One of the things I am fairly passionate about is emergency preparedness. I’m probably not cool enough to be in the ranks of other “preppers” and “survivalists”, but I do spend a fair amount of time entertaining the thought of TEOTWAWKI.
A recent article talked about the usefulness of a mathematical study on Zombie Attacks. I’ve always been a big fan of Zombie films – mostly those of the “Night of the Living Dead”/”Omega Man”/”I Am Legend” variety, and I suppose it has to do with some sort of inborn fear or fascination with an “end of the world” scenario. While I also liked films like “Red Dawn”, those with a more surreal threat were usually the fodder of my nightmares growing up.
My wife is not a fan of horror films, and it’s a fair assessment to say that all the zombie films are horror films. I myself am not a believer in the usual traditional horror film fare; I can’t stand people who believe in Hollywood vampires, werewolves or Frankenstein-monsters, but for some reason (though I don’t actually believe in them) I can handle zombie fans. Because we have small children and I rarely watch my collection of scary movies, my wife once asked me why I own them. I thought about it awhile, and then said “it prepares me for frightening situations”.
I’m not sure if she understood what I meant at the time, and I’m really not sure I understood exactly what I meant until reading this article, but it’s pretty clear now:
Being prepared for “Zombies” means being prepared for any unforeseen scenario.
The article makes mention of a lot of the big disasters the world has had to deal with in the past few years, and how many of them took us by surprise. Who could have ever thought ahead to prepare for AIDS or Ebola, Marburg, or Swine Flu? Honey Bees dying? the 9/11 attacks on American soil, the beltway sniper, the anthrax attacks, the Tsunami, Katrina? Some of these things have been happening since the beginning of time (or so we’re led to believe), but some of them are pretty clearly modern plagues and disasters for which there was no precedent. In much the same way Godzilla is said to represent the horrors from the WW2 atomic bombings of Japan, Zombie films may represent the widespread dangers of pandemics, mass rioting and looting during large-scale disaster, and the need to isolate oneself from the world to survive.
There are more than enough long-lasting temporary disasters and TEOTWAWKI events to make a pretty long list, but rather than spending too much time on “what could go wrong” and the endless debating and explaining required to convince someone it’s ok to turn into a hill-dwelling, paranoid hermit, I’m going to leap right into a general overview of preparedness (hopefully expounding at a later date). Depending on who you ask, and what kind of disaster they are preparing for (though hopefully one is prepared for all types of disasters), the priority or even inclusion of the following may be different, so I am just writing as i think of things, in no particular order:
Having food and water is essential to life, and I think it is safe to say that the whole spectrum of prepared folks would agree with me on this. FEMA and most civil experts suggest storing a minimum of 72 hours worth of food and water, because in most parts of the United states, 72 hours is the maximum amount of time it should take to reach you. Hopefully you noticed my italics: minimum and should. Under most circumstances, 72 hours is more than sufficient, but there could always be a circumstance that exceeds this rule, so it is best to use your personal judgment. A 72-hour Kit should also include any necessary first aid supplies, personal information (bank account, SSN, birth certificates,etc), and cash and be of a size that permits quick and easy evacuation. Ideally, a kit (or kits, depending on how you want to divide resources among your family) should be near the front door, so those extra minutes needed for evacuation won’t be wasted running upstairs or worse – around the house trying to compile a bag at the last minute.
Food should be rotated regularly (it won’t last forever!), and if possible, larger quantities should be stored in case of a longer-term need (such as a natural disaster that prevents food being delivered to the local grocer, or personal financial distress, etc). Food that is included in food storage should only be food that you know how to prepare and use regularly. A lot of people stock up on wheat, but never learn to use it. Some foods (particularly wheat) will be hard on your body if you don’t regularly eat it in this form, and you may need to introduce it into the diet slowly, which will likely require another source of food to fulfill everyone’s daily requirements.
Comfort foods should be stores, especially if you have children. Hard candies are good, as are dried fruits and nuts. Keep an eye on the expiration dates and storage temperatures for chocolate, and it can be useful too. Our family (don’t ask me why!) likes to eat sardines, so we keep some containers of sardines in our “emergency backpacks”. Individually packaged crackers are another good comfort food.
Water is essential, especially if you plan on cooking MREs or other meals that may contain dehydrated foods. There are a lot of ways to store water, ways to purify it, and ways to purify stored water – you just need to know what you are doing. You will need water for cooking, drinking, washing dishes, and bathing. It is a good idea to know what your water-use-plan will be before an emergency arises, so that water is not wasted. We store our drinking water in 5-gallon water-cooler jugs. The water cooler sits in the kitchen and we use it as our drinking water daily. Should an emergency arise (a disruption in water service), we are not without drinking water.
Learning to can, dehydrate and grow your own food is a good skill to have, especially when trying to save money.
It is also important to have cooking utensils and appliances that you can use which do not need electricity! A handheld can opener is an obvious example, but you should also consider what you will use to mix, to cut, or to press (in the case of preparing your wheat!). In most disasters you will not have electricity. Even if you have a gas-powered generator, you need to keep in mind that you will need to conserve power for light and heat and communication, and that your gas source won’t last forever.
In most emergencies, you won’t have power. That means, in a lot of cases, neither will your local cell tower and definitely not your WI-FI hook up. Some carriers (Verizon Wireless) are pretty quick to respond to disasters and remedy cell outages, but even those shouldn’t be relied on. Even if you do get cellular service, everyone else in the vicinity is going to be trying to make calls, and towers will be overloaded, like they were during the 2000 earthquake I experienced in Seattle. Sometimes, despite voice-traffic congestion, small packets of data can get through, so you may be able to TXT someone even when voice calls are getting an “all circuits are busy” recording.
Because communication systems are frequently overloaded during such an outage, it is best to have one outside contact to which you can call and notify, and let that person contact other family. This is considerate to your community too … you wouldn’t want to be the person on the phone for three hours with cousins and ex girlfriends while an elderly neighbor can’t call for help.
It is wise to invest in a radio system and the education to use it. Amateur “Ham” radio is usually the preferred emergency option due to the distances it can reach and the wide variety of options that make this form of radio service compatible with nearly every need. The cost and time required to test and receive your lowest (Technician class) license is pretty small, but equipment can be expensive for those on a tight budget. (A lower-range handheld radio is a little over $100).
Another option that may be good in an emergency situation is a GMRS radio, or set of radios. These also require an FCC license, but the license covers your entire immediate family. These licenses do not require a class and test, but are considerably more expensive ($60 to $80, if i remember correctly), though the radios themselves are fairly inexpensive ($50 for two), and easier to find in a local department store.
The advantage “Ham” radio has over GMRS is its flexibility (both in power source and in ability to make use of repeaters to travel long distances, patch into telephone, send computer data, etc), and longer-distance capabilities (some can reach thousands of miles). The main advantage of GMRS over Ham radio is price, followed by ease of use.
FIREARMS and HOME DEFENSE
Where the lightest-case, religious, home-making mommy can appreciate the “Food and Water” aspect of preparedness (or “Prepping”), and the next level of intensity prepper can relate to the need for communications, firearms are probably more in the domain of a TEOTWAWKI survivalist-type, and are one of the more heated areas of debate within this segment.
Since there are numerous types of firearms, methods of using them, and reasons for using them, I will keep this section pretty simple. If you choose to stock up on firearms, some general rules to follow are:
- Know your firearm inside and out: how to clean it, repair it, fire it, empty it, store it, and preferably reload ammunition for it.
- Stock up on the kind of ammo your weapon or weapons use. Ammunition shortages are more frequent than food shortages, and the price is always going up.
- If you are on a tight budget, select a multi-purpose firearm (home defense+hunting)
- Know your local, state and federal laws regarding firearms (possession, transportation and use of), because even if lawlessness breaks out, at some point later on you can expect to be held accountable for any way in which you chose to use your gun. Our instructor made this comment: “Always remember there are gonna be two lawyers attached to every bullet you fire”
- Keep your firearms away from children.
Most firearms owners have more than one gun. Many have a Concealed Carry permit, perhaps with the thought: “why only be prepared at home?” Many firearms-friendly preppers and survivalists also own a military-type rifle, and for good reason: When the military makes and deploys something, it’s usually for good reason. Military firearms are lightweight, easy to use, and accurate – efficient all around. Training materials, gun smithing tools and accessories for these rifles are usually pretty easy to come by.
If you live in the wilderness, it probably makes more sense to lean toward hunting weapons (keep in mind, if it’s made to shoot people, you can probably shoot a deer with it), while persons in urban areas, where rioting and looting and other criminal dangers are present might do better to acquire legal civilian versions of law enforcement and military weapons (which are generally designed for those specific events).
Regardless of your choice in weapons, I can’t stress enough the importance of staying within the law. If you are a felon, you need to find something else. If you are able to legally own and carry a gun, don’t brandish it “just ‘cos you got it”. Take a hunter safety course as well as personal defense courses. Respect your weapon.
OTHER SUPPLIES AND TOOLS
One of the things people usually don’t talk about stocking up on is clothing. I don’t know if it is because the average American is constantly increasing in size or because we’re too fashion-conscious, but clothing is a good thing to have extras of! If any sort of long-term disruption to stores were to take place (trucker strike, gas shortage, natural disaster, rationing), you are eventually going to need more clothing. While it is a great idea to learn to sew and knit (and I’d certainly suggest it!), the reality is that most of us are never going to be well enough at these skills to make a comfortable, usable piece of fitting clothing. Even more of us probably just won’t have the time.
If you can get over the initial weirdness of it, military clothing is an excellent choice. Rip-Stop material lasts a long, long time, and is lightweight. Most BDUs are made to hand-wash and air dry (simplifying hygiene), and contain several pockets (useful for carrying supplies, foraging, etc). Most BDU-type clothing can be found in Black, Blue, Tan, and Green, so you don’t have to worry about looking like a nut-job wearing camouflage into your local Wal-Mart. BDUs are also generally less expensive or equal to the price of a low-end pair of jeans. If you’re worried about them not fitting after three months of your new diet, BDUs are adjustable, with buckles, elastics and ties to adjust to a variety of sizes. (They usually come in “small, medium, large, extra-large, etc, rather than specific “sizes”).
Along with military clothing, military and law-enforcement footwear is a good choice. Some is breathable, nearly all are sturdy & reinforced, and you can find them for less money than a nice pair of tennis shoes. Web or mesh belts are also useful, both because of their adjustability and their versatility (tourniquet, to tie things down, etc), and they usually only cost $2 or $3.
Medicines, both over the counter (OTC) and prescribed should be stored according to the directions on the bottle (usually a cool, dark place). In areas where there are a lot of preppers (the rocky mountains), many doctors will fill prescriptions for an extra month’s worth or so for persons with chronic conditions. In addition to your regular first-aid kit, you should store OTC medicines (allergy, painkillers, antiseptics, itch relief, burn treatment, eye drops, ear drops, etc), large bandages and pads, a surgical kit (available through some military surplus stores), latex or nitrile gloves, vitamin supplements, and dental supplies, including orthodontic wax. Medical supplies should be stored with at least one first aid book, and I’d suggest natural medicine and folk remedy encyclopedias too, since sometimes those remedies work, and these books are usually more likely to delve into “serious medicine” than a regular first aid group (if there are no doctors, you might need to know how to deliver a baby, suture a wound, or treat kidney stones). Keep in mind, the internet is a great resource – until the power goes out or the connection goes down. Learn and collect hard copies of useful information before you need it.
A lot of people don’t think about tools, either. The same thing that applies for kitchen appliances applies to power tools: get some old-fashioned hand and steam powered tools. I have a hand drill, hand saw, axe, hammers, ratchet screwdrivers, and numerous screws and nails in our kit. I’ve got old fashioned “sad-irons” for ironing (though I doubt many of our clothes would ever need it), and a handful of manual air-compressors (“pumps”). Butane soldering irons are also available, and a good idea to have on hand if you are relying on any of the electronic devices in your collection of preparedness items.
Books are another essential item often overlooked. I try to keep a variety of “how to” books in our storage, and versions of some of these in our individual 72-hour kits and bug-out bags:
- First-Aid Manuals
- Edible Plant Guides
- Herbal, Natural and Folk Remedy books
- A current List Of Repeaters (Radio)
- Detailed Topographic maps
- Books on emergency or “frontier” medicine (childbirth, setting broken bones, dentistry, de-worming, etc)
- FEMA’s “Are You Ready? An In-depth Guide To Citizen Preparedness”
- The US Constitution. While it would be ignorant to suggest “all you need” by way of legal information is in the constitution, the document is a vital part of United States’ history, and most Americans are not truly familiar with it. What better way to kill time?
- A waterproof notebook with personal information: Names, birthdates, SSNs, bank and other account information, gun serial numbers, VINs and plate #s of our cars, important phone numbers, photocopies of government documents, and our family history.
Alongside these books, I try to keep a solar calculator (for more easily working out formulas), blank paper, pencils and pens. Since books (unlike food, clothing or toiletries) are usually shared within a group, no single person carries all the books in their bag/kit. I carry a few, my children each have one, my wife has a couple. We also have (in most cases) duplicates (or at least similar volumes) in our vehicles or our storage room. Information I don’t have in book form I have collected from the internet and keep in a binder.
While these books alone would suffice to satisfy my need for entertainment, it is probably a good idea to include a few favorite books for your children and others in the family. My wife, for example, probably wouldn’t read a manual to save her life, but having a set of scriptures to read would probably be sufficient for a short period. She may wish to pack away another book or two for her own enjoyment.
From personal experience, I need to also suggest a few additional items that you ought to have on hand:
- A wind-up alarm clock (keeping a schedule is good for morale, and a clock with alarm can also be used while cooking, as a timer.)
- A crank-powered radio
- A lamp or lantern (these provide more light, for a longer duration, than candles. Use caution when using them indoors)
- Toiletries: Comb, Toothbrush, Soap, Toothpaste, Nail Clippers, Dental floss, etc
- A large, un-mounted mirror (small mirrors are good in 72 hour kits, but a larger mirror is easier to use and reflects more light. Most bathrooms are difficult to light, even during the day, so you will want a mirror that can be moved around the house).
- Garbage bags
- twice the amount of toilet paper and paper towels you think you’ll need for your family for one month
- Witch hazel, Hydrogen peroxide, and Rubbing Alcohol (two large bottles each)
- Three large blankets (or two blankets and one sleeping bag) per person
- Canvas or plastic tarps
- dust masks and some form of wrap-around eye protection
- matches, plastic child-proof lighters
- black Sharpies
- fluorescent spray paint
- two heavy duty cooking thermometers and two digital fever thermometers
- A paper calendar
- blank notebooks
- enough pet food & other supplies (flea collars, cat litter) to last 3 months
- a loud whistle
- boxes of baking soda
- baby powder (it is a cheap way to keep skin dry, prevent chaffing, etc)
- baby supplies (if you have children): diapers (cloth diapers are a better idea), formula, pacifiers & toys, etc
- Pedialyte (good even for adults to prevent dehydration and loss of electrolytes from diarrhea)
- Aloe lotion
- Clove Oil
- medium and large Zip-Loc freezer bags (these can be used to individually provide some waterproofing of items in your 72-hour kits, can be used in foraging, are great ways of bringing needed portions of pills, foods, or other items in a pocket, etc)
- Metal cookware. I actually suggest getting a large metal (no Teflon-coating!) wok. It will have to be seasoned first, but a large wok (or other pot) can be used on the stove or in a fire pit if it is not coated in Teflon or another plastic.
- Multiple rolls of Duct Tape
Having all the big guns and preparedness materials in the world won’t do any good unless you are in the right physical condition to move them. You won’t be able to lift heavy objects (including people!), hike for long distances, or do many of the other physically demanding things you are likely going to need to do in the event of an emergency.
You will need to be physically fit to be prepared for most of these demands. You need to stay physically fit, or prepare additional accommodations if you are not, such as leaving a well-stocked 72-hour kit in the car, keeping your readiness materials on an easily accessible floor of your home, and being prepared with the necessary medication and other medical aids you may require.
You will need to be mentally fit to make use of your resources. Educate yourself as much as you can in each of these areas. Network with others and provide the skills you excel at, while taking advantage of others’ expertise and talents. Prepare by practicing these skills through games, drills and activities such as camping or picnics. Whenever the power goes out, live on the food you’ve stored and use other resources that have an expiration date, then re-stock when you can.
You will need to be emotionally fit to deal with an emergency. Like it or not, such emotional fitness comes from a strong faith in God, and an understanding of your purpose on this earth. All the faith in science or government alone won’t help you get through an act of terrorism, a widespread horrific pandemic, or a major disaster. If anything, these events will cause you to see the weakness and small stature of man when up against nature. Live your religion as rightly as you can. Don’t make excuses or deviate from its precepts. If the time comes that you must face the end of your mortal existence, that you are about to face your maker, you should be prepared. Your life should be unblemished, and you should be able to confidently report that you have done all you could. Those who have no such faith in an afterlife or Creator will have to work harder to handle themselves in an emergency. They will be more fearful of death, they will choose to save themselves rather than others, and they will run when conflict approaches.
You should be prepared for your own health issues. Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Have regular checkups. Be up to date on any essential vaccinations (Hepatitis, for example). It is better to be vaccinated against these things than to find yourself in a situation where you are stricken while trying to care for others. Disasters always increase your risk of disease. Develop a habit of personal cleanliness. Know the strengths and limitations of your body. Do not reduce your physical potential through the use of unhealthy substances, like caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, or “energy drinks” and other supplements. Any addiction you have will be greatly tested in an emergency, and these substances have withdrawals that will effect your ability and stamina in such an event.
Hopefully it is evident, then, that we should be just as prepared as those penned-up survivors in Zombie movies. While it is very unlikely that we will ever be forced to fight flesh-eating partially resurrected corpses, we all face varying levels of “disaster”, “emergency”, and criminality:
- Poverty, financial difficulty, unemployment
- Earthquake, Volcano, Wildfire, Tornado, Flood, Tsunami, Snow Storm
- Rioting, Gangs, Looting, War and other Civil Unrest
- Disease, animal attacks, infestations
- Evil, unsound doctrines, immorality
- Strikes, Shortages, Martial Law, Recalls, increases in prices
- Terrorist attacks, Railroad and factory disasters, natural gas explosions, and other man made NBC (Nuclear/Chemical/Biological) accidents or attacks
- Unclean water
The point of the Zombie researchers is that being prepared for an unknown “surprise disaster” like Zombies allows us to prepare for a more likely unknown, like terrorism, meteor impact, sudden climate shift, or the coming of the Messiah. It prepares us for both the initial event and for the reaction of those people who were not prepared. History has shown us that there will be riots, there will be looting, there will be rapes, robberies and murders, arson, and all manner of opportunistic crime whenever there is a large disruption in our culture. Why not be prepared for these things through self-sufficiency and self-defense?