The New Survivalist
Disaster Preparedness and Self-Reliance

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Chapter 2:
The Basics


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Have a Plan

It is important to have an emergency plan of action and to familiarize every family member with it. This will insure that important steps will get done as quickly and efficiently as possible after a disaster strikes. It will also instill a sense of confidence in all family members, so instead of the feelings of helplessness, panic and chaos that unprepared individuals will face, your family will remain confident, calm and organized. The actions taken during the first few minutes and hours after a disaster will often turn out to be critical, perhaps even saving a life.

Does everyone in your family know what to do when there is a natural gas leak in your house? Earthquakes, tornadoes and similar disasters can result in a rupture of a natural gas pipe. If not taken care of immediately this could result in an explosion that could destroy your home and everything in it! You should locate the main valve that shuts off the gas to your house, usually located outside next to your gas meter. You will need a large wrench. Acquire a wrench just for this purpose and make sure that everyone in your family knows how to shut the gas off. (Don't actually shut it off if you have pilot lights in any of your gas appliances or they will have to be re-lit when you turn the gas back on.) The gas valve is often difficult to turn, so you will need a wrench large enough to provide sufficient leverage. Store this wrench in a location that can be easily accessed in times of emergency, near a back door entrance or in an outside shed for example. I have my wrench hanging on the wall in my garden shed with the words "For Gas Shutoff" written in large letters on the wall above it. Every family member should know the location of this wrench and how to use it. I recommend that you refrain from using this wrench for any other purpose, to insure that it will always remain in its proper place and ready for an emergency.

It is also a good idea to familiarize every family member with what to do in case there is a ruptured water pipe in your house. Locate the main valve that shuts the water off to your entire house and make sure that every family member knows how to close it. Sometimes this valve is located inside the house, perhaps in the basement where the main water line enters the house. If there is no such shut off valve in your house you will have to shut the water off at the meter, which may be outside your house. This will require a special tool that will reach all the way down to the valve because outside water meters are located deep enough to remain below the freeze level. Keep this wrench in a special location like the gas wrench and make sure that everyone in your family knows where it is and how to use it.

Every home should have a good fire extinguisher located on each level of the house. These should be regularly maintained and kept in good working order. Battery operated smoke detectors should also be appropriately located at all levels of your home and their batteries should be checked regularly. I also recommend an electronic carbon monoxide detector.

Part of your plan should also include an agreed upon place for family members to meet in case your home is destroyed or otherwise uninhabitable. You should also have one or two backups in case your agreed upon meeting place is unavailable. Plan A, for example, may be a neighbor's house. Plan B could be a nearby family member's house, and Plan C could be a local public place such as a school, church or park.

Action Step 3: Home Preparation

Turn your Action Planner to a fresh page and at the top write "Home Preparation." Now draw a line down the center of the page dividing it into two columns. At the top of the column on the left write "Get" and at the top of the column on the right write "Do." Under "Get" make a list of things that you plan to acquire to help prepare your home for an emergency. Below are some examples:

  1. [  ] Fire extinguisher
  2. [  ] Smoke detectors
  3. [  ] Carbon monoxide detector
  4. [  ] Wrench for turning off gas
  5. [  ] Wrench for turning off water
  6. [  ] Etc.

Add others that you can think of now and continue adding as you think of others in the future. Use this as your shopping list. You might draw a little box to the left of each item, as I have done in the example above, and put an X or a check in the box in front of each item that you acquire.

On the right side of the page under "Do" begin a list of the things that you plan on doing to help prepare your house and your family for an emergency. This will be your "To Do" list. You might include, for example, things like:

  1. [  ] Replace batteries in smoke detectors
  2. [  ] Have fire extinguisher maintained
  3. [  ] Secure cabinets for earthquake
  4. [  ] Earthquake-proof water heater
  5. [  ] Show each family member how to shut off the gas
  6. [  ] Show each family member how to shut off the water
  7. [  ] Work out a meeting place for family members to gather in case the house is destroyed.
  8. [  ] Etc.

Add others that you can think of and continue adding items as they occur to you in the future. Check each item off or cross it out after you have completed it.

To Bug Out or Hunker Down?

In the event of an emergency you may be faced with a choice, whether you should leave your home, perhaps seeking refuge in a government-run shelter, or hunker down in your home and try to deal with the situation on your own. If your neighborhood is under a forced evacuation due to a toxic spill, or if your house has collapsed or burned to the ground, you may not have a choice at all. You should also consider leaving when local officials recommend evacuation in response to an approaching hurricane or forest fire. However, in most situations, when you do have a choice, survival experts agree that you will probably be better off if you can ride out the disaster in your own home rather than in a government-run shelter.

The New Orleans residents who sought shelter in the New Orleans Superdome after Hurricane Katrina quickly discovered that those who rely on the government often find themselves in the bleakest of situations. Not only were the supplies woefully inadequate, but they also had to deal with overcrowding, filth, and unhealthy conditions. There was human violence including robberies and rape. Conditions were so bad that many individuals became desperately depressed and one even committed suicide.

You will usually be much better off if you will remain in your home surrounded by the familiar objects that you use on a daily basis, and hopefully near familiar neighbors who you can work with. If you remain at home you will also have ready access to all of your emergency supplies, including any stash of food, water, medical supplies, and sources of energy that you have prepared in anticipation of just such a emergency.

Bug Out Bags (BOB)

Even though your goal is to remain in your home, you should nevertheless prepare a "bug out bag" (BOB) in case you are forced to leave your home. Every individual in your household should have his or her own "BOB," even children, as long as they are capable of wearing a back pack (such as the bags they use to carry their school supplies.)

Your bug out bag should include a miniaturized version of your home survival stash, limited only by the size of the bag and the weight that you can reasonably carry, keeping in mind that you might be in for some walking. The reason I am covering bug out bags before your home survival stash is because your bug out bag should be put together first, because it can also serve as your home survival stash until you have had time to accumulate a larger stash.

Bug out bags ready to go

Bug out bags ready to go are shown in the photograph above. You do not have to "bug out" in order to use your bug out bag. It will serve nicely as a supplement to your home survival kit, keeping your survival items in one location where they can be easily accessed in time of emergency. (Most of the images on this web site may be left clicked for an enlargement.)

Survival Bags for your Car

It is also important to have a survival bag located in your car at all times. Most people spend about a third of each weekday at their place of work, and another significant portion of the day traveling to and from their workplace. What will you do if the big earthquake hits while you are at work, or if something happens while you are driving to or from work? Your supplies stashed at home will do you little good when you are stranded at work or in your car.

In addition to the usual items that you would include in your bug out bag at home, such as a small emergency supply of food and water, your car bag should also include the items that you might need for automobile emergencies, such as jumper cables, emergency flares, flashers, fix-a-flat, etc. I keep two emergency bags in the trunk of my car: One is just for my car, while the other contains items for my personal survival. That way, if I ever have to leave my car, I can grab the bag that contains only what I need to take with me, leaving the heavy car supplies in the trunk of the car.

The photograph above shows the emergency bags that I carry in the trunk of my car. Starting from the left is a lightweight back pack which contains walking shoes, a rain poncho and extra clothing. In the middle is the large black bag in which emergency survival items are kept (shown in the following photograph.) Next is a gallon of water, which can be used either for drinking or for the automobile's cooling system. Finally, on the far right is a box containing emergency supplies just for the automobile including jumper cables, tools, flares, etc.

The contents of my car survival bag (the large black bag) are shown above.

Action Step 4: Prepare Your Bug Out Bags

Turn to a new page in your Action Planner and write "Bug Out Bag" at the top of the page. Make a "shopping list" for the items that you will need for your bug out bags. Consider using a different page for each family member ("Tom's BOB," "Sue's BOB," etc.) This will allow you to personalize the contents of each bag according to the needs of each individual. You can then use these as check lists as you are putting the different BOBs together. Let each family member get involved in putting his or her own BOB together. That way everyone will become familiar with the contents of their own bags and any questions can be addressed at that time. In addition, make a list for a Car BOB or an emergency survival kit that you will keep in the trunk of your car. Below is a sample list to help you put your lists together. If any of these items are unfamiliar to you don't worry because I will discuss them in the chapters that follow:

Printer Friendly List Printer Friendly List
    Water:
  1. [  ] Bottled water
  2. [  ] Water treatment tablets
  3. [  ] Water filter
  4. Food:
  5. [  ] Granola bars
  6. [  ] Dried fruit
  7. [  ] Dried nuts
  8. [  ] Jerky
  9. [  ] Hard candy
  10. [  ] Trail mix
  11. [  ] MRE's
  12. [  ] Eating utensils
  13. [  ] Pocket knife
  14. [  ] Knife sharpener
  15. [  ] Cooking kit (includes drinking cup)
  16. [  ] Can opener
  17. [  ] Moist towelettes
  18. Clothing:
  19. [  ] Change of clothing
  20. [  ] Long underwear
  21. [  ] Heavy socks
  22. [  ] Poncho
  23. [  ] Coat, jacket and/or sweater
  24. [  ] Handkerchief
  25. [  ] Gloves
  26. [  ] Hat
  27. Shelter:
  28. [  ] Sleeping bag
  29. [  ] Space blanket
  30. [  ] Duct Tape
  31. Energy:
  32. [  ] Chemical hand warmers
  33. [  ] Flashlight (wind-up type will not need batteries)
  34. [  ] Waterproof matches
  35. [  ] Candle
  36. [  ] Portable stove
  37. [  ] Extra fuel for portable stove
  38. [  ] Rechargeable batteries
  39. [  ] Solar battery charger
  40. [  ] Disposable lighter
  41. Health care/Hygiene:
  42. [  ] First Aid kit
  43. [  ] Activated charcoal capsules
  44. [  ] Tweezers
  45. [  ] Lip balm with sunscreen
  46. [  ] Vitamin supplements
  47. [  ] Soap
  48. [  ] Wash cloth
  49. [  ] Towel
  50. [  ] Insect repellent
  51. [  ] Scissors
  52. [  ] Mole skins
  53. [  ] Prescription drugs/herbal medicines
  54. [  ] Toothbrush
  55. [  ] Personal items
  56. Protection:
  57. [  ] Pepper spray, Chemical Mace, Taser or stun gun
  58. [  ] Firearm where appropriate and extra ammunition
  59. Communication:
  60. [  ] Address book (including phone numbers of friends, neighbors and family members)
  61. [  ] Cell phone
  62. [  ] Charger for cell phone
  63. [  ] Portable radio (wind-up type will not need batteries)
  64. [  ] Emergency flasher
  65. [  ] Notebook and pencil
  66. [  ] Signaling mirror
  67. [  ] Whistle
  68. Waste disposal:
  69. [  ] Plastic bags
  70. Money:
  71. [  ] Cash
  72. [  ] Credit/debit cards
  73. Social:
  74. [  ] Playing cards
  75. [  ] Games
  76. Transportation:
  77. [  ] Walking shoes
  78. [  ] Compass
  79. [  ] Area maps
  80. [  ] Passport/Driver's license
  81. [  ] Backpack to put all of the above in
  82. Miscellaneous:
  83. [  ] Fishing kit
  84. [  ] Extra eyeglasses
  85. [  ] Sunglasses
  86. [  ] Binoculars

Action Step 5: Emergency Kit for Your Automobile

In Action Step 4 you made check lists for your BOBs, including an emergency survival kit to keep in your automobile. In addition to this car BOB, which will contain items for your personal survival, I recommend that you make a separate emergency bag to include only the items needed for automobile emergencies—jumper cables, fix-a-flat, etc. By keeping them in a separate bag you will be able to leave these heavy items in your car if you are ever forced to leave your vehicle, taking only the emergency items that you will need for your personal survival. Turn to a new page in your Action Planner and write "Automobile Emergency Kit" at the top of the page and begin making your list using the list below to help you:

Printer Friendly List Printer Friendly List
  1. [  ] Jumper cables
  2. [  ] Tire pressure gauge
  3. [  ] Tool kit
  4. [  ] Flashlight
  5. [  ] Flares
  6. [  ] Fix-a-Flat (Pressurized tire inflater and sealer)
  7. [  ] Emergency triangle
  8. [  ] Emergency distress sign
  9. [  ] Gasoline siphon
  10. [  ] Windshield Deicer
  11. [  ] Windshield Scraper
  12. [  ] Towing strap
  13. [  ] Fire extinguisher (A-B-C type)
  14. [  ] Folding shovel
  15. [  ] Work gloves
  16. [  ] Rag
  17. [  ] Spare tire, tire tool and jack

The photograph above shows the typical contents of an Automobile Emergency Kit.

Home Caching

The core of your survival program will be your home cache. According to the dictionary a cache is a "hiding place used for storing provisions and other necessities," or alternatively, "a store of goods hidden in a cache." The key word here is "hidden," which I emphasize because I believe that your cache should be kept secret from everyone but your closest family members. In this web site I will use the words "cache" and "stash" interchangeably.

Essential Survival Items

The reader will perhaps have noticed that the above list of items for your bug out bag is divided into 12 categories. I will briefly describe these categories below and we will explore them in much greater detail throughout the remainder of this web site. I have listed them roughly in their order of importance. The reason water appears before food, for example, is because you can only live a few days without water, whereas you could live for a few weeks without food. There could be many exceptions to this ordering of course. If you are stuck outside in subfreezing weather, then food and water may take a back seat to clothing and shelter. And if you are bleeding profusely then first aid will certainly become number one on your list. But this order will help us as we organize our lists and establish our plan.

1 Water

Clean drinking water is always the number one priority for any survivalist. You can count on needing at least one gallon per person per day. This will only take care of your drinking needs, food preparation and perhaps minimal washing and bathing (sponging off.) If more water is available it will certainly come in handy, as this one gallon per day does not include washing your dishes or clothes nor flushing waste down your toilet (assuming your sewer system is not backed up.) You can readily see that two gallons per person per day would be even better. Clean water is so important that not only should it be stored, but plans should be made for collecting it from rain and other outdoor sources such as streams and ponds, and for purifying it in order to produce good drinking water from the water which you collect. We will also need to recycle water as much as possible. For example, when water is scarce, "gray water"—the soapy water you just used to wash with—should not be thrown out right away. It can be used to flush your toilet, or even to water your plants. Our water stash will last much longer if we are able to reuse it, conserve it, and replenish it by collecting and filtering rain or pond water.

2 Food

In the following chapters we will explore the many factors that will need to be considered when preparing your food stash. As with the other items on our list, the amount of food that you will store will depend on the anticipated duration of the emergencies that you are preparing for. Food preservation methods and shelf life are always important considerations. Concentrated ready-to-eat foods that do not weigh much are nice to have for your bug out bags. These may include dried foods, granola bars and jerky. Canned foods are usually the best choices for your home stash, because they are the most economical and the additional water they contain may come in handy in satisfying your body's water needs. For emergencies of a longer duration we will want to consider food gathering and growing techniques. Our food stash will last much longer if we are able to replenish some of it.

3 Clothing

If you are without electricity and natural gas your home will be colder than usual during the cold months of the year, even if you have alternative methods for generating heat. You may need to stash long underwear, warm socks and sweaters, and other items that will help you keep warm. You might have to do a lot more walking than in normal times, so good, well-fitted walking shoes may prove to be one of your most important possessions.

4 Shelter

Hopefully you will be able to remain in your intact home, and will thereby have the best protection from the elements possible. But you might want to give some thought to a backup. A portable backup shelter, such as a lightweight tent, may prove very handy if you are ever forced to leave your home.

5 Energy

If the natural gas and electricity are off you will certainly need alternative energy sources, not only to keep warm during the cold months but also for cooking and preserving your food and for heating your water. An occasional warm bath will certainly be a welcomed luxury during a prolonged emergency.

6 Health Care

The health care category includes first aid, hygiene and prevention. A well-stocked first aid kit should be a priority in all homes and every adult should be acquainted with basic first aid procedures. You may also need to stash necessary medicines and nutritional supplements.

7 Protection

While disasters may bring out the best in some people, unfortunately they also bring out the worst in others. During any disaster law enforcement officials will be overwhelmed and chaos will often be the order of the day. There are many people who will be eager to take advantage of the situation, and so robbery, looting and even violent crimes will always be on the increase after a disaster. You must make preparations for protecting yourself, your loved ones, and your property.

8 Communication

After any disaster you will want to know what is happening in the outside world. Without electricity your usual news sources may be inaccessible. At the very least a battery-operated radio with fresh batteries should be included in every survival kit.

9 Waste Disposal

The temporary interruption of municipal services is likely to include your garbage collection service. Garbage can quickly accumulate creating an inconvenience as well as a health threat. A lack of adequate sewage disposal is particularly dangerous. Improper disposal of human waste is a real threat, especially when it is released into streams or other natural bodies of water—the same water that many will be using for their water supply when municipal water is unavailable. Cholera and amebic dysentery are deadly diseases that result from contaminated water.

10 Social

According to experienced survivalists, during a prolonged emergency our chances of survival will be greatly enhanced if we are able to work cooperatively with our neighbors toward our common goals. You may have little chance against a marauding gang on your own. But if you and your neighbors are able to stick together you will be much better able to fend them off. Don't wait until a disaster strikes. The time to start developing good relations with your neighbors is now!

11 Transportation

What will you do when gasoline is no longer available? Even if the filling stations have gasoline in their storage tanks (which they probably won't) they will not be able to get it from their underground tanks to your automobile when the electricity is off.

12 Money

Without electricity there will be no credit card processing nor working ATM machines. Banks will be useless when their computers are off-line. The stores that are still operating will take cash only.

Noetic and Spiritual Needs

There is one more category that I will briefly mention here which I will refer to as the noetic needs, or if you prefer the needs of the spirit. This refers to the needs of the human mind and spirit which extend beyond the mere survival of the body. "Man does not live by bread alone," as the good book says. In a prolonged emergency it is important to maintain a healthy attitude. Boredom, frustration, anger, despair, and depression can take their toll on any survivors. Satisfying the noetic needs can help prevent many of these potential problems. For many the Holy Bible may turn out to be as essential for their "bug out" bags as their water filters. Comfort and inspiration may also be found in poetry, prose, music, meditation and prayer. Children will need activities, such as storytelling and games, to occupy their minds and help alleviate boredom. Everyone, from the elderly to the very young, will need their own chores to help them feel connected and needed. We are less likely to dwell on our own problems when we are busy helping others, so never overlook charity. Assign non-essential individuals chores that involve helping others, and you will find that they are no longer non-essential. The personal accounts of holocaust victims show us that those with a spiritual grounding have a much better chance of surviving difficult circumstances, so whatever this may mean for you, get your spiritual house in order before disaster strikes!

Action Step 6: "Get" and "Do" Lists

Turn to a new page in your Action Planner and write "Water" at the top of the page. Do the same for each of the other items mentioned above, giving each item a page of its own. Use only the pages on the right side of your notebook, reserving the backs of the pages in case you need additional space. As you did before, draw a line down the center of each page creating two columns and write "Get" at the top of the column on the left and "Do" at the top of the column on the right. As you progress through the remainder of this web site, add items to your lists as you think of them. The list on the left will be your "shopping list" and the one on the right will be your "to do" list. Check off each item or cross it out after it has been acquired or accomplished.

Continue to Chapter 3: Survival Planning on a Budget
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Continue to Chapter 3: Survival Planning on a Budget

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