My friend Lee was a survivalist. He had armor, a full tactical vest system, military-grade weapons, thousands of rounds of ammunition, a high-tech backpack, MREs, water, military-grade survival and camping gear and just about every gimmick, gadget and gee-gaw you can imagine. He spent a fortune on all of this stuff; at one point he could have fully equipped a fire-team to operate for a month. The plan was to walk to the ‘safety’ of the countryside. There were a few slight problems with all his plans however. One, that he lived in the middle of a suburb in a major metropolitan area. Two, if he fully geared up he wouldn’t have made it a hundred feet; his health and physical condition would’t have allowed it. Three, for the last several years of his life he lived with his two adult daughters and their children. While his plans, such as they were, didn’t include them there is no way he would have left them behind. Despite all of his preparations he was, fundamentally, unprepared.
Lee was a wonderful, intelligent, nice person and a great friend. I never got his obsession or how his plans could be so completely out of step with reality. Eventually I came to understand that he was a survival hobbyist, living a fantasy rather than preparing for a potential reality. As much as we loved him he was, unfortunately, ‘that guy.’
OK, we’re not all survivalists as such, but if you’re reading this chances are you’ve thought about calamity and what you’d do in a break-down of social order. There is no one good answer of course; we all have different situations and circumstances, and different sorts of events might impact us. There are simple, sensible things one can do, and hopefully our thinking and preparations, such as they are, might give people some useful ideas.
Here in Seattle a natural disaster is probably the most likely scenario for a break-down of services. The city is on a fault-line, we could experience a Lahar from Mount Rainier, sometimes we have fairly serious storms… a natural disaster could disrupt services for days or even at the extreme weeks at a time. In combination with social factors a general social breakdown is possible. Unlikely, but possible.
Linda and I have discussed this at some length. Where we live is far enough from downtown that it’s very likely we would survive a catastrophic event that affected the city, but we’re too deep in the urban area to flee after the fact. Also we have dogs; they are our family and they would have to be disposed of before we could move out and we don’t want to- especially for a crisis of limited duration.
Another consideration is that we’re in our fifties and in relatively poor physical condition. Fleeing on foot is seriously not an option; we wouldn’t get far and wouldn’t be able to carry much. So unless we have enough warning to pack the van with what we need and the dogs we’re probably not going to be able to flee. In the unlikely event that we do have sufficient warning we have contingencies in mind, but for the most part realism dictates that we’re going to have to hunker down and try to ride it out.
So- the events we are planning for involve a breakdown of services (and possibly social order) lasting several weeks, after which services and social order will gradually be restored. Anything else is either unsurvivable for us in this location or will have to be played by ear; in either case the preparation we are making won’t hurt.
So, what does that entail? Food and water for starters. OK, forget all the survivalist BS. You don’t need specially sealed and prepared survival rations or sterilized distilled water. You just need to keep soul and body together until things start running again. That’s pretty easy; we have a bargain market nearby and when I am shopping I grab a few cans of whatever is on sale. Yes, canned food can be a little short of nutrition and high on sodium. But it’s cheap, readily available, keeps practically forever and does not require cooking. It also tends to contain a lot of liquid which helps to stretch out the water. By grabbing a few cans at a time we get variety and can build up stocks without breaking the budget. Meat will be a bit in short supply as that’s more expensive, but hell, we eat too much meat as it is.
Water is easy too. Turn on the tap and there it is. Clean out empty pop or juice bottles, fill them with water and freeze some of them. The frozen bottles not only thaw and provide potable water, but when the power goes down they can be shifted to the refrigerator and keep things cool long enough to consume all the perishables. The others can simply be stored. Yes, I know, they leach chemicals into the water that have negative long-term health effects. Frankly if we need them we’ve got bigger problems, they are free and readily available, and you can cycle fresh water into them a couple of times a year. Don’t forget the hot-water heater; forty-five gallons of potable water right there.
So what else is needed? Fuel? Start stashing propane bottles for the camp stove and a few good-sized bags of charcoal for the barbecue. If the opportunity to cook is there and it seems prudent that should cover it. As long as we’re mindful of ventilation issues the stove can be used as a source of heat too. Candles are cheap and easy, but you do have to be mindful of the fire danger. Candle-lanterns are a good option; they’re cheap and they help limit the fire danger. No, they don’t throw the levels of light we’re accustomed to, but enough to get around without tripping over the furniture. We have a couple of propane lanterns for camping that can be pressed into service at need.
What about weapons? A lot of people stock military-style weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition, super-advanced high-tech handguns, knives, swords, big wrenches and god knows what else. Frankly if we need that stuff we’re probably doomed anyway. We have firearms and more ammunition than we are likely to be able to survive needing; we can even arm neighbors if necessary. That’s a whole other discussion though. Suffice it to say we feel OK with what we’ve got.
What about forting-up? Let’s face it, our house isn’t bulletproof and there is no reasonable way to make it so. If we come under serious assault by an organized force we’re cooked. There is no way whatsoever to stand off a determined assault so it makes no sense to try. Attempting to fortify our home would call the attention of just such people. A far better option is to work with out neighbors, be vigilant and keep a low profile. Fight if we have to, but avoid the necessity if possible.
While actually forting-up isn’t practical it seems prudent to have some stout sheets of plywood on hand to use to limit access to the house. These are pretty cheap and can be bought one at a time. These would be put up inside the house behind the curtains of certain windows. This allows us secure the house somewhat without announcing to the world that there are things here worth the effort of trying to get them. We have a rechargeable drill and long wood-screws on hand for household use and maintenance, so mounting the plywood will not be a problem. These will not make the house impenetrable, but they will make it more difficult to get in. More importantly it will make it very, very difficult to access our house by stealth.
There are a thousand other things, but they can mostly be acquired piece-meal without making a capital investment. A good industrial first-aid kit. Some compress bandages and tampons ( a great field expedient for bullet-wounds.) We have a wind-up radio in the shop. LOTS of tools. I also have a fully insulated workshop with limited access for storage or to put people up in if necessary. A water-purification system could be useful.
I suppose the point is that prepping for a worst-case scenario doesn’t need to cost a fortune or be an all-consuming obsession. Think about what you have and what you might need. Keep it simple. Above all be realistic- what is likely and what is survivable? What are your physical limitations, and what can you really do? Keep your feet on the ground, use your common sense and think. There’s no guarantees in life, but you can increase your chances without going overboard… or going broke.