This summer included heat waves and massive drought in my area, reminding many of us how insecure our lives can be. I started running into some information online about recommendations from the Red Cross and FEMA and other organizations about emergency preparedness, and through those into the world of preppers – those people who are preparing themselves or their families for apocalypse type situations.
FEMA recommends having emergency supplies for 72 hours, since this is how long it can sometimes take for help to reach people in an emergency. The 72 (3 days) rule is really a rough estimate though, since emergencies vary enormously in their level of destruction, and people living in rural areas will have different response times than small cities, which will be different than large cities.
Preppers are all over the map in terms of the level of preparation they aim for, what they think the risks are (hurricanes, pandemics, FEMA coming to put us all into concentration camps, rapture, and many other options), and how they approach preparing. Many store food for up to a year, and sometimes more. Some stock up on weapons and ammunition, and others stock up on EVERYTHING, ensuring that their family will have fresh new sneakers to wear for years after the rest of us have been eaten by a zombie horde*.
Preparedness is a difficult thing to look at from a completely skeptical perspective. While the chances of December 2012 actually bringing doomsday are tiny, real emergencies DO happen. Hurricane Sandy is a good example of the ways in which our lives can be significantly disrupted, and I think it’s safer to avoid becoming caught unprepared. How to prepare can be a really difficult calculation though, in part because humans are so bad at analyzing risk. Do I prepare for 3 days snowed in without electricity or heat, or for the end of the world as we know it, or something in between?
As Sandy headed towards the coast this weekend people headed for the stores to stock up on water, food, batteries, flashlights, and other things they would need in the emergency. I’m glad many people were able to get what they needed, but many places ran out of those kinds of things. I want to be one of the people who already had enough clean water and food for my family for a few days, who already had flashlights under the kitchen sink, and who knew where the extra batteries were.
With Sandy we got prior notice, time to prepare some last minute arrangements, or to evacuate if needed. Many emergencies do not give us this early warning, such as earthquakes. I want to know that if I don’t have warning I do have water. I live in blizzard country, and I want to know I can stay warm, fed, hydrated, and clean if a big one comes this winter and snows me in for a few days. Climate change is likely to increase the intensity and frequency of blizzards in the midwest, and I want to know that I won’t be trying to get to the store in a white-out.
I am no hardcore prepper – I don’t own any guns, or have a hundred buckets of freeze dried food in my basement. I’m not worried we’ll suddenly live in a nuclear wasteland any time soon, but I keep extra food, water, and batteries on hand. I have enough blankets to survive if my heat fails in the winter. I know where my flashlights are. Do you?
Are you prepared for an emergency in your area? How much preparation is rational, and where is the line where it crosses into irrational behavior? What kind of emergencies could happen in your area, and what can you do to ensure the survival and comfort of yourself and your loved ones?
*Zombies are sort of a joking catch-all phrase used among some preppers to avoid talking about specifics of what kind of emergencies to prepare for, and sort of refer to all possible situations.
We typically have around a month or so of food in our house. Probably more if we ration it from the outset of some emergency. That’s because I have food insecurity from my childhood that ingrained in me the need to have food on hand in case someone is out of a job. When we built our house we put in a 13X6 pantry with floor to ceiling shelves. We also have a 20 cubic foot freezer in the kitchen and a 10 cubic foot one in the garage. This is because we purchase foods in bulk and on sale. When there’s a good sale on something, I buy a lot of it. I also like having a variety of options available for making dinner, and we only go grocery shopping every two weeks.
We also have candles, flashlights, hand cranked lanterns, battery latterns, and a hurricane lamp in the “lighting” cupboard in our utility room. Power outages in our area are not unheard of so we have a gas-powered generator that we can use to power our water pump so we can continue to stay at the house with quick showers and running water. Our stove is propane with an electric sparker, but when the power is out, I can use a match to light it just fine. We also have a wood stove that heats the house beautifully (the power often goes out in the winter).
If I had to, I could grill out on my deck, even in the winter, with the big grill I have. I could cook with wood in it, if I ran out of charcoal.
We also carry jump cables, a blanket, and a first aid kit with flares in our car.
During this latest threat, we filled up six 2-litre soda bottles with water for drinking if we needed it. We also filled both our tubs, in case we needed them for washing or flushing. Brought in things off the deck that could blow away, as well.
Around here it’s just really a question of good sense to have these preparations to hand. Winters are hard and we live in the country. Our power lines can be brought down by falling trees or ice storms. Having to stay at a hotel (with a dog and a cat) during a power outage that lasts days is just silly when a little preparation is all it takes to avoid the expense.
Ah yes, water in plastic bottles. We have a lot of water around here in 2 liter soda bottles, gallon juice jugs, and some used 1.75 liter vodka bottles (yeah, we’re that kind of house full of bachelors). I think a lot of people think that to store water they need to buy it – and that’s totally not true. Every time I finish a 2 liter of soda, I refill the bottle from the tap, toss in a few drops of bleach (just a tiny bit, keeps bacteria from growing), label the date, and put it in the basement. I toss them out 6 months later. It’s nearly free, and incredibly easy. It just becomes habit.
Previous experience with financial insecurity, and the associated food insecurity, definitely contributed to my desire to protect myself against that. Not only would I have good food in a local emergency, but this kind of preparation prevents me from needing to use food pantries again. I didn’t like having to do it in the past, and I’d like to avoid doing it in the future.
I do NOT have a freezer, so I’m jealous of you! I only store/stock up on things that require no refrigeration or freezing though, and honestly that’s a lot of options once you think about it. It’s not all ramen noodles if you try to be creative about it!
I live in an area where there’s very little chance of a natural disaster. We’re not near the coast so hurricanes and tsunamis are out, we’ve never had a tornado, we’re not near a fault line or any other dodgy geological phenomenon, and we’re so blizzard and cold weather prone we’ve learned to live with it. So other than perhaps some kind of civil unrest or war (unlikely) the only thing that poses an even remotely plausible threat is wildfires. In that case your best bet is to be able to evacuate quickly, which I could do in under ten minutes.
Besides, if anything ever does go down in a serious way I’ve got lots of tasty neighbours.
It sounds to me like you’ve done the calculation in a way that works for you and feels comfortable, so good! As long as you DO have an evacuation plan (what do you grab, where do you go, how do you get there?) then that is preparedness! I think it’s really less about WHAT preparations you make, and just that you make the ones that are right for your situation, your family, your area, and your needs.