If the past couple of years have proven anything, preppers were right. The S can hit the fan anytime and woe unto you if you’re unprepared. Not only will you be facing empty shelves at the supermarket, but you could have a tyrannical governor who strips you of your rights and orders you to stay indoors, where you’ll have to try and get by without sufficient supplies to tide you over. Not good.
There has never been a better time to embrace preparedness. Or should we say re-embrace preparedness? Because prepping is not a new phenomenon dreamed up by loners in the backwoods of Idaho. It’s something your great-grandparents (and if you’re over 50, your grandparents) did as a matter of course. They understood that it’s a harsh, unpredictable spacetime continuum, and it’s better to have some preserves in the basement than not.
So we’re here today to provide an introduction of sorts to the fine art of prepping in order to bring you up to speed on what grandma knew all those years ago. We’re going to start with a simple question we hear all the time:
Is Prepping Really Necessary?
When grandma was born – let’s say 1950 – the human population was about 2.5 billion. It had taken us about a million years to reach that number. Today, a mere 71 years later, the population stands at over 7.8 billion (1). That’s an increase of more than 5 billion in just a little over 70 years.
All those people put an enormous strain on food supplies and natural resources (2). And when governments fail to provide for their growing populations, those people migrate by the millions toward countries where they think they’ll have a better chance to feed themselves.
I can’t blame them for that, but unchecked, large-scale migration creates political and economic instability on an unprecedented scale (look no further than the current catastrophe at the southern border). And it’s only going to get worse.
The bottom line is that those warnings you’re hearing that the population bomb is about to go off are wrong. It’s already gone off, and we are now being hit by the shockwaves.
- You can be sure that the recent pandemic was only a precursor to bigger, nastier ones in the future.
- You can be equally certain that America’s enemies are not going to stand down and join us in a group hug.
- Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, drought, and flooding are not going to take time off to allow us to regroup.
- And recent riots that engulfed major cities are an indication of just how close we are to crumbling from within.
It’s enough to make any reasonably sane person ask, “What can I do to weather the storms ahead?” The answer is “Be prepared.” Here’s how you do that.
Step 1: Identify Relevant Threats
If you live in the Midwest, major earthquakes are not a threat. But tornadoes are. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, drought is not a major concern, but the possibility of the Cascadia Fault rupturing is (3). If you live in Florida, wildfires are not a pressing concern, but hurricanes are (4).
If you live in southern California, the potential threats are many and include drought, wildfires, earthquakes, civil unrest, arbitrary lockdowns, and more.
By identifying relevant threats, you will be able to make informed decisions about what form your preparations should take. For instance, if you have reason to be concerned that peaceful protestors may try to burn down your neighborhood, then you’ll need guns, lots of guns.
If, on the other hand, your primary concern is hurricanes, then you’ll need generous stockpiles of food, water, medical supplies, batteries, and the like.
Once you’ve identified the relevant threats, the next step is to determine how much of a stockpile you’ll need. That will be driven by how long you anticipate the emergency to last.
Step 2: Determine the Scale of Your Preparations
It wasn’t that long ago that FEMA and other organizations tasked with disaster preparedness and relief were recommending people stockpile three days worth of emergency supplies. In the wake of recent events, they have updated their recommendations to 14 days. But whether you ultimately stockpile 3, 14, 30, or more days of supplies will depend on the nature of the threat you anticipate.
You shouldn’t need 14 days’ worth of emergency supplies if the threat is tornadoes. Emergency relief typically pours in quickly in the wake of a tornado, so pressing needs typically take the form of emergency first aid, water, and communication (so you can alert people to your location should you be hurt or buried under rubble).
Hurricanes are another matter. Nearly a week after Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida panhandle in 2018, rescue workers had still not reached some areas, and more than 1,000 people were still missing (5). In the mountains west, it’s not unusual for several feet of snow to fall in a short period cutting some towns off from the rest of the world for a week or more.
Of course, if you are prepping in anticipation of nuclear war, you will need considerably more than 30 days worth of food, water, and supplies. You will also need to devise a plan regarding how you intend to survive long-term once you are able to emerge from hiding. Good luck with that.
The point is that preparedness should be commensurate with the perceived threat, with a bit extra baked into your plan just in case.
Step 3: Stockpile Water
Whether you are prepping for a tornado, an earthquake, a hurricane, or widespread social upheaval, your first priority needs to be water. Why? Because the average human can live for weeks without food but only about three days without water (6). Even before you reach three days, your organs will start shutting down, your heart will speed up, and you’ll lose the ability to think straight.
The CDC recommends stockpiling a gallon of water per person per day (7). So, if it’s just you, that’s 14 gallons for a two week stockpile. If yours is a family of 4, that means 56 gallons of water to cover two weeks.
It’s also a good idea to stockpile water filters and water purification tablets because you just never know. In the event of a natural disaster, you may be separated quickly from you nice big stockpile of water and be forced to improvise. Having water filters and purification tablets at the ready will enable you to do that.
Step 4: Stockpile Food
People can go a long time without eating so how much food you stockpile will depend almost entirely on the perceived threat you are preparing for. If you’re prepping for tornado season your food stockpile can be pretty modest, enough to get you through a couple of days before you can get to a store. If the threat is hurricanes, blizzards or earthquakes a week’s supply of food or maybe a bit more is a reasonable amount.
There are those, however, who believe in prepping for every possible contingency, including societal breakdown, long-term disruption of supply chains, nuclear, chemical or biological warfare and the like. They tend to accrue months worth of food or more, essentially turning their basements into food storage bunkers. And that’s fine. Better too much than too little.
But whether you are stockpiling for a weekend, a week, a month or a year you will need to keep the following things in mind when developing your food stockpile:
What kind of good to stockpile – If you are going to stockpile food it should be food that will be useful in the event of a natural disaster or if you are cut off from the world for a prolonged period of time. Frozen pizzas, for instance, are a waste of time because if utilities are out, you won’t have any way to store them or any way to cook them. Practicality should be the guiding principle when choosing foods for your long term stockpile.
For instance, canned foods are always a good idea. Just be sure you have a can opener in your emergency stockpile. Dehydrated and freeze dried foods are staples of the survival stockpile as well, because they keep for decades are easy to prepare and don’t take up a ton of space. If you are thoroughly dedicated to the survival arts you should consider making your own hardtack (8)(9) or pemmican (10)(11).
If you don’t have time to make complex caloric calculations and to buy several different types of food to meet them, you have another option: emergency food kits. There are a variety of such kits on the market today. They plan out everything for you and divide their offerings up into breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
Some of these kits are quite large and offer up to a year’s worth of food. If there is a downside to food kits, it’s that they can be pretty expensive and, if you’re going to eat the same dozen dishes for a year, it’s going to get pretty tiresome. Still, for 3, 5, 14 or 30 days they are definitely a viable option.
Where you will store your food – It’s easy enough to say you’ll store your stockpile in the basement. But not every basement makes for a good food storage facility. A lot of basements are damp and moldy. Some get pretty warm if they are smallish and there is a furnace churning out heat nearby. We can’t tell you where to establish your stockpile but it should be somewhere with a stable environment, away from direct sunlight, that is cool and dry.
Calories per day – The average, reasonably healthy, moderately active adult male between 21 and 65 will need to consume between 2,400 and 2,800 calories per day. For the average, reasonably healthy, moderately active female the recommended calorie consumption is between 1,800 and 2,200 calories per day (see chart below).
Shelf life – According to the USDA (12) highly acidic canned foods such as tomatoes will retain most of their nutritional value for about 18 months. Not that they will suddenly go bad, but after that they will slowly start to lose their nutritional potency. Non-acidic canned foods will retain maximum nutritional value for up to 5 years. Meanwhile dehydrated food has a typical shelf life of 15-20 years, while freeze-dried food may last 20-25 years under ideal storage conditions.
How you will prepare your food – It’s great to have a storeroom full of canned, dehydrated and freeze-dried food, but if you don’t have any way to prepare that food it won’t be much good to you.
Sure, you’ll be able to eat most of the canned goods right out of the can if you have to, same with some dehydrated food. But who wants to do that? And besides, if you eat dehydrated food without rehydrating it first, it’ll suck all the moisture out of your gut to rehydrate inside you. Not good.
So plan on being able to cook your food properly. That means keeping a stove, enough fuel to keep that stove going for an extended period of time, pots, pans, plates, forks, knives, spoons and cups in your stockpile.
Special nutritional requirements – If there is someone in your household who is diabetic, lactose intolerant, or has some other type of specific dietary requirements your food stockpile will need to accommodate that as best as possible.
Step 5: Compile a Good First Aid Kit
In the event of tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and other disasters, your ability to deal with injuries will be crucial and maybe the difference between life and death. It may be some time before anyone can get to you and your loved ones, so you don’t want anyone bleeding out or going days with an open wound. As such, a first-class first aid kit is a must.
A good first aid kit should include Band Aids, gauze bandages, hydrogen peroxide, medical tape, antiseptic wipes, artificial tears, antibiotics, aspirin or equivalent, an oral thermometer, emergency blankets, medical gloves and more. In addition, if anyone in your household is diabetic or regularly takes a prescription medication, you should make sure you have extra insulin (or whatever their particular medication is) on hand to help them make it through.
But having a complete first aid kit in the basement with your emergency food stockpile isn’t enough. After all, what if there’s an earthquake, tornado, EMP blast or other disaster when you’re driving to work and you’re unable to get back home? You should always have a secondary, but still fully-equipped first aid kit in your car or truck at all times, along with a fully stocked bug out bag (which we’ll get into shortly).
Step 6: Don’t Ignore Personal Hygiene
Let’s state upfront that when we say you need to consider personal hygiene we’re not suggesting anyone head over to Walmart and purchase 500 rolls of toilet paper. Instead, we’re talking about hygiene considerations that may arise in the aftermath of a disaster such as:
- Toilets that won’t flush.
- Broken sewer lines spewing waste into the streets.
- A lack of collections causing trash to build up.
- An inability to shower or bathe.
How do you deal with such issues? You can start by making sure you have a bucket toilet (13) among your stockpile items. A bucket toilet is pretty much what is sounds like. A plastic 5 gallon bucket either with a plastic bag to collect waste and a seat. The seat can either be purchased commercially or improvised as in the image below. While no one wants to have to go in a bucket, we promise you it’s better than having the kids go outside on the lawn. The collection bags help ensure the whole process stays relatively sanitary.
Essentially, the mechanisms of personal hygiene may have to step back in time a couple of centuries. That means you should have plenty of soap on hand, as well as washcloths and plenty of water that can be used to fill a wash basin.
You’ll differ from your ancestors in that you’ll have lots of trash bags for containing waste, rubber gloves for handling bags full of waste, plenty of disinfectant wipes, and yes, you will have toilet paper. Though you won’t need 500 rolls. Also, don’t forget to stockpile tampons and/or feminine napkins when applicable.
Step 7: Stockpile Misc Items
There are other items that don’t fit into any of the already listed categories but which can play an important role in survival situations. You should always make sure your emergency plans include them. Those items include:
- Batteries – Both standard alkaline and rechargeable.
- Power bank – It will be important that you are able to stay in touch with the outside world.
- Solar Charger – If the power is out this could really save your bacon.
- Walkie Talkies – Hand these out to family members to ensure no one gets lost.
- Headlamps – Much more convenient than holding flashlights all the time.
- Flashlights – Sometimes you’ll need the versatility and power a good flashlight provides.
- Survival Knife – A big sharp, durable knife can serve a multitude of purposes.
- Handgun – Because this is the 21st century and not everyone plays nice.
- Rain Gear – Raincoats, waterproof sheet to make an improvised shelter.
- Fire extinguisher – You should have this already, but make sure it works.
- Multitool – Sort of like a Swiss Army Knife on steroids.
- Axe – A handheld axe can help you free trapped individuals, chop firewood and more.
- Dust Masks – They’re not just for pretending to keep the flu virus at bay.
- Compass and Maps – You may need to evacuate and your GPS device may not work.
Let’s not forget diversions as well.
When times are tough it can not only be a chore to eat, sleep and stay healthy, it’s also often extremely boring. There may be no TV or internet, no way to contact friends or socialize and none of your normal distractions are available. Keeping the kids’ spirits up is also important.
The bottom line is that you would be smart to invest in things like playing cards, board games, coloring books (if you have young kids), regular books, jigsaw puzzles and the like and keep them with the emergency stockpile.
Step 6: Create a Bug Out Bag
A bug out bag is a compact mobile version of your emergency stockpile. It’s a heavy-duty backpack filled with a representative cross-section of essential survival items. Ideally, you would have a couple of bug out bags always at the ready: 1 in your house, and 1 in your vehicle because there is just no guarantee that:
A) You are going to be home when the SHTF.
B) You’ll be able to get home when the SHTF.
C) You’ll be able to stay in your house near your enormous stockpile should disaster strike.
You should aim to have enough material in your bug out bag to see you through at least 3 days. That means food, water (or water filters and purification tablets), first aid gear, medicine, and as many of the miscellaneous items listed above as possible.
Step 7: Learn Some Useful Skills
This process should be ongoing almost from the moment you decide to embrace preparation because it may be the traditional skills you learn that make the difference between surviving and perishing in the event of a catastrophe.
Skills that may come in handy in the event of a catastrophe include CPR (14), compass reading, basic auto repair, how to hotwire a car, a second or third language, sewing and more. If there is a large-scale breakdown of civil society, some or all of these skills may help you and your loved one survive and emerge from the other side in one piece.
Step 8: Don’t Forget the Pets
Unfortunately, when it comes to preparedness and disaster planning, people often forget they have pets. But if the SHTF your dog or cat still need to eat. So unless you are prepared to simply release them and let them fend for themselves, then you’ll need to make sure there’s plenty of pet food in your emergency stockpile and at least some in your bug out bags.