time for any disaster. That means having enough in place, so that we can survive, even if we don't have gas for our cars, electrical power, running water or a store where we can buy food.
Your First Emergency Supplies
So, the first thing we want to do as preppers is to build a stockpile of necessary supplies to get us through that first six weeks. As we do, we want to keep in mind the priorities I mentioned above. That means concentrating on building a stockpile of water, food and fuel to heat our homes. If we can do that, we'll be in better shape than about 98 percent of our fellow citizens.
Of course, in doing that, we're probably going to need to do a few other things as well. If your home doesn't have a fireplace or wood-burning stove, you're going to need to come up with some way of heating it. That might mean installing a wood-burning stove, or at least buying one so that you can install it temporarily in the case of an emergency. You'll need to think the same about food preparation, as your stove probably runs off of natural gas or electricity. In a crisis, you might not be able to count on either of those.
We want to think in terms of complete solutions, rather than just in terms of stockpiling. In other words, don't just think about stockpiling food, but think about how you're going to store it without electricity for your refrigerator and how you're going to cook it when your stove is out. There are solutions for both of those questions; but they will require you doing things a little bit differently.
With a six week stock of food, fuel and water, it's time to broaden out a bit. This is where you want to start thinking about the things on the second part of the list. Most especially, you want to put the tools in place, to help you survive more than a short-term recovery period. This stage includes:
- Some sort of water purification system, with a backup.
- Additional means of fire starting. You probably have a lighter and some matches, now it's time to look at other means.
- Building a good first-aid kit; especially one that will work for trauma.
- Buying the tools you need for cutting firewood, building an emergency shelter, and making emergency repairs to your home.
- A more permanent way for cooking your food, if what you have will only work short-term.
- Basic weapons (and the necessary training) to defend yourself and your family with.
- Some means of producing light to extend your work day.
You may find that you bought some of these items in the first flurry of buying, such as buying a flashlight. That's okay. What I'm talking about here is making sure that you have enough of these items to get through a long-term survival situation, say something lasting six months to a year. So, while you might already have a flashlight, you probably should have a few more. You should also have spare bulbs (if needed) and a pretty good stash of batteries.
The Bug Out Bag
Up to now, everything I've talked about is based upon the assumption that you're going to be sheltering in place, what preppers refer to as "bugging in." But in some cases, it might be necessary to bug out to avoid a potential disaster. Hurricane Katrina was such a case. The authorities called for an evacuation of the city. Unfortunately, not everyone obeyed that order and some of those who disobeyed paid for their decision with their lives.
Another situation which might call for bugging out is a breakdown in society. If your home was identified as one with a stockpile of food in it, you would probably have to bug out to avoid being killed. You might be able to defend yourself from two or three attackers, but not a gang of 20 hungry armed thugs.
So you'll need to develop a full bug out plan, including where you'll go and how you'll survive there. The first part of that process is building a bug out bag; which includes everything you need to survive. Actually, you should have one for each member of the family, although the kids don't need to have every piece of survival equipment that dad does.
Increase Your Stockpile
Your six week stockpile is going to be great, as long as you're not faced with anything more serious than Hurricane Katrina. But what if you are? What if the Ebola outbreak of 2014 had crossed the ocean and e had an epidemic here, with people dying right and left? How long would you have to isolate yourself and your family, to ensure that you didn't catch the disease?
While the most likely disasters we could face are short-term ones, with a recovery time that can be measured in weeks or days, there are others which would be measured in months or years. I mentioned an EMP attack earlier, which to me is the worst disaster we could face. A six week supply of food and water merely means that you're forestalling your death by six weeks; it doesn't really mean that you'll be able to survive.
So, it's time to start increasing your stockpile. How much? That's the million dollar question. I've heard of people who have ten year stockpiles, but personally I think that's a bit extreme. Instead, I'd work on building a one year stockpile. But you've got to decide for yourself.
The best way to increase your stockpile is in stages. In other words, first work on increasing it to three months. From there, you can either go for four or jump up to six. Don't go past your next goal in any particular item, unless you manage to catch a really good sale. Breath is more important than depth. A two year supply of toilet paper isn't going to help you if you only have a three month supply of food.
Start Thinking About the Long-Term
Once you hit the six months point, it's time to expand your vision. Going back to the EMP attack, you need to start thinking about a disaster that is serious enough, that it redefines society as we know it. These events are often referred to as "TEOTWAWKI" events (the end of the world as we know it). Please note that this term doesn't refer to the end of the world, just the end of our modern society.
So what do I mean by thinking of the long-term? Basically, I'm referring to your lifestyle changing to one in which you are living in constant survival mode. It means that society has broken down, the lights probably aren't coming back on and there won't be a steady stream of trucks bringing food to the corner grocery store.
This is pretty much the worst case situation we could find ourselves in. It essentially means that you've got to become fully self-sufficient, whether as a family, a neighborhood, a community or a survival team. You've got to do it, because the only other option is to die.
More than anything, this means having the means to harvest and purify your own water, as well as the means to grow and preserve your own food. You'll need to do other things as well, such as cutting firewood, but that shouldn't be too much of an issue in most parts of the country. Essentially, it means turning your home into a homestead; just like the pioneers of old, who settled the Old West.
There are a lot of things that can be included in this stage of planning, but the key ones are:
- Water - You'll either need a ready source of ground water, such as a stream on your property, the ability to harvest rainwater or you'll need a well to get water out of the ground.
- Food - The ability to grow your own food. That mostly means a vegetable garden; but you should consider some fruit trees as well. You will also need animal protein, so you need to raise some sort of animals, whether that be chickens, fish, goats or rabbits.
- Producing Electricity - I mentioned that this wasn't a high priority earlier, but I never said to ignore it altogether. Rather, I said to put it off for a while. Well, at this point, that while has come. Our modern conveniences require electricity, and it would be a shame to have to throw them all away, just because we can't produce electricity ourselves.
- Raising the Next Generation - While you might be able to ignore your children's education for a few months, as you're trying to recover from a disaster, you can't ignore it forever. If things are bad enough that society isn't returning to normal, you'll need to be able to educate your own kids. Otherwise, they won't be ready to go on after you.
Now, I mentioned thinking about this after you have about six months of food stocked up. But that's not the same as saying you should start all this right away. Rather, keep stockpiling your basic necessities, while you start to research and plan these. You can start on them too, but don't rush that to the point that you don't stockpile.
In my opinion (and that's all it is) a year's worth of food and other critical supplies should be enough. After that, you should be producing your own. Of course, that means being ready to produce your own as well; so you'll need to stockpile the supplies and equipment necessary for it. You'll also need to learn the necessary skills, so that when the time comes, you really can feed your family off your homestead.
While I have split things into a time frame here, these aren't hard and fast rules. There's probably going to be some overlap in your prepping, where you do things in a different order than I said or you do things in parallel. That's good. You need to adapt this plan for your personal needs, not follow it to the letter. You also need to take advantage of sales and other opportunities that present themselves.
Although I didn't really mention it, there's a lot of learning that has to go on in this process. Ultimately, knowledge can trump any stockpile, no matter how much you have stashed away. If all you have is a stockpile, with no knowledge, then when your stockpile runs out... you die. But as anyone who has seen the various survival reality TV shows knows, if you have enough knowledge, you can overcome a lack of supplies.Be sure to put the necessary effort into learning the survival and homesteading skills you need. All the supplies you stockpile and all the equipment you buy will help you survive, but the skills and knowledge you have will help you survive longer.