For many of us, buying food specifically for food storage is an additional expense that can, sometimes, become too burdensome. When money is tight, it’s hard enough to cover the groceries for our main meals, much less add another few day’s worths of food to the grocery cart. Stretching a meal to feed additional hungry mouths is the next best thing to a miracle.
Foods like rice, beans, potatoes, pasta, and other grains have always formed the core of most food storage plans. First, they are inexpensive foods, like these potato dices. Purchased either from the grocery store or in large multi-pound packages, it’s a lot of food that will go a long way in your meals. If you add just 1 cup of rice to a pot of soup, the expense is just a few cents. This is probably why some of my Nana’s recipes contained elbow macaroni. Just cook up a little ground beef, add some onion, a can of tomatoes, seasonings — and then double the amount of food in the pot with macaroni! During the Great Depression days, as I wrote about here, this was a common and necessary practice. Most of the macaroni in my pantry is in large #10 cans. The larger size provides lots of servings and the metal can provides an optimal storage container.
These meal stretchers also add a lot of calories. Now, for many of us, calories are something to be avoided but consider what life is like during a long-term power outage. Folks who have lived for days and weeks following a hurricane or Superstorm Sandy had to do without modern electrical conveniences that typically make our lives easier. We burn far fewer calories when machines do our laundry, wash our dishes, and help us in so many other ways. Without them, there’s more physical labor and stress. Thus the need for more calories.
I’ve heard stories of financially strapped moms learning that company is coming over and quickly adding a meal stretcher or two to their dinners. A scoop of homemade chili over a cup or two of white rice stretches the pot of chili at least another few servings. One Facebook reader recently told me how she cooked bulgur wheat with beef bouillon until it was tender and then added it to some of her soups and chili. She said it had a similar consistency to ground beef. Classic meal stretcher!
One other advantage to most meal stretchers is that they are easy to store and have long shelf lives, with the exception of pasta. Grains, rice, dehydrated or freeze-dried potatoes, and beans all have exceptionally long shelf lives, which means they retain most, if not all, of their flavor, nutrients, texture, and color over a long period of time. Stored in a cool, dark, and dry location, they will last for 20 or more years. Pasta, on the other hand, is a little more finicky when it comes to long-term storage, but still, we’re talking about a good 8-10 years or more shelf life and worthy of including in your food storage pantry.
Although I use meal stretchers primarily in my from-scratch recipes, they can also be helpful with just-add-water meals. For example, a dry chick soup mix could easily be stretched with the addition of rice or small pasta. Canned or freeze-dried chili can be stretched with any number of stretchers — more beans, bulgar wheat, a can of diced tomatoes and/or macaroni for Chili Mac.
This is also a good strategy for increasing the number of calories. One complaint many of us have with “survival food” meals is that they usually don’t contain enough calories per serving. That is easily solved, again, with the magic of meal stretchers.
If you have pouches, cans, or buckets of instant meals, give some thought as to how you might stretch them if you ever really needed to make a 3-months-supply of food last 4 months or longer.
There are just a few negative points about storing meal stretchers. First, they can attract insects. If you’re planning on storing them for many years, you’ll want to protect them by adding food safe diatomaceous earth to the container. Here’s some information about diatomaceous earth, if you haven’t heard of it before, and these instructions will help you know exactly how to add it to your food for pest control.
One other method for pest control is to put tightly sealed containers of food in the freezer for several days. This kills any microscopic insect eggs that could be present. I do this and also add the appropriate size of oxygen absorber, which deprives insects and their eggs of oxygen, insuring their doom.
Most store-bought packages of things like rice, beans, and pasta are made from very flimsy plastic or cardboard. In both cases,the foods will have to be repackaged to extend their shelf lives. It isn’t a complicated process. It just takes a little time.
A reality of modern American life is the prevalence of gluten sensitivities and other food allergies. If this applies to you or anyone in your family, then wheat and anything made from wheat will be on the “Do Not Buy!” list. Instead, stock up on varieties of beans and rice. Stocking up on large quantities of gluten-free pasta is probably not going to be practical.
Wheat and beans, in particular, can be rough on digestive systems that aren’t used to them, so in a crisis, be prepared to deal with tummy troubles for a few days.
Stocking up on meal stretchers is a very smart strategy for any family’s food storage pantry.
When we think about setting aside emergency supplies, most of us would agree that preserved food and purified water are the essentials and everything else is secondary to these. Some might even choose to incorporate things like a manual grain mill, a water purifier, a food dehydrator, a solar cookstove and so on.
But who would ever consider something as simple and humble as salt as an indispensable necessity and commodity in the tumultuous days ahead? I would even go so far as to say if sea salt is not a part of your survival provisions, it’s time to tuck away this invaluable, hidden treasure.
In fact, salt was once valued as a form of currency – it was that scarce, and considered a luxury of few. The ancient Greeks used salt to trade for slaves and Roman soldiers were paid in “salt money” or “salarium argentum” where we derive the English word, “salary”. Homer called it “Divine”. Jesus calls His followers (which I’m honored to say I am) the “salt of the earth”.
Wars have been fought and whole settlements turned into cities and nations over the pursuit of salt. Just as gold and silver have once again gained ground in this present economic meltdown, so also will sea salt be a valuable and tradable commodity, literally “worth its weight in gold.” It will be a supreme bartering tool.
Sea salt has a unique ability to draw out the flavor in food like no other seasoning, but this is secondary to yet another one of its amazing values. Salt has long been known for its ability to preserve foods. In the event of a societal and economic collapse, refrigeration may be a thing of the past. Unless you plan to consume what you pick immediately, depend on your air dehydrator or live off your food storage, you will need salt for preserving food.
During harvest time, there should be plenty of fresh food (assuming you thought ahead to plant a garden), but the long harsh winters will inevitably come and preserving food will be a crucial issue. Even hunting for game, chances are you will not be able to consume it all in one sitting – salt preservation will be key. And without power, your pressure canner or electric dehydrator will not get you very far, so salt can be the perfect alternate route.
With salt’s same ability to retard spoilage, “mineral dense sea salt” also aids in disinfecting and healing wounds. A simple salt paste or soaking a wound in a salt/water solution several times a day should achieve positive results. Sea salt also rejuvenates the skin keeping a more youthful appearance while aiding in the healing of acne, psoriasis, eczema and other skin related problems.
Ever wonder why your skin felt so tight, free and clear of irritation or blemishes after spending a day at the beach? Sea salt has miracle healing properties that are often overlooked. In fact, the Blue Lagoon in Iceland is world renown for its hot salt springs that people flock to with skin conditions. Dead Sea salts are another sought-after skin commodity.
But might I be quick to add that not just any salt will suffice when it comes to you and your loved ones, especially typical table salt (sodium chloride) and in some cases, certain brands of sea salt.Salt that is processed for vast human consumption – while meeting the public’s demand for a product that is cheap and convenient – sacrifices a lot of health benefits.
Table salt has been stripped of all but two of its 84 trace minerals through a chemical process, dried at extreme temperatures, and oftentimes – for the sake of appearance – anti-caking, free-flowing, or conditioning agents are added along with iodine. But buyer beware of even some brands of so-called sea salt: It may be mechanically harvested from dirt or concrete basins and piped through metal conduits; artificially processed; heated to extreme temperatures to break the molecular structure; stripped of its essential minerals and further adulterated by chemical additives. In essence, many highly acclaimed “sea salts” are no different than plain ole table salt.
So where do you find pure, unadulterated salt?
Dense with vital trace minerals along with its light grey hue from the pure clay sole it’s harvested from, Celtic Sea Salt® is unmistakable in old world flavor and nutritious. (And taste may mean everything with a bland diet of survival foods!)
Extracted from the natural evaporation of the sea and wind alone, the ocean brine is channeled from the sea to the pristine shallow clay ponds, surrounded by vegetation. It provides a natural habitat for the salt while the salt farmer gathers the dazzling white crystals with a long, shovel-like tool, then collects it daily by hand.[ii]
Celtic Sea Salt can be a simple addition to any food storage plan that just makes sense. It not only stores indefinitely, it provides so many hidden health benefits to mention in this article, but here are just a few:
Supplying well over 80 (24 of which are essential to life) minerals needed for proper metabolic functions and the assimilation of necessary nutrients in the body, natural sea salt is also an excellent immune booster and helps keep the body alkaline.
It works synergistically with vitamins and other minerals for their bioavailability to the body. (Bioavailability:) For instance, we know that calcium needs both magnesium and Vitamin D3 to be absorbed; sodium and potassium need each other in the proper proportions to help maintain normal blood pressure and water distribution.
Since natural sea salt contains a balance of minerals including sodium and potassium, the body is able to safely eliminate any excess sodium without the complications of typical table salt. This is a huge benefit for those who have to monitor their salt intake.
“Seawater contains minerals such as ionized sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and selenium, plus many trace elements such as copper, iron, zinc, manganese, and chromium. The human body uses the minerals & trace elements in sea salt to create electrolytes, maintaining the “internal ocean” which is vital to the proper functioning of every system in the body.”
In an age of degenerative diseases and in the difficult times that may lie ahead, no doubt sea salt is and will be worth its weight in gold, in more ways than one. Not only essential for health and vitality, sea salt clearly carries a vast array of benefits.
The familiar round grocery store container of salt is always ground the same. That’s not true of the many varieties of sea salt. It can be anywhere from chunks the size of landscaping rocks to finely ground, which is what most Americans are used to seeing. The website Sea Salt has a lot more specific information on types, coarseness, history, etc. of sea salt.
As I write this, I’m sitting in our family room contemplating what, if anything, I would grab on my way out the door in an emergency evacuation. As it turns out, other than this laptop, there’s really nothing else of vital importance, except our three dogs. Scanning my kitchen, I came to the same conclusion. I’d leave my three sets of crystal stemware behind (what was I thinking when I bought that stuff???) as well as my knife block and pots and pans.
For the most part, items of real, immediate value are found in our bedrooms: changes of clothing, sturdy shoes, toiletries, and some financial records. My Grab-n-Go Binder needs to be updated as do the clothes in our family 72 Hour Kit. Could we evacuate in 30 minutes? As it stands right now, no. I need to repack our Bug Out Bags/72 Hour Kits and make sure our most important papers are all in one, handy place.
Could your family evacuate in 30 minutes? Run through this assignment together one night this week, and see how close you are to that 30 minute deadline. Here are a few steps to get your evacuation plan streamlined and speedy.
Once you have your plans and preparations in order, it’s time. Yell out, “Evacuate! Evacuate!”, set a timer, and see how close you get to that thirty minute goal. Evaluate the results.
An evacuation is an extremely tense and fearful experience. Just ask anyone who has had to run for their lives from an oncoming flood or firestorm. Preparedness helps take some of the panic out of the process, and when the whole family is informed and is involved with the planning, you can count on getting out quickly and efficiently.
It’s so easy for the hot, lazy days of summer to just sort of run into each other until the day arrives when it’s time once again to get the kids ready for school, and we ask, where did the summer go?
If your prepping goals have taken a break right along with your pledge to have the kids do daily math drills and read for at least 30 minutes every day, then here are a few prepping activities and tips to avoid the summertime prepping slump.
If they’re sitting around the house doing nothing, then they can help you prep! They can fill canning jars, mylar bags, and buckets with dry goods and oxygen absorbers. They can help weed the garden and pick ripe fruits and vegetables. They can wash and prepare produce for canning and dehydration. Kids can go through their closets and drawers and pull out toys they no longer play with and clothing that no longer fits.
Hey, every time they say they’re bored, give them a prepping related task! They’ll have something productive to do and you’ll accomplish your prepping goals more quickly.
Check out online calendars for craft stores, REI, Cabela’s, gyms, and your city’s summertime offerings. Many of these are survival and/or prepping related, such as learning how to read a compass, learning how to crochet or sew, etc. and very often these classes are free.
If these resources aren’t readily available to you, then check out a how-to book or watch some how-to YouTube videos on something your family would like to learn and do it yourselves!
Or, ask around and see if there is someone in your circle of friends and acquaintances who has a skill you would like to learn and is a willing teacher.
Camping, hiking, fishing — those are all survival related, fun, and everyone can be involved. Check out these articles with more information about enjoying the great outdoors, as a prepper:
And then there are family road trips. As a veteran of some 16,000 highway miles, I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert in this area!
Two summers ago my kids learned rifle skills in a 2-day camp at a local gun range. Lots of towns and cities start the summer with directories of these day camps. If your kids are in a day camp or have gone away to camp, learning some sort of practical skill, then you’ll have time to either take a nap, read a relaxing book (just for fun!), or do anything else you like! Free time for mom is necessary!
Summer is prime produce time. Even if your garden was a flop or you didn’t get certain items planted, there are probably local gardeners and farmers who would love to share their bounty. Some might even be willing to trade a portion of their harvest for a portion of yours.
Bountiful Baskets is a large produce co-op that operates in many states. Do an internet search for “produce co-ops” in your area and you may end up finding a source of delicious, fresh product that you can then preserve for later.
Once you have a good amount of green beans or tomatoes or whatever, make a simple plan for canning, dehydrating, and/or pickling. If your kids are whining about being bored, then you know who your helpers will be! If you haven’t already, be sure to download Daisy’s book, The Organic Canner, for detailed canning instructions.
Nothing zaps energy faster than sitting in front of a TV or computer screen hour after hour. Not only is time wasted but our minds and bodies become accustomed to inaction and it becomes even hard to get up and start doing something!
Allow yourself and the kids only a certain number of minutes per day in front of a screen.
A lot of time we find ourselves in a slump because we’re unfocused and are not sure what to do next. I’ve found that when I have all my scattered goals written down, it helps immensely.
Three lists that have helped me stay organized and focused on my preps are To Learn, To Do, and To Buy. From my book, Survival Mom:
List #1: To Learn
On this list you’ll keep track of skills and knowledge you realize will be important. A few examples on my own list are: Learn to tie various knots and know when to use them; work on creating recipes from my food-storage ingredients; and push my knitting skills to a higher level and knit a pair of socks.
Interestingly, many items on this list won’t cost a dime. If your budget is already strained, and buying even a few extra cans of tuna is a stretch, put more time and energy into learning skills, gaining knowledge, and seeking out other Survival Moms as resources.
List #2: To Do
Here’s another list that doesn’t have to empty out your bank account. Have you been meaning to compile all your important documents or inventory a garage filled with tools? Do you need to prepare your garden for the spring season?
There are simply dozens of things we intend to do, but they flicker in and out of our minds and are then . . . gone! As you read this book, start adding tasks to a To Do list and keep track of what you accomplish. It’s very empowering to see progress, although you will likely never have an empty To Do list!
List #3: To Buy
Although Lists 1 and 2 will keep you busy, there’s really no way around List 3. Stocking up on food, extra toiletries, good quality tools, and other supplies requires money. However, the good news is that a master To Buy list will help set priorities, keep you on budget, and even provide a shopping list when hitting the garage sale circuit.
Without a To Buy list, you may very well find yourself (a) spending money on things you later discover tucked away in a back cupboard or (b) snatching up purchases in a panic. This list helps save money as well as time.
If we begin a project or set a goal based mostly on emotion, when that emotion fades, and it will, very often our motivation fades as well. If you began preparing out of fear or panic, it’s likely that you’re not as motivated as you once were.
That’s all perfectly normal, however, if the logical part of your brain is convinced that prepping is important to the well-being of your family. You’ve just entered a new level of motivation based on rational conclusions. This is where lists come in handy: To Do, To Learn, To Buy. They’ll help you stay focused on what is most important regardless of the current state of your emotions.
Summers are wonderful but let’s face it. When the kids return to school, so do routines. Having a predictable schedule once again will help you set priorities, focus on achieving small prepping goals, continue with prepping activities, and become the Super Survival Mom of your dreams!
When a disaster strikes unexpectedly, there’s nearly always some kind of monkey wrench that causes your well-thought-out prepper plans to work less effectively than expected. When describing the situation, the person says sheepishly, “Normally we wouldn’t have had X circumstance going on when it happened, and our preps would have worked just fine.”
Or, in the words of Mike Tyson, “Everyone’s got a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth.”
That’s just the thing. There is nearly always going to be a variable that doesn’t fall neatly into your imagined scenario. Your ability to roll with that is the truest test of your preps. It is more valid than any number of planned practice runs.
Don’t get me wrong. Planned practice runs are great and are a valuable technique to enhance your level of preparedness. But be honest – you nearly always do a little something extra to prepare for a practice run. Perhaps you make an extra trip to the store. Maybe you just got a brand new prep that you want to test out, inspiring the practice run that is a perfect scenario for the use of that prep.
But…disasters do not wait for the perfect time and circumstances. They don’t always indicate their arrival and allow enough time for a trip to the store. (At least not a trip to the store during which everyone else in your geographic vicinity is competing for the same supplies.)
Realizing this can take your preparedness to the next level.
Here’s an example that happened to us this past weekend.
On Friday, I spent the afternoon canning. I did a huge batch of tomatoes, and anyone who has ever canned tomatoes can tell you exactly how messy that was. My poor white kitchen looked like a crime scene. I made dinner and stacked the pots, pans, and dishes in the sink. I had a huge mess in the kitchen. I had a load of dirty laundry humming along in the washing machine as I began to tackle the chaos.
Then, I turned on the faucet and nothing came out.
Not a drop.
My well pump had finally given up the ghost.
And my kitchen was a disaster area. And soapy, wet laundry sat in my washer.
On the first day of our family emergency, we went through nearly triple our allotted amount of water, just to get things to the condition in which we could abide by our plan. Fortunately, I had quite a bit of water stored, but it wasn’t going to last nearly as long as I had expected with the giant dent I put in the supply on Day 1.
I pulled out my notebook and began to jot down the things we learned with this unexpected drill and reported it to some prepper folks that I hang out with. One friend said that I normally wouldn’t start out with tomato guts all over the counters and a sink full of dirty dishes and a soapy load of clothes in the washing machine. Initially, I agreed, since this isn’t the usual state of my home.
But then, I thought about it.
There’s nearly always some weird variable.
A few years ago when the Derecho hit the Washington DC area, a local friend there told me it had been laundry day. She had put off doing laundry because the family had been busy, and they had piles and piles of dirty clothes. The fact that they hardly anything clean left to wear had been the motivating factor in her sorting the large piles of laundry on the kitchen floor as she began to conquer the mountain.
And then the power went out. It went out for days. And there they were with all of that dirty laundry, a load in the washer, a load in the dryer, and hardly a thing to wear. They ended up hanging the stuff in the dryer, hand washing to complete the stuff in the washer, and wearing the same stuff for the next few days during a horrible heat wave with no power.
When a disaster hits your house, you will probably have some variable too. Very few of us are in a constant state of readiness. Life just doesn’t work like that.
We have busy weeks during which we may skip laundry day. We have messy kitchens because we just did a huge project. We have times when our house is messy and disorganized, or when we are waiting for the next paycheck before hitting the grocery store for some staples that are running low. We use up all the BBQ’s propane during a weekend cookout. We discover the kids have been quietly snacking on some of the no-cook goodies we thought were secretly stashed away, but discover it only when we go to pull that food out to feed the family during a power outage.
There’s really never a perfect time. There’s rarely a warning that comes at a time when we have enough in our bank account to grab anything we’re running short of, and also aligns with our ability to get to the store before everyone else that wants to pick up those vital items.
So, you have to make the best of it. You have to be ready to accept the fact that you’ll find that somewhere in your plans was a gap. You’ll learn that you had prepped for a neat, perfect scenario but that life handed you an asymmetrical mess with a pile of dirty laundry in the kitchen.
That’s when you’ll discover how prepared you really are. That is when you will truly be able to test your adaptability, which is the true key to surviving any crisis.
There are some things we can do to be at the top of our game. Keep in mind that in an emergency, things won’t align perfectly, but by having the following in place you can start out in a better position.
When a disaster strikes, you’ll probably find that the timing really could have been better. Don’t beat yourself up about it or start to feel unsuccessful in your endeavors. Emergencies are rarely conveniently timed. Consider this a test of your adaptability.
And when you get through it, congratulate yourself. It’s your ability to roll with the variables that makes you a true prepper.
Did you ever face an emergency with less than ideal timing? What was the variable that threw a wrench in your perfect prepper plans? Please share your story in the comments and let us know what you learned.
A grid down scenario doesn’t have to be a massive EMP that detonates over the middle of the country, throwing us back to the 1800s.
It can be as simple (and likely) as a winter storm, a hurricane, or a computer issue at your local power station. While this is a fairly common occurrence, many people still seem taken completely by surprise when it happens. Without back-up heat, cooking methods, and lighting, the unprepared family could be in for a very unpleasant time until the lights come back on. Every family should be prepared for a minimum of two weeks without power. Not-so-fun fact: nearly 2000 families were still without power 94 days after Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast.
A couple of years ago, my youngest daughter and I spent a year in the North Woods of Ontario. It was a grand adventure, totally different from the city life we’d had previous to this. Our small cabin was on the banks of a beautiful lake and the edge of hundreds of acres of forest wilderness. It was heated only by wood, and although we had electricity, we were warned that it was sporadic, since we were fairly remote and regular maintenance was not always performed on the lines of the area.
As a prepared family, we were pretty sure we’d be just fine when the power went out.
The first time it happened was on a mild early autumn morning. The power went out for no apparent reason, and we high-fived each other. Game on!
Since it was afternoon and the weather was nice, it really wasn’t much of a challenge. The power returned before daylight, we had some stuff in the fridge for sandwiches, and we basically just needed to entertain ourselves sans grid. No big deal – we are bookworms, so we spent the day curled up with some good reads. We did make one unexpected discovery – our well was pumped by an electric component, so when the power went out, we also had no running water, including water to flush with. Of course, we had stored drinking water, and we brought a couple of buckets of water up from the lake for flushing, so this was a minor inconvenience.
However, it did get me thinking about how we would flush if the weather was cold enough that the lake was frozen, but there wasn’t snow on the ground. Hmmm…#1 Note to Self – store water for flushing too!
The next power outage occurred a couple of weeks later and it was a much bigger deal. The initial outage hit at about 7 o’clock on a chilly fall evening. It was dark and cold. We stoked up a fire in the woodstove, and began to search for our lighting solutions. Unfortunately, I hadn’t had the forethought to set up off-grid lighting in each room, so after digging for my candles in the dark closet, I had to carry one around to light candles in subsequent rooms.
#2 Note to Self: Keep candles, holders, and lighters in each room in a place which is easy to access in the dark. After this, we placed candles in holders are part of the decor all around the house.
The wind roared around outside the cabin and our power did not return for 3 days. We used the woodstove to heat up meals, but we couldn’t find all of the bits and pieces for a game we wanted to play. #3 Note to Self: Keep off-grid entertainment well-organized, especially if there are children in the house.
On the second day of the outage, we dragged our chest freezer out onto the deck to keep our food from going bad in the cozy cabin. #4 Note to Self: Get something sturdy to store food in outdoors that won’t draw wild animals to your porch that also doesn’t require you to drag a 200+ pound appliance outside.
By the time the next power outage rolled around, we had learned many lessons. At the first sign of windy weather, we immediately filled the bathtub. A bucket right beside the tub served as a container to transfer water from the tub to the toilet so that we could flush. A sturdy Rubbermaid storage bench with a lock resided on our deck, waiting to be pressed into duty as an outdoor freezer. Each room boasted of decorative candles. Home canned meals in jars lined my kitchen shelves, and a beautiful cast iron Dutch oven sat at the ready to simmer a delicious stew or pot of beans on the woodstove. A couple of pretty baskets were filled with art supplies and games (with all of their pieces) and a couple of kerosene lamps that were bright enough for reading sat at either end of the sofa. Since the fans that blew the heat into the bedrooms obviously did not work without power, we had a couple of air mattresses to set up in the living room on the coldest nights, so we could stay cozy by the fire.
The next time the power went out, we were excited because it meant a break in our day-to-day routine of work and school. Power outages had become mini-vacations, and were no longer even a blip on the radar for us.
We don’t live in our little cabin in the woods anymore, but the lessons we learned allow us to take power outages in stride in a way that most people don’t. Even though we don’t expect a shaky grid where we live now, our home is organized in the way that we learned up North. Lighting, extra water, sanitation, cold food solutions, and off-grid cooking tools are all close at hand should they be needed.
If you’re involved in the preparedness lifestyle, you’re probably into planning. Most likely, you research and study the excellent preparedness strategies put out by experts. Whether we prepare for incidents small or large, we all ponder what we’d do if something world-as-we-know-it-ending went down.
The trouble is, a lot of the plans that get made are more likely to get you killed than to save you. And people post these plans online, then new preppers read them and think, “Wow, what a great idea.”
I really love being involved in the preparedness lifestyle. I get to meet and correspond with lots of like-minded, down-to-earth people. We have those awesome conversations that you just can’t have with the checker at the grocery store cash register. I get to engage in email and social media discussions too, the likes of which would never occur with my second cousin who thinks that missing a pedicure appointment is a disaster worthy of government intervention. But sometimes, I kind of cringe. Not all preparedness plans are well-thought out and practiced. In fact, there are several recurring themes that I hear or read that are not good ideas for most preppers, and I bet that many of you reading have also privately rolled eyes at one of the following strategies. (Or maybe even publicly.)
I’m truly not trying to be mean when I share them with you here, nor am I trying to say that I’m the Queen Prepper of the Universe, who knows absolutely everything. I’d just like you to consider the variables if one of these plans happens to be your default strategy.
Oh my gosh. No, you probably won’t. You might try to hunt, but guess what? Loads of other people have this same idea. Unless you live hundreds of miles from civilization, the population of deer and wild turkeys will be quickly decimated in an event that renders the food delivery system inoperable.
Furthermore, hunting is not as easy as simply wandering into the woods, taking aim with a rifle, and popping a wandering buck in the head. Have you ever hunted? Have you done so recently, and by recently I mean within the past year? Have you ever field dressed an animal? Can you hit a moving target? Do you know how to set up snares? Do you know how to butcher and preserve meat? Are you in good enough shape to drag a 200 pound carcass through the woods?
If you can’t say yes to every single question listed here, hunting should probably not be your go-to plan for feeding your family.
This is closely related to Bad Strategy #1.
But it’s worse. Living in the wilderness is not going to be a marshmallow roast. First off, there are no marshmallows out there. Just lots of predators and food that has to be killed and skinned before you can eat it.
In this strategy, people like to talk about their proximities to a national forest. “There are thousands of acres, just on the other side of my fence.”
Okay. But when is the last time you went into that forest more than a few miles on foot? Did you spend more than a couple of nights there? Was the weather inclement? What are your local predators (not including the human variety)? Do you have a camping kit that you can carry in on foot? Will your children and spouse be able to also carry supplies? Are you planning to build a house with some tarps and a Swiss Army knife? What will you eat and drink? Are you adept at foraging in your area? For how long can you actually survive on what you can carry? How are your First Aid skills and what supplies will you have? Can you handle the loneliness? And what about the other, perhaps less than moral, individuals that have the same idea? Have you ever lit a fire with wet wood? Have you ever camped, outside of a campground area? What if it rains? In many climates, getting wet is a death sentence.
If bugging out on foot is one of your plans, I’d like to suggest you pick a clear day, put on a loaded backpack and some hiking boots, and go for a practice hike to your location. Go ahead. I’ll wait here.
This one really bothers me. There is a large contingent of armchair preppers who have this idea. However, they don’t exercise regularly. They look back 20-30 years to their high school or military glory days, when they played football, ran track, or had a drill sergeant screaming right behind them as they ran. Just because you were once very physically fit, that doesn’t mean you are still able to hike up a mountain in bad weather with a 50 pound kit on your back.
This is a classic recipe for a heart attack, by the way. Extreme over-exertion. High-stress situation. High-sodium, easily packable food. Out-of-shape person. A few miles into the journey, particularly if it includes a steep climb, the person will experience a pounding heart, dizziness, and faintness, as the body tries to shut down to protect itself from the unaccustomed demands. If the physical stress continues, the heart won’t be able to keep up with the demand to pump blood. Game. Over.
Embarking on an overly ambitious bug-out journey can endanger not only you, but the people making the trek with you. What if you have a heart attack half way up the mountain? What if you have an asthma attack? What if you injure your out-of-shape self? Who is going to help you? If the situation is bad enough that you’re bugging out, you aren’t likely to be airlifted to a hospital for medical care. Will someone put their own safety at risk to hang out with you while you recover, thus forcing the family to divert to Bad Strategy #2?
I’m not trying to talk anyone into staying in a bad situation when bugging out ould be the wiser course of action (like in Bad Strategy #11). But if your bug out route is a long distance or over difficult terrain, you need to get out there and start training before you put the lives of everyone in your team or family at risk.
Ah, the rugged loner.
This is not a winning plan for many reasons. Being with a group, even a small one, has many benefits. As Scott, from Graywolf Survival, wrote:
Humans started banding together to survive millions of years ago. They did this for one thing: because there’s safety in numbers. If you live by yourself, you can’t collect food, improve your fighting position, patrol the area, chop wood, filter water, and be on all sides of your property – all at once. Plus, you have to devote a large amount of your day to sleeping each night. And besides, who are you gonna bitch to about your day if you’re all alone?
…Even a small group of 12 has a HUGE advantage to defending an area and continuing on with other operations at the same time. With an adequate number of personnel, not only can you have a rotation of assignments to support 24 hour operations, you can afford people to specialize in certain tasks. This specialization increases the efficiency of the group overall (synergy) and was one of the largest reasons why we developed into a society.
It isn’t just enough to have a team, either. You need to train with your team, tactically, with an expert if possible. And by training, I’m not talking about going out to play paintball in the woods. Max Velocity, author and founder of a combat school in West Virginia explains:
‘Tacticool’ training is not only designed to simply make you look and feel good, but more insidiously it will give you the idea that you are tactically trained and proficient, when you are not. It is the sort of training that will give you enough to really get yourself in trouble. For example, basic marksmanship and square range training have a solid place in the training progression, but you must move beyond the static range to tactical field firing training in order to be tactically trained. You have to understand how to operate your weapons ‘out in the wild,’ and to maneuver in real environments. Often the problem with ‘tacticool’ training is that among the instructors there is not the experience or facility to move beyond the square range, and there is only so much you can do, so instructors make stuff up that may in fact be disadvantageous to your heath. At Max Velocity Tactical the tactical ranges have been designed out in the woods and utilize electronic pop-up targets, bunkers and other such training aids to bring a realistic tactical environment, This allows a certain amount of stress and battle inoculation to be brought to the students in training. And critically, this is all done in a safe and practical manner. (You can read the rest of his interview HERE)
Maybe you only have a handful of people you trust. Maybe you only want to be with other military dudes. Keep in mind that there are things that you will need in a SHTF scenario that are a bit kinder and gentler. It’s not just about brute force and protecting the camp or retreat. It’s about food, building a future, farming, sitting down, and even relaxing from time to time. Not every moment in a situation like that will be like a scene from an action-adventure movie. We’ll still eat dinner, read a book, talk with others, sleep, and have relationships.
Who can forget that episode of Doomsday Preppers that was shared all over preparedness social media and websites, in which a redneck and his team of merry marauders discussed their plans to take everything that preppers living nearby had stored away?
I wrote about Tyler Smith and his plan a couple of years ago:
Most preppers, Smith says, are concerned with marauders taking their supplies. It’s not an unfounded fear, he says.
“We are those people,” he says. “We’ll kick your door in and take your supplies. … We are the marauders.”
We’re not in it to stockpile. We’re in it to take what you have and there’s nothing you can do to stop us,” Tyler Smith says. “We are your worst nightmare, and we are coming.”
Smith, 29, is the leader of Spartan Survival. The group has more than 80 dues-paying members. Smith founded the organization in 2005 to train and prepare others on survivalism.
Smith (a paroled felon who incidentally went back to jail shortly after his televised waving around of firearms) might be a joke, but you can’t ignore the danger of groups with similar plans. This yahoo had 80 people on board with him, for crying out loud. And if you happen to have such a plan, you should probably realize that those of us who are really prepared won’t stand around wringing our hands and crying when you come to attempt to relieve us of our supplies. We’ve prepared for people like you, too. The post-SHTF life expectancy of those who plan to survive using Bad Strategy #5 will probably be a short one. You might manage to raid a few people’s retreats (particularly those using Bad Strategy #4, but if the situations is WROL (without rule of law), it’s pretty much a given that the justice which will be meted out by the intended victims will be swift and final.
Do you have prepper tools that are still in the box? How often do you make it to the shooting range? When’s the last time you actually felled a tree then chopped firewood? When did you do it without a chainsaw?
There are loads of different examples that I could give about tools that just sit there in their boxes, awaiting their moment of glory when it all hits the fan. For the purposes of Bad Strategy #6, I’m including firearms as a tool. Skill with an axe is not a given. Accurate aim doesn’t stay with you if you don’t practice. Have you ever attempted to pressure can over an open fire? Even building a fire is not easy if you’ve only done it once or twice. (See Bad Strategy #9 for details.)
Not only is it vital to practice using your tools during good times, when you have back-up options available, but you need to test your tools to be sure that they operate as intended. I once purchased a water filtration system for use during off-grid situations. It was missing an essential gasket. Without that gasket, it would be totally useless. Sure, I could have tried to MacGuyver something, but the point of buying all of this stuff is to save your MacGuyvering for things you don’t have. Because I checked out my tool before I needed it, I was able to send it back and get a replacement.
I really love gardening and have stored an abundance of seeds. Seeds are a very important thing to store. However, if you store them to the exclusion of food, you’re going to have a really bad time.
The problem with depending on seeds for your food supply is that Stuff Happens. Stuff like droughts. Stuff like aphids. Stuff like blossom-end rot. Stuff like the thrice-damned deer that managed to get past your fence.
Furthermore, if this is your plan, have you grown a garden recently? Have you produced food on your current property or your retreat property? Do you have a compost system? Have you developed your soil? First year gardens almost never produce what you expect them to. Do you know how much produce your family will consume in a year? How are you at food preservation? What about off-grid food preservation?
Because of these concerns, a garden should not be a stand-alone survival plan. It is a vital part of a long-term preparedness scenario, but you must also be prepared for the potential of failure.
Generators are loud, smelly, and finite.
If you want to bring attention to yourself in the midst of a down-grid scenario, the surest way to do it is to be the only house in the area with lights blazing in every window. Generators are commonly stolen, because they’re impossible to hide, rumbling away beside your house. A person following Bad Strategy #5 would be likely to think that if you have a generator with extra fuel, you might have some other awesome stuff that they’d want too.
It goes further than simply drawing attention to yourself though. Gas, diesel, and propane generators can be dangerous. They can produce high levels of carbon monoxide very quickly, so if the plan were to enclose it to deter thieves, it could be deadly. Trying to power your entire house by backfeeding while still hooked up to local utilities could endanger the lives of neighbors or utility workers. Refilling a generator that has not completely cooled is a fire hazard. Make sure that your generator doesn’t fall into the category of Bad Strategy #6. There’s more to it than simply flipping a switch and having power. You need to learn to operate and maintain the generator long before you have to rely on it.
Keep in mind, if you do opt to use a generator, that this is not a long-term solution. There’s only so much fuel that anyone can store. Eventually, it’s going to run out, and if your plan was completely dependent on being able to run a generator, what will you do then? My personal preparedness plan is to revert to a low-tech lifestyle that doesn’t require electricity.
This is one that I learned about the hard way, myself. A few years ago, my daughter and I moved from the city to a cabin in the north woods of Ontario, Canada. I figured that with a giant lake at our disposal, a well, our supplies, and a woodstove, we’d have all we needed to surive an extended power outage.
Unfortunately for us, born and raised in the city, lighting a fire and keeping it going was not that easy. The mere presence of a fireplace or woodstove does not warmth create. It took me an entire month of daily trial, error, and frustration to master a fire that would warm the house. I also learned that cooking on a woodstove was not as easy as sitting a pot on top of it. Dampers had to be adjusted, heat had to be increased, and the food required far more monitoring than expected. The year we spent there taught us more than we ever imagined about what we didn’t know.
If using your fireplace or woodstove is part of your survival plan, how much wood do you have? Is it seasoneed and dry? Can you acquire more? Have you actually chopped wood before? Recently? When is the last time you prepared food using your stove or fireplace?
The good news is, you can make this strategy work, as long as you don’t go all Bad Strategy #6. Ramp up your wood supply and begin using your fireplace or woodstove on a regular basis to work out the bugs in your plan now.
This is a terrible idea on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start.
First of all, when utilities are interrupted, those in large metropolitan areas are left with few options. It’s hard to dig a latrine in the concrete jungle. Remember when New York was hit by Superstorm Sandy? People were defecating in the halls of apartment buildings to try and keep their own apartments moderately sanitary. Unfortunately, sewage built up in the pipes and spewed into apartments, filling them with deadly human waste.
Store shelves will quickly be emptied before and after disasters, leaving little to scavenge. If you happen across the wrong place, you’re likely to be shot by a property owner defending his or her goods. If you wait too long to evacuate, roadways will be blocked, and you can end up being a refugee, with no option but camps. Cities will be populated with desperate people, some of whom were criminals before the disaster struck. Even those who were friendly neighbors before the disaster can turn on you, because desperation can turn anyone into a criminal in order to feed their families.
Highly populated areas without outdoor space will quickly become death traps in the wake of a disaster.
Some people like to stock their goods and then forget about preparedness. They don’t like to consider the threats they might face. But mentally preparing for disasters is a very important step. I recently made a list of prepper movies (you can find it here) and suggested that they be used to run scenarios in your head.
This very vital step can help you to do the most important thing when a disaster occurs: accept that it has actually happened. The prepper mindset is one of problem-solving and flexibility.
It’s a unique way of looking at a situation, assessing the options, and acting that defines the prepper mindset. Think about any stressful situation that has ever happened to you. Once you accepted the fact that it had happened you were able to set a course of action. Once you had definitive steps to take, you probably felt much calmer. You took control of the things you could, and you executed your plan. Only by taking that first step – accepting that this mishap had indeed occurred – could you take the next two.
By refusing to consider the things that could happen, you run the risk of being unable to immediately accept it when it does happen. This sets you up for a very dangerous period of hesitation that could mean a death sentence for you and those who depend on you.
With folks like the ones who intend to practice Bad Strategy #5 around, it’s no wonder that some people intend to practice Bad Strategy #12.
However, there are a few reasons that this is a bad idea.
First, instead of just protecting you, this can actually make you a target. Less than ethical people may start to wonder what you are protecting so stringently, and may work to develop a plan to overtake you. Alternatively, more ethical people may decide they don’t want a group like yours in the area and plan to forcibly evict you. If the situation doesn’t start off like the wild west, people who adhere to this Bad Strategy will turn it into that scenario.
And finally, the real kicker: those who survive some life-changing event will be the new founders of our society. Do you really want to live in a place where people have to shoot first and ask questions later? How we choose to live will set the course for how we continue to live.
There’s good news, though, if I just peed all over your favorite plan.
There’s still time to make adjustments to make your plan more workable. You can brush up on your hunting and foraging skills. You can start an exercise plan so you don’t die when hiking. You can test out your tools and find your weak points. You can adjust your plan to be more ethical. You may not need to chuck the plan altogether, but merely test and modify it.
The key with all things preparedness is to practice, to drill, and to make it your lifestyle. Work out the bugs now, while back-up is as close as the hardware store or grocery store. Get yourself mentally prepared to accept the situation and change your plans on a dime if necessary.
Finally, consider the kind of world you want to live in. If there was a giant reset, those who survive would pave the path for a different society. By our plans and actions, we can create a different type of world. One with justice, kindness, ethics, and freedom.
Right now, our society is led by criminal corporations, sell-out politicians, and thugs, both in and out of uniform. I’d like to believe that we can do better.
If your kids go to school, they have undoubtedly participated in a school fire drill. Most bus riders have gone through a bus evacuation drill out the back emergency door. Some schools are even conducting active shooter drills as preparedness drills.
But have you had a fire drill in your own home? Have you talked about how and when to exit your car after an accident? Do they know what to do in case there is a shooter at the mall?
Parents tend to TELL their kids what to do instead of SHOW them. We say that in case of fire, we will meet at the big oak tree across the street. What we don’t often do is show them how to actually get to that oak tree. We TELL our kids, “Don’t get in a car with strangers,” but we don’t SHOW them how to fight back if someone grabs them.
As children get old enough to be home or out in public on their own, these drills become even more important because they will not have you to give instructions in an emergency. We need to prepare them, using active drills, to protect and potentially save their own lives.
It’s early in the morning. The kids are still asleep and the sun is just starting to rise. I’ve woken to use the restroom but decide, since I’m up, it’s a great time for a drill. I poke the test button for the smoke detector, go into my daughter’s bedroom and yell, “FIRE DRILL! FIRE DRILL! FIRE DRILL!” She realizes what is happening and rolls out of bed. She hurries to the door and places her hand on it. “The door is hot!” I shout. She turns to the window, unlatches and opens it, removes the screen and crawls out the window.
I then proceed to my son’s room. He feels the door for for heat. “The door is not hot!” He grabs a shirt to cover his mouth, opens the door, and begins to low crawl down the hallway. He makes it all the way to the front door, unlocks it, and goes outside to our meeting point across the street where his sister is already waiting.
After the drill, we talk about the possibility of going to a neighbor to call 911 and what, if anything, they could have done differently.
Sometimes during a drill I throw a curve ball. “The windows are stuck! You can’t get them open!” We then talk about it being okay to use a chair to break the window and place a blanket over the window sill to prevent cuts from broken glass. I have them pick up a chair and practice swing it so they get an idea of how heavy it is and the kind of force they would need to use. Another test: “The cat is meowing in the hallway!” As much as we love them, their job is NOT to go after the pets.
The first time we ran through this drill, I learned that not only did my daughter not know how to work the window locks, but that her skinny arms weren’t strong enough to actually open the window. She ended up practicing opening the window every few days until she figured out a way to leverage her body weight and get them open.
If you live in a two story home, you should have a fire ladder. (You do have one in each upstairs bedroom, right?) But have you actually ever used it? Don’t just have it sitting in the box hoping you’ll never need it. You do not want your child to try to figure out how to use it with a fire burning outside the door.
Some fire ladders are single use for emergencies only while others are multi-use and can actually be used in a full drill to climb out your window. Even with a single use ladder, you can show your children how to attach it to a window sill, what steps to take to deploy it, and tips for climbing out the window to safety. With a multi-use ladder, practicing climbing to the ground will reduce the level of fear of the ladder itself during a true emergency.
Children, young ones especially, need to be reminded that firefighters may look scary with all their gear on. Show them what a firefighter looks like and teach them that there is no such thing as a “stranger” when it comes to someone helping them out of a fire or other disaster. They should go with anyone who is there to rescue them.
Don’t just show your kids the multiple ways to get out of the house if it is on fire. Also show them all the ways your home is protected to prevent fire. Show them the smoke detectors and fire extinguishers and explain how they work. Teach them of the importance of not leaving the kitchen when something is cooking on the stove top and to unplug curling irons and toasters. Remind kids that matches, lighters, and candles are not toys and shouldn’t be used except with permission from an adult, while also teaching how to properly use and extinguish them.
These drills follow the same line of thinking as the fire drill. Even if your area isn’t prone to these types of disasters, teaching your children how to respond to them is still a good idea. Show them some short videos on tornado and storm safety, teach them safe earthquake response, and then later start a drill when they aren’t expecting it.
“Don’t get in a car with strangers.” It’s good advice, but does your child know how to fight off a larger adult who has grabbed them? You’ve probably also taught your children not to hit or kick or bite. But does that include against strangers who are trying to abduct them? Be sure your children understand that any level of violence from them is acceptable when fighting off someone who is trying to hurt them.
Find a self defense for kids class in your town so they can not only learn practical ways to fight back, but they can also practice hitting and kicking. Believe it or not, most people, adults included, don’t know how to effectively hit another person in their own defense.
I was in a fairly serious car accident a few years ago. No one was badly hurt but three cars were smashed up, and fortunately my children were not in the car with me. In the immediate moments after the crash I sat their dumbfounded and needed to be given instructions to get out of the car. I learned that I needed to discuss this with the kids.
If we are in an accident, what should you do? If the driver or another adult is able to give instruction, kids are to comply. But what if the adult is unconscious or otherwise unable to help? If you are able, undo seat belts and get yourself and your siblings out of the car together. WATCH FOR OTHER CARS when leaving the vehicle. If someone is very injured, leave them in place and get help. If they learn nothing else, the two rules for a car accident are: if you’re able to leave the vehicle, do so… and watch out for other cars.
This is the hardest one for a lot of families. We worry about scaring our children. We don’t want to even think about our children being in an active shooter situation. But teaching your kids what gunfire sounds like, the difference between hiding and taking cover, and what to do if they find themselves in this situation could mean the difference between life and death.
The run-hide-barricade-attack training response is good for older children in school who will potentially have the ability to make their own decisions in an active shooter scenario. It is also good information for all children who find themselves at other public places (like malls, sporting events, restaurants, etc) when a shooter arrives.
Sometimes when we are in a store or restaurant, I will ask my kids, “If you heard gunshots right now, what would you do?” Depending on their answers and the situation, I might ask additional questions to get them thinking about a plan. For yourself, or for older children, consider this short video training for active shooter response.
What’s one of the cardinal rules when we leave children at home on their own? Don’t open the door to strangers! Have you told your children what to do if a stranger comes in anyway? As soon as someone starts to force their way into the house, your children should leave out another door, preferably on the other side of the home and then go to a trusted neighbor for help. If they cannot leave the house for some reason, grabbing a phone and hiding while calling 911 is the best response. Again, don’t just talk about what to do. Actually practice running out an alternate door and going room to room to identify good hiding places.
My children have been very fortunate to be able to participate in “Be Ready Camp” sponsored by the State of Alabama. One of the most important things they learned was basic first aid. They were taught with a hands on approach how to stop bleeding, splint a broken bone, and more.
Children can also learn CPR and use it effectively. If you can’t find a local class that will teach children, talk to your child’s school about teaching a course to students or purchase a kit to bring home to teach your kids yourself.
This is a new one for my family. While I had given the “Say no to drugs” and “Don’t get into a car with someone who has been drinking” lectures, we hadn’t had real, applicable discussions about these situations. I read an article recently that talked about this very thing and it was a light bulb moment for me. We can’t just TELL our kids not to drink, but instead we must help them find the words to use when the situation happens. Kids often want to say no, but they just don’t know how. I won’t rehash the whole article, but go read it. Failing to know what to do in these social situations can lead to a personal or family disaster just as devastating as any of the other incidents mentioned here.
Children are capable of handling more information at an earlier age than many parents give them credit for. We’ve all heard of the stories where a very young child calls 911, or a child who has been taught survival techniques is able to save their own life. You know your child better than anyone else. Keep the lessons and skills age appropriate.
The idea is not to scare your children or have their thoughts constantly filled with “what ifs.” The discussions and drills I have with my family my seem extreme to some, but it works for us and my kids are well-adjusted, prepared individuals. Decide how much preparedness you want to teach your own kids and begin to drill them. Without the drill, the information might be lost in time. Every skill you give them is one that might save their lives.
An evacuation can be pretty scary, even for adults. Just as there are all kinds of reasons to evacuate, there are all kinds of unknowns.
Running around gathering up all your stuff is pretty hectic, even when you have all the answers. From a little kid’s perspective, all that chaos can be overwhelming. You can easily diminish the stress of the event by holding regular evacuation drills with your family.
Practice is the part of emergency evacuation that is least exercised but arguably most important. It’s easy enough to buy a 72-hour kit and explain to the kids what it’s for, but it’s less easy to set aside the time for an evacuation drill. For some reason, this part of preparedness often takes a backseat. This is especially true if you live in an area that hasn’t experienced a natural disaster in some time.
In the spirit of research, (and also in the spirit of practicing what I preach) we finally set aside the time to actually, in real life, do a trial run of our evacuation plan. Here’s what our trial run looked like:
Before our drill, my husband and I sat down with the kids (ages 6, 4, 2, and 2 months) and planned out what we would be doing and who was responsible for what. Each child capable of walking would be responsible for his or her own emergency kit, comfort items, and shoes. Mom (that’s me!) would take charge of the baby and make sure we had all of her relevant supplies. Dad would grab some extra containers of water, and any handy snacks that happened to be in the pantry.
We made excellent time – all four kids were buckled in the minivan along with our 72 hour kits in 4 minutes, 55 seconds. We congratulated ourselves and took a victory lap around the block. It wasn’t until after we unloaded and put everything away that we realized we had forgotten a lot of stuff:
My youngest was born with a cleft palate, and I remembered to grab all her taping supplies for her face, but didn’t realize until after our drill was complete that her dental appliance had fallen out and was left behind in her baby swing. If our evacuation had been for real, that would have been an absolute disaster.
We learned some other things, too. Even though everyone knew this was for practice and we weren’t actually in any danger of zombie attack, my two-year-old panicked. “I can’t find my blankie! Where’s my other shoe?” I told her, as I was packing up the baby’s things, that she should check upstairs in her room, but for some reason she could only walk around in circles in the living room worrying herself sick. In contrast, my oldest had his shoes, socks, favorite toy, and 72 hour kit in hand and was the first one to be buckled into the car. The four-year-old cheated and found his own favorite toy and blanket long before I started the stop watch, the second I announced the evacuation drill.
READ MORE: Do most people think clearly and rationally when under the gun with a real life emergency evacuation? Read this.
We experienced a slight hiccup when the 2-year-old was unable to lift her own 72-hour kit. She struggled along with it out to the car for about five feet before collapsing into a puddle of toddler frustration. Only later did we realize that she had been trying to lift her older brother’s kit – the two kits are in identical bags.
My husband, whose brain switched into autopilot when we began our drill, briefly forgot that we had a fourth child. Not until we unpacked the car did he turn to me and ask, “Oh, no! Did we forget the baby?” (No.) In his defense, she was in a really quiet mood at the time.
So knowing how our trial run went – the good and the bad – how will this impact our future drills, or even a real evacuation?
Evacuations aren’t the only thing that we need to drill with our kids. Schools, businesses, and military bases around the world participate in fire and earthquake drills. If it’s good enough for Amelia Earhart Elementary down the street, it’s probably good enough for all of us.
In my neck of the woods, the local government sponsors annual earthquake drills. I’ve taken the opportunity to participate in them with my kids when I can (it usually involves hiding under the kitchen table), and I’ve found this to be very helpful. When the recent earthquake in Ecuador came up as a topic of conversation, my 4-year-old interrupted to say exactly what he would do if we experienced one at home. His personal emergency plan was exactly the one we had discussed and practiced as a family. That’s my boy!
Fire drills, admittedly, can be a little tricky because they often involve climbing out windows. All the more reason to practice! Invest in a decent fire escape ladder, and help your kids become comfortable climbing down them. If you have very young children who cannot climb on their own, then I encourage you, the parent, to become proficient at using a rope ladder while carrying a kid with one arm. I confess this is a skill that I have not yet mastered, but it’s one that I know will be really good to have.
When many urban or suburban people think about Prepping or Survivalism, they think about bugging out to a more rural location. This has to be one of the most frequently-expressed fantasies in the Prepping world, and reams have been written about where to go and how to get there.
But very little has been written from the perspective of the rural dwellers. How does your average farmer or homesteader feel about urban folks bugging out to the country?
We live on a twenty-acre homestead farm in rural north Idaho. Wow, I can see your eyes sparkling from here. You’re thinking, “What a perfect bug out location!” Then believe me when I say the most dreaded words a homesteader can hear on the subject of Prepping is, “Well, if the bleep hits the fan we’ll just come live with you.”
“Farm” does NOT mean remote or isolated or even self-sufficient. Farmers live pretty much like you do, but with more elbow room. We go to the grocery store. We have jobs. We have neighbors. And we have towns nearby.
Okay, granted those towns can be pretty small by urban standards, but they’re just as full of unprepared people as anywhere else. That means if the manure hits the rotating device, we’re going to have our hands full dealing with them.
Bear in mind that most people in the country may not be much more prepared than you are – which is to say, perhaps not at all. Unless rural folks already have a Preparedness mindset, they’re just as susceptible to societal interruptions as your average city person.
Our only advantage is we’re farther away from the Golden Horde, that mythical group of city folks who will take to the road in times of disorder, or so some survival experts believe.
Or, are we really that far away and safe from thousands of straggling refugees? In our case, we live within a very short drive (as in, four minutes) from a town of 1000, many of whom are on welfare and are just as dependent on government checks as anyone in the inner city. This means they will certainly go “foraging” when they get hungry.
Many people don’t realize that the Greater Depression has already impacted rural areas. Hard. Jobs out here are as scarce as hen’s teeth (as the saying goes) and unemployment in our county hovers around 20%. Most of us are poor to begin with, especially by urban standards. That means we don’t have a lot of money to pour into elaborate “prepper” projects.
So does this mean you should give up your idealized little dream about bugging out to the country? Yes and no. It depends on how realistic you’re being about your bug out plans.
To smooth the way, here are ten tips that may make your welcome a little warmer.
If you want to escape from the city, make your own private plans in advance and do not broadcast them to every Tom, Dick, and Harry of your acquaintance. Nothing will dismay a rural friend or relative – much less a perfect stranger – more than having a brace of new people on their doorstep asking for food, shelter, and protection. There’s nothing wrong with talking to rural-dwelling friends or relatives about the idea of deploying to their place if things get bad. But if you do……
One of the “panic” aspects we country folk feel is that we don’t have enough supplies to provide for a hungry horde. And we don’t. Let’s face it, sometimes we barely have enough supplies to feed ourselves (remember, 20% unemployment in our area). Do the math to understand our concerns. If, through hard work, thrift, and diligence we’ve managed to squirrel away a year’s worth of food for our family of four – and then you show up with your family of four – then we’ve automatically halved our supplies to six months. Now can you understand our fears?
Pretend you’ve bought an isolated cabin in the mountains to use as a bug out. Would you be pleased to show up, exhausted and scared, to a cabin with no food, water, bedding, lighting, heat, or other necessities? Of course not. Presumably you would outfit your cabin to be ready for a bad scenario.
Your plans to bug out to a host family should be no different. Send supplies in advance. Send lots of supplies in advance. Can’t afford it? Well guess what, neither can we. That shouldn’t stop you from sending a case of canned goods, a few sacks of rice and beans, perhaps some boxes of ammo. If the host family has an unused corner of their barn, perhaps they’ll allow you to dedicate that area for your supplies. Don’t forget clothing, sleeping bags, toiletries, firearms, medical supplies, etc., and make sure you make everything weather, insect, and rodent-proof.
If your finances permit, consider funding an expensive project that may be beyond a host family’s reach, such as a windmill, pond, or other pricey item. Think of it as a sort of investment.
Sending supplies in advance proves your worth. It demonstrates you don’t plan to be a leech.
Even if you’ve made plans ahead of time and stashed adequate supplies, don’t expect a host family to welcome all your baggage. For example, we have two large and semi-aggressive dogs. We have large and aggressive dogs on purpose – they help protect us. If you show up with a yappy Pomeranian and four cats, don’t expect us to be happy about it. Our dogs would spend every waking hour trying to eat your pets for lunch. And no, it’s not our fault that our dogs are “aggressive.” It’s your fault for bringing animals into a situation that we’re not prepared – or willing – to handle.
This is our home. We live and work here. We pay the mortgage. No matter how much we may love and welcome you, you’re still coming as a supplicant, not a part-owner of our farm. You are in no position to make demands or request that we change our way of doing things unless you can demonstrate you’re an expert. And even then, it’s still our house, property, equipment, and possibly food and other supplies.
Hint: diplomacy will go a long way if you think you know a better way to do something.
If you bug out to a rural host family, remember they’re not running a bed-and-breakfast. Don’t expect them to wait on you or cater to your every whim. A farm – especially post-bleep – will be a place of constant and brutal work. Nothing will annoy a host family more than some lazy jerk who does whatever he can to weasel out of the day’s chores. Be ready, willing, and able to help. It’s possible that lives may depend on the willingness of everyone to pitch in and work together to do what must be done.
When you arrive at your host family’s rural location, you must immediately change any wasteful habits you may have and become very parsimonious. If you spill something, don’t lavishly use paper towels to wipe it up because you can’t buy any more. Use a rag. Treat everything as irreplaceable – because believe me, if you’ve bugged out in the first place, it’s probably because the bleep has hit the fan and common everyday things are irreplaceable.
Host families in rural areas will be more likely to welcome those with useful skills. If your most useful skill is shopping or meditation or social activism, don’t expect a whole lot of sympathy. Your master’s degree in 18th century French literature is not likely to do you a whole lot of good post-bleep. But if you have practical skills – medicine or defense or mechanics or food preservation or animal husbandry or veterinarian skills or sewing or something similarly needed – you’re far more likely to find an open door.
And this should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Don’t lieabout your skills or abilities. If you state with confidence that you’re an expert at hunting and butchering – but have never held a rifle or dispatched a steer – that will be discovered soon enough. Learn those skills first before you claim knowledge. Duh.
So learn stuff. Don’t show up ignorant.
If/when the bleep hits the fan, people (urban and rural) are likely to be a lot more hysterical than normal. Having your plans in writingahead of time clarifies all the obligations, expectations, andlimitations between the two parties. This contract can also include what the urban person can and cannot bring. Pets should be included in this list. If the rural refuge is not prepared to handle your yappy Pomeranian because he has three aggressive German Shepherds, you need to know that in advance.
This contract should include one very important part: how many people the host family is expected to take in. If, in your compassion, you gather up every second-cousin-twice-removed and show up with a swell of fifty people, do you honestly think that’s going to work?
Okay, let’s say you’ve done everything right. You’ve made a contractual plan in advance with a rural host family. You’ve sent plenty of supplies ahead of you. The welcome mat is ready to be rolled out.
Now whatever you do, shut up. Don’t blab your plans to friends and coworkers, because doubtless they’ll want to know more, and before you know it, the host family’s OpSec is blown. The host family is already going out on a limb by agreeing to take you in – don’t compromise their safety even more. And if martial law ensues and your gossip spreads about the host family’s supplies, it may mean those supplies may be confiscated. Congratulations, now you’re screwed – and so are the people who took you in.
The dictionary defines forbearance as “patient endurance and self-control.” Believe me, if the bleep hits the fan, we’re all going to have to practice astronomical amounts of forbearance.
It is not easy to move into someone else’s house. It’s not easy for the hosts to have permanent guests either. Imagine a standard-sized ranch house with five women in the kitchen. Do you honestly think they’ll all get along swimmingly? If that’s too sexist for you, imagine a building project with five guys or (worse) five engineers who all have their own ideas of how something should be done. Who’s right?
Hint: Whoever owns the house gets the final say unless you can diplomatically demonstrate you’re an expert in something. And even then, ownership trumps expertise.
Remember what it’s like at your home when friends and family arrive for the holidays? After three days, you long for everyone to leave. Well if it’s TEOTWAWKI, it won’t be a three-day vacation. There will be stress, anxiety, and short tempers. Everyone will need to walk gently, or the biggest danger for all may be much closer to home than you realize.
Living spaces are likely to be cramped and not private. There is only so much room in the average country home. It’s not like farmers live in mansions with multiple extra bedrooms. Expect to be bunked down on the living room floor or even the barn, shoulder to shoulder. (And no, the host family should NOT have to give up their bedrooms for you.)
Additionally, septic systems are easily overwhelmed by extra usage. One of the first projects everyone is likely to be involved in is digging an outhouse. Please don’t complain about its construction or usage.
If the circumstances with your host family become hostile and unbearable due to stress, high emotions, and general fears – then feel free to make other arrangements and leave.
I apologize if this list makes me sound hostile, but I’ll admit rural folks get tired of being treated like everyone’s personal deep larder if the bleep hits the fan, expected to uncomplainingly provide food and water and medical care and shelter and protection for anyone unprepared enough to show up on their doorstep. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not without Christian charity and will do what we can to help; but like most of our neighbors, we are low income and our resources are NOT INEXHAUSTIBLE. Our primary focus will be our family, neighbors, and beloved friends.
This article is not necessarily to discourage anyone from making plans to bug out to the country. This is just an attempt to make you look realistically at the people whom you’ll be bugging – and I use that double-meaning intentionally.
By Patrice Lewis.