All Posts by Olivia Bedford

How To Make A Faraday Cage

When it comes to worst case scenarios, it’s hard to beat the Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) and many people wonder how to make a Faraday cage to protect their electronic devices . From my book, Survival Mom:

I’m not ashamed to say that reading One Second After by William Forstchen scared the living daylights out of me. For weeks, I didn’t want to travel more than 15 or 20 miles from home. The novel details life in a small North Carolina town following an EMP, an electromagnetic pulse. An EMP can be caused by the detonation of a large bomb, nuclear or otherwise, in the atmosphere, miles above land. Its pulse wave can easily cover a continent and destroy electronic components in computers, engines, power plants, and solar panels alike. An event like this has never happened on a large scale, and there are differing opinions as to the exact consequences, but one thing is certain: In a matter of moments, life as we know it would be gone forever. Our closest star, the sun, could also do extensive damage in the form of a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). The results would be similar.

One recent TV series, Revolution on NBC, portrays life 15 years following some type of EMP/CME event, and it isn’t a pretty picture. Life without modern technology would be deadly for tens of millions of people. This was recognized in the official government EMP report. Again from Survival Mom:

Some might describe a post-EMP world as going back to the nineteenth century, but I think in some ways it would be far worse. We no longer have the tools, skills, knowledge, and, in some cases, raw materials to make the most basic tools for survival. How many blacksmiths do you know? Do you happen to own a pair of oxen and a wagon for transportation? You might know how to sew, but can you create cloth from raw cotton or sheep’s wool? The moment of an EMP burst freezes time. The food, medications, supplies, and tools in our homes may be the only ones we have for a long time. If you have 9 bottles of Advil, that’s all you may ever have.

There are so many unknowns when it comes to EMP/CME, but one way to prepare is to build one or more containers to shield important items from the effects of 50,000 volts of power.

These containers are called Faraday cages and were first invented by Michael Faraday, a top-notch scientist of the mid-1800’s. Fortunately for us, they’re pretty simple to make.

My friend Rob Hanus of The Preparedness Podcast and author of Surviving EMP, has spent a good deal of time researching the facts and myths of EMP/CME, and here are his simple instructions for making your own Faraday cage.

How to make a Faraday cage, step by step

The hardest part about protecting your equipment is simply doing it. A few rolls of heavy duty aluminum foil, some cardboard boxes and a galvanized steel trash can are enough to create your own Faraday cage and protect your electronics from EMP.

The simplest and cheapest way to build your own Faraday container is to use heavy duty aluminum foil. By completely wrapping an item in several layers of foil, you can protect that item from damaging effects of EMP. Keep in mind that every side of the item needs to have a minimum of three layers, so by the time you’re done wrapping it in the foil, some sides may have more than three layers. This is fine, so long as you have no less than three layers of HD aluminum foil between any part of the item and the open air.

By itself, these three or four layers of foil are probably enough to protect your electronic gear, but when dealing with a TEOTWAWKI* scenario, there are no replacements, nor second chances, so it pays to do it right the first time. Simply adding more than four layers of foil to the device is probably overkill and may not add any more protection than the initial three or four layers. However, you can increase the effectiveness of your Faraday protection by layering, or nesting them.

For example, place your foil wrapped device into a shoe box or other cardboard box that is wrapped in foil, then place that box inside a galvanized steel trash can with a tight-fitting lid. For convenience, you may want to use several smaller steel cans with lids rather than just one large one. With your devices protected by three layers like this, they’re likely to survive even an enhanced EMP attack with a stronger electromagnetic pulse.

Gather together your supplies

To get started on your own Faraday cage/container, you’ll need these supplies:

  1. Heavy duty aluminum foil. You’re going to be using a lot of this, so be on the lookout for coupons!
  2. Either plastic wrap (Saran or something similar) or plastic bags for each electronic item you want to shield.
  3. Pieces of cloth that will be used to wrap items. This is a good way to re-purpose old t-shirts, jeans, and clothes the kids have outgrown.
  4. Cardboard boxes of assorted sizes
  5. Small, essential items that contain an electronic component, such as a clock radio, a hand-crank weather radio, walkie-talkies, ebook/Kindle, digital camera, mp3 player, etc. Make sure these aren’t things you’ll be wanting or needing in the near future. If you don’t already have duplicates, make a list of what you want stored in your Faraday container and then look for inexpensive duplicates at garage and estate sales.

Protect each item

The procedure is very simple. First, wrap an item in cloth. This will add a layer that will isolate the item from the foil and will also help to keep any sharp edges or corners of the item from puncturing the aluminum foil.

Next, wrap the object with plastic wrap or place in a plastic bag and then wrap with at least 3 layers of foil. Use your hands to gently mold the foil each time, making sure there are no holes or rips in the foil. Every bit of the item’s surface should be covered with at least 3 layers of foil.

Place your wrapped items in the cardboard box and then wrap the entire box with two layers of foil. Layering for EMP/CME is just as important as layering for winter weather! Be sure that no foil used to wrap the outside of the box touches any of the foil within the box. When your box is wrapped and finished, store it off the ground.

If you want to store large items or have numerous items to store, completely line a galvanized steel trash with cardboard. Make sure there are no gaps. The foil wrapped items cannot touch the metal of the trash can. Make sure the lid of the can fits tightly, and you’re good to go.

Living Off The Grid, (Or Close To It) Urban Style

Admit it, you have been thinking about it. Off the grid living.

Late at night, at the end of a long day, you have pictured your life off grid. Images of Little House on the Prairie come to mind. Maybe you ponder becoming a long bearded man living in the mountains, content to be a hermit.

You are not alone in your thoughts, as more people are choosing an off grid lifestyle. Some are able to escape the noisy concrete city and move to quiet acreage in the Midwest or another idyllic country setting. However, for many, like me, work and family obligations make that impossible, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do our best to live as off the grid as possible.

Living off grid is defined as being self-sufficient of municipal utilities, such as water, natural gas, electricity, sewer and trash services. Choosing to live an urban off grid life is possible and does have many advantages.

One advantage is knowing that you and your family can be prepared and will be able to survive quite well when a disaster happens. Many have been able to save money on their utilities and purchases. Others have found peace and confidence in their new learned skills along their path to grid-less-ness, but do not conjure up a romanticized version of happily churning your own butter and building an outhouse. Off-grid living, whether urban, suburban, or rural, isn’t the easiest choice you’ll ever make!

Urban living off-grid

The type of home in which you are living determines, in large part, the extent to which you can go grid-free. If you are in a home with a yard, it is easier to become more self-sufficient. Apartment life can accommodate a degree of off-grid living, just in a smaller scale.

An advantage for both types of homes is that everything you normally need in the course of a day or week is close to home. Walking or biking around town provides great exercise and saves money on gas, vehicle maintenance and insurance. Bikes can be inexpensive and easy to repair. A wagon or cart can be added to the back.

Public transportation, like the bus system, can be very economical. Try the various methods of transportation your city offers and know what works best for you. Look into monthly passes, if used regularly, it may save you money. Pay attention to where you go and its location. Combine trips, shop in your local neighborhood and learn of new activities in your community for your family. Libraries, parks, swimming pools, local colleges and recreation centers offer free or low cost entertainment and activities. All of these options will allow you to not be reliant on your gasoline/diesel powered vehicles and the supply of fuel into your community. It will also help you to save money.

Being independent of all utilities may not be possible, but minimizing usage and creating your own electricity can be. Solar panels are one alternative and can be installed on various types of homes. Be aware that an entire house solar system will be tied to the grid and will be vulnerable to the effects of an EMP, should that ever occur.

Another way to save money and energy is to minimizing your electricity usage. Some easy suggestions are:

• Unplugging everything that isn’t currently being used. This will help you realize what you rely on the most and then find ways of coping without that appliance, electronic, or whatever.
• Turning off lights. Try to go for 48 hours without using any lamps or electric lights of any kind. This will help you figure out what kind of lighting you would need in a grid-down emergency.
• Throwing on an extra layer of clothing on in the winter
Hand washing clothes
• Hanging clothes on a clothes line
• Insulating your attic
• Wash dishes by hand
• Close unused air vents
• Swap regular bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs

Going off-grid with your water and food supply

We need to use water for cooking, cleaning and washing, we just need to be wise about our water usage. Whether your water comes from a well or the city, less is better. Try some of these simple methods to reduce your dependence and cost of water:

• Short showers, maybe shower at the gym. A 5-minute shower can save you up to 1,000 gallons per month.
• Have a 5 gallon bucket in the shower to hold any water that is running while you find the right temperature for your shower. Use this water for plants or flushing the toilet.
• Keep a clean dishpan in the kitchen sink. It will hold the running water you use when washing hands and rinsing veggies.
• Use this water for your garden or washing dishes.
• Install water saving shower heads, faucets and toilets.
• Use a rain barrel system to collect water for your garden.

Begin to minimize your dependence on grocery stores by growing your own food as much as possible. Start small with just 1 vegetable and 1 herb. If the plants don’t seem to be thriving, try using more or less water, a fertilizer (consult a nursery), but be sure to make notes. Growing food to any large extent is extremely difficult and can take years to master.

Apartment balconies can hold pots for vegetables and you can build vertical growing systems. In a home, you can plant in flowerbeds, allot a spot in your yard for a garden or add containers for additional space. Learn how to vertical garden and utilize the fence and exterior walls of your home. If you do not have the space to garden, consider community gardens. The are a low cost option and give you an opportunity to know your neighbors. Another option is to arrange with a neighbor that, in exchange for the use of their backyard for your garden, you’ll give them a percentage of the harvest and cover the cost of water, fertilizer, seeds, mulch, and the like.

Choosing to become more self sufficient and rely less on the grid can be an overwhelming thought. It is a lifestyle choice, a commitment to use less, save money and prepare. Take these suggestion and implement them into your life one by one. You will find more money in your budget to stock up on food and other emergency supplies for your family as you implement urban living off-grid. Maybe this will increase your savings so you can get that acreage in your favorite rural countryside.

*Check with city and county codes before going partial or off grid.

* Threats From the Sky: Electromagnetic Pulse & Coronal Mass Ejection

What is an EMP and how does it work? An Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)  is a burst of electromagnetic radiation resulting from large explosions , especially nuclear explosions, or from a magnetic field fluctuation.  EMPs can produce damaging current and voltage surges within electrical systems.

There are currently two main potential causes for a large EMP in our modern society;

1.  HEMP – High-Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse created by a nuclear device detonated several hundred kilometers above the Earth’s surface

2.  CME – Coronal Mass Ejection from a solar flare creating rapidly changing electric and magnetic fields in Earth’s magnetic field.

High-Altitude EMP

The first true tests of HEMP devices occurred in 1962, an event called Starfish Prime, when a 1.44 megaton nuclear device was detonated 250 miles above the surface of the Earth over the Pacific Ocean.  This extremely small device (in today’s terms) knocked out streetlights and other electrical equipment in Hawaii, 898 miles away.

In that same year the Soviet Union detonated a much smaller device (only 300 kilotons) in space over Kazakhstan.  The resulting EMP was reported to be many times greater than that of the US tests over the Pacific Ocean due to the land mass below and the stronger magnetic fields in that specific area.

According to scientists within the US government a large nuclear device detonated roughly 300 miles above Kansas could result in an EMP spanning the entire mass of the continental United States.

Coronal Mass Ejection

The first thing you need to know about a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) is that not all Solar Flares result in a CME, and not all CME’s are the result of a Solar Flare.  The most likely cause of a CME is a solar flare however, and on average, the larger the flare the larger the potential CME.  CME’s occur quite often and even when they strike the Earth they cause little to no damage.

That being said, a CME of large enough scale striking the Earth’s atmosphere could create the disruptions in the electric and magnetic fields of Earth similar to those created by a HEMP and potentially cause the Earth’s magnetic field to shift its alignment unpredictably.

In 1859 an enormous CME caused what we now refer to as a Solar Superstorm.  This event caused the northern lights to be seen as far south as Cuba and made compasses and telegraphs fail across the globe.

What are the odds?

The odds of an HEMP attack upon the United States are unknown, even though we can answer the question, what is an EMP and how does it work? Up until the recent past, very few nations had the capability of an attack, but as each year passes and the knowledge needed to complete such a mission becomes more available, the odds increase.  Currently, China, Russia, North Korea, and likely, Iran, have sophisticated weapons that have been designed specifically to create an EMP.

One likely scenario involving an EMP attack would be carried out by a terrorist element, such as ISIS or a similar, radical group.

The odds of a massive CME striking the Earth are much more difficult to calculate.  The easy odds are that the chances of it happening are 100%.  It has happened before, it will happen again.  The hard odds are whether or not it happens at a time when the human civilization cannot withstand it…like now.

How do we protect our electronics from the effects of EMP?

The easiest way to protect your devices from the effects of EMP is to construct a Faraday Cage.  In simplistic terms you can build a Faraday Cage by constructing a metal container that can be closed relatively tightly.  Inside this container you would install some form of insulating material such as Styrofoam.  As long as the container closes relatively tightly and the insulating material covers all metal surfaces, any items inside the container are reasonably well protected from the effects of am EMP.  When the EMP strikes the cage it will simply conduct itself around the metal exterior, not passing through the insulation to the devices inside.  If the container is open, the EMP will certainly have a good chance of striking the items inside.

Faraday Cages can be scaled up large enough to protect items as large as vehicles as long as proper insulation is used.  A large metal shipping container insulated with several inches of Styrofoam insulation could easily protect hundreds or even thousands of small devices or many devices ranging in size.

What would happen if…..

The effects of a massive CME striking the Earth vary among sources.  As a prepper it is my inclination to prepare myself and my family for a worst case scenario.  In a worst case scenario the handheld electronics you have protected in your Faraday Cages will most likely be the least of your worries. However, they are very useful as sources for information, education, and entertainment.

The moment a large EMP wipes out earthly electronics there will be massive death. Everyone utilizing any method of flight may suddenly find themselves falling to the earth. Although no hard numbers are available for how many people are in the air at any given moment, it is probably close to 1 million.

At the same moment it is quite possible that all vehicles travelling will suddenly lose power. Many will not be able to brake or steer properly, creating massive casualties globally. Millions of people worldwide that depend on machines to perform life support functions will begin to perish within moments of the EMP.

Immediately after the EMP, the world’s supply chains are finished. Famine stricken areas around the world will have received their last shipment, drought stricken areas their last water. In the United States grocery stores will most likely have stocked their shelves for the last time and larger non-farming based communities will begin a rapid decline. In a matter of days the socio-economic societies of Earth will crumble and fail.

Most estimates state that the loss of power would last weeks or months until power is restored. I don’t believe these estimates to be accurate and feel that with all of the other concerns that will be present, re-establishing power across the country will be low of the list. There are also numerous variables that would affect the electromagnetic wave.

What should I do?

Begin your preparations now by becoming self-sufficient.  Develop your own power sources via solar and wind power devices. Ensure you have all of the necessary knowledge and materials to repair these devices after an EMP and obviously ensure the spare parts are protected against EMP. Learn to live off of food that you have grown and processed animals you have hunted or bred for livestock. In other words you need to begin preparing now to do it on your own.

* How to Repackage Foods for Longest Shelf Life

Just because the grocery store sells foods that are food storage friendly and have a long shelf life, doesn’t mean the food is packaged in a way that will protect it from elements that destroy nutrients, flavor, color, and texture. In many cases, it will be up to you to repackage that food so it lasts for many years.

The following foods will all need to be repackaged unless you’ve purchased them in metal cans:

  • Raisins and other dried fruit
  • Oatmeal
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Any type of cookie or cracker
  • Beans
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Cornmeal
  • Candy
  • Pancake mix (Sometimes these are packaged directly inside the cardboard box without any type of inner plastic bag.)
  • Pasta, rice, and potato convenience mixes, such as Rice-a-Roni, Pasta-Roni, instant potatoes, scalloped potato mixes, etc. (These may either have microscopic insect eggs inside the package already and/or be invaded by insects and rodents from the outside.)
  • Tea bags (Repackage for best flavor and longest possible shelf life.)
  • Dried, instant milk (If not already in a sealed can.)
  • Spices and herbs packaged in plastic bags
  • Shortening (Pack it into canning jars and then seal using a vacuum sealer.)
  • Chocolate chips, baking chips of any flavor
  • Nuts
  • Popcorn
  • Pretzels
  • Sugar, brown sugar and powdered sugar
  • Any type of mix to make bread, cornbread, pizza dough, etc.
  • Most anything else that is packaged in flimsy plastic bags and/or cardboard. This type of packaging is not intended for long-term storage, but that doesn’t mean the food inside can’t have a longer shelf life if repackaged correctly.

Repackaging with a vacuum packing machine

A vacuum packing machine, such as the Food Saver is my own preferred method of repackaging small to moderate amounts of food. These machines can be found on eBay and Craigslist at very affordable prices. Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Cabela’s carry them as well.

Pour the food into one of the plastic bags suitable for your machine and follow the machine’s instructions for vacuum sealing the bag. Use a Sharpie to mark the date sealed on the outside as well as the name of the food. (“Golden raisins, June 21, 2013”)

If a food can be easily crushed, such as cookies or crackers, place them in a large canning jar and seal it with your machine and a jar lid attachment. This is very convenient and gives long-term results. If you want to store shortening, pack it into a canning jar, place the lid on top, cover with the jar sealer and seal it. Here is more information from the Food Saver company.

All the foods on my list can be packaged in canning jars, but I’ve had problems with using the vacuum sealer with very powdery foods, such as flour. Storing food in canning jars is especially handy if you are storing food for just 1 or 2 persons or cannot lift heavy buckets and large mylar bags.

Some foods with sharp edges, such as pasta, can wear through the plastic storage bag. To avoid this you can seal the food and then place it in a second sealing bag and seal a second time or place it first in a Zip-Loc bag (do not seal) and then into the food storage bag. The machine will suck the air out of both bags, sealing them shut at the same time.

Use food safe plastic buckets

Yes, the big plastic bucket — a staple in many a prepper/survivalist pantry. These buckets are popular because they can hold a very large amount of food, making many smaller containers unnecessary. The plastic protects food from light, and although rodents and some insects can chew their way through the bucket to the food, that takes some time, and hopefully, you’ve pest-proofed your pantry!

It’s easy to obtain 5-gallon buckets, but smaller sizes may be harder to come by. If you’re lucky enough to live near a food storage retail store, you can buy them in person. Grocery store bakeries buy things like frostings and fillings in food safe buckets and those are smaller. Often they will sell used buckets and may even give them away for free.

The biggest downside to the 5-gallon bucket is its weight. I cannot easily lift one of these when it’s filled with food. Dragging it along the ground is about all I can manage. And, once the bucket is opened, you’ll have to plan on using the food inside within a reasonable amount of time, say 6 months or so if storage conditions are optimal, or reseal the bucket.

One popular solution is to fill the bucket with many smaller, individual packets of things like rice, oatmeal, and so on.

Keep in mind that you’ll need to protect the food in an opened bucket from pests and deterioration caused by heat and humidity. I recommend using Gamma seal lids to make it easier to open and close buckets. They will also help to keep pests out of the food.

Add oxygen absorbers to extend shelf life

Pour your food into a canning jar, mylar bag or a food-safe bucket of an appropriate size. Just before sealing with the lid, drop in oxygen absorbers according to this chart:

100 cc absorber            32-ounce canning jar

300 cc                             #10 can

300 cc                              1 gallon container

1500 cc                            5 gallon container

For more detailed instructions, refer to our printable, “Your Guide to Oxygen Absorbers“. Oxygen absorbers are available on Amazon, from food storage retail stores, and I’ve even seen them in Winco grocery stores.

I also use empty and sanitized 2-liter soda bottles for things like rice and oats and add a 100 cc absorber just before capping the bottle.

Keep mind that as you open the package of absorbers, they start absorbing oxygen. You’ll know this is happening because they get hot. Quickly place the required number of absorbers in each container with the food and then store the remaining absorbers in a canning jar. (The lid of a canning jar gives a much tighter seal than other jars.)

The process of vacuum sealing using a Food Saver removes most of the oxygen that exists inside the bag. This will prolong the shelf life of those foods. However, over time I’ve found that air can and does leak into the sealed bags. When storing these vacuum sealed bags, do check on them at least once a year to see if any have refilled with air and if so, open the bag and reseal.

A word about dry pack canning for long-term storage food

Dry pack, or oven, canning is a process that involves pouring DRY food into canning jars, heating the jars, and then sealing them with lids and rings.

To be very clear, dry/oven canning is not the same as traditional canning, which uses a water bath or pressure canner. It’s simply heating up dry foods in canning jars and then closing them with seals and lids.

There are a number of questions about dry canning, sometimes called oven canning. At first, the method sounds like an inexpensive and very easy way to repackage dry foods but with quite a bit of research, I haven’t come up with any true advantages and there are a couple of reasons to avoid this method.

From my research, it seems like the only advantage to this process is possibly killing insect eggs with the heat and that it doesn’t require the expense of a Food Saver.

A much better way to ensure insect eggs are killed is by placing tightly sealed containers of food in the freezer for at least a week.

Heating these jars in the oven does not remove oxygen, which is a necessary step in prolonging shelf life. Storing any food in glass jars continues to allow the food to be affected by light, which also deteriorates food. (Store filled glass jars in boxes, under beds, and in any container that doesn’t allow in light for longest possible shelf life.)

The possibility of glass breakage exists since canning jars are designed to be heated in wet environments, such as a hot water bath, and not in a dry oven. Canning jars are made from tempered glass, which is designed to break into hundreds of fairly harmless little particles, not shards. However, to be on the safe side, it’s best to use canning jars for their original purpose only.

How dangerous is dry/oven canning? If only dry foods, such as flour or oats are involved, I’d say the risk of a glass jar exploding in the oven is very slight. Bacterial growth in such foods is negligible as long as no moisture is present. Some nutrients will be lost due to the application of heat, but dangerous? In my many hours of research, I’m not convinced, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason to use this method, either! All it seems to do is heat up the food, maybe kill insect eggs, but little else.

The previous repackaging methods I’ve listed are far easier and more effective in lengthening the shelf life of food, which is the main point of this activity in the first place!

Best Tips for Placing Your First “Survival Food” Order

I’ll never forget my first, official order for survival food. My friend,  Chrystalyn, was a pro at this, and she guided me through a bewildering order form with products and container sizes I didn’t recognize.
A #10 can? What was that?
A #2.5 can? Is that what I need or is the #10 size better?
What is wheat germade and will my kids eat what I’m buying since it’s not in name-brand cans?

Survival Food Ordering Made Easy

If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have ordered wheat germade at all and would have ordered far more #2.5 cans of cocoa! Yes, we prefer brownies to hot cereal!

From years of experience, I pass on to you a few simple ways to determine what to order from survival food companies, such as Augason Farms, Thrive Life, and NuManna.

My 8 Tips For Placing Your First Survival Food Order

1. What produce do you use most often in the kitchen? Jot down the fruits and vegetables that you typically buy at the grocery store. Those will be the best choices for your early purchases, since you know they won’t go to waste, and you use recipes that incorporate them.
2. What are a few of your favorite recipes? It’s a good idea to stock up on those ingredients. Example: a hearty pasta and sausage dinner recipe. You could buy sausage crumbles, Italian herbs, dehydrated onions, freeze dried mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, and macaroni. Of course you can use some of those same ingredients in other recipes, and that versatility is great.
3. Consider the staples you use most often: sugar, baking powder, herbs, etc. and then compare the food company’s prices to what you typically pay at a grocery store. Keep in mind that these products will be packaged for long term storage unlike those purchased at grocery stores. That is a big bonus. When we moved to a humid environment, several of my cardboard containers of salt were ruined.
 4. Keep in mind the importance of snacks. My kids love the yogurt bites in all the various flavors. Perhaps order a few snack items in either the pouch or #2.5 can sizes to try these out. The smaller containers are also good for emergency kits.
5. Do you have some just-add-water meals for emergencies or power outages? Each company has their own varieties to try out. Make sure you give them a taste test, though, before buying in large containers or quantities. They’re lightweight, nutritious, and if you can manage to boil 3 or 4 cups of water, you have a meal in about 15 minutes.
6. When it comes to the various types of meat and poultry, which do you use most often? Prioritize those and then buy smaller containers of the ones you tend to buy and use most frequently. Give them a try in some of your recipes. If you really like the flavor, texture, and convenience, then you’ll know what to stock up on. As always, customize this to your preferences and the recipes you make most often.
7. You’ll need some meal-stretchers, such as rice, small pasta, certain grains, and beans. I like this category because these foods are versatile on their own, but then, when added to a casserole or soup, they help provide many more servings, as well as more nutrition and fiber.
8. Stock up on ingredients for soup. You may not make soup very often, but it’s an ideal recipe for survival scenarios. The concept is simple (start with a broth of some kind) and then add whatever is handy. Have a balance of veggies, proteins, and grains, and you’re good to go.

DIY No-Recipe Soup

If you need a recipe before you can make a pot of soup, this article is for you! No-Recipe Soup is so easy to make that sometimes I wonder why soup recipes are needed at all.

To be fair, there are varieties of soup and variations of soup that call for specific ingredients in specific quantities, but if you want a big ole pot of hot soup, especially on a chilly evening, there’s truly no need to Google “soup recipes”! You only need to browse through your fridge and cupboards to come up with your own creation.

Why soup?

Have you ever thought about soup as being one of the most economical, simple, and filling meals you can prepare? I’d be very surprised if you couldn’t come up with a No-Recipe Soup right this very minute.

Any and every soup contains two or more of these five basic categories of ingredients:

  • A soup base
  • Protein
  • Produce
  • Seasonings
  • Grains/starches

That’s all there is to it, and with that combination in mind, you can invent literally hundreds of soups yourself. For penny-pinchers, nothing beats soup because there needn’t be any expensive ingredients and, even better, every ingredient is shelf-stable.

Start with the soup base

In the soup base category, invest in a few #2.5 cans of bouillon. I recommend these larger sizes over the tiny jars of bouillon and bouillon cubes at the grocery store. Also, humidity can turn a pile of bouillon into a solid mass as hard as a stone, so a #2.5 can will provide plenty of bouillon for many batches of soup but not so much (as in a #10 can) that the bouillon hardens before it can be used up in a reasonable amount of time. You can buy these large cans of bouillon from Thrive Life in both chicken and beef.

FOOD STORAGE TIP: If a #10 can is more economical than the smaller size, just scoop out as much bouillon as you think  you’ll use within 2 or 3 months and seal the rest in a canning jar or Food Saver bag.

You’ll use this bouillon for any soup that is broth-based and usually, bouillon comes in chicken, beef, and vegetable flavors. Some companies sell soup “stock”, which is just a richer flavored bouillon. If you make your own stock, by all means use that for the freshest flavor and nutrients you won’t get with store-bought bouillon.

Of course, not all soups start with a broth base. You may be in the mood for a rich and creamy chowder or cream-of-something soup. In that case, you’ll want to start with a cream base. If you have fresh cream, milk, or half-and-half, fill the pot with as much of the liquid as you need for your soup/chowder. From your food storage pantry, you can use dried milk. I double the amount of dried milk when I reconstitute it with water for soup or chowder, and you would never know that fresh milk hadn’t been used. I’ve also used powdered sour cream combined with dried milk for a different flavor.

The last category of soup bases is the tomato base. You’re in luck if you have tomato powder on hand. Acidic tomato sauce and tomato paste in cans have a shelf life of 12-18 months or so, which isn’t bad if you’ll be rotating them in with your everyday cooking, but tomato powder is the better bet when it comes to long-term storage. Combine tomato powder with dried milk for a cream of tomato base. Yumm!

Add protein for more nutrients

The addition of protein can be beans or legumes (very budget-friendly), canned/freeze-dried/fresh meat/chicken or TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein).  A little protein goes a long way in a soup, and many options are suitable for long-term storage. Combine some rice with beans in your soup recipe and you have a complete protein combination. Just by switching out chicken for a cup or so of black beans will change the flavor and texture of your soup, and voila!  You have a new soup recipe!

Your soup’s cooking time will depend, in part, upon which type of protein you’re using. Freeze-dried chicken, for example, will take just 5 or 6 minutes to rehydrate in the hot broth — this is perfect for quick meals. Dried beans and legumes take longer and you’ll need to keep an eye on the soup so the liquid doesn’t boil down before the beans, in particular, are tender and ready to eat.

Produce adds nutrients and fiber

The type of produce and amount you use are completely up to you in your batch of No-Recipe Soup. Personally, I love to melt a bit of butter in my soup pot and cook chopped onion and celery until both are tender. This step is easy but adds a deeper, rich flavor to the finished dish.

If you’re adding several different veggies to your soup, you’ll probably need less than a cup of each variety. Fresh is great, but soups are where dehydrated and freeze-dried produce really shine. They rehydrate and cook through far more quickly than fresh produce,while retaining nearly all the same nutrients. When you use freeze-dried and/or dehydrated veggies in soup, remember they will absorb some of the liquid, so expect to add a little more milk or water, as the case may be.

#10 cans of mushrooms, bell peppers, carrots, potatoes, onions, celery, green onions, and more easy to store for several months, even after the can is open. Soup/stew blends are also handy because they combine several different veggies that are typically combined in many different recipes.

It usually doesn’t take much of any one ingredient for a soup to be a success and the beauty of this step is that there are no hard and fast rule when it comes to combining ingredients.

Seasonings for variety

A black bean soup can have a Cajun flavor, a Mexican flavor or a hearty ham flavor depending on how it’s seasoned. Stock up on a healthy supply of herbs, spices, and other seasonings so you can add variety at a moment’s notice. Go easy with your salt, pepper, herbs, and spices at first and give your soup the taste test. You can always add more of any one seasoning, but it’s really hard to backtrack if you’ve been a little too heavy handed.

Grains/starches add fiber, calories and nutrients

Those buckets of wheat contain a grain that adds flavor, texture, vitamins and more when they’re cooked up in a soup.  Yes, cooked wheat, or wheat berries, is a very healthy addition to soups, and this makes it wonderfully versatile. Barley, quinoa, and white or brown rice are inexpensive additions, adding calories and bulk for filling up tummies. Add, perhaps, a quarter cup or so of your selected grain. If you overdo this ingredient, the grain will absorb so much water that you may end up with a casserole instead of a soup!

Add a handful of macaroni or any other small pasta for yet another version of your No-Recipe Soup! Inexpensive and filling, small pasta is a great way to extend your soup if you discover you need to serve 8 people rather than 3 or 4.

Potatoes in just about any form are yet another inexpensive and versatile ingredient for your soup. A few scoops of leftover mashed potatoes are just right for finishing off a creamy leek soup or turning a cream-based soup into a thick, hearty chowder.  Dehydrated potato dices are inexpensive, and a little goes a long way.

Tips for No-Recipe Soup success

  1. At first, you may have to just “eye it” in order to know how much liquid you need for the number of people you’re serving.
  2. Adjust the amount of “stuff” you put into your soup according to whether or not you want, or prefer, a soup with more or less liquid.
  3. Adjust the simmer time of your soup according the the density of the vegetables you’re adding. For example, fresh cauliflower will take a lot more time to become tender than fresh mushrooms or freeze-dried bell peppers.

Bottom line? You really don’t need a recipe for making soup! Add a little something from two or more of these categories, heat, and give it a taste test! You know better than anyone which ingredients your family likes best and what you have in your pantry and refrigerator. Soup is really the perfect survival food, and there’s no reason to not enjoy a different variety of No-Recipe Soup every day!

TIP: If you make a soup that is to die for, be sure to jot down the ingredients and quantities that you used, so you can replicate it, exactly, another time. Did your No-Recipe Soup turn out kind of meh? No need to put anything in writing! Just give it another try, with a different combination of ingredients on another day!

How Becoming an Historical Re-Enactor Helped Me Prepare For Life Without Electricity

It was the second time my power went out in one day. The first time was at 2 in the morning when a nearby fuse or transformer blew, causing a power outage. Other than the backyard solar light glowing, the entire neighborhood was cast into darkness.

A few hours later, our power was restored, and the bedside clock started blinking. The sun wasn’t up yet, but the house soon became alive with overhead lights, bacon on the stove, a hot shower, and the screech of my ironing board as I unfolded it and plugged in the iron.

After my husband left for work, the computer and TV abruptly flickered off on its own, and the room was silent again.

I sat in the dark and wondered at the cause of the outages and why I felt so helpless. For years I had been stocking up on candles, oil lanterns, and imagining life without electricity, and instead of feeling prepared, I was paralyzed and rooted to my couch.

Although I had grown up for a season in a one room cabin without utilities or indoor plumbing, the bulk of my experience was volunteering for several years at an 1800’s living history museum.

Once or twice a week my family would put on our pioneer clothes, load up the car with supplies, and spend the day on the prairie, cooking from a wood stove or open fire, sewing, reading books, and fanning our faces from the front porch.

We learned to appreciate the hard work involved in gardening, collecting firewood, and cooking and cleaning from scratch. With no electricity and running water, it was a sun-up to sun-down type of existence.

By the end of the day, we were anxious to return to the 21st Century. Walking into our modern day home, we were greeted with air conditioning, plush furniture, computers, TV, fast food, the refrigerator, microwave, the faucet, and a toilet that flushed—it was pure luxury.

We endured the primitive lifestyle and 100 degree weather because we knew it was temporary. After an exhausting day on the farm, we’d reward ourselves by stopping off at the convenience store or drive-thru for an ice cold soda pop.

Preparing a quick dinner at home with ease, I was thankful for my generation. But at the same time, the bouncing back and forth into the 19th Century was a nudge to not take my privileges for granted.

Using history to empower the future

I gradually started making some changes at home. I wanted my kitchen to be functional like our ancestor’s had been. This meant no more decorations taking up needed shelf space because it looked cute or placing all my dependency on an electrical cord. A few of the changes I made:

  • I replaced the self-cleaning electric range for a gas stove and oven.
  • My high efficiency washing machine was traded in for a heavy duty top loader, and I hung a clothes line.
  • When my new dishwasher broke, I reverted back to the old fashioned way of washing by hand.
  • I exchanged my Teflon skillets for heavy duty cast iron.
  • I continued using my automatic coffee machine, but kept the stove top percolator on standby.
  • No more reliance on electric can-openers, or noisy food processors.
  • Although I loved my electric wheat grinder, I purchased a hand-crank just in case.

Imitating our ancestors who prepared for emergencies and the change of seasons, I, too, took advantage of the seasonal sales at the farmer’s market and grocery stores, stocking up on bulk and dry goods, canning my own soups and meat, and taking advantages of the holiday clearances.

Unplugging from dependency

As I faced my 2nd power outage that morning, I realized my helplessness was due to my dependency.

My entire day was planned by the instant gratification of electricity:

  • Flipping a switch for light
  • Stuffing the washing machine with dirty laundry
  • Checking the bank online to pay bills
  • Staying connected with family and friends through the Internet
  • Checking my online store
  • Vacuuming the floor
  • Catching the news on TV
  • Running my sewing machine
  • Recharging my Kindle Fire

…and now my day was shot.

But more debilitating was the unknown. Like every other power outage, I didn’t know when life would resume to normal.

Although I was inconvenienced that morning, I was equipped and capable of stepping back into the 1800’s.

The thought crossed my mind that if I could still experience helplessness even though I was prepared for the long term, I could only imagine the feelings of hopelessness for those who are inadequately prepared for the short term.

Taking charge in a power outage

What if in a worst case scenario, our power was off long term?

Living by the motto to not focus on the problem but to look for a solution, this is how I would approach my original itinerary.

  • Flipping a switch — I would open curtains and use natural light, take most activities outdoors, and after dark, we would use flashlights, candles and oil lanterns. Our ancestors went to bed early, and got up early.
  • Stuffing a washing machine — Clothes are easy to clean by soaking in a large bucket and hand scrubbing with a bar of soap. Hang to dry on a clothesline. Our ancestors didn’t own multiple outfits or shoes, nor did they bathe every day.
  • Checking bank online and paying bills Saving cash for emergencies is very important. Depending on how serious the power outage is, banking systems could be down, forcing us to prioritize what gets paid. Some options are to locate Internet access away from home, have a landline telephone as a back-up, or access the Internet through a smart phone. In a worst case scenario, there will be no access to online banks, credit cards, or savings accounts. Ideally, the best plan of action is to always be stocked up on food, water, supplies, and prescriptions for the long term. Our ancestors lived within their means and purchased with barter or cash.
  • Connecting with family and friends through Internet —Like many people, my relatives and friends are spread throughout the world. Being thrust into the “dark ages” will end my daily dosage of Facebook, and emails. This is why I’m taking advantage of the opportunity to educate others while I can. It is a great peace of mind to know that my family and friends were listening and prepared, if or when we lose all contact. Our ancestors connected through the mail, telegraph, word of mouth, getting to know their neighbors, and spending time with their family.
  • Checking my online store — A long term power shortage would create difficulties for my home based business. I would not be able to correspond online with customers, use my printer, and list merchandise. My best plan of action is to place my store on “vacation mode” if I had temporary access to the Internet. While waiting on power to be restored, I could use my time wisely by building inventory with what I had. Our ancestors took advantage of bad weather and off seasons, by catching up on mending and other demands.
  • Vacuuming the floor — I have carpeting, but there’s a plan. A good straw broom can do brisk wonders for a floor. Some of our ancestors had dirt floors.
  • Catching the news on TV — I own several solar and battery powered radios, and shortwave. For the holidays, we gave our relatives the wind-up, solar powered radios as gifts. Unless our ancestors had access to the newspaper, they were dependent on word of mouth.
  • Running my sewing machine — Although I love my sewing machines, I also enjoy sewing by hand. Unless our ancestors had money, very few owned a treadle sewing machine. A young girl was taught to sew by hand when she was old enough to hold a needle.
  • Recharging my Kindle Fire — Although I love reading from my digital book, as well as the instant gratification of purchasing and downloading, I knew early on to stock my book shelves with real books. With a massive power outage and no access to the Internet, it is important for my family to have immediate access to medical, veterinary, dental, gardening, plant identifications, old recipes, prepping, spiritual, and leisure books. Our ancestors spent time together sharing stories, reading together, and playing musical instruments.

When I read about massive power shortages in other places, the long gas lines, and the empty store shelves, I am reminded of how dependent our society has become.

My question is: Are you empowered enough to face a short or long term power shortage, or will you too be left feeling powerless?

The Basics for Generating and Storing Power

More than ever, our civilization relies on electrical power for everything: lighting, entertainment, communications, security, heating / cooling, cooking, food refrigeration, the list goes on and on. Our reliance on the electrical grid has made electricity critical to our lives.

Short power outages (under 12 hours) have resulted in widespread traffic chaos, hospital evacuations, and even civil disorder. Multi-day outages can adversely affect water and sewage systems, supermarkets, gas stations, and cellular phone systems.

Even big cities like New York can suffer from power outages. The massive East Coast blackout of 2003, stranded thousands of people in airports and subways, hospitals were affected, and some took advantage of the crisis with a fair amount of looting.

The Basics

The subject of how to generate and store power is huge and I am only scratching the surface here in this article. As a result, I’m not discussing solar, wind, or small-hydroelectric power. All three have pros and cons that are discussed at length in print and online. Here I will concentrate on what most people can easily put together in a suburban environment with a reasonable investment in time and money.

Preparing for extended power outages is a little more complicated than you’d think. These days, having a generator is hardly the ultimate in power generation…EVERYTHING in our lives consumes electricity. While you could run a generator 24 hours a day, it is a horribly inefficient waste of fuel, as well as a surefire way to piss off your neighbors and attract unwanted attention.

Any serious power outage strategy will also include one or more storage batteries, a 12 volt-to-120 volt inverter, and a quality battery charger. You can run your generator in the daytime to power appliances and charge batteries, then shut it down overnight while you quietly run your devices on the stored power in your batteries.

Foundational Information

The electricity that comes out of your wall sockets is 120 volts, alternating current (AC). AC current is easy to transmit long distances, but cannot be stored. AC current is very dangerous if mishandled, resulting in burns, electrocution, and/or death. Conversely, direct current (DC) which is used in phone, laptop and car batteries is able to be safely and easily stored for later use. 12 volt DC current is one of the keys to emergency power.

Let’s define a few electrical terms:

  • Current: This parameter is measured in Volts; think about a mountain stream, the higher the current number, the stronger the current and the more power is transmitted through the current. This is a measure of force, or “push.”
  • Amperes (Amps): This is a measure of quantity of electricity…we’re most familiar with amps because it is usually an overload of amps on an electrical circuit that causes a fuse to blow or a circuit breaker to trip. You know, Mom using her blow dryer while Susie heats up her coffee in the microwave…too much power in use. Batteries are rated in terms of “Amp-hours,” which is an expression of how long the battery can provide a certain quantity of power.
  • Watts: This is the measure of the amount of work that can be done. In general, this is the key measure in determining if appliances can be accommodated in a given electrical circuit. This is a familiar measure for light bulbs and blow dryers. More importantly, it is the measure used to rate the power generating capacity of portable generators and inverters.

AC current can be converted to DC current; we do this every day when we plug in our phone or laptop charger. DC can be converted to AC through the use of an “inverter.” To store power, we use “deep-cycle” batteries which look like car batteries but are specifically designed to efficiently take in and give back DC current. When we need AC current to run a refrigerator or lights, our inverter converts the DC current to AC.

Determining What You Need to Power Up

Like generators, inverters are rated in watts, so you can easily choose the model for your needs. Deep-cycle batteries (also called RV or Marine) are rated in amp-hours. Using the formulas below, you can calculate the size and number of batteries to support your system.

If you can understand a couple of basic formulas, you are set:

Watts=Volts x Amps


All electrical devices are marked with their power requirements, allowing you to make an electricity “budget” and intelligently plan for your needs. For example, my refrigerator requires 5.0 to 6.5 amps when operating. Using the equation above we can determine the number of watts it needs: 6.5 x 120 volts= 780 watts. Here are some common wattage requirements for various appliances:

• Table lamp: 40-100 watts

• Toaster: 800 watts

• Microwave oven: 1500-2000 watts

• George Foreman grill: 800 watts

• Electric skillet: 900 watts

• Cellular phone charger: 24 watts

• Laptop AC adapter: 72-144 watts

• 42” Plasma TV: 286 watts

• Digital cable box: 40 watts

If I expected to run all of the above devices at the same time, I would need to provide up to 5,100 watts of electricity. However, if I planned ahead and was careful not to use high-wattage devices at the same time, I could get away with only half of that capacity. As you might expect, the more watts you need, the more it will cost.

Building a System

So let’s build a simple system based on the above information, assuming that we will run the generator 12 hours a day (7:00 AM to 7:00 PM) and use inverter-provided power the other 12 hours. If we do all of our cooking while the generator is on, we can get along with a smaller inverter and less battery capacity for our nighttime needs. We can also freeze some ice blocks during the day, putting them in the refrigerator compartment at night and turning the fridge and freezer controls down to low at night. As long as the fridge stays closed, it will run minimally at night.

Our system will include a 3,500 Watt-rated generator ($400), a 1,600 Watt inverter ($110), two Sears Diehard Marine batteries with 180 amp-hours capacity ($220), and a Diehard automatic battery charger ($75). This is a solid, basic system that can be upgraded as needed, and will maintain your ability to communicate, cook, store food, and keep alert for emergency notifications. Don’t forget to sock away enough extension cords to reach your appliances.

Your electrical preparedness strategy is crucial to your family’s safety and comfort in a disaster. The good news is that you don’t need to be an engineer or electrician to properly prepare for when the lights go out.

Staying Cool When the Weather is Hotter Than Hell

After living nearly my entire life in Phoenix, I know a think or two about hot weather and what it takes to stay cool, at least cool enough to survive. I can remember running as fast as possible across blistering hot asphalt in my bare feet and

This is an excerpt from my book, Survival Mom: How to Prepare Your Family for Everyday Disasters and Worst Case Scenarios.

One of the most critical uses of electricity is staying cool in very hot weather. Our bodies can become quickly overheated, with young children and the elderly being most susceptible. I was in Chicago during one of its worst heat waves in 1995. Employees of the Hyatt Hotel where I was staying had to stand on the roof and hose down giant air-conditioning units with water in order to keep them running. In a matter of days, more than 700 people died because of this heat wave.

How did our ancestors survive, then, without air conditioning? I’ve spent my entire life in the American Southwest, and as you might expect, I have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to staying cool:
1. Keep spray bottles of water around and spritz faces and wrists to stay cool.
2. In the earliest morning hours, open windows to let in all that cool air. Be sure to close them again, along with all blinds and curtains, once the day begins to heat up.
3. Just before bedtime, spray bed sheets with plenty of water, aim a battery-powered fan toward your side of the bed, jump in, and go to sleep, quickly!
4. Wear bathing suits around the house.
5. If you’ll be outside, wet a bandanna, place a few ice cubes down the center, diagonally, roll it up, and tie it around your neck.
6. Check doors and windows for incoming warm air and install weather-stripping if necessary. This will do double duty in the winter, when cold air is the enemy. Duct tape can substitute for weatherstripping if you’re desperate.
7. Check the western exposure of your home. If you have windows that face west, check into inexpensive blinds from Home Depot or Lowe’s. Even aluminum foil taped over your windows (gasp!) can help keep your home cooler.
8. If you need to do outside chores, do them in the morning when the sun rises or even earlier.
9. If you must, douse your naked body with water and stand in front of a battery-operated fan. Stock up on these fans and make sure you have plenty of batteries—and please close the blinds!
10. Take a slightly warm bath, as long as there is water in the hot water heater. It will lower your body temperature, making you feel cooler longer once you get out of the tub.
11. Drink those 8 glasses of water per day.
12. Plant fast-growing shade trees, particularly on the west side of your home. If they provide shade for outside windows, so much the better. Shade = cool.
13. Most of the hot air that enters your home comes through the windows. Thermal curtains may be the solution if your home has lots of windows. If that’s not an option, try using pushpins to hang blankets over each window.
14. If you long to be outdoors, fill a kiddie pool with water, sit down, and relax. Be sure to wear sunscreen! When the water gets too warm to enjoy, use it to water the plants.
15. Don’t overexert yourself. Avoid working up a sweat, if possible. Save physical labor for the cooler parts of the day. Take a lesson from desert animals: They rest in the shade or underground during the day and come out at night.
16. Fill a tub with a few inches of water and dangle your feet in it while you read a book.

My friend, Debbie, is a fanatic about keeping her electric bills as low as possible in the summer, so she follows many of the tips above, but right around lunchtime, when the most intense heat is on its way, she and her kids head for cooler locations: the public library, movie theater, mall, a friend’s house, public swimming pool, etc.

Be aware of the signs of heatstroke:

  • Strong, rapid pulse
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Excessive thirst
  • Hot, dry skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Seizures

Stay aware of the effects of heat on your own body as well as those around you. Succumbing to heat exhaustion or heat stroke means there’s one less adult for your family or group to depend on. In a grid-down scenario, it may be best to take care of many household tasks once the sun goes down.

* Basic Steps in Water Purification and Filtration

Having water on hand is just one part of being prepared. Knowing how to safely store, treat, filter and purify water can keep you alive. This article reviews how to make sure water is safe to drink. You can get very, very sick from drinking contaminated water and in a survival situation, sickness can quickly become life or death scenario. You need water, but more importantly, you need safe drinking water.

If you have water stored, you may be certain it is safe to drink, but if you’re using other supplies of water from inside or outside of your home (or you want to make extra sure your water storage is safe), you’ll need to filter and purify it. Should you drink the water? It’s important to know for sure.

Treating stored water

Water bottles and water stored from a safe drinking supply (tap water from a municipal plant) should be fine to drink. Other stored water, such as from a well, needs to have bleach added to it to treat it. The Survival Mom recommends using 1/8 teaspoon of bleach with no additives per gallon if the water is clear.

You should keep some unscented bleach on hand for emergencies, but be aware that bleach does have a fairly short shelf life. It starts to break down after six months and needs to be replaced every 12-16 months. Rotate your bleach bottles frequently to ensure you have effective bleach on hand.

Making water potable requires two steps, filtering and purifying. Filtering removes bits of things, like sand and bugs. It removes big particles, not microscopic ones like bacteria. Purifying removes or kills germs and bacteria, although some methods are more effective than others.

Filtering first and then purifying is the best practice for drinking water, in part because it extends the life of your purifier and in part because some purification methods (such as boiling) do absolutely nothing to filter out debris.

Filtering water

Tap water can become contaminated even in non-emergency situations but more commonly in an emergency. In a non-emergency, you will almost certainly find out either from news stories or when you receive a phone call notifying you to boil your water to make it potable. (Potable water can be safely consumed.) In a true emergency, it is safest to treat your water source as likely contaminated until proven otherwise.

You may have to seek water sources inside your home, like the water heater, or outside the home, like a pond or stream. Water from sources that aren’t guaranteed to be safe should be filtered first and then purified. Filtering removes big impurities like leaves, dirt, insects, and sticks. Towels, screens and coffee filters can be used to filter water. Another way to do it if you don’t have those items on hand is to improvise a water filter that lets the water flow through layers of rocks, sand, and charcoal to filter out debris. This only removes visible debris but does virtually nothing to actually purify the water.

Sometimes commercial “filters” are actually purifiers. It is important to do both steps, so make sure you look closely at what the product actually does because you need both. If it is a purifier, then you need to add a filter – unless you enjoy spider legs and leaves in your drinks.

Purifying water

Once water is filtered, there are several ways to purify it. You can boil it, add bleach, use calcium hypochlorite, use UV light, add water purification tablets, or use a commercial device.

Boiling water can be a great way to purify water, but it does have a couple of downsides. First, it can concentrate any chemical contaminants in the water. As water evaporates as steam, it will leave behind liquid water that may contain a more concentrated level of certain contaminants.

Another downside is that it requires fuel and time for the water to come to a full boil. If either is in short supply, boiling won’t be your best bet.

Otherwise, you want to heat the water to 149 degrees for 1 minute to pasteurize it. Pasteurization actually occurs at a lower temperature than boiling, but you’ll need either a thermometer to verify the water temperature or a WAPI, Water Pasteurization Indicator. This inexpensive device is a handy addition to any emergency kit.

Adding bleach to water can also treat it for some pathogens. The American Red Cross actually recommends boiling and using bleach. If you want to add bleach to water that has been boiled, make sure it has been cooled down first. The water should have a slight chlorine smell once bleach  has been added and allowed to sit for at least 30 minutes or so. If you do not smell a bit of chlorine, add another drop or two.

Use this chart for reference when using bleach:

Water amount                      Cloudy Water                         Clear Water

1 quart                                    4 drops bleach                        2 drops bleach

1 gallon                                   16 drops                                   8 drops

5 gallons                                 1 teaspoon                               ½ teaspoon

55 gallons                               4 tablespoons                         2 tablespoons

Calcium hypochlorite has a longer shelf life than bleach but is also trickier to use for purifying  water. You can often find it labeled as pool shock, but make certain it doesn’t have any extra additives. (It needs to be safe to purify water for drinking, not just for swimming in.) The Survival Mom recommends Cal-Shock 65. You can read in-depth about pool shock here. When using pool shock, you make a solution of homemade bleach with a teaspoon of pool shock and 2 gallons of water. (A pool test-kit comes in handy to make sure the right amount is added.) To purify water with the homemade bleach solution, add 1 ¼ teaspoon to 1 gallon of water.

UV light can purify water. The battery powered SteriPen uses UV light to purify small amounts of water. There is also a hand-crank version of the Steripen.

Another option for purifying water is the use of water purification tablets. These are a good short-term method since they contain iodine. They are a good addition to a vehicle or bug-out bag since they are small and light-weight. However, iodine should not be used for more than six weeks and not by pregnant women. As with boiling, it is effective against many pathogens, but not with chemical pollutants.

There are also many commercial water purification devices that you can have on hand. There is the LifeStraw, Katadyn, Berkey, Survival Still, and many others. They can easily be added to any bug-out bag or vehicle as well. Some can be used for large quantities of water while others are designed to be used by one person.

Well considerations

If you have a well for water, you should test it regularly, especially if you haven’t used it for several weeks, if new equipment has been installed, there has been flooding or an earthquake, or it smells, looks or tastes funny. If you have a new well pump installed, the hoses that actually go into the well – in your water – will be laying on the ground before being put down into the well. This means they will potentially be covered in who knows what from the ground. It is extremely important to have a professional (the ones installing your well) treat the water with high doses of chlorine to kill any germs and bacteria.

Your water will not be potable until the chlorine level goes down, so be prepared to use bottled water for drinking. Keep enough bottled water on hand, both in small and large containers, for any time that your well water might become contaminated or your well pump stops functioning.

When you have a new pump installed, well water should be tested again after two weeks to insure it is bacteria-free and safe to drink. Depending on the filters in your home, you may be able to drink it sooner. In our home, we have a sediment filter, a whole-house UV filter, and a reverse osmosis filter for our primary drinking water. We were able to drink the water after the chlorine smell went down (two or three days) but still needed to be certain the water was safe just in case our UV filter failed.

Very few people have whole-house UV filters, but they do add peace of mind for a few hundred dollars. There is no denying it’s an expense, but it kills micro-organisms that filters don’t affect. Three filters may sound like overkill, but once when an earthquake caused our neighbors’ well water to become brown and undrinkable, our multiple filters left us unaware of the problem until we heard them talking about it. It is worth being certain.

Wells can be a great source of water in an emergency, but you need to have a way to get the water up when the power is out. Consider getting a backup system that uses a generator, solar power, or a hand pump. Well pumps actually use quite a bit of power, so check your requirements and the generator capacity carefully.

Swimming pool water

If you have a swimming pool, you may think you have a great source of emergency water, and you do – for anything other than drinking or cooking. Pool water may contain chemicals that act as a laxative and can be toxic over a long period of time. Chlorine-resistant bacteria can be in the water from the bodies of people who have swum in the pool.

Pool water is also a type of water that shouldn’t be purified by boiling, as it will increase the concentration of the chemicals and minerals it contains. If there is no power for the pool’s pump and filter system, it could start to become a breeding ground for insects and algae. Having pool test kits on hand can help you know if the chlorine levels are set right to prevent mosquitoes. The water can be used for laundry, flushing toilets and washing animals.

Be safe when drinking water in emergencies. You need water – clean water – to survive any emergency situation!