A Brief History
On October 27, 2017, tensions between the United States and North Korea put a cloud of possible nuclear conflict facing the American people. Meanwhile, 2017 has been a year of unprecedented major wildfires, hurricanes, and who knows what the last couple months of the year can bring? The potential for natural or man-made disaster that results in a time of no police, no government services, no utilities, no food, no water, and no civil behavior by fellow survivors is higher than at any time since the Cold War. As we have seen in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, it is not far-fetched to find yourself in an apocalyptic scenario where survival depends on your own preparations and ingenuity. From the myriad of movies about nuclear wastelands, climate related civilization ending events, plagues of disease or zombies, chimpanzees taking over the world, and even real life disasters, we draw some conclusions about things we should do or have in preparation for such a scenario. Of course, there is much more you can do, the things we list are a minimum.
1. Guns and ammo.
Even if you are physically unimposing, or if you and your surviving clan is grossly outnumbered, having firearms can make all the difference in survival. A thug or group of thugs does not have to be armed to kill you, rape you, or steal your stuff. If you are armed, those roving gangs may well decide to choose unarmed, easier prey. During the Rodney King LA Riots Korean shop keepers that were well armed were able to defend themselves and their stores, whereas unarmed shopkeepers lost everything. Waiting for a crisis to buy a gun is too late! Gun and ammo sales have sometimes been suspended in a crisis, so you must be armed in advance. Also, getting resupplies of ammunition may become quite difficult, so amassing enough rounds in advance could be a good idea. On the light side, equipping all members of your family with .22 long rifle caliber weapons allows for maximum capability to buy guns and ammo and store both, and those guns are the easiest for kids and non-gun people to use. A commonality of ammo between your repertoire of Ruger 10/22 rifles or AR-15 style .22 rimfires and whatever .22 caliber pistols you decide on is a huge tactical advantage. Other guns you could seriously consider are AR-15 style rifles, 9mm high capacity pistols and carbines (again, commonality between long arm and pistol ammunition, with Hi-Point brand carbines and pistols using the same magazines, as do some other brands of carbine/pistol models), and .357/.38 special handguns (due to ready availability of ammo). If you choose a shotgun as your primary weapon, make it a 12 gauge, since there are more 12 guns and ammo sold than all other gauges of shotgun combined. Why are guns listed first? Because with loaded guns you can potentially get the other things you need and keep the things you have! Remember basic cleaning gear and ear protection.
Not only is it a good idea to keep large and small containers of potable water on hand, it is also imperative to have the means of water purification at hand as well. Using chemical water treatment such as chlorine bleach or iodine, or commercial concoctions such as that used by the military is a must have item on your checklist. It may not be a bad idea to also have other emergency water purification items such as purification straws or filters handy. One look at Puerto Rico weeks after a hurricane with most of the island still without clean water is rather convincing. Regular water is sooo much better than stocking up on soda pop or sports drinks in a survival scenario.
We recommend canned food as your main source of disaster prep food stockpile. Freeze-dried foods and dehydrated foods are dependent on water for their use, and you may not have water to spare. You can eat canned food right out of the can without having to heat it up and it comes in an enormous amount of varieties. Choosing those cans with pop tops instead of needing a can opener may be a good choice, but you still should always have a GI type (P-38) can opener on a chain around your neck anyway, so you can easily open canned food you find. Jerky and trail mix are ok, but do not have the shelf life of canned food, and are high in sodium, a problem if water is scarce. Protein bars and granola bars may or may not hold up to hot weather, and if you choose to stockpile any sort of candy, hard candy is probably the best choice.
4. Edged weapons/tools.
Knives and machetes do not run out of ammo. Every member of your family or group should have a pocket knife or a belt knife, and having larger, more substantial edged tools such as a machete, hand axe, Bowie knife and the like could be fundamental to survival. Some machetes come with saw teeth on the back, making them versatile as heck. Some survival type knives come with a screw off cap on the butt of the hilt, so you can store small items inside, or insert a threaded handle onto the handle of the knife to create a spear. A spear is a heck of a lot more effective than a knife for fighting off dangerous animals (humans, dogs, zombies, etc). Along these lines, multi-tools such as the Leatherman line are good items to have on hand. A small sharpening stone could be useful.
Basically, gasoline. Keep enough fresh gas (you have to rotate stocks or the gasoline will become gummy and not so good) in easy to use containers (1, 2 and 5 gallon plastic or metal cans) to keep your generator going for an extended period of time and to fill your car’s gas tank before you leave your home and enough to refill it on the road. During the great electrical outage in 2003 most gas stations could not pump gas, and during the current Puerto Rican hurricane crisis fuel has become a scarce commodity. (Ever see the Mad Max films?) During an apocalyptic type crisis gasoline may well be worth more than gold. If you have propane or kerosene stoves and lights, keep enough of those fuels on hand as well. How long a supply you need is up to you. Your money and space limitations of course will dictate what you can and cannot realistically manage.
6. Electrical generators.
It would be great if you had a generator capable of keeping your entire house and grounds powered for a week or more, but if you cannot afford such a system, consider at least a small, portable generator. Even in a temporary crisis, a small generator can greatly enhance your quality of life while you wait out the disaster or even provide life-saving power. Propane, diesel, and natural gas generators are great, but gasoline may be more readily found through foraging in a longer-term event. Whatever fuel you use for other survival type devices (lamps, vehicles, stoves, heaters) will dictate which fuel you use for your generator.
7. Tool kit.
A basic kit that does not weigh a ridiculous amount or take up too much space in the car is a good thing to have around the house, in the escape vehicle, or even to carry. Keep it simple, basic and lightweight. Perhaps a single screwdriver with multiple bits, a pair of pliers, and a crescent wrench (adjustable jaw) would suffice. In the car or house, a hammer would also be mandatory. Again, a multi-tool such as a Leatherman is great if you are footbound or for the glove compartment. Along with normal tools, keeping duct tape and electrical tape on hand is absolutely essential. (Electrical tape if you are on foot.) Not only can these items be used to fix or jury rig things, they can be used to bind wounds in an emergency. Along those same lines, fishing line, strong cord, and rope are all wonderful things to have in a crisis, which type and how much depending on how much room and weight you can spare. (At a minimum, parachute cord is a great survival device.) On your key ring, you can have a micro flashlight and one of those screwdriver round, flat coin type tools that can drive multiple different screws. If you don’t mind a bulky key ring, fingernail clippers, a P-38 can opener, a small knife, or even a micro-multi-tool can be kept. Maybe even a handcuff key. (I am just sayin’…)
8. Flashlights and batteries.
Modern LED lights are super bright, have tremendous battery life compared to the old incandescent types, and are small enough that each person could have at least one in their pocket or on their belt at all times, with spares in the pack, the car or the drawer. Be sure to keep some extra batteries for whatever devices you have that need them. These include cell phones, because you may not be able to charge them if there is a blackout.
9. Protective clothing.
Protective clothing helps against the weather and against other intrusions against your body. Hats to block sun and rain, and/or keep your noggin warm are an essential. The type depends on the season. Rain gear is essential, with a full rain suit being most preferred, but when space and weight is a factor (such as being on foot) a poncho could be a better choice. A lightweight windbreaker or rain jacket can also serve as an outer later in cold weather, effective in keeping you warm even if you have to stuff newspapers or some such material underneath the jacket. Sturdy clothes such as hunting, military or work clothes should be available should things go downhill and should be your choice if you have to hit the trail or the road. Sunglasses or protective eyewear (goggles, etc) could be important, depending on where you are and the situation. In a survival situation where other people may be hostile, camouflage clothing may be best, while in a natural disaster where hostile people are not expected, high visibility colors would be called for. We would include in this section lightweight blankets such as space or survival blankets. Another item to consider in a situation where people can be a major problem (riots, civil war, nuclear holocaust, zombies, etc) is a bullet proof vest or other such protective clothing. Sturdy, but pliable gloves can be a great thing to have when you need them. Be sure to own at least one pair of sturdy footgear, such as hiking shoes or hunting boots.
10. Medical supplies.
Be sure to keep at least a few days’ supply of your prescription meds ready to go with you. More would be great, but may not be realistic. A supply of over the counter meds such as aspirin/Tylenol/Advil, cold remedies, diarrhea medicine, anti-biotic cream, Benadryl liquid or cream, hydrocortisone cream, bandages and band-aids, Ace bandages, gauze, alcohol/hydrogen peroxide/iodine, and definitely anti-biotic pills if you can get them. Pet stores and feed stores carry items such as tetracycline and penicillin for horses, etc., and you don’t need a prescription for those meds. If you do not choose to stockpile such meds, at least now you know where you can find them. (Be sure to only use such medicine in a life or death apocalyptic emergency only! Also, know ahead of time what doses of various anti-biotics are appropriate, as you cannot just take them any old way!) Keep a reasonable emergency supply of toilet paper in your house, and at least 1 roll in your car. (Thank me when things get back to normal.)
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For more information, please see…
Healy B.S. M.S., Steve, James D. Lee P.E., et al. Prepare for Disaster: The One Book You Need to Plan for Emergencies. Whitman Publishing, LLC, 2012.