We live in an uncertain world. An emergency might be as localized as a house fire or burglary or it might cover an area as wide as several states. Natural disasters, pandemics, terror attacks, riots or a myriad of other occurrences could cause an interruption of food, water and power for extended periods of time.
Such an interruption could cause severe difficulty for families even if they are not directly affected by the disaster. Even though in most cases help will be quick to arrive, we should be prepared to fend for ourselves for at least a short period of time. In rare cases, such as Hurricane Katrina or the LA riots, help might not arrive for days. In the worst case scenario, such as an electromagnetic pulse or dirty bomb attack on the US, help might not arrive for months.
In modern times, it can be disconcerting to think about surviving for even a short time without cell phones and computers, much less without any running water, heat, or electricity at all. If we are wise, we will give more than a passing thought to how we would deal with such an uncomfortable situation.
One of the most basic tenets of emergency planning is to put together a kit containing supplies that will help you to survive an emergency. The government recommends putting together a kit that will allow you to survive on your own for at least three days. Ready.gov gives the government’s recommendations on what your emergency kit should contain.
First think of immediate survival. Your kit should contain nonperishable food and water. The government recommends one gallon of water per person for three days. One way of stockpiling water is reuse plastic milk jugs or two-liter bottles. If you have a freezer with extra space, you can freeze your water in these bottles to help prevent it from becoming contaminated over time. You might also want to purchase a portable water filter and/or water purification tablets. These can be obtained from camping supply stores.
You should ensure that any food that you stockpile is nonperishable. Canned goods have a long shelf life, but are heavy to transport. It may seem obvious, but if you elect to stockpile canned goods, make sure that you also stockpile at least one can opener! You can easily build an emergency pantry by simply buying a few extra canned goods on each trip to the grocery store.
Another alternative is to purchase freeze-dried foods. These are available from camping supply stores as well. Freeze-dried foods are often more expensive, but are lighter and easier to transport. Most can be used in dried form without rehydrating. If you choose freeze-dried foods, you might want to increase the stockpile of water due to the need for water to rehydrate your food supply.
Also consider military surplus MREs (meals-ready-to-eat). MRE’s are essentially a complete meal in a bag. They include an entrée, snacks, drink mix, and even toilet paper. They are compact and easily stored with a long shelf life. You can often buy MREs locally at army surplus stores at relatively inexpensive prices.
Don’t neglect items such as prescription medications, fire extinguishers, baby formula, and diapers as well. If you have pets, consider stockpiling appropriate food and water for your animals as well. Eyeglasses, pacifiers, and a camp stove with matches are a few other items that you might find useful in an emergency. Baby wipes can be used for bathing and cleaning if water is short.
Along with food, a first aid kit is another basic survival must. Commercial first aid kits are available, but if you elect to purchase a kit, make sure the contents meet your needs. Many commercially available first aid kits contain little more than band-aids and aspirin. It is often easier and more cost effective to put to together your own first aid kit.
Recommendations for a first aid kit can also be found online at ready.gov. At minimum, your first aid kit should contain bandages in a variety of sizes, antibiotic cream, and commonly used medications such as aspirin or Tylenol. Burn ointment and rubber gloves are also good items to include in your first aid kit. An anti-diarrhea medication such as Imodium AD is also recommended. You should also consider taking a first aid course.
Once you have met your basic survival needs, you should next think about shelter. When considering shelter, think about the climate that you may to survive in throughout the whole year. Even if your house is undamaged, you may need an alternative heat source for winter. This might include extra firewood, space heaters that do not require electricity (along with extra fuel), and warm sleeping bags. In an emergency, even trash bags can be a lifesaver. When worn over the body, plastic trash bags can trap the body’s heat, keeping you warm enough to survive.
Survival shelters might also include a tornado shelter in certain parts of the country. A tent or recreational vehicle could provide shelter if your house is destroyed, even in winter. In some emergencies, a basement might also be a good place to take shelter.
Next, consider a portable radio. I recommend a radio that can be powered by a hand crank so that you are not dependent on batteries. Your radio should be able to receive National Weather Service (NWS) advisories. Many inexpensive emergency radios even include jacks to charge your cell phone with the hand crank.
Flashlights are also very important. Even a basic, cheap flashlight is worth a lot when all the lights go out. You can also purchase flashlights that do not require batteries. These lights can be powered by shaking.
It is important to note that if you stockpile radios and flashlights that require batteries, you should also stockpile plenty of batteries. Additionally, you should replace them with new batteries regularly. A battery-powered device is worthless without batteries. A battery is worthless if it is dead.
To provide security for your shelter, include basic tools in your emergency kit. Wrenches, screwdrivers, and a hammer and nails might be necessary to make repairs or board up windows. Know where important valves, such as shut-offs for gas and water, are located in your home, as well as the electric circuit box.
Additionally, consider the possibility that you might be isolated for a long period of time. Include books, puzzles, paper, and pencils in your emergency stockpile. One book that should definitely be included is an emergency survival manual. You may also want to include inspirational or religious literature to help keep the morale of your group up. People who believe in something bigger than themselves have a much better chance of being survivors.
A final item of emergency equipment to think about is a weapon. In a major emergency, law enforcement may not be available to protect you and your property. In recent years, we have seen law enforcement overwhelmed by events during the 1992 LA riots and post-Katrina New Orleans in 2005. Even in an individual emergency, such as a home-invasion burglary, you might be forced to defend yourself for long minutes before the police arrive… even if you have an opportunity to call them.
Before purchasing a gun, find out about your local gun laws. Some cities and states all but ban the ownership of firearms or require a permit. If you are unfamiliar with guns, you should take a firearms training course through your local gun shop or the NRA. Any gun you plan on using, especially one that you might use in the dark under intense pressure, you should become very familiar with. Plan on practicing with your gun. You should also consider how your gun will be stored, since some states require trigger locks or similar equipment.
For home defense, a shotgun is probably the best choice. A shotgun fires a cartridge containing small pellets. When fired, these pellets scatter in the direction of the target. This means that a shotgun doesn’t require pinpoint accuracy. Bad guys know this. The downside to a shotgun is that it is a long weapon. This means that it can be more clumsy to use as well as causing storage problems.
A second choice is a handgun, or pistol. Pistols are stored more easily and can be used effectively in tight quarters. Pistols are available in a variety of sizes, styles, and calibers. A possible problem with pistols is that they fire a bullet instead of buckshot. Hitting a target with a bullet can require practice.
After your emergency supplies are set up for your home, consider putting together similar kits for your vehicles. Cars can be stranded in almost any type of weather, but winter storms are particularly hazardous. A first aid kit, warm clothing or blankets, and signaling devices such as flares could be a lifesaver. Car window breakout tools are available to help you break car windows in the event that your car becomes submerged in a flood or auto accident.
Make sure that your vehicle is ready to travel. In a widespread emergency, you may not have time to stop by a gas station. Gas might not even be available. It is good practice to keep a reasonable amount of gasoline in your tank. For instance, make it a habit to fill your tank when the level drops to a half or a fourth. Also make sure that you have local maps and/or a portable GPS. Many roads might be jammed or otherwise impassable. Have a destination in mind. For instance, you might want to travel to relatives who live away from the city in an emergency.
Finally, the most important thing that you can do to survive an emergency is to develop a survival mindset. You must make up your mind to not be a victim or become a statistic. Make up your mind to take control of your destiny. Don’t sleepwalk your way through life. Pay attention to weather and news so that you won’t be surprised when an emergency occurs. Consider the risks before putting yourself into a situation that is likely to leave you in an emergency situation. Always have a backup plan in mind.
Don’t think that it can never happen to you. Think that it might. Be prepared. Hope that you never have to use your preparations.
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