This guest post is By John R and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .
I started prepping in 2008 and as many of you have, I periodically (ok, almost constantly) rethink my strategies. Initially, I had no clue what I was doing. As I bought supplies, I subconsciously associated the extent of my financial expenditures with preparedness. So I generally just bought what people suggested and stacked it up in my basement. I bought things without preparing for a specific disaster and to be honest it was sort of random. I could get talked in to buying almost anything and would immediately feel like I was accomplishing something.
I think I really started to see the light 4-5 months ago. Ironically, I feel that I have learned as much or more from watching Doomsday Bunkers and Preppers shows and seeing what NOT to waste my time doing, than from people suggesting what we SHOULD be doing to prepare. Around that time, I determined that I was not as prepared in 2012 as I thought I was 4 years earlier.
I decided to primarily prep for anything that would decimate our infrastructure and require 100% self-reliance very quickly. This would include things like the grid being down, a pandemic, massive natural disasters, etc. Slower resolving events such as an economic collapse would cause the time frames to be extended considerably. In making this plan, I effectively had to plan somewhat for many short term situations. My goal was to make sure each phase prepares for the next. In addition, I wanted to obtain all important resources 1 step before everyone else. Now, obviously I store a fair amount of all the things I think of obtaining. But realistically I have 5 months or so of food (more of grains but less of other) and less of other things, so I will need more of virtually everything. I wrote this as a timeline primarily for my group so I could address any gaps in my plans and preparations. For my family, the worst case timing is when I am at work and my kids are at school. So that is what I plan for.
First 2 hours after SHTF
Stay calm. There will be a million things going through your head, especially for those of us who plan for disasters. Expect that communication will be difficult. When the networks are stressed, sending a text message is better because it is a relatively tiny amount of data. Text messaging will also retry until it succeeds. You may not be able to keep a connection long enough to make a normal call. Secondly, you can send a text message to multiple people at once.
Do I need to get out immediately? On 9/11, I was working in a building downtown that was 1 block from a large federal building that houses much of the Dept. of Homeland Security. At the time, there was no way of knowing whether there would be more attacks. If there were, that building might be a target. My employer said anyone could leave if they wanted. I left immediately and got home within 30 minutes. Then as many more people went home, there was an early rush hour and other people spent 90 minutes to get a similar distance home.
For me, I start with my get home ‘bag’. For me this is simple. I live 30 miles from work. I drive a 4×4 truck and never let it get under half full. In my truck box I have a Glock 19, a coat, a pair of shoes and socks, some water, a small backpack, and a map with walking directions to get home. (I also keep other things in my truck like a baseball bat, a machete and rope that I would have but I don’t of this of as part of my SHTF supplies) I do not plan to go fishing, start a fire, or knit a sweater so I don’t bother with the tools for those that some people pack in get home bags. I have 3 kids so I always have some kind of snack but realistically I won’t desperately need to eat. I feel that it would be highly unlikely that anything could keep me from getting 30 miles in less than 36 hours so having much food is unnecessary. I also was a very competitive wrestler in high school and college and have experience not eating much for a few days. The backpack and map are in the event I am forced to go on foot. As far as traffic is concerned, I honestly I think that the scenario depicted on the cover of “The Walking Dead” is unrealistic unless there is an earthquake (or actual zombies), but it brings up the point that you don’t want to get stuck in traffic. A few accidents in a congested area and it may not be far off. Examining my route, the highway I take has a grass median and shoulder that starts about 2.5 miles from down town. So, my plan is to take side streets to that point and then stay out of the middle lane so I can go off road and to side streets if need be.
Another member of my group works nearby but takes the bus to work. So the plan is for us to grab our bags and meet at my truck. While I park in a parking garage 3 blocks away, I park on the first floor. I can take a skywalk the whole way, which is what I would likely do to avoid as many people as possible. At the same time, my wife has to pick up 2 kids from school, which is 2 miles away from home.
On the way home, we will use all means of communication available (but primarily texting) to contact loved ones and assess the situation.
3-24 hours after SHTF
It is possible that we will not know the extent of the impact of any event within the first 24 hours. In any case, priority 1 is getting safe. If your medium term safe zone requires bugging-out, this is a tricky time where you must decide whether that is necessary or whether the situation is not too bad. Wait too long and it may be too late.
Back home, it will likely be pretty safe at this point so we may travel short distances if need be. Personally, I live in a small neighborhood in a rural area outside of town so we will get/stay there. As the situation warrants, I may stop for something on the way home. A massive act of God or viral outbreak would mean getting home immediately. For something like a grid failure, I might at least drive by a store that uses backup power and see whether anything is available without crazy crowds. Speaking from experience, hurricane Ike came through our area and knocked out power for most people for 7 days. Most people in our neighborhood stayed home for the first couple days as they had food for that time. When they did go out, they either went out to eat or left to stay at a hotel or with family. Regardless, it was largely reactionary. They didn’t try to get food till they got low and realized it was going to be a bigger deal. Some people did go out and buy gas and generators, but that’s about it. For most events, if it’s not apparent from the first instant that it will be a long term situation, stores should largely be available. If this is the case, we will stock up.
At home, I will focus on my power solutions. I am still developing my system, but it will generally consist of a bank of batteries, an inverter generator and 2500 watt solar system. Currently I only have 2 panels and a couple batteries so this is a big work in progress. This is primarily for my freezers (2x 550 watt) and for tools. The freezers are to store food longer term that is not as easy to store in cans or mason jars. Especially in a SHTF situation, all generators are not created equal. Inverter generators are more ideal because they can be throttled and are much quieter (and really cool technology), but they are pricey. I believe I can be most efficient with my power if I power batteries rather than devices directly. I will likely run the generator only in an emergency when extra power is needed. The batteries are left in my basement and connected to a charger so they are left fully charged when the SHTF. The solar panels will be my primary power source to hopefully be able to maintain an adequate charge.
2-7 days after SHTF
Assuming a level of personal security is established, it’s necessary to evaluate how serious the situation is. At this point there may still be order at stores (esp. early in the week) unless power and communication have been out long. Gathering supplies is always risky. During our hurricane experience, electric was out in places for 2 weeks. The grocery stores were almost completely bare. The natural inclination is to go for food, water, and gas. A Local grocery store had people lined up for a couple hours just for water. For gas, I keep 4 5-gallon jugs for my lawn mowers and I rotate them. Sitting in line for an hour or more for gas is not an efficient or safe use of my time. I store enough food that it might not be worth the risk to fight people for short supplies of food. If I go for any traditional food, it will be for things like canned goods that last a long time. I would generally look for longer term needs in the event that the situation continues and will avoid the short term things that are most in need now (and which I should have stored). These are also things for which a small volume is very valuable and I can gather a lot at once. For example:
- Hygiene products (soap, toothpaste, Feminine products)
- Over the counter medicine
- Ammo in any caliber
- Spices – low value now but could be extremely valuable in a few months.
- Kitchen disposables (bags, foil, containers, etc)
Other things can be added to this list if time permits or if the situation is known to be very bad
- Small vegetable plants – tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, herbs, beans, peas. We normally build our garden from seeds but depending on the season, it may make sense to pick up plants already started while the masses are going after food.
- Car Batteries
- Solar Panels – I have mapped out the locations of a few dozen solar panels in public areas and on publicly accessible buildings
- Electrical components (inverter, cables, etc) and tools
Similarly, these are things that I have, but could be very expensive to buy in large quantities pre-SHTF. The last things I would look for is items that require freezing. Since a power outage means the majority of people don’t have refrigeration, things like meat won’t be the first things they go after.
Unless in dire need, hospitals or pharmacies should be avoided at all cost. There are very short supplies of medical equipment and they will be way understaffed if staffed at all. I read that hospitals would start running out of basic supplies within 24 hours without constant shipments in NORMAL situations. In a SHTF scenario, it would likely be less. People dependent on medicines will start panicking and these might be the first people to lose it. You don’t want to be near that. Additionally, there are other things I think we should NOT worry about
Clothing, cookware, blankets, tools, garden equipment – all things that will become available in ample quantities as population decreases.
Generators – Unless you have one, don’t bother trying to get one as they will be to scarce now and later they will be too inefficient to use. Generators are rarely a long term power solution.
As the public will run out of food soon, our group needs to be together and ready to hunker down. I have 9 other people that will be packing up everything and coming to my house (which was chosen primarily due to location and size).
Related to solar power, I have made a map of 22 locations where there are 1 or more solar panels. These are located along roads and on top of businesses. If it is determined that we have a long term event to the extent that I have no issue with stealing, I will try to gather as many as I can. One could argue that I should do this beforehand. Though the price has gone down, they are still slightly over $1.10 per Watt of power. So for a larger system, they are not cheap. In addition, I don’t live in the south so I will likely get about 4.5 equivalent hours of full sun on a summer day of power. In the winter, it will be much less. Since we won’t have a grid to tie back in to, we have to assume the minimum. Even for my basic needs. I will need several panels. Factoring in that there is no repair store, I will want to have spares and parts as well. So, gathering any extra that I can get to will be helpful.
1-4 weeks after SHTF
This is when the actual SHTF. If an event is long term/permanent, we will know by now and this will likely be the worst of it. Public order and morals go out the window as the many people run out of food. Those folks who primarily stock weapons will probably be crazy. I would not be surprised to hear gunfire within a mile of my house fairly regularly. I debate whether this might be the time to pack up everything and stay in a more remote location for a while. The biggest concern I have for this time is any bands of people looting areas one house at a time. Hopefully this will be limited by the fact that automotive travel will nearly cease. My group is still debating what to do about this. We have considered making warning signs that anyone crossing a certain point would be shot, but that obviously draws extra attention. This one is still a work in progress. Obviously there is no fool proof solution.
At this time, I will start cautiously surveying the neighborhood. Who has left the area? Who has not survived? Depending on where you live and how many people you have, 1 person should be spending all their time monitoring the surroundings for security and to see who comes and goes. As it becomes more apparent that it will be a long term situation, nearby homes should be scavenged for the most basic needs and other things inventoried. I live in a small neighborhood. I have a strong feeling that a few specific families will leave quickly. Several older couples will leave or won’t last long. So I would want to be the first one to their house. The others are kind of wild cards. I feel like we will likely band together with a couple other families at this point or get out of the area. I know a couple of them are fairly armed and while they would likely not have much food stored, It would probably be better to have them with us (to make a 20 person group or so) rather than against us.
Getting supplies from stores is very risky, so it has to count. For me this would be plants and food-related supplies; Things that were not a priority for those going hungry such as flavoring (spices and bouillon cubes, salt). The most heavily frequented locations are a bad idea so remotely located gas stations and drug stores might have things available. Vacated homes will also have these supplies available.
5-8 weeks after SHTF
Security is still the number 1 concern. By this time, we should have a strong knowledge of the folks that are left in the area. The vast majority of people have run out of food, all public medical supplies are depleted, and there are few safe sources of water. As a result, many of those left will be sick. If it is possible to obtain any livestock, this would be the time to do it. I suspect desperate roamers will have taken all these out, but there is always a chance. Finally, this will be the time to address when the food stores will be depleted and where a longer term solution (planting) will come from.
2-6 months after SHTF
While “bugging-in” will often be the short term right answer for many people in large cities, it is not realistic as a permanent solution unless you are a very avid survivalist and forager (though I imagine some of you may disagree). For those living in downtown areas, it might be good to hunker down for weeks or even a couple months, but storing enough food for longer or attempting to grow enough food to live on without being noticed may be difficult to impossible.
Regardless of where you re, personal food stores will be diminishing. If there is no outside support now, it’s probably not coming and it is the time to begin implementing permanent plans. Depending on the time of year, seeds and any plants available should be planted by now. This is fairly safe as it will take time for them to grow and by the time they do, security won’t be as big an issue.
6-12 months after SHTF
A massive global catastrophe would eliminate the possibility of outside support. If no outside support is available, the reality is that the population will have substantially dwindled. Crime will be a less significant, but still present, concern. Most of the time at this phase will be providing for long term basic necessities. Even those with significant reserves will have depleted much or all of it.
Gathering supplies never really ends, but it will diminish considerably. Most people now should have a good sense of the people around them and new relationships with them should be built for mutual security and support. People can again specialize in specific trades (cooking, farming, electricity management, security)
Seeds from plants should be gathered, dried, and stored for the next planting season. This is of paramount importance.
This is a rough outline of my plans. Obviously there are things I can work on but I use this to outline what supplies I need most and when I will need them.
This contest will end on October 10 2012 – prizes include:
- First Place : $100 Cash.
- Second Place : $50 Cash.
- Third Place : $25 Cash.
Contest ends on October 10 2012.