How to Be Prepared Without Being a Crazy Prepper
I recently watched the show American Blackout, and I thought it did a decent job of showing how people in different situations might survive -- or not survive -- a short-term disaster in America. (Ebola outbreak, perhaps?) But while it’s currently profitable for the media to showcase the craziest people in the prepper movement, what’s lost in the hype is the fact that it is, in fact, smart to be prepared for disaster, at least to some extent. Some people go overboard with it, but it’s equally foolish to be so reliant on the supermarket and the grid and the government that you couldn’t survive a few weeks cut off from those kinds of external systems.
Fortunately, such short-term survival is pretty easy to prepare for. In fact the best way to prepare is to make it part of your regular routine, so that it takes no extra effort when disaster strikes.
Consider water. Bottled water is the best bet, since in a power outage, your tap water might not be clean or might not run at all. The easiest approach is to buy cases of half-liter bottles, and always keep a months’ worth on hand. So if you typically consume 3 cases per month, then buy 6 cases to start, and never let your stock get below 3 cases. You can even have cases delivered to your house monthly to make it super easy. Or if you prefer tap water, then just use gallon-sized plastic jugs instead, and refill them. Either way, the key is to use and rotate the water supply as part of your normal routine, so it’s always stocked and always fresh. Keep some in your fridge for normal use, so you’re not losing any convenience (i.e. cold drinks) during normal times, yet you’re still prepared for an emergency.
Water is also necessary for flushing the toilet, so keep a few extra gallons -- or a few tens of gallons -- on hand for that.
Next up is food. For short-term emergencies lasting a week or less, which is the vast majority of them, food is actually not that important. The average non-overweight person has enough body fat to survive a couple weeks without food, as long as water is available. And the average American actually is overweight, so has even more body fat and could survive even longer. A week or two without food wouldn’t be enjoyable, but it wouldn’t kill you either. That said, the average American house contains at least several days’ worth of non-refrigerated packaged food anyway, so again, for short-term survival this is a non-issue.
To do survival food right, though, especially for longer-term survival, it does take a small amount of planning, namely: finding high-quality food with a long shelf life that you enjoy eating. There’s plenty of processed junk food that lasts forever, but there’s actually a lot of good stuff, too: oysters, beef jerky, nut mixes, herring, sardines, fruit and seed mixes, salmon... It’s important to get high-quality food because, as with the water, you’ll be eating these things regularly -- say once or twice a week -- during non-emergencies, in order to move through your stock and keep it all fresh. That’s less important for the meats, because all those items I just linked to will last a year or more, but the fruit and nuts are typically good for a couple months.
There are many other aspects to disaster prep: protection/self-defense; knowing your neighbors, since you’ll rely on each other more when cut off from the nanny state; growing your own food as much as possible, or at least, knowing your local farmer; having an off-grid and renewable way to heat your house, such as a wood stove. Always keep a little cash in your wallet, even though you may not use cash very often in normal circumstances. Keep your car’s gas tank at least half full. Keep a bug-out bag ready, which is easy if you go for hikes regularly: just make it your hiking bag, which already has a flashlight, multitool, and first-aid kit, so just add a couple bottles of water and a few food items.
Most of these recommendations are simple and cheap; it’s more Boy Scouts ("Be Prepared") than "Doomsday Preppers". The extreme conveniences of modern life have lulled us into a state of complacency, where we rarely need to plan or prepare at all, since anything we might need is always just a short drive to the nearest Wal-Mart, at any time of day or night. Smart emergency preparedness is about working towards regaining some of the self-sufficiency that used to be commonplace and a point of pride in America. You don’t need a bunker stocked with k-rations; but when you stop taking for granted all those modern conveniences, you realize that a bit of planning and preparing just makes sense.
So, how many days could you survive cut off from the outside world?