The world is not an ideal place. If it was, you would not be concerned with dealing with emergencies. The threat of economic collapse, EMPs and pandemics, both natural and man made, always dwell in the back of our thoughts. Natural disasters seem to be striking with increased regularity.
An ideal prepper would be in top physical shape, with a wide array of expert skills to command. They live in their fortified and well stocked bunker retreat, with an armory full of assault rifles to arm their band of elite survivalists working in a cohesive unit. You are not that guy. Neither am I.
First, a bit about myself. I have no military training, but I taught high school and I’m a scientist. I am over 40, overweight, with bad eyes. It’s not all bad, though. Being an Eagle Scout and helping my Dad run a hobby farm / survival retreat (let’s just not tell him that’s what it is) has given me average outdoorsman skills. I’ve been researching emergency preparedness as a hobby for over twenty years now, and one thing I keep noticing is that the experts dispersing advice seem to forget that we are not all experts with unlimited time, cash, and talent to prepare for contingencies. I propose a series of articles that will be directed to the beginning prepper, one that has less than ideal circumstances. Because life ain’t fair. My target audience is young, with a non military background.
You have a crappy job that can barely pay the rent on your apartment; forget buying a drop in bunker. You have a girlfriend who may or may not be on board with prepping and a three year old kid. Starting to get the picture? If this isn’t you, bully. I might have some tips here and there that would be useful, but there are far better experts out there for advanced preppers. This is meant to be an intro course.
Since you are reading this, you have probably overcome the largest preparedness hurdle for any person in America these days. Before any training, planning, or rational equipment buy you have to really have the following: A realization that good times do not last forever. Bad things do happen. And from this realization has come a motivated will to act. If you are at that point that you want to do something, you are already ahead of 80% of the American population today. When I first realized this, it scared the hell out of me.
Start with an idea of where you are in your preparedness level. Grab a notebook and do a quick inventory of what you have in your home; food, water, firearms (if you own one), ammo, medicine, diapers. It doesn’t have to be down to the last can, but it should be down on paper. In fact, it could be the first page of a survival binder. In it you could place any written materials you will need to reference when the lights go out. (I have a friend who proudly showed me his Cloud database of edible plants across America. We live in the Ozarks. Head shakes sadly with not getting it ness.) On another page, make an inventory of yourself. What skills do you really have? Be honest, nobody is going to see this but you. What people are you going to be responsible for? What skills and physical fitness level do they have? How far could this group realistically travel on foot if required? Again, the point is not to have exhaustive dossiers on everyone, but to commit to paper the idea of who is on your team.
Once you have an idea what you have, make a short list of what you will need it for. What is the emergency you envision happening? I pack Occam’s Razor in my go bag (Google it, kids.) I prepare for the most likely scenario, then next likely, etc. Obviously many things are basic and would overlap from one threat to another. My top threat is actually localized power outage/ service disruption from winter storms or tornadoes. This would be a short term, shelter in place sort of threat, much different from a pandemic response. The point of preparedness is to be ready for what is probably going to happen, not buy a bunch of toys you don’t know how to use.
Here’s my list of things to worry about. Obviously yours might differ quite a bit.
Winter storms / tornadoes knock out local power and roads for up to a week.Accidental fire in my home. Economic collapse, as related to loss of my job / inability to buy goods. General lawlessness, from riots, or as a secondary effect of any TEOTWAWKI scenes.Pandemic, either natural or man made, national or global in scaleEMP, either natural or man made, regional or national in scale Earthquake (fault line at New Madrid and my town is made of bricks). Nuclear War (a full MAD strike, not terrorism; No terrorist will ever hit Missourah) Zombies (not really, just everybody likes to daydream about it for some reason).
Like I said, your priorities may differ and that’s OK. The idea is that you should start planning with the first thing on your list in mind, then the go from there. In my case, buying a Geiger counter and dosimeter makes no sense if my house has no smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. (Actually with my scientist chops I have both at my house, I swear I just fell into the Geiger counter!)
The next part is easy. Look at your first priority emergency, look at the equipment and skills you have to deal with it, and decide if that is sufficient. If yes (REALLY yes?) then move down the list. If not, make a list of stuff and skills you should have to deal with said calamity. This becomes your buy list and training plan.
”But wait I’m broke!” you say? Correct: you probably can’t afford everything on your list all at once. But surely you can find $40 a month in your budget. If you smoke or drink, knock it off. There’s your cash right there. Taking a date to the movies costs that much if you order popcorn. If you really truly are living so tight that you can’t find ten bucks a week, stop reading this. You are already in a financial crisis. Start gathering aluminum scrap and go house to house mowing lawns. Come back with cash.
Forty a week isn’t much. For the beginner prepper, I suggest focusing on food. I do this for the simple reason that I cannot think of ANY TEOTWAWKI scenario that does not require a large amount of stored food. Plus, if nothing earth shattering happens, you can eat it.
Take your budgeted amount (if it’s more than $40, great, just accelerate your plans) and hit the Aldi’s or the Sam’s Club. You should be able to buy enough canned goods to fill a milk crate (that’s 32 regular cans) for under thirty bucks. Look at the labels and focus on high calorie, high protein foods. Beans in all forms (baked, refried, chili) is a top choice. Peanut butter has even more calories. In fact, doctors in Africa give two spoonfuls a day to starving kids. SPAM is the most calorie dense thing I can find, at 1200 calories per can. Love me that SPAM!
With whatever cash is left, buy starches. Pasta, rice, flour, potatoes are all way cheap. Consider instant potatoes and rice if your cooking skills are low, as well as pancake mix instead of raw flour (you can make anything out of pancake mix). I bought fifty pounds of rice for 16 bucks at Sam’s club once. It cost me more to get the food grade five gallon buckets and carbon dioxide to store it in! (I’ll tell you about that one and other storage ideas next time.)
Your forty bucks in food should fill two milk crates. If you chose calorie dense foods that you would eat in an everyday meal, that should be enough for one person for one month. Repeat every month until all the people in your group can eat for as long as you need them to. Even without special treatment, the food should last at least three years in a cool dark place. The trick with food storage is to rotate it and actually eat it. I try to buy every month and transfer the crate from a year ago into the kitchen pantry, where it gets used in normal meals. Excess cans can be donated to pantries or hungry friends.
Where are you putting all these crates you say? In my first apartment I had 15 crates under my bed because that WAS the bed. You can put a metric crap ton of food under a bed. Just make sure it’s mouse proof! A hall closet for towels, or even part of a bedroom closet can hold that many crates. If you have a basement, store it in totes marked Christmas decorations or Tax receipts 1997 and nobody will think to take them! I realize some of the things we have to think about are scary. Even more so when you realize your mom, your kids, might be depending on you to have a plan in place. And I realize it will take more than a couple crates of food to deal with a true TEOTWAWKI. You have to start somewhere. Stick with it, and a year from now you can have a serious base level of preparedness to deal with any crisis. To misquote Donny Rumsfeld, sometimes you have to face the end of the world with the preps you have. Be Safe, Eric