Often, people have said to me, "If an apocalypse ever occurs, I would grab your books for reference!" This is beyond flattering to hear, but here's my standard response: "ACK, no, don't do THAT!"
While my books are about survival, they are not how-to-survive manuals - I don't even say how many gallons of water per person per day you should plan on - and there are far more informative and useful books out there. In fact, there are thousands of them, with more being written every day. I have six books specifically on prepping on my shelves, another ten with titles like The Forager's Harvest (author Samuel Thayer) and The Prairie Traveler: A Handbook for Overland Expeditions(author Randolph B. Marcy, originally published in 1859), as well as a file folder stuffed with articles. In the Pikes Peak Library District, a search for "prepper" pulls up 470 titles, and "surviving disaster" an additional 162, and any one of these books would be more useful than all of mine put together. If disaster preparedness is something you're committed to, there's tons and tons of information out there.
But how to get started without getting overwhelmed?
First, recognize that you don't need to go from zero to five years' worth of "beans, bandages and bullets" overnight. Get out the old legal pad, make a cup of soothing tea and take some time to think through the following:
- What is your family's structure? Do you have any particularly vulnerable members, such as an elderly parent or a disabled child? Any plans you make must take into account your family's strengths and needs, and you should talk about multiple scenarios based on who is where, and when. Be specific, and make sure each family member understands their role and responsibilities based on those scenarios. For me, teaching my children to think like survivors in the event of a disaster is the very foundation of my preparedness thinking.
- Where do you live? Here in Colorado, we don't fret much about hurricanes. Wildfires, though, are very much on our radar. I had friends burned out in the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire, and I now live on the southern (and as yet unburned) edge of Black Forest, where 509 houses were lost in 2013. Know what risks pertain to your area, and adapt your plan's focus accordingly.
- Take the first step. Between fires, floods and locusts, sudden evacuation is a possibility everywhere. Having a three-day supply of necessities for each family member in a "go-bag" is the standard recommendation in most disaster preparedness material (please see the caveat below). If you haven't taken this step, it's a solid place to start. Again, be sure to plan for all members of the family, including pets, and be sure your go-container includes a list of items you'll need from around the house - prescription medications and important papers, for example.
- Your go-supplies should include a minimum three-day supply of food and water for every member of your family. That's a gallon of water per person and per animal per day (there's the information I left out of my books, at last!), and high-calorie, nutritionally dense canned and packaged food. It's helpful to purchase foods your family already consumes for several reasons; first, it's efficient and cost-effective to rotate foods from your emergency supply into your daily pantry as expiration dates approach; and secondly, if you've got uber-picky eaters, an already stressful situation won't be made worse by a kid who's refusing to eat. My son Casey has autism and he will darn well STAAAAAARVE (you should have heard a Beauty and the Beastroar there) before he'll eat something he's not familiar with. And one last time, don't forget about the animals. I don't know about you, but the grim purpose with which my cat stalks across my pillow every day at 5:00 am - after 10 measly hours without food - is enough to really motivate me to have plenty of kibble on hand for her.
And there you have a start, folks, though I caution you that true preppers will consider this an almost laughable bare minimum. I have to issue a couple of caveats so I can sleep tonight.
Caveat #1: The "three days" recommendation should be the first thing you question and expand upon. This estimate relies on the powers-that-be getting boots on the ground to lend assistance, wherever you are, in three days or less. Before you rest easy in that assurance, study the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the overwhelming mass destruction of the 2017 hurricane season, then ask yourself how comfortable you are relying on someone to bail you out before you run out of cat chow. Consider as well that disasters come in all shapes and sizes, and may disable the government (not to mention any assistance it might provide) indefinitely.
Caveat #2: You may have little or no warning before things go south. In the aforementioned Waldo Canyon fire, authorities were caught completely off guard when the fire starting jumping ridges and swept into the city. Evacuation orders were not issued until after houses were already on fire, and some folks never had a chance to make it back home before that home was gone. My friend Dorman, who has seriously bad-ass survival skills, says he begins the same way with everyone he talks to about prepping: "I take the present moment, no matter what time of day, and say, 'We start right now. If things hit the fan right now, what are your plans?' Most say they would head home to pack. Well, why are you not packed now? You live 20 miles from work and you are now in jammed traffic and must go on foot. Your twenty minute ride home has just turned into three days of walking."
Dorman's point is a very powerful one, and I'll be writing a Preppers 201 article based heavily on his information and advice, but you shouldn't wait around for me. As I mentioned, there are thousands of books and articles on this topic. The most important thing is to BEGIN. Embrace the mind-set, get organized, and take the first steps. And while you're laying in supplies, I highly recommend you purchase at least one book that describes basic survival strategies such as how to filter and purify water or construct an emergency shelter.
Be forewarned: once you embrace a "be prepared" mindset, a desire for greater self-reliance often follows. My 2018 goals include expanding our preparedness supplies out to several months - we went down to zero before we moved last year - and taking a class on foraging for edible plants with my daughter. I also intend to re-up my first aid certification and start a medicinal herb garden. Oh, and I'd like to finish another book - did I mention that? Looks like I've got the start of another trilogy... It's gonna be a busy year, folks!