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A Common Sense View On Prepping

Dateline: April 22, 2013

There have been many catastrophic disasters throughout history. The Black Plague, killed up to half the European population. Ten million people died in the Indian (India) Bengal famine of 1770, and the 1931 floods in China killed up to four million. Recently, tsunamis slammed into the Indonesian and Japanese coastlines, killing many and destroying much property.

It’s a given one disaster or another will create havoc somewhere in the world. Our ability to predict when and where is limited. If you live in the shadow of a dormant volcano that suddenly starts smoking and quaking, you can predict with some accuracy the time, location, and nature of your future disaster. Otherwise, disaster lurks hidden around a corner. 

Unfortunately, most disasters do not come with a warning. Nonetheless, the chances you will experience a disaster of major proportions is slight. Worldwide disasters, like the Black Plague or the 1918 Flu Pandemic happen most infrequently. Meteorites impact the earth even more rarely, notwithstanding asteroid 2012 DA14’s close flyby.

I’ve been watching Doomsday Preppers on the History Channel, a show that gets a little carried away with itself, presenting people who take preparing to the extreme. Then again, if it were a show of people stocking only a month’s worth of provisions in their pantries and adding a couple of extra deadbolts on their doors, it wouldn’t make good television. When someone buys and stores fifty thousand dollars worth of foodstuffs and gear, there’s a good chance they’ve wasted their money. If they are forced to flee, then they will have to leave all that stuff behind. If a disaster does not occur, then they must eat fifty thousand dollars with of freeze-dried Chili Con Carve. “Oh, what to do with all those bio hazard suits cluttering up my closet?”

Then again, if the country suffers a long-term killer famine, fifty thousand dollars with of foodstuffs and gear will come in mighty handy.

Nonetheless, it is not wise to spend all one’s time and money planning for events no one can truly predict. Most of what we fear are shadows, a child afraid of the dark, a horse spooked by a white sheet dancing in the wind. I prepared for the Y2K computer bug, and nothing happened. When the Mayan Calendar thing came along, I watched with interested indifference but went to bed on Dec 21st assured I would awake to the same world in which I went to sleep.

Nonetheless, we live in a scary world. Fuel is ten times more expensive then when I pumped gas as a teenager. Our food supplies are dependent upon on-time-delivery trucks. One decent disruption of the trucking industry, and grocery stores are almost instantly out of food. There are enough nukes in the world to end all life many times over, and nobody knows if the Russians ever made a full accounting of all their bombs after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The current political situation shows notable warning signs of coming upheavals. Watch the cell phone video at the end of this essay of Homeland Security dragging citizens out of their houses during the Boston Bombing manhunt, a video television news organizations have not yet aired. There’s a steady drumbeat against the First and Second Amendment, while CBS and the New York Times have both suggested the constitution is outdated and in need of revamping. Nancy Grace said our forefather’s got it wrong and made it too difficult to convict defendants. Many recent commercials portray our forefathers as buffoons, dancing and singing rap songs, undermining their contribution to the best document ever devised by mankind.

We’ve been in a war for the past decade, the strangest war in history, wherein the most powerful military in history fights the most primitive fighting force since the westward movement brought advanced armies against American Indians, who were still using primitive arms and tactics. This current “war” has lasted as long as the Vietnam conflict, and promises to go on for many years to come, the never-ending war prophesied by writers in the fifties and sixties.

With these in mind, I’m not as afraid of potential disasters as I am the current political trend. It appears the beast that is our federal government is rapidly transforming itself from republic to empire, and it could very well assume all power in some sort of a world-dominating realm. The Romans shifted from a republic to an empire and dominated the world two thousand years ago. It could happen again. If so, all the doomsday preparations in the world will do you no good. Where can you go? Where can you hide? You could dig a hole in the middle of the Rocky Mountains and hide for the rest of your life, but even the most diehard hermit would hate that life. I’ve traveled all over the world and never felt endangered by a terrorist. Here in the States, however, I have had three cops point their weapons at me. The first, a Texas constable, shoved his .45 into the back of my head and told me he was going to blow my f***ing head off. That was a fun day.

Still, no matter how powerful a government becomes, it cannot stop the rogue asteroid or resistant strain of bird flu. A disaster of major proportions would level the playing field for government and individual alike, leaving everybody to their own survival.

With all this in mind, what do we do? Fear could drive us to get prepping right away and spend all our time and money gathering as many supplies as we can afford, while self confidence born of complacency may tempt us to relax and enjoy the newest mindless comedy on television. Laugh it up; forget your troubles.

Most disasters are of short duration in nature. Instead of a full-blown prep, maybe something in-between would serve you better. The average American household has about a week’s worth of foodstuffs at any particular time. A week is not much time. A month’s worth of food would carry most people through difficult times without taking up too much space. If you must bug out and leave these foods behind, the loss it not that great.

What is the minimum you need to survive? Your body needs something to burn to sustain life. Although it is most unhealthy to eat only one food all you life, survival rations can consist of one food. The most compactable food you can store and carry away with you is flour for unleavened bread. Ten pounds of flour and a couple of bottles of oil can make enough unleavened bread for one month for one person. You can make it with any kind of oil or butter, but olive oil works best. You can bake it in an oven or make it stovetop in a skillet (or on top of any flat hot cooking surface). You can’t live forever on unleavened bread, but it can get you through a short famine. A year’s worth of survival rations demands a variety of foods for physical and mental health. Your body needs proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and other minerals and things. Having a variety of food for the long term helps stave off depression as well.

Nevertheless, although you will grow tired of a month’s worth of unleavened bread, boredom is preferable to starvation.

People don’t ordinarily store water. In the States, we generally get our water straight from the tap. When this source is disrupted, we go thirsty. When I was a kid, my family always filled the bathtubs and sinks during hurricanes, but that works only when you have warning of doom. Swimming pools hold lots of water, but it’s usually heavily chlorinated. Short term, chlorination won’t kill you, but I wouldn’t want to drink all that chlorine for more than a few days. You could use solar distiller to produce enough to drink and cook while using the chlorinated to bath and wash dishes and clothes. If you must store water, five-gallon food grade plastic containers work well, the kind of containers in which you buy bulk water. They are transportable and strong enough to withstand abuse without bursting. Consider all the empty spaces in your home where you can store a month’s worth of water for drinking, cooking, and sponge baths. If you have access to a water well, make sure you have a working hand or solar powered pump. It’s harder to lift water to the surface, twenty and more feet, than you might think, so make sure to test your system before depending upon it.

With foodstuffs and water, start small and build. Buy a few extra cans of vegetables or beans or an extra bag of flour each time you shop. Store these away to rotate into your weekly food preparation schedule. Buy drinking water in the five-gallon plastic containers, one per shopping trip. Rotate these as well to keep the water from going stale.

Make a plan according to what you have on hand and what you can gather in the near future. Decide early what you need in an emergency, and adjust your plan according as you accumulate necessities and extras. Turn the TV off, and take your time, thinking of all the possibilities and potential problems. What can you do with what you have right now? How far can you travel? How long can you survive in place? How much stuff can you bring in the vehicle you currently own? For instance, do you have a car like the Dodge Caravan with removable seats? If there are just two of you, take all the rear seats out to make room for survival necessities. You can load an amazing amount of stuff into the back of a Caravan with all but the front seats removed.

Decide what you will and wont bring with you in your plan. Don’t bring anything you don’t need no matter how sentimental or personal. The essence of survival is not living but sustaining life long enough to live a normal future life. Don’t buy survival food or gear on impulse. Decide the true usefulness of each item. A battery-powered device that repeals mosquitoes is a nifty gadget until the batteries die. Then it’s just a burden you’ve got to haul around or leave on the side of the road like a modern version of the Oregon Trail.

Make a good plan, and then work the plan. Diverge from your plan only if the situation demands it or if you realize a truly better way. Don’t change on impulse without thinking hard about what you are doing. You made your plan during a time of peace, when you were able to contemplate the world with a clear mind. Nobody has all the information he needs while making any plan, nonetheless make changes to your plan most grudgingly. When things get tough, it’s tempting to abandon your plan and try something else. That’s when you need to hang in there and push through to the end. 

Americans get squeamish about the things they eat. I used to have a foreign female friend who would not tell her American friends all the things she used to eat in her home country—like her home country’s habit of eating frogs, not just the legs but the whole thing. In Korea, I saw a number of cages full of puppies curbside in Soul and stuck my finger through the bars to play with one of the little happy tail-wagers. The storeowner ran out and began yelling at me to go away. I suddenly realized these cute little guys were destined for someone’s dinner plate. Part of me reeled in revolution, but the multicultural survivalist in me understood.

Jack London stories, such as That Spot, portrayed heroic sled dogs. These stories also told how these dogs were a survival food source when things went bad. I, personally, could not eat Schotze. He’s my friend and companion. Besides, he performs a necessary function and does his job well. I could eat someone else’s dog, cat, or any other animal not ordinarily considered food. I must live; therefore I must eat—but I would rather starve that eat my friend.

If someone has fifty thousand dollars lying around and want to build a fortress homestead, stocked with well-preserved foodstuffs, fine by me. A man can do what he wants with his own money. For the rest of us who have limited budgets, we must consider the practical. In the end, the practical may have more value than the other; since the chances are remote you will ever need fifty thousand dollars with of survival food and gear. Consider the folks in New Orleans who suffered hurricane Katrina. Within two days, these people suffered hunger and thirst. Even if floodwater forces you to your roof, if you have just a little food and water, you would have been better off than those people who did not.

Do you have a place to go if your home is destroyed? Do you have alterative transportation if a tree falls over and crushes your car? Can you walk a hundred miles? Can you walk ten to twenty miles a day with bag and baggage? If not, think about appropriate answers to these and other questions. Imagine all that could go wrong, and then imagine what you could do to overcome.

Some people overcome every obstacle and survive. Some people curl up and die at the first sign of trouble. Survival situations don’t happen according to a predetermined procedure. We want to prepare and manage whatever might come, but chances are the unexpected will undo everything you done in preparation. Knowledge and attitude are more valuable than all the gear and foodstuffs money can buy.

Learn how to do things like build a fire, catch a rabbit, and bake up a day’s supply of unleavened bread. Learn how to find water and dispose human waste. Then, once you’ve learned how, put this knowledge to practice. When the television show Survivor first aired, the participants were mostly unfamiliar with skills like fire building. Notice today’s contestants are generally practiced fire builders, among other skills, before they leave home.

I particularly remember Survivor Africa, when one tribe had all kinds of trouble starting a fire. After hours rubbing sticks together, one of the contestants, a woman, finally looked through the provided supplies. In her impromptu inventory of survival gear, she found binoculars and used one of the eye lenses to focus sunlight to start the fire.

In a disaster, don’t just run around shouting at the situation. Take inventory of available supplies before struggling to solve a problem. Take inventory before making a plan, and then expand the plan as you acquire more survival items. Don’t forget about that Swiss Army knife you bought a year ago which now hides in a side pocket of an extra knapsack. Survival means not dying. It’s not a time for panic but focused attention and reasonable, prudent decisions.

Roosevelt said, “You have nothing to fear but fear itself.” He was right. Run like you won’t fall down. Reach out like you won’t get burned. Say in your mind and repeat in your heart, “I will overcome this thing—I will survive.”



Jack London wrote a fantastic short story about survival called, Love of Life. Read it for inspiration. 


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