Out of all the years that I’ve been writing about prepping, this has been the year of the wake-up call. If one good thing has come from all the disasters, it’s the fact that many people have seen the light and learned a hard, firsthand lessons and want to start prepping.
- Hurricane Harvey taught people that places which didn’t normally flood were still not exempt from Mother Nature and that the aftermath was rife with danger.
- The wildfires in California taught people that they needed a rapid evacuation plan for themselves and their pets.
- Hurricane Maria taught us that life could completely and utterly change for millions of people whose homes were destroyed and who may not have the grid back anytime in the near future.
- Hurricane Irma was one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the state in many years. Millions of people were warned to evacuate. Residents faced destruction and lengthy interruptions in power and the availability of supplies.
- Throughout all these disasters, we got confirmation that all hell DOES indeed break loose and that we won’t be able to rely on 911, no matter how stringently the “everything is okay” myth is reinforced by the media.
Now there’s an epic storm in the Northeastern US that was sudden and brutal. A friend called me yesterday and told me she and her family could be without power for more than a week. She wasn’t ready for it. “This really drove home what you do,” she said.
All of these horrible things have one silver lining…more people than ever realize that the government won’t be rushing to save them anytime soon and that they must be prepared to be completely on their own.
So if this is you, welcome to the prepped side. I have put together a little primer for you. It isn’t over the top. You don’t need a bunker and an AK47 for each family member. You just need food, water, shelter, and an evacuation plan. No tinfoil required.
There are links in each section where you can go to learn more about that topic. At the end is a resource list with some shortcuts and some useful books. You don’t have to do every single thing RIGHT NOW. This is just a preparedness overview and if you have recently been through an emergency, you will probably recognize what your priorities should be.
If you never buy a single canned good or bag of pasta for long-term food storage, please store water. Every time there’s a pending emergency, the shelves at stores are completely cleared of water within a matter of hours (if not sooner.)
If you went out and bought it, a full month’s supply of drinking water for a family of 4 would cost approximately $150, depending on the prices in your area. I recommend the refillable 5-gallon water jugs for this. This is a small investment to make for your family’s security and well-being in the event of an emergency.
As well, fill empty containers with tap water. Every container that comes into your house can be used for these purposes. When you empty a jar or bottle, wash it, fill it up, and stash it somewhere. Even if these containers aren’t food safe, you can use them for flushing, cleaning, and hygiene.
Once you have water stored, consider adding filtration devices, secondary water sources, and water harvesting to your preparedness endeavors. You can learn more about water preparedness in my book on the topic, and HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Build a pantry
Lots of preppers like to keep a year’s supply of food on hand. If you’re just getting started out, that can bein incredibly overwhelming. Start out smaller than that – focus first on an extra two weeks, then on a month’s supply. You can always build from there.
Keep in mind when building your emergency food supply that you might not have electricity during some disasters. In that case, you’ll want to have food that doesn’t require lengthy (or any) cooking times. Look for just-add-water dehydrated foods, or better yet, foods that don’t need to be cooked at all. Search for an off-grid cooking method that will work for your home.
Do not make the mistake of loading your pantry with nutritionless processed foods. In a crisis event, you want your body to work optimally, and junk in means junk out. Focus on nutrient-dense foods for good health and energy no matter what’s going on in the world around you.
- Learn how to build a pantry HERE.
- Learn to build a food supply fast with emergency buckets HERE.
- Find a list of foods that don’t require cooking HERE.
- Shop for emergency food HERE.
- Get an emergency stove that can be used indoors HERE.
Power outage survival
A great starting point for someone who is just getting started on a preparedness journey is prepping specifically for a two-week power outage. If you can comfortably survive for two weeks without electricity, you will be in a far better position than most of the people in North America.
Lighting is absolutely vital, especially if there are children in the house. Nothing is more frightening than being completely in the dark during a stressful situation. Fortunately, it’s one of the easiest things to plan for, as well as one of the least expensive.
Some lighting solutions are:
- Garden stake solar lights
- Long-burning candles
- Kerosene lamp and fuel
- Flashlights (don’t forget batteries)
- Hand crank/solar lantern
- Don’t forget matches or lighters
Learn about prepping for a two-week power outage in more detail HERE.
Have a plan for sanitation preparedness
A common cause of illness, and even death, during a down-grid situation is lack of sanitation. We’ve discussed the importance of clean drinking water, but you won’t want to use your drinking water to keep things clean or to flush the toilet.
For cleaning, reduce your need to wash things.
- Stock up on paper plates, paper towels, and disposable cups and flatware.
- Keep some disinfecting cleaning wipes and sprays (I don’t recommend using antibacterial products on a regular basis, however, in the event of an emergency they can help to keep you healthy.)
- Use hand sanitizer after using the bathroom and before handling food or beverages – there may be a lot more germs afoot in a disaster.
Look at your options for sanitation. Does your toilet still flush when the electricity is out? Many people discovered the hard way that the toilets didn’t work when the sewage backed up in the highrises in New York City in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. At our cabin, the toilet won’t flush without power because the pump is electric.
If you are on a septic system, with no risk of the toilet backing up into the house, simply store some water for flushing in the bathroom. (At the first sign of a storm, we always filled the bathtub for this purpose when we had a home on septic.) Add the water to the tank so that you can flush.
If this is not an option, another solution is to stock up on extremely heavy duty garbage bags (like the kind that contractors use at construction sites) and kitty litter. Place a bag either in your drained toilet or in a bucket. Sprinkle some kitty litter in the bottom of the bag. Each time someone uses the bathroom, add another handful of litter. Be very careful that the bag doesn’t get too heavy for you to handle it. Tie it up very securely and store it outside until services are restored. Learn how to make a kitty litter toilet in more detail HERE.
Heat (depending on your climate)
If your power outage takes place in the winter and you live in a colder climate, heat is another necessity. During the first 24 hours after a power outage, you can stay fairly warm if you block off one room of the house for everyone to group together in. Keep the door closed and keep a towel or blanket folded along the bottom of the door to conserve warmth. You can safely burn a couple of candles also, and in the enclosed space, your body heat will keep it relatively warm. As well, dress in layers and keep everything covered – wear a hat, gloves (fingerless ones allow you to still function), and a scarf.
- Click HERE to learn how to stay warm with less heat.
- Click HERE for some cozy options to get your home ready for winter.
However, after about 48 hours, that’s not going to be enough in very cold weather. You will require backup heat at this point in certain climates. If you are lucky enough to have a source of heat like a fireplace or woodstove, you’ll be just fine as long as you have a supply of wood.
Consider a portable propane heater (and propane) or an oil heater. You have to be very careful what type of backup heat you plan on using, as many of them can cause carbon monoxide poisoning if used in a poorly ventilated area. Also, invest in a Carbon Monoxide alarm that is not grid-dependent.
Learn more about off-grid heat options HERE.
First Aid kit
It’s important to have a basic first aid kit on hand at all times, but particularly in the event of an emergency. Your kit should include basic wound care items like bandages, antibiotic ointments, and sprays. As well, if you use them, keep on hand a supply of basic over-the-counter medications, like pain relief capsules, cold medicine, cough syrup, anti-nausea pills, and allergy medication.
If you want to put together a more advanced medical kit, you can find a list HERE.
This is something that will be unique to every family. Consider the things that are needed on a daily basis in your household. It might be prescription medications, diapers, or special foods. If you have pets, you’ll need supplies for them too. The best way to figure out what you need is to jot things down as you use them over the course of a week or so.
Plan ahead for home defense
It’s an unfortunate fact that disaster situations bring out the worst in many people. Because of this, even if you stay safely at home, you could be called upon to defend your property or family. Some people loot for the sheer “fun” of it, others consider chaos a free pass to commit crimes, and still others are frightened and desperate. You can have a 10 year supply of food, water, and medicine, but if you can’t defend it, you don’t own it. The article The Anatomy of a Breakdown explains the predictable patterns of social unrest.
Here are some tips to make your home less of a target:
- Keep all the doors and windows locked. Secure sliding doors with a metal bar. Consider installing decorative grid-work over a door with a large window so that it becomes difficult for someone to smash the glass and reach in to unlock the door.
- Keep the curtains closed. There’s no need for people walking past to be able to see what you have or to do reconnaissance on how many people are present.
- Don’t answer the door. Many home invasions start with an innocent-seeming knock at the door to gain access to your house.
- Keep pets indoors. Sometimes criminals use an animal in distress to get a homeowner to open the door for them. Sometimes people are just mean and hurt animals for “fun”. Either way, it’s safer for your furry friends to be inside with you.
If, despite your best efforts, your property draws the attention of people with ill intent, you must be ready to defend your family and your home. If the odds are against you, devise a way to get your family to safety. Your property is not worth your life.
Have an evacuation plan
Not every emergency can be weathered at home. Sometimes there is no option but to evacuate. Some examples of this are the pending collapse of a dam, a volcano, a massive storm, flooding, wildfire, or a chemical spill. In some cases, you’ll have an hour or two to get ready before you have to leave. In other situations, there may barely be enough time to put on your shoes.
Have things set up ahead of time so your evacuation can be quick. Even if you have more time, getting on the road before everyone else gives you the advantage of being less likely to be stuck in a traffic jam while disaster bears down on you. Keep important documents in the cloud so you can access them if your home is destroyed.
Don’t wait for the evacuation order. When officials are trying to cover mismanagement or when an event occurs suddenly, you may not be warned in time.
- Here’s an evacuation checklist. Read over it and organize things well before you need to go.
- Here’s an article about making the decision whether you should stay or go.
Survival Supply Checklist
Here is a general list of supplies to have on hand. Remember that sometimes power supplies are lost during a variety of situations, so keep the potential for a down-grid situation in mind when preparing. You don’t have to get everything all at once. Just get started and build your supplies as you can. After a quick inventory and re-organization, you may be pleasantly surprised at how many supplies you actually have on hand.
- Water: 1 gallon per person per day (We use 5-gallon jugs and a gravity water dispenser
- Water filter (We have a Big Berkey)
- Necessary prescription medications
- A well-stocked pantry – you need at least a one-month supply of food for the entire family, including pets
- This is a one-month food supply for one person – it’s not the highest quality food in the world, but it is one way to jumpstart your food storage
- An off-grid cooking method (We use this one for inside and this one for outside, plus our barbecue)
- Or food that requires no cooking
- First aid supplies: This one is good for basics and this one is good for traumatic injuries
- Lighting in the event of a power outage
- Sanitation supplies (in the event that the municipal water system is unusable, this would include cleaning supplies and toilet supplies)
- A way to stay warm in harsh winter weather (This Little Buddy propane heater with a supply of propane is our choice)
- Over-the-counter medications and/or herbal remedies to treat illnesses at home
- A diverse survival guide and first aid manual (hard copies in case the internet and power grid are down)
- Alternative communications devices (such as a hand crank radio) so that you can get updates about the outside world
- Off-grid entertainment: arts and craft supplies, puzzles, games, books, crossword or word search puzzles, needlework, journals (Find more ideas HEREand HERE)
Books to Help You on Your Journey
- The Prepper’s Blueprint: The Step-By-Step Guide To Help You Through Any Disaster (This is the be-all and end-all Bible of prepping)
- The Pantry Primer: How to Build a One Year Food Supply in Three Months
- The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide
- Prepper’s Home Defense
- Prepper’s Natural Medicine
Welcome to the preparedness community!
I’m always so happy to welcome people who are new to preparedness. Read books, go to websites, and join forums an Facebook groups. While there ARE some curmudgeonly folks out there, most are delighted to answer questions and help you on your way.
Please, don’t let the thought of all of the preps that you do not yet have bring you down.
It’s a process. Once you know the possibilities, accept them, and begin to prepare, you are already far ahead of most of the neighborhood. Don’t be discouraged by how much you have left to do, instead, be encouraged by how far ahead you are compared to your former unawareness. Just making the decision to get started is the biggest step towards preparedness you’ll ever take.
For those of you who have been doing this for a while, please welcome our new friends. And tell us in the comments, what is your best advice for getting started?