Shortly after the Northeast blackout of 2003, my wife and I started to take disaster preparedness seriously. The blackout only lasted a couple of days but we realized that had the blackout not occurred in the Summer and had the blackout lasted much longer, we would have been in serious trouble.
The journey from being totally unprepared to being aware of how totally unprepared we are could be be described as “The idiot’s journey”.
BIG DISCLAIMER: Muich of this is written tongue in cheek. This is primarily about the dumb things I did and the dumb things I’ve noticed other people doing as they learned what they actually need to do to be prepared for a prolonged disaster. YMMV.
Stage 1: Stocking up on future rotting MREs
The newbie prepper thinks it’s all about starvation. Never mind that a human can go up to 3 weeks without food but only 3 days without water. Our novice prepper will not just stock up on food but will specifically buy MREs in bulk. This food will then be stored (poorly) in the basement along with a couple gallons of water. In time, this food will quietly expire.
Prognosis: In the event of a prolonged disaster, this prepper won’t starve to death, they’ll instead die of dehydration or dysentery.
How to spot: Asking who makes the best 1200 watt portable generator.
What we learned: Pointless to have more food than water supply.
Stage 2: I must have all the guns!
Graduating to stage 2 for us meant recognizing “it’s the water, stupid!”.
Our novice prepper will begin building up supplies of water, the ability to obtain new water and then build up on food supplies. At this point, the prepper understands the concept of cycling through their food stocks (but usually won’t do it anyway).
Unfortunately, these novice preppers immediately start worrying about how to defend their food and water. So they get guns. Lots and lots of guns.
And our well armed proto-preppers ignore:
- that their house/apartment/condo is indefensible.
- that their house/apartment/condo isn’t habitable in the winter
- that if they get hurt they’re screwed
- that they have no way to stay clean (unless they dip into their water storage)
- that they are really just glorified supply depot for gangs if things really were that far gone.
- that if they think they can hunt for food that millions of others will be doing the same and there just aren’t enough deer for that.
How to spot: Endlessly debates AR-15 vs. AK-47 in a survival forum.
What we learned: Defense is way way down the list in terms of being able to handle a serious disaster. (1) Water (2) Food (3) Fire (4) Gear (5) Hygiene & First Aid (6) Defense. Not necessarily in that order.
Stage 3: The Purposeless bug out bag
This is where the dumb person (like me) can spend a lot of cash on things they’ll never use.
Stage 3 is where the real fun starts. The Bug out bag. Most people never leave this stage because the bug out bag becomes the hobby.
What starts as the accumulation of gear ends with a 55 ton “bug out bag”. Because, you know, it should have everything possible.
For me, this stage lasted…well, let’s just say it lasted a long time. I’m better now. No really. I have it under control. What? What’s that? A portable Ham radio receiver? I’ll be right back!
(4 hours later..)
Ok. I’m back. What were we talking about? Oh yes. My bug out bag. I’m not trying to brag it’s got everything…
- Water? Hell yea. I’ve got water. Water purifiers, life straws, bladders, canteens, charcoal, solar distillers, plastic wrap for collecting moisture. I could live on Dune! When filled with water: 1.2 tons.
- Food? Oh, no problem. MREs, rice, jerky, bear traps, dinosaur snares, harpoon, fishing pole, pemmican. Total weight: 2.1 tons.
- Fire? Lighters, matches, fire starter kits, gas stoves, “portable” (not really) propane stove, etc.
- Gear? All of them. I mean, you have to include thermal imaging gear in there. Only a fool would not have that. Plus knives, hatches, saws, hatchet, axe, tents, knives, sleeping bag, under armor, knives, Merino wool stuff, shovels, and on and on and on.
- First Aid and Hygiene? Oh, well, obviously we need to be ready if someone needs their appendix removed. Haven’t you read The Stand? Don’t want to be stuck out in the middle of nowhere not ready to do an appendectomy. Plus toilet paper, portable latrines, and lots and lots of other necessities.
- Defense? Well you gotta pack a 30-06 (for hunting game), a 22 (small game), an AR-15 (for defense), a pistol. Not to mention a shot-gun. 12 gauge of course unless you really need that 410 too. What the heck, let’s take both.
Prognosis: Dies of heart attack 15 minutes after trying to carry all this stuff.
How to spot: Treats disaster preparedness as if it’s an extended hiking trip that they’ll never actually take.
What we learned: I learned that in the event of a disaster my primary role should be food. That is, I should be food for other people as I clearly lacked common sense to survive an extended emergency. As a form of protein, I might be able to help smarter, better prepared families survive a difficult time.
Also: A bug out bag is a means to an end. It should get you from point A to point B. And you should know what A and B are beforehand. Which brings us to…
Stage 4: Grasping what Disaster Preparedness is
From what I have seen and read, most people stay in stage 3. That’s not all bad. Getting more people interested in camping or hiking and how to use various types of equipment is better than nothing and anyone who has gotten to stage 3 will probably be okay in all but the worst disasters.
In our case, since we began this journey after realizing just how dependent we’ve grown on the modern power grid. Not surprisingly, most of our thoughts have centered around how to deal with an extended power outage.
People who reach this stage seem to have an understanding that there are certain prerequisites that should be met before even starting this journey.
For example, you shouldn’t be “prepping” IF:
- You have a large credit card debt
- You don’t have health insurance
- You are financially struggling
- You are physically in preventable, poor health.
People at this stage also realize that accumulating a bunch of stuff is pointless without a plan.
What we learned: This is where we started thinking of different locations we should go to in the event that we didn’t think we could stay in our home.
I hate the term “bug out location” (BOL) but that’s the lingo. It means that in a disaster, the destination matters. Your emergency kit (BOB) exists to get you to your BOL. How long would it take you and your family to walk there? Ideally, you could just drive there but if you’re planning for the absolute worst, being able to walk there should be a consideration.
Once you’ve figured out what it would take to get to your destination, what challenges would you realistically expect? Being picky on this is a big challenge because the more you carry, the slower you’ll go. I think my family could probably walk 8 to 10 miles a day. That distance decreases rapidly as we load up with gear.
My kit is 35 lbs. I weigh 180 lbs. I know there are people who say that 25% of their body weight is the norm. Yay for them. They win. They’re more manly than I am. My goal is for my pack to be less than 1/6th my body weight. But it’s very challenging getting there. When I started, my kit was about 50 lbs. Someday, if I build enough skills, I think I can get to 1/6th.
Remember: Gear can be traded in for skills. Skills weigh 0.
Point being, the kit is there to get you to a destination.
Depending on the severity we’ve got 3 different destinations.
- Our home,
- my wife’s parent’s farm,
- or our 40 acre wooded land.
Having a destination is crucial.
In all hope and likelihood, none of this will matter. We’ll probably never have any emergency that makes any of this relevant. We just treat it as any other insurance policy, we don’t expect any disasters to happen. But if the worst case happened, it would take a week to walk to remote wooded property. Thus, our kits have to include what that would entail.
It is important for people to remember, especially people who never go past stage 1, this few people think there’s any real likelihood of any of this mattering. We enjoy this as a hobby as well as an insurance policy. It’s a great excuse to get the family doing something together. We get to learn how to be more self-sufficient. I can’t really think of any downsides.
Stage 5: SKILLS
For us, this is a theoretical stage because we’re not here yet.
When it comes to learning skills, there is no substitute for experience.
You can read and theorize all day but you have to actually do it to be sure. And that takes time. A lot of it. A bunch of expensive equipment and a good plan are useless without the skills to carry out your plan.
Many basic skills just require discipline. For example, could my family actually walk to a prepared location in a reasonable time? I doubt it. A hiker, in decent shape and a reasonable pack can do around 10 miles a day. That’s one of the reasons why I see these 70lb packs people have prepared and wonder how long they plan to lug that around. Ask a soldier/veteran about how easy it is to carry 70lbs of gear 15 miles a day with an 8lb rifle.
I want to say this again: Learning skills will let you get rid of some of your gear.
Someone in excellent shape can haul 25% of their body weight. But most hikers I know stick to 1/6th their body weight. Mine is about 1/5th my body weight and I consider it a bit too heavy for a week long hike.
Skills are, imo, the culmination. They are the difference between someone being a supply depot for someone else and survival in the event that some horrible disaster ever happens that really does bring about a prolonged break down in civil society.
We may never get here but it’s nice to have a goal. Plus, I plan to become an expert with those dinosaur snares.