There is a lot of disagreement over how the world as we know it will end. Economic disaster, electro-magnetic pulse (natural or man-made), zombies, asteroids, super-volcanoes, foreign invasion, nuclear war, the next ice age, massive earthquakes, pandemics, the moon crashing into the earth, the opposite sex disappearing; whatever the disaster, someone somewhere has written a novel about it.
Every possible part of the political spectrum has its own fears about the future and the dreadful things that might happen if “they” take control.
And yet, there is a surprising amount of agreement on what every citizen should do to be ready for whatever comes down the pike. This is because there is a lot of overlap in disaster preparedness. That is, if you are ready for zombies you are ready for anything.
So what does everyone agree on?
1. Get In Shape!
If you are in poor physical condition, you just can’t cope as well with problems. If you never walk farther than your car to your chair, you will not be able to quickly evacuate a building when terrorists fly airplanes into it.Whatever shape you are in now (I am assuming you do not currently have the physique of an underwear model) you can improve your physical fitness. Start slow, start small, walk a little farther each day. Although I am still overweight, I am in much better shape. I started with five sit-ups a day and now I can do fifty everyday. (And I do!) I walk everyday with my dog. I alternate yoga, aerobics and strength training everyday for forty to fifty minutes. I use the Wii Fit Plus program as that is what I had and it is convenient. Gym rats may sneer but it works for me and I do it daily. The very best exercise program is the one you are willing to do everyday. Find the exercise program you are willing to do daily and start getting into better shape than you are now.
2. Get Out Of Debt!It doesn’t matter what dreadful event falls upon your household. It will be easier to cope with if you don’t have to worry about bills and money. Car fall apart? Daughter break both legs? House burn down? Get laid off? No debt and money in the bank make everything easier to cope with. Do not believe for one minute that the collapse of the world economy will make your debts evaporate. They won’t! If zombies appear, you can bet that debt collection agencies will hire them to collect on claims.
Start with “The Complete Tightwad Gazette” by Amy Dacyczyn and any of Dave Ramsey’s money books. Save dollars with Amy and then use Dave’s debt snowball program to pay off everything you owe. Cut back your expenses enough and you can work on food storage and weather-stripping your house and still move forward on paying off your debts.
3. Get Your Paperwork In Order!
Do you have a will? Where is the title to your car? The deed to your house? Birth certificates for yourself and your children? Marriage license, insurance policies, 401ks, Roth IRAs, pension plans, divorce papers, discharge forms from the military, websites and passwords, copies of all your account numbers, both for bills you pay and for places where you stow any form of money.
Keep the originals in a safety deposit box (above the flood line as victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy will attest), and copies in your go-box so you can prove identity and ownership if you have to evacuate. Make sure trusted family members know how to find these documents so if you die suddenly, they don’t have to go on a scavenger hunt through your estate. If you have gold, diamonds or big wads of cash hidden in the heating vents somewhere (it happens!) make sure the information and treasure map are in your safety deposit box as well.
4. Quit Your Addictions!If you absolutely have to have something, whether it is coffee or cocaine; you need to do something about this issue. Whatever problem happens, your fix will be harder (maybe much harder) to get and it will certainly cost more. Alcohol, tobacco, gambling (including lottery tickets), drugs, pornography or whatever issue you have does not make you healthier and they are all costing you money. This is money you could be spending on debt repayment, insulation and food storage.
Now you may be considering growing tobacco or brewing beer for after the apocalypse. If so, don’t get hooked on your product and also think about the desperate people who want it. People with addictions will let their children go cold, hungry, ragged, and barefoot rather than give up that bottle or needle. Folks with addictions are not necessarily going to be reliable, upstanding citizens who work hard to make things better. Is this behavior you want to encourage in your community? Think about this before you start growing poppies in your back garden to provide narcotics for the local addicts.
5. Keep Food On Hand At All Times!
Every time the blizzard or hurricane comes, the grocery stores are mobbed and stripped. A typical grocery store only carries a few days worth of food. They are resupplied from huge warehouses on a near daily basis. You don’t have to be that person standing in line, with your hungry children, waiting for the National Guard to throw you a bag of MREs.Keep on hand a week’s worth of food that you and your family actually eat at all times. Work up to this by buying a few extra cans every week of soup, beans or peanut butter and cereal. The key to doing this is rotating your stock and having some storage space. Every item you buy has a best buy date. Rewrite this date in big letters on the front of the jar and put the newest to the back and the oldest jars to the front on your shelves. Always use the oldest items first.
The mantra for food storage is cool, dry, and in the dark. Most shelf-stable packaged items last far longer than what the container says they do if you store them correctly.
Only store what you and your family will eat. If you insist on buckets of wheat, then you better have a grain mill to grind it and be ready to make and eat loads of whole wheat bread and porridge.
Once you regularly keep a week ahead on the groceries (other than perishables of which you also use the oldest first), then move up to keeping two weeks ahead. Then three. Then a month’s worth of groceries. If a family member gets laid off you can still put food on the table for a few weeks while you sort things out.
6. Reskill! Reskill! Reskill!The more things you know how to do, the more easily you can cope with unexpected big problems. If your cooking skill is calling for takeout, then you need to learn to cook. If you throw away a garment because of a split seam, you need to learn to sew. If you hire someone to replace a doorknob, you need some home handyman skills. Can you check the fluids in your car? Put air in your tires? Change a tire? Use a handsaw, pliers, screwdrivers? Can you get up on the roof safely and put on a tarp and retar after a storm has ripped off all your shingles? You may not be able to reroof your house, but you should be able to keep some rain out long enough to get a roofer over.
Think about all the things that your grandparents knew how to do in their daily lives. Think about how you would manage if your income was cut in half. Being able to do more things yourself means having to lay out less money to other people to do it for you.
7. Improve Your Health!This goes hand in hand with getting in shape (#1) and quitting your addictions (#4). Many health problems are directly due to lifestyle. Obesity, being sedentary, tobacco, alcohol abuse can all lead to poorer health. Eat a better diet with more fruit and veg and fewer Cheetos and soda and you will start to feel better. You know what you should be eating and it doesn’t come out of vending machines and it isn’t deep fried. If you don’t know what you should be eating, ask your doctor or do some research.
Get enough sleep! For most people this is about eight hours a night. Sleep is absolutely vital to your health, both physical and mental. Think about how every single living animal has to sleep, including juicy little animals at the bottom of the food chain. That is how important sleep is. Poor sleep or not enough sleep will make everything harder to cope with. Does depression lead to poor sleep? Or is it the other way around? You will feel better, think better, work better with enough sleep.
Ask your doctor what you could be doing to get healthier and then do it. If you take regular medication, ask what lifestyle changes you can make to reduce this need. Struggling with diabetes? Arthritis and joint pain? High blood pressure? Exercise and weight loss will help them all. Is this easy? Oh, God, no. But it will be easier now, than it may be later in times of trouble.
While you are at it, take care of your teeth. Your teeth (like your eyes and ears) never, ever get better. They only get worse. Dental pain can be never ending and even life threatening if you get a bad abscess. Get your teeth fixed now and commit to rinsing, flossing, rinsing, and brushing after every meal.
Have your eyes checked and get a spare pair of glasses for when the first pair breaks. If you like them (not everyone does), photogray lenses act like built in sunglasses. The sunglasses will protect your eyes from sun damage. Wear safety glasses when doing anything that might injure your eyes! You can’t get a replacement set down at the hospital.
8. Fix Your House!
Your house should be safe, secure, paid for, have space for food production, food storage space, and be well sealed against the weather. If you are a renter you need to think about where you want to live permanently and start saving money for a house (see item #2). If you live in an unsafe neighborhood far away from reliable family and friends, then you need to think carefully about why you are living there.Basic home security consists of getting casual burglars to go next door. If someone really wants in your house, they will drive a truck through the front windows. Burglars, like most people, don’t want to work that hard and will take the easier houses. So, unless you are actually using it, keep your front door locked at all times! Install deadbolt locks on all doors leading to the outside, including the one between the kitchen and the garage. Then use them. Fence off your property with the tallest fence you can afford; then line it with a thorny hedge. Get a dog and put up those beware of dog signs. Strangers see the signs but they won’t know your dog is best friends with everyone. Have fire extinguishers and smoke detectors. And for heaven’s sake, don’t leave your car unlocked. It can be stolen right out of your driveway.
Pay off your house. The bank will foreclose a lot faster for missed payments than the county will for back taxes. If your house is paid off, you still have to pay the property taxes but it is easier to scrape up the few thousand annually for this than the thousand or so monthly for the mortgage.
Look at your yard and think about your climate and what your family likes to eat. Start improving your soil with compost and mulch while you read up on basic gardening. A skillful gardener using intensive techniques and raised beds can grow a huge amount of food in not very much space at all. We have a quarter of an acre (including the footprint of the house and driveway); our raised beds equal about 700 square feet and we have space for another 100 square foot bed. This does not include the persimmon trees, hazelnut trees, blackberries, gooseberries or current bushes. We also have space (if we wanted to) to set up a chicken coop, rabbit hutches and bee hives.
Look your house over carefully and install a pantry. Food storage can be tucked in a lot of places. The keys to successful food storage are cool, dry, and in the dark. Basements work very well as long as you allow for air flow to keep things drier.
Insulate, caulk, and weather-strip your house. Have heavy drapes and window quilts for each window and use them. Get a programmable thermostat. Line your unfinished attic with heat reflective foil. Unless you live well to the north, reroof your house with white shingles and install ridge vents. White shingles repel the summer sun making it easier to cool your house in August. The goal is to keep your attic no warmer than the ambient air temperature. Everyone in your house should be dressing for the weather. Don’t expect your energy costs for heating and cooling to fall. Insulation will let you get more use out of the heat or AC you pay for.
9. Learn To Grow Your Food!
You can give up on or cut back many things but eating isn’t one of them. If you have a sunny window, you can grow something that you can eat. If you are very limited on space look for one of the many growing food in a container gardening books. A typical houseplant book won’t tell you what tomatoes or lemon trees will need to grow in a pot. These more specialized books will.
Many places have community gardens with plots available on a first come, first serve basis. They are not as convenient as your own backyard but you can learn a lot of hands on skills and information from the other gardeners.
If you have actual ground of your own, use it. You can make raised beds, sunken beds, grow at the original soil level, grow in straw bales or bags of potting soil set directly on your asphalt driveway. Improve your soil with as much compost and mulch as you can acquire. Develop those skills now while the grocery store is conveniently available.
If we had to live off of what we grow, we would have starved by now. It is very easy to grow supplemental greens, herbs, fresh beans, a few tomatoes and peppers, some berry bushes. These provide variety, and additional nutrients for whatever beans and rice you are buying at the store. It takes much more skill to grow half of what your family eats but it can be done.
Livestock such as chickens, pygmy goats and rabbits provide much needed proteins and fats as well as manure for your composting. They are considerably more work than growing carrots so get your food gardening well in hand before tackling small animal raising.
The other part of growing your own food is preserving the harvest for the winter. This also has a learning curve that is best learned when you are not dependent on eating only what you produce.
10. Store Water!
Even more important than food is water. The goal is to capture every drop of rainfall that lands on your property for use in your household. Don’t let rainwater escape you into the storm drains.
You store water in the ground via cisterns, ponds and improved top soil, in rain barrels and cubes, and in your house for drinking and cooking. The Red Cross says you need a minimum of one gallon of water per person per day. My household uses about 40 gallons per person per day and that covers everything: cooking, dishwashing, laundry, toilets, pets, showers, cleaning, drinking, everything.
Find a place in your basement to put those gallon jugs of water you get at the grocery store. Cool, dry, and in the dark! Squeeze out the space for a three day supply for each person in your household plus some extra for your animals. I have never had an undisturbed plastic gallon jug break on me. Some of my water jugs are years old. I might have to boil the water or treat it with a drop of chlorine bleach when I open them (for perfect safety) but I know the water was clean and pure when I stored it. If you have more space, store more water.
11. Pay Attention!You have to know what is going on around you. Look at your surroundings and see what is happening. I walk my dog daily and I listen and watch for changes in my neighborhood. I find money on the ground and reusable items for my house. I interact with my neighbors. If I was plugged into an iPod, this wouldn’t happen. People have been hit by trains (!) because they were too focused on the tunes blasting into their ears. Don’t let this happen to you.
Pay attention to weather reports. Absolutely nobody should be surprised by a hurricane or a big winter storm. The National Weather Service gives several days notice when a big storm is on the way. This gives you time to board up your house, stock up on supplies, fill the fuel tank. This is much more important than paying attention to Kardashians.
Pay attention to the news. Trouble in the Middle East? Gas prices may jump up so you want to be prepared for the extra cost. Bank runs? Maybe you should keep a little cash on hand. Freezing weather in the coffee plantations? Store extra coffee now and ride out some of the price hikes.
The universe tends to punish people who drift along aimlessly, not paying attention to their surroundings. Car accidents, kitchen disasters, home improvement mishaps, industrial accidents; all kinds of things happen that you don’t want to happen because of someone’s inattention. Try not to let that someone be you.
12. Have A Community!
Everyone needs to be part of a group. Life is so much easier when you can call on reliable family and friends to help you out. Get to know your neighbors. They don’t have to know the size of your pantry or your arsenal but they should recognize you as belonging in your house on your street in your neighborhood.
Are you part of a church group? A fraternal order? A sewing circle? A civics group? A scout leader? An active part of your community? If disaster strikes (and sometimes it does), the people you know in your town are the most likely to help you.
As with family, friends, and co-workers, the topic of what to do in a disaster may come up during a conversation with your group. Use this teachable moment to talk about how to prepare for a big winter storm, an earthquake, a hurricane. Don’t mention zombies or economic collapse if you think your group will start visualizing you in a tin foil hat.
Preparedness flows out like a wave: you, your immediate family, your relatives, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, your community, your county. The more people who have some food storage, some skills, fewer addictions, more resilience, the easier it will be for your town to recover from a disaster.
13. Get Started!You try and you try and you try and often, you fail. Then, you get back to work and try some more.[/caption]Eventually, you have to stop reading, studying, and thinking about what you are going to do. You have to get your hands dirty and start doing things. Recognize that you will fail sometimes. All skills have learning curves and they all require practice. Projects that work on paper don’t work in the real world. You try and you try and you try and often, you fail. Then, you get back to work and try some more.
So this is what everyone agrees on. It doesn’t matter what you think will happen (grain blight, alien invasion, resource depletion) or which groups of nuts you are most concerned about. Get started on your life changes with this list and you and your family will be better off.