My journey to become a prepper started in 2011. Until one fateful day in July, I had mocked my beloved husband’s survivalistic tendencies. I would roll my eyes when I walked into the root cellar substitute room in our basement to grab something and had to maneuver around his buckets of long-term storage food and other preparedness gear.
My Bobby is nearly 20 years my senior and had been prepping for in one form or another since before I was old enough to drive. He was more than ready for the “Y2K bug.” Now, even though I mocked his prepper habit, I grew up country and surely had more than a few self-reliance skills under my belt – and they sure came in handy when “The Storm” hit during one of the hottest and driest summers on record in Ohio.
A storm was rolling into our region and everyone was rejoicing. It has been a long time since any rain had fallen and everyone’s garden needed it. At that time we kept our horses on a cousin’s small farm in the same rural county about 15 minutes away. The creek had run dry a week prior and we had been filling up a tank and hauling water from her home to an auxiliary pasture around the way a friend let us all use. Never before had I been so aware of how much of our lives drought-like conditions can drastically hamper.
We lived in a small town, the county seat, where my husband had been mayor and I had been serving as the editor of the weekly newspaper. We had a small garden in our backyard and a homemade rainwater collection and drip water irrigation system for it – but the barrels had long since run dry. Our corner lot was about a quarter acre, with the lot next door belonging to our family as well. We had a few more things growing there, but the home we now used as a rental that had belonged to Bobby’s grandparents, his small real estate appraisal office, and an old brick garage my father-in-law tinkered around in, took up most of the land mass.
When The Storm rolled in, it didn’t seem exceptionally fierce. I love weather that creates 95 degrees in the shade conditions and rarely ever will I tolerate the central air being run in the house – I loathe having all of the windows shut to keep fresh. But, the rain also brought a slight drop in temperature that even I begrudgingly had to admit felt nice, it has been 104 degrees for several days before the highly anticipated rain began to fall.
The pleasant rainfall soon turned to a tropical style downpour, complete with large hail, thunder, wicked and constant lightening, and then extraordinarily high winds for our Appalachian hills region. My Bobby is an office on the all-volunteer fire department that serves our county. He was already getting his shoes on when tones dropped for what would be the first of many fire calls that evening.
The high winds brought down power lines all of the tri-state area. The heavy rainfall and low visibility not only caused multiple wrecks, but took us from dry creek to flash flooding in only a couple of hours. Then the power went out. I knew how to start our little generator and went next door to get our cousin’s tweens and teens to come over so they wouldn’t be bumping around in the dark.
Because of the flooding and downed trees, Missy wouldn’t make it home from work until around midnight, and her husband Lin, was also on the fire department so he was out being a local hero with my Bobby and the other dedicated volunteers. There was so much storm damage the guys did not make it home until about 8 a.m. the next morning.
During the storm a tree fell onto our porch, crushing part of the fence, all of the patio furniture, and prematurely freeing some rescued turtles that were not due to be released back into the wild again yet. So, in the midst of the wicked lightning and hail storm, I was crashing 13 panicked turtles and putting them inside a plastic tub to keep them safe – all with teen and pre-teen girls screamin in the background. It was not a fun night…but what came next was a whole lot worse.
The power was out for more than a week pretty much everywhere within an hour’s drive. Our generator only ran on gasoline and there was no station in operation within the county. The next county over two gas stations were able to remain open, but had a $15 per vehicle per day limit on fuel policy. Now, in a rural area, most folks drove either pickup trucks or 4-wheel drive SUVs.
Gasoline was almost $4 per gallon at the time, so the $15 limit amounted to only about enough fuel to get you to the station and back – with a side trip to the open Walmart near the gas station. Folks lined up out the door to try to buy water and ice. Folks were waiting in line for a minimum of an hour before the bulk of them were told the limited supply for the day was already gone.
The village I lived in at the time only had enough water on reserve to last for three days if everyone in town used it conservatively. Once a police car was driven around and used a loud speaker to ask all residents to curtail water usage as much as possible. Fellow preppers, I imagine you can figure out what happened next…some members of the village population started filling up their tubs and every jug and bottle they had to make sure THEY had water.
The only grocery store in the county had its coolers destroyed by lightning. They used flashlights to open the store and allow residents to come get what they needed from shelves and the coolers before it all spoiled. Few people had cash in their wallets and the ATM machines were obviously not working, so the store owner wrote down what people took with paper and pen and took them on their honor they would return to pay once the lights came back on.
Members of the local Amish community were the only ones with either cash or the means to keep food from spoiling at the time, and loaded up their buggies with perishables from the store. Multiple community cookouts quickly took place at school parking lots and locals parks to share what food everyone had with others, before it could spoil.
When FEMA vouchers were finally handed out to help “victims” of the storm, the money was only available to residents on public assistance or Social Security. All of the middle class families who readily shared their food and were struggling to go by more after all of the other expenses caused by The Storm, were simply out of luck. They paid the taxes to provide those vouchers, were equally impacted by the storm, but cast aside by the government in the aftermath.
FEMA arrived to “help” three days into the summer storm disaster. They came with only a few staffers to help hand out a scant amount of water and ice, which sat melting on pallets until the local firefighters, police officers, village council members, and county commissioners rolled up their sleeves and started distributing the needed goods to the miles long line of county residents parked along the state route leading to the emergency staging area.
The FEMA staffers had failed to coordinate their efforts with local, county, or regional officials. The entire water drop quickly devolved into a state of chaos. Only one bag of ice and one case of water was allowed per vehicle. Because of the gas shortage, many people had carpooled to the emergency distribution area in the high school parking lot.
Because of the spread out area of our rural county, some people had to drive for 25 minutes, using a lot of their valuable gas, to even get to the high school. A significant number of people lived on roads that were left impassable due to The Storm, for at least a week.
Some of the country preachers were trying to pick up water for elderly members of their respective flocks that no longer drove, only to have the government workers attempt to turn them away because of the one case, one bag, per car rule none of our local officials or first responders.
The Emergency Management Agency director did not even knew anything about the strict distribution policies of FEMA, nor was he consulted about the amount of water and ice necessary to meet the basic needs of county residents.
Before tempers exploded in the boiling heat, the local guys backed down the FEMA staffers and their heartless rules and the supplies were handed out to everyone in line in a manner which best-suited the needs of our residents.
At least half of the residents in our county have well water because county water lines do not go out far enough to serve them. But without electricity, their wels would not work and only those with a manual pump or emergency bucket lowering and retrieval system, could get water.
Because it had been so hot and dry for so long, the water coming out of the tap in town, was about 65 degrees. We were all craving a cold drink of water less than 48 hours into the summer storm disaster.
My Bobby’s gasoline stockpile ran out on day four of The Storm – and so did the stockpiles used by the sheriff’s office and police department. The SO was going above and beyond to take care of the charging and refueling needs of the sick and elderly who had used various types of medical equipment at home, but even their valiant efforts fell short of fulfilling the need.
Thankfully, we were able to keep our generator running because we lived close to the county’s generator-fueled gas pump and Bobby was asked to keep the radios of first responders from various agencies charged and rotated out on an as-needed basis.
When the power came back on, well after it was projected to do so, I consented to both the turning on of the central air AND a change in lifestyle.
As soon as the cutting apart of the tree that fell and other damage clean up in the still 104 degree heat, was done, I sat down on the couch with an ice cold glass of water and simply crashed out for two whole hours and talked with Bobby about preparedness. Ironically, a Walking Dead marathon was on, Bobby liked the show but I had never watched it before.
I felt a little bit like Scarlet O’Hara when I said I was “never going to be thirsty, again.” I told Bobby I was all in on the prepper lifestyle, with one important condition. He had to agree that if/when the SHTF, I was in charge of all dealing with all of the banging at the door of people wanting in or begging for food. Living through just a short local disaster quickly made me grasp how much desperation there would be during a TEOTWAWKI scenario – and how rapidly and potentially violently it would emerge.
I would find it excruciating to turn away people we knew and cared about, and strangers with children, but I could do it. I just didn’t see my sweet Bobby being able to tell a crying mother with hungry children no to a request for a can of food. As strong as he is, in every sense of the word, he just has too much of a servant’s heart for that kind of anguish inducing situation.
Do I sound heartless? Maybe But that one can of food would not sustain the crying woman and her child for more than a single day. Giving a can of food to every crying and starving decent person would take enough food out of the mouths of our children (and now grandchildren) that they too would soon be facing the same state of hunger
After The Storm, everyone’s eyes should have opened and we all have the same opportunity to prepare. Personal finances come into play, of course, but seeds are cheap and everyone where I live has enough space to grow food in their backyards and in vertical containers.
Part of our agreement also included turning away all non-family, including friends that are like family, if they do not bring value, i.e. skills or supplies, to our bugin location. Once the terms were agreed to, I started learning new survival skills and honing the ones that I had, including getting my concealed carry permit and picking up a semi-automatic rifle for the first time. I was always a fervent supporter of the Second Amendment, but had only shot a gun a few times before in my life. I no longer go anywhere my handgun cannot go too, I pack either my lever-action Henry rifle or my AR-15 in a scabbard on my saddle and 4-wheeler.
That day in July seven years ago, while sitting in the air conditioning watching the Walking Dead marathon, we began looking for the right land to turn into a survival homesteading retreat and designing every part of the property.
In my quest to learn more about aspects of prepping that appealed to me the most and to fully engage in the cross-training of skills with Bobby, I spent a lot of time learning online. It took a couple of years, but I began writing full-time for websites and magazines on only homesteading, survival, and homeschooling topics. Still a teacher at heart, I felt a duty to try and enlighten and educate as many others, both in my community and through my writing, to become more self-reliant so they too could survive whatever may come….and not wind up on my doorstep only to be turned away.
During this time I hosted a radio show on the Prepper Broadcasting Network and appeared as a guest on many others to discuss power grid preparedness. I got to interview and become friends with a host of impressive preparedness personalities, experts, and authors, who each inspired me to learn and do more to become self-reliant.
It took us three years to find the right land. We now live on a fully-functional and almost 100 percent sustainable 56-acre survival retreat. We have expanded our prepping tribe and are helping to instill both a self-reliant mindset and skill set in our grandchildren and other young ones in our lives, from a very early age.
The world has a vast misconception about preppers and I hope I am doing my part to change that. We approach prepping from a life insurance perspective. Stockpiling supplies, skills, while living a joy-filled sustainable lifestyle. I take great pride in the fact that little by little, those we care about are making strides and showing signs that they want to be a survivor and not a statistic, when disaster, whether or large or small, strikes.
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.