There are two ways to sleep well at night ... be ignorant or be prepared.

Monday, July 25, 2005

A Modest Start to Crisis Preparedness

I trust that most people today who are prepared to some extent for emergencies don't consider it to be a big deal.

Perhaps they grew up with the mindset and just never felt comfortable without a certain amount of food "put up" in the pantry and the root cellar. Or they are simply the type who developed the personal "need" to save their money (in the bank or in their mattress) as well as to "invest" some of it in practical goods that they know can come in handy should anything untoward happen.

Regardless, it's certain there are a good many folks out there who are prepared to weather a downturn in fortune for at least a short amount of time.

However, though I don't have any numbers to confirm it, I'm sure there are far MORE people out there who do NOT have any means of getting through a week or more of societal system failure. As one of the former--the ones who will HAVE more than HAVE NOT--you will need to give some thought to what that might mean for you ... but again, that is the topic for more than one future post.

Rudimentary Preps

Many of us come to "preparedness" as a result of a gradual or sudden recognition of the real risks out there. For others, it is the result of having personally experienced disaster recovery
on some scale.

Either way, those of us who have not lived our entire lives being prepared have to start somewhere. At the beginning you want to keep it fairly simple and not get bogged down in details or become overwhelmed with the possibilities.

Some basic, realistic worst-case parameters that can help you get started with your logistical contingency planning:
  • Consider a developing chance of the structure of your home itself becoming seriously at risk for damage or destruction. Severe weather, flooding, wildfire are some of the likeliest threats. Occasionally these forces crop up with no warning. With or without warning, what would you do to protect yourself and your loved ones?
  • Imagine a disaster where the normal food-supply chain infrastructure is broken. It doesn't take more than one or two bad links to make the whole chain worthless. Is it possible? How about a widespread drought, a national truckers strike, a far-reaching terror attack on the food supplies, an oil crisis that causes transportation industries to take a big hit, or a pandemic that causes havoc throughout society? The average grocery store has a two-day supply of food on its shelves--and that assessment does not account for panicking shoppers. Yes, the just-in-time supply chain is very vulnerable.
  • A good water supply is critical to survival, yet we all tend to take it for granted. What if your water was suddenly to become undrinkable or your city water was to stop flowing? How long would you and your family be able to cope? Realistic? Ask anyone who was in Cleveland a couple of years ago when the big blackout throughout the region shut down the water-pumping stations there.
  • Think of any kind of event where the power goes out on a wide scale, perhaps preventing the utilities from getting everybody back up in a reasonable time ... some folks having to go without for an extended period. Can it happen today? Think major ice storm, serious flooding, catastrophic earthquake, or a big hurricane impact. Yes, it's possible. What would that mean for your ability to store and cook food, to provide for special health care needs, to heat or cool your home in times of temperature extremes? In fact, what would it mean to have to deal with the security implications in a long-term blackout?

A lot of potential scenarios there, but a few major common-thread considerations for basic planning:

  1. Shelter
  2. Food
  3. Water
  4. Power
  5. Security

The first three in this list are primary needs for survival in most situations. So we'll start there.

A Simple Plan

First, determine how long you want to be able to sustain your household in a worst-case scenario. Then approach each of these survive-and-thrive factors accordingly ...

Water:

First, make sure you have the means to withstand a water supply crisis. If you have city water, but also have a well, you are in far better shape than most. But remember, unless you have a handpump, you'll need to power your electric well pump somehow.

Storing pure water is almost a necessity for everyone else. You need to have a bare minimum of two gallons per person per day set aside. More realistic in your planning would be to store 10 gallons or more to sustain each person per day to allow for drinking, bathing, washing, cleaning, and cooking. If you have four people in your household and you want to be able to ride out a period of one week, the prudent math says you should store 280 gallons of water in containers that are designed specifically for water storage in a dark, cool area to minimize the growth of bacteria over the time it is in storage.

Of course, storing water requires a lot of available storage space, and not all of us have that. But even if you do have storage space and even if you do have a well, ensuring there is a means to filter and/or purify water is also wise and is perhaps the ONE common neccessity everyone should plan for. There are a multitude of excellent water filters and water purification tablet treatments out there on the market, made specifically for crisis preparedness and the backpacking/camping crowd. But even just having some household bleach on hand and providing for a means to boil water will potentially be a life saver.

Food:

There's a wide range of approaches to prudent food storage. If you choose to simply stockpile normal groceries to allow for your family's ability to ride out a crisis, be sure to continuously rotate your food into a normal usage cycle as the nutritional shelf life of all store-bought groceries is surprisingly short.

Some folks grow and can or dry their own food ... and if done well, it's an excellent way to provide for lean times. And on a longer-term sustainability basis, it's THE way to go.

Ultimately, food storage is a science unto itself, and if you want to seriously consider all the ins and outs of various approaches, plan to spend some time investigating your options. For those who have more money than the time and desire to take another food storage route, perhaps the best low-maintenance way to go is to purchase bulk freeze-dried or other similar food-storage packages.

There are many choices and price ranges out there, as well as taste and nutrition-quality factors to consider, but once the buying decision is made, you can rest assured that you have a food supply with an extended shelf life of anywhere from 5 to 30 years, a range that dwarfs the period of time your other approaches will provide you with.

Shelter:

Are you comfortable with your present storm-shelter arrangements? If you have a full basement, you're probably in good shape for most kinds of severe weather risks in most of the country.

In parts of the U.S., flooding or earthquakes are of bigger concern than windstorms, so those regions are more focused on structural integrity and perhaps the structure's foundation elevation and methodology. I would invite input here from those more attuned to these special concerns than I am ... so please check back for more info on these risks if you need to.

Of course, in some cases, where warnings are given, the prudent thing to do is to evacuate to a safe area, as in the event of a coming major hurricane. The obvious need here is to have a well-defined evacuation plan with a destination and transportable supplies that allow you to sustain your family for the anticipated period of time.

Another consideration in the shelter category arises out of the concern for relative security in a world gone mad with crime, terrorism, and the historically proven risk of acts of war. We might even toss in another possibility to account for: industrial and transportational accidents that can severely test your ability to survive in the event of toxic chemicals or a release of radioactivity upwind from your location.

There are many ways to address each of these shelter-related risks (and many more), but the place to start is in a careful assessment of your own unique situation--to include your geological and meteorological risks given your location, your position in relation to prevailing wind patterns and major industrialization and transportation patterns, as well as your local crime trends. You will also want to determine where your comfort zone is in terms of viewing the geopolitical scene going forward.

For many, not all of these factors register, and that is fine. Fifty percent of the benefit of preparedness is the peace of mind it brings. So as long as you are comfortable in your own planning, you are halfway to your goal.

Again, there are a myriad of ways to build security of various types into your home. No doubt, future posts will address some of these. But I would be remiss if I failed to close this post with the opinionated pitch here that there IS a way to adequately address most of the risk factors here in one bold, but not inexpensive step. That is, to commit yourself to providing for your family's well-being with a well-engineered shelter.

Determined do-it-yourselfers sometimes take on the task of building a storm or fallout shelter or a saferoom into their home. More often today, busy people will purchase such shelters or saferooms from qualified builders. Either way, when done well, it is the ultimate step you can take to provide for your household's safety.

Stay tuned.

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