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Emergency preparedness. [Jan. 20th, 2017|04:25 pm]
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If you've read my post about the Bag of Useful Stuff, you know that I like to be prepared: Not just for emergencies, but even for simple desires like taking home pretty rocks. That said, I have until recently been lax about preparation for major crises.

Nobody wants to think about this sort of stuff, but that's no excuse. If you're caught unprepared, you'll want to punch your past self in the face for not doing a little planning and shopping when you had the chance.

Being prepared for emergencies involves more than just knowing where your flashlights, batteries, and first aid kit are. It bears thinking about now, because the moment you realize that you desperately need some item, it will be days (or weeks) too late to go out and get it. (Dealing with this stuff was on my to-do list long before the election, by the way. Although I increased its priority in November due to additional threat models, you don't have to care about politics to recognize that preparedness is a good thing. Even the National Weather Services has long recommended having a bug out bag ready in case you need to evacuate quickly.) This is, by the way, an ongoing project of learning and equipping. Feel free to comment with suggestions or links.

I have been thinking about four categories of situations:

1. Staying home, unable to go out for supplies. (Threat models (most likely to least likely) include being snowed in; an oil crunch causing the cessation of food deliveries to grocery stores; riots and looting; hostile police or military occupation.)
2. Staying home, with no electricity or water. (Threat models include breakdown of the existing, outdated, and poorly maintained and regulated electric infrastructure (as has already happened), local weather-related outages (possibly from the same snowfall that creates situation 1), and sabotage (to which the electric grid is quite vulnerable; see the National Research Council's report).)
3. Leaving home to find shelter with others for a while. (Note that the converse of this, sheltering others who have had to leave their homes, is not covered here. Assuming that none of the other categories apply, clearing out a guest room and shopping to feed extra mouths (and even shopping for an air mattress) do not require advance preparation.)
4. Leaving home to survive in the wild for a while. (Threat models include, well, nothing terribly likely: Finding yourself in a war zone, or having no recourse to people you can trust to help you (for whatever reason; maybe they left first) when running from authorities or lynch mobs. I actually included this situation mostly to make a distinction from situation 3: A distinction which is needed but lacking on the web pages I have seen about bug out bags. Also, if you already live far from civilization, and your transportation fails, situation 3 becomes situation 4.)

Having said this much, I can leave it to you to think about these possibilities, do the research, and figure out how you'd like to prepare. The following sections detail some of my own thoughts and preparations. Your mileage may vary.

Situation 1: Stuck at home.

Priority 1: Don't starve to death. The local supermarkets and wholesale club provided us with plenty of shelf-stable food: Mostly canned fruits, vegetables, soups, and baked beans. Also jars of nuts for protein. Trader Joe's has some sustainably harvested (pole-and-line caught) tuna. Watching the price-per-pound on all of these purchases kept the whole thing surprisingly affordable. Pay attention to expiration dates. Occasionally eat something from this stash and replace it at your next shopping trip, to make sure it doesn't expire. I don't like to eat a lot of canned products due to BPA, but I figure that some exposure is unavoidable. ("BPA-free" products usually substitute BPS or BPF, which appear to be just as bad but haven't been as widely scrutinized.) So we're rotating this supply at a slow rate.

Consider pets, too. We keep large bags of cheap cat food that my dad uses to feed the neighborhood cats (and thus also the opossums, skunks, and raccoons); that can suffice once the cats' regular food runs out. We have freeze-dried crickets that we can get the bearded dragon to eat by pushing them around. The snakes can go over a month without food, but if it gets really bad, we'll try trapping some of the mice that use our drop ceiling as a highway.

Situation 2: Power outage.

Yes, know where your flashlights are, and test them periodically. Know where your candles and matches/lighters are, too.

Do you have options for cooking with gas? We don't, so we've made sure that our stock of canned goods mostly consists of food that is palatable at room temperature.

If the outage is town-wide, then there is no water being pumped into the water tower. When it runs out, you're out of potable water. This at least gives you enough time to fill a bathtub for later use. I have been saving 2-liter bottles, washing them, and filling them with filtered water, but due to a lack of appropriate storage space, we're limited to about a four day supply. Have water purification methods (see situation 3) available as a backup.

We already keep a large stash of batteries from the wholesale club. (Note that they may go bad after about five years, but that's almost how long it takes us to go through them, so that's okay.)

Climate control is a huge problem in a power outage. Obviously, air conditioners won't work. Even if you have gas heat, it's probably in a system that requires electricity for pumps and for zone flow valves. Most fireplaces are terrible for heating homes: Not only is a lot of heat lost to the outside through the chimney, but all that hot air is replaced by frigid air from outside, pulled in through the house's exterior walls. This is not an easy one to address: You'll have to think about whether you want to (and can) invest in an efficient style of wood stove or fireplace (with an air intake and the ability to radiate most of its heat into the house), or find ways to live with it. (A small room can be notably warmed by body heat from people and pets, but I don't know if that's enough. Worst case, keep the fireplace running (presuming you have one) and spend most of your time right in front of it. You have plenty of wood, right?)

If you have the financial means, research and think about backup power and fuel. Backup generators go through a reasonable supply of gasoline in a few days. However, some can be modified to work with natural gas. Often, but not always, natural gas will be your most reliable utility. Here's some discussion on how long you can expect natural gas to work during a power outage, which boils down to, "It depends, but probably a fair while barring a flood or earthquake, presuming the supplier has backup generators for their pumps or is outside the outage area. Maybe think about having propane or other fuel at home."

A generator does not have to power your whole house. An electrician can install a second circuit box, which feeds only your most essential circuits. A switch allows that box to be fed either by the main box or by the generator. That keeps your generator from trying to power the whole grid, too. (Or you could put such a switch on the main box, and just shut off or unplug anything non-essential when using the generator.)

Again, consider pets. The cats will be fine wherever we are. The emergency plan for the reptiles is to put them in boxes with towel-wrapped chemical hand warmers (ordered online in a big pack for economy). Luckily, they don't need a lot of air. If we're down to one warm spot in the house, of course they'll join us there.

Situation 3: Leaving to stay with someone else.

You might be walking two blocks or driving for two days. You might have a week to casually prepare, or you might have time to grab one thing as you run out of a burning house. In any case, this is where your bug out bag comes in. It's a single bag that you can grab as you leave, which has everything you need to survive for at least three days.

There are some good sources for how to assemble your bug out bag. (Here's a great example. A web search will turn up more.) But when reading them, one may feel overwhelmed, both by the sheer amount of equipment listed, and by the intense focus on wilderness survival. If you don't have experience in survival techniques, it may be demoralizing: "I can't live off the land, so why should I bother planning for it?" This is why I have divided my bug out bag into two bags, to cover situations 3 and 4 separately. This bag is for when "living rough" means, at worst, sleeping in your car. If you don't anticipate trying to live off the land, don't stress yourself out worrying about it.

Everyone's bug out bag will be different; don't think that you have to replicate any. Just make a list, prioritize it, and see what you can easily get online, at hunting and fishing stores (e.g., the Field and Stream store), at outdoor equipment stores (e.g., Eastern Mountain Sports), or at a sporting goods store. Take the time to compare prices. It's okay if it takes months to get everything together.

My bug out bag (BOB) contains things that aren't already in the Bag of Useful Stuff (BoUS). (Mostly: A few items are duplicated in case I need more.) So remember to look there too, if you're using my posts to inspire your list.

My list: The bag itself. (Normally, the BOB would be a lightweight but spacious backpack, but since the BoUS is a backpack, my BOB is a big tote bag. I really want a large shoulder bag with compartments, but that will have to wait for garage sale season.) Clothes (3 pairs socks, 1 pair thick oversocks, 3 short-sleeved shirts, 3 pairs underwear, 1 pair pants, 1 long-sleeved shirt). (I assume that if the weather calls for a sweater or jacket, I will be wearing it, not carrying it.) 1 liter of water. (I looked at packs of bottled water at the supermarket, but they were Poland Spring, which is Nestlé, meaning that this water was stolen from people who needed it more than I do. I filled a 1-liter bottle with filtered tap water instead.) Mylar reflective emergency blanket. Cash. Waterproof matches. Hand warmers (chemical; 2 pairs). Clif Bars (6). Long lighter (utility lighter). Toothbrush/toothpaste/floss. Superglue (1-use size). Trail mix and beef jerky (expiration dates noted). Passport. Cotton balls. Personal water filter. (Look for Sawyer rather than LifeStraw. This seems like wilderness gear, but who knows whether there'll be clean water on the way, or even at the destination?) Printed contact list of phone numbers and addresses.

Situation 4: Roughing it.

For this purpose, geography matters. I live in the suburbs. In the unlikely event that I am trying to survive in the wilderness, I will almost certainly have gotten there by car. So a separate "wilderness bug out bag" lives in the trunk of my car. Even if I am never in situation 4, any of these items may come in handy as a backup plan when something goes awry during one of the other situations.

This spare bag has two constraints: Nothing that will freeze, catch fire, or explode from being left in the car in extreme temperatures; and nothing valuable. I know far more people who have had their cars stolen or broken into than who have had to flee their homes at a moment's notice. So, as a general rule: If I would be sad to lose it, it doesn't stay in the car.

The "wilderness BOB" list: Tarp. Saw (pull action; it works better for me than normal saws, and was cheap at Harbor Freight Tools). Plastic forks/knives/spoons (to be replaced with better quality ones later). Camp soap. (A generally useful bottle of shampoo-like substance that washes off easily even in cold water. But you may just want a (much longer lasting) bar of soap instead.) Magnesium fire starter. Tin containing a fire starting kit of waterproof matches, cotton balls, and candles. More cotton balls. More clothes (2 short-sleeved shirts, 2 pairs socks (1 dress, 1 thick), 2 pairs underwear). Duct tape (light roll from dollar store). Food (dry chicken noodle soup, dry bean soup, trail mix (expiration dates noted)). Hand towel. Water purification tablets (the kind with extra tablets to remove the iodine so it's not gross). Mirror. Hobo fishing kit (no rod; just line, hook, lure, bob, sink). Aluminum foil. Bandana.

I'm considering adding: Folding saucepan. Camp stove (with butane/propane mix, so it lights cold and burns hot). (Check whether it breaks the "can't explode" rule.) Shelving brackets (for cooking over a fire). Collapsing camp bucket. Survival knife. The Pocket First-Aid Field Guide (by George E. Dvorchak, Jr., MD). The Boy Scout Handbook (if I can find my old one). Whetstone and oil. Sleeping bag. Tent. Crank power charger. QuickClot trauma pack. Fishing net. (I know nothing about fishing. Is this easier?) Tourniquet.

The car also has a spare pair of waterproof boots (not in the bag), and a yoga mat / sleeping pad.

Both of my bug out bags contain items not on these lists, as they are more a matter of personal whim than recommendation. If you come up with some lightweight addition that makes you think, "You know what? Let's have some fun with this," then go for it. Make it your own.

Unsurprisingly, the lists compiled by survivalists will also include weapons. The choice of whether and what to pack is a personal one, and I have no recommendations of my own to make, beyond consideration of what I've already said here about accessible weapons in the home.

Thanks to botia for reptile care tips. Thanks to two very helpful and talkative sales reps at Field and Stream for camping tips.

I have some generally applicable thoughts on further preparations, which will constitute their own post.

This entry was originally posted at http://blimix.dreamwidth.org/142848.html. (comment count unavailable comments there.)

[User Picture]From: elenbarathi
2017-01-20 10:40 pm (UTC)
On the subject of 'Roughing It': no. Just no. Unless you are prepared to take your bug-out bag right now and go survive for a month in the remote wilderness area of your choice, this is a stupid plan that may well lead to a stupid death.

Seriously, anyone who thinks this is the least bit practical needs to go and actually practice it, while Search & Rescue still stands ready to come and get you if the experiment goes badly, and while the law still exists to prevent the people who already live up there from shooting you for dog food. Remember that in case of an emergency sufficient to send you hare-tailing into the Wild, the Wild is going to be filled with a lot of other starving pilgrims, many of whom have weapons and no compunction about taking your stuff.

If you know nothing about fishing, there's no point in taking fishing-gear with you. Fishing is not so easy even when you already know how. If you need to take the Boy Scout Handbook and the Pocket First Aid book with you, you are woefully unprepared: go take an actual first-aid course, and go out and practice your primitive-camping skills till you're good at them.

I am quite good at primitive camping, foraging for wild foods, etc. However, if all hell breaks loose, I will not be disappearing up the Gray Wolf River. I will be reporting for duty to whatever local aid efforts can use my service, and doing what I can to get my community back on its feet.

Edited at 2017-01-20 10:42 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: blimix
2017-01-21 03:52 am (UTC)
All good points. Most of the point of my including the "roughing it" option was to show that it is different from other things you could use a bug out bag for. Looking at web pages about bug out bags, and their focus on wilderness survival equipment, it's easy to get the impression that that's simply what it's for. A person with no wilderness survival skills could get intimidated by that, and wrongly conclude that they have no use for a bug out bag.

Attempting wilderness survival is a terrible option, but if it's that or certain death, I'll give it a try. I have some decades-old experience in the Scouts, including first aid, and figure that the books would be good for jogging my memory in a pinch. Some time spent camping may eventually give me the chance to practice survival skills in a low-stakes setting.

Probably, learning more about edible wild plants (of which I know some) will be a better time investment than fishing.
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[User Picture]From: elenbarathi
2017-01-21 01:11 pm (UTC)
A bug-out bag with everything you'd need to live away from home for a couple of weeks is a splendid idea, and it's fine to have a few snacks and drinks in there, because you may have to travel a while to reach your destination. However, you are much more likely to need toilet paper, zip-lock bags, baby wipes (for washing,) trash bags, bug spray, sunscreen, shampoo and other common toiletries, than all the primitive-camping gear. A tube tent and a rope to sling it takes little space, and gives you rain-proof shelter anywhere.

One of the funniest things I ever saw was on a trip into the Wild to test a friend's bug-out bag. It weighed at least 60 lbs. which was twice as much as he was used to carrying, and we'd gotten pretty lost, so he was hacking a path through waist-high grapevine, when he got totally stuck - couldn't move forward or back, couldn't turn around, couldn't reach down to untangle his legs, nor back to unfasten his pack. It took two of us to extricate him, and of course he never lived it down.

If you're on foot, every ounce counts. If you're going by car, you might as well bring enough gear to camp in comfort. My entire SCA encampment lives year-round in my car trunk; I can be set up anywhere in about an hour. I've also got rain gear, work gloves, nitrile gloves, hand-warmers and a bunch of tools in there - not for bugging out; I use that stuff all the time.

Running into the Wild isn't really an option. At most you might be running through it, or hiding out in it for a while. Learning more about edible wild plants is always nice, and depending on the season there can be some very tasty stuff out there, but you're probably not going to sustain yourself that way for long. Heh, your hobo fishing kit and a Clif bar will get you duck for dinner if you want it, but you'd have to know how to clean and cook a duck without giving yourself salmonella poisoning.

Edited at 2017-01-21 01:26 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: blimix
2017-01-21 03:26 pm (UTC)
My Bag of Useful Stuff (which goes with me many places) already contains toilet paper, zip-lock bags, baby wipes, trash bags, bug spray, and (sometimes) sunscreen (which has issues; I tend to wear a hat instead). See the link at the top of the post. A tube tent looks like a great option for packing light; thanks!

I've gotten slowed to near immobility by endless blackberry patches, but getting completely caught in grapevine? That had to be embarrassing.
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[User Picture]From: elenbarathi
2017-01-22 06:02 am (UTC)
LOL, that whole trip was kind of embarrassing: 'Murphy's Law: Wilderness Edition'. One of the big lessons was not to drag along more gear than one can comfortably carry: my bro who got stuck was the heaviest-laden, but we all had way too much. Then we got lost, so we had to carry it all a lot farther than we planned. It was definitely an adventure-packed weekend, for many reasons.

Hey, at least nobody got hurt, and that's what trial runs are for: to reveal all the flaws in the plan that looked so fine back in the cozy kitchen. It's always funnier in retrospect than it seems at the time!

I love the tube tent; being able to get entirely out of the wind and wet makes all the difference sometimes. Yo, do you have glow-sticks in your Useful Bag? They're another item to not leave home without, because you wouldn't want any fire inside a plastic tent, and it's easier to conceal the light, if that's a concern. A flashlight inside a tube-tent turns it into a giant glow-worm from outside.

Edited at 2017-01-22 12:41 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: elenbarathi
2017-01-22 12:43 pm (UTC)
I went to read your original list: very useful! Some additions I'd suggest:

~ disposable lighters
~ camp candles
~ glowsticks
~ needles and thread
~ safety pins
~ sticky-notes
~ waterproof marker
~ saline eye drops
~ nitrile gloves
~ hydrocortisone cream

You'll laugh, but when I'm going out in the Wild I carry two pouches of aquarium gravel to mark my trail wherever I turn: blue/green for my main path, and pink/purple for 'experiments' that might turn out to be loops or dead ends. It takes all the guesswork out of finding my way home.
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