The Basics

Okay. You're convinced. Whether you live in California and can still see where the street is cracked from the last moderate trembler, or you work for Pacific Gas & Electric as a software specialist and have spent the last three months trying to explain that to your boss that the whole mess is going to go boom, now you're ready to accept the fact that you need to do something, if only to let yourself sleep at night.

But what? How prepared is prepared? This section will help to clarify the problems, and hopefully, present a sort of introduction to living in an emergency environment. If your just "interested" but still don't want to risk people calling you a "survivalist," then check out this section. It's called, The Minimum and is just for you.
  1. The Situation
  2. Fear
  3. You Are NOT Alone

The Situation

An "Emergency Situation" does not have to mark the end of civilization as we know it. It might, but it could be something as simple as an earthquake. (As if there is anything simple about the earth shifting under your feet.) If you live in California, as I do, then you accept the possibility that you could be living in a wasteland any day of the week. No need to wait to worry about a possible war, right? Or maybe you happen to have a house trailer smack in the middle of "Tornado Alley." In some way or another, almost all of us live with the possibility that one or more of our basic necessities of life may suddenly be stripped away from us, hence the word, "emergency."

What could change?
Accepting that there is the possibility that you could be in for some radical change, what are the things that could be effected that could put you into an emergency situation? Below is a list of some of the possibles:

You can probably imagine the implications of any of the above. And in case you feel that trash pickup isn't such a bad thing, consider what happened in New York City when the garbage collectors went on strike for a just a few days... You might also remember the Black Death that ravaged Europe for about twenty years? That was in part as a result from poor waste management within the cities. That one killed nearly a third of the population. Imagine what it would have been like if there was no fresh water or food either.

Total loss of all public services, from water to health care, doesn't need to be ushered in by the passing of a new millennium. It can happen locally any day of the week. A 7.0 earthquake almost anywhere would cause enough damage to isolate you and probably destroy even your home.

This is your wake up call. Just in case you think that because you don't live in California, you're safe from earthquakes... The area around the Mississippi River is one of the most powerful fault systems in the U.S. The last time it slipped in a major way, it not only leveled everything around it, but it completely changed the course of the river. Luckily, there wasn't a whole lot around at the time to be destroyed. The same level of earthquake today would be a disaster of biblical proportions. To quote Arthur C. Clarke & Mike McQuay in the book, Richter 10 -
"Memphis... gone. Saint Louis... gone. Nashville... gone. Little Rock... gone. Chicago heavily damaged. Kansas City heavily damaged. Indianapolis... gone. The list is scary. All farmland in the grain belt destroyed. Firestorms that will cut the Eastern US off from the rest of the country. Communications and power out over two thirds of the country..."
You get the picture.

Fear

This is a very big deal. You do not have to be in the middle of an earthquake to be paralyzed with fear over a disaster. I personally, lost a great many nights of rest just considering the possibilities on January 1, 2000. I also find myself looking up to the tops of my book shelves trying to decide if that old candy dish could find a better (lower to the ground) home in case we have another trembler soon. Stressing one's self out about this stuff is very easy to do. The news media doesn't help, and things aren't going to get better. So what can you do to keep yourself sane?

Do something. Don't just think about it. It's bigger than you. It's badder than you. It will kick your unprepared butt. It will kick your prepared butt. Doing something anyway can buy you a little piece of mind. Personally, this website is a big pressure release for me. For you, maybe just discussing it with your significant other will help some. (And you should definitely talk about it before you go spending your vacation money on dehydrated food...) Knowing that you have a functional medical kit helps a lot (especially with kids in the home), and even the beginnings of a food and water reserve can mean the difference between having a good night's sleep and having a heart attack.

Disaster anxiety is very real. Find ways now to help yourself blow off steam. Be careful of denial, but be objective! Just because "Joe Survivalist" says in his latest email newsletter that you simply must have at least 300 gallons of water in a buried stainless-steel tank or you're doomed, doesn't make it so. Where did the information come from? Are there possible other motives for Joe taking this position? Is Joe selling stainless-steel tanks?

Oh yeah, duh... I was recently looking into buying a large quantity of plain, unground wheat as a possible long-term food source. It looked good, and everything that I was reading said that it was the best way to go. Then I realized that I wasn't thinking in relation to my situation. My own personal goal (right now anyway) wasn't to prepare myself for three years, but for three months. With that in mind, I didn't need a 50 pound bag of unground wheat, I needed three months worth of flour! Hell, I store almost that much around right now just for baking! Flour is cheap enough that a few more bags won't bust my budget. And I can get it at any of the five supermarkets within walking distance of my home. Wheat, on the other hand, is 59 cents a pound, is special order at any real quantity, and can only be found at a single "healthfood" store 30 minutes by car in good traffic (which in Southern California is an oxymoron).

09-23-01 I have received several letters from people making a strong case for wheat. It doesn't change my mind, but it got me thinking about it again. Indeed, wheat does store better, and has a much greater nutritional value than processed flour. I personally wasn't able to find a place to get it in quantity near my home, but I'm a city boy, so that may not be the case for most people. Wheat can also be made into a great deal more meals than flour. However, I would still point out that getting and using wheat, means that you will probably be changing certain aspects of your life. It's not enough to simply store the stuff. If you have it, you need to be rotating it out, which means you have to EAT it. And that means knowing how to grind and/or prepare it. If your're not ready for this kind of change, or can't fit it into your budget, then prepackaged flour may still be your best bet. Think of wheat as a long-term solution, and flour as a "get-you-by" kind of thing.

Remember, if the end of the world should show up on your doorstep some cold December night, smile and say, "Hi there. I've been expecting you..."

You are NOT alone...

Another big point to remember, is that you are not alone in this. Almost any major emergency that effects you, will probably effect those around you. This is a two edged sword. It works in your favor because people in a short-term emergency usually rally together to help each other. If you put a little effort into it, you could probably even form a community preparedness plan so that everyone knows to check on 93 year-old Mrs. Granderberry when that earthquake takes out the lights. Being prepared in this way is a good thing, but it's hard sell. Like I mentioned above, people don't want to prepare. They don't want to acknowledge that their world could so easily be shattered. They would rather put their faith in the rescue teams and fire fighters than put aside a couple of gallons of water, just in case. Tread lightly.

The other side to this is the long-term emergency. Here, all bets are off. Once people realize that help isn't coming to save them, that there are no helicopters ready to drop emergency food rations down from the sky until the freeways are navigatable again, then they start to act irrationally. (People don't need an excuse such as a long-term emergency to act irrational, of course.) Panic, and hunger are incredible motivators. Imagine what you would do if you suddenly had no power, only the food in your refrigerator (which is quickly going bad) and your cupboards, no fresh water to drink or bathe in, and no gas to run the heater. The temperature outside is dropping towards freezing, and it doesn't look like anything will be restored any time soon. Far fetched? Not at all. If you live in the North-Eastern United States, then you know that a good sized blizzard can bring on this sort of situation fairly easily. Which is why most of these same people have a wood-burning fireplace (not a gas job), oil lamps, and water in a place that isn't as likely to freeze it solid. But you live in metropolitan San Fransisco, where the temperature is almost always above freezing, and hey, this place is organized, right? Sure, but suppose the power stays off for more than 24 hours...

Now you have cars that are running out of gas because all of the electric pumps at the gas stations can't operate, and the grocery stores (which may or may not be within easy walking distance - in the dark) can't accept your Visa card or your check because they have no way to validate it, and worse, your ATM machine is now as dead as your refrigerator and you can't get cash. So what are you going to eat? You and the other seven million people in close proximity to you are thinking the very same thing. In another 72 hours, people are going to start looking at all that food just behind that glass window and locked door and say to themselves, "It's just sitting in there going bad..." They are going to start considering things that they wouldn't have dared consider a week earlier. Add to that a family, starving, thirsty kids, mommy instincts and outright panic, and you have a mixture that would cause even perfectly upright, moral citizens to consider breaking and entering. It could be bad. It could be dangerous. In a major city like San Fransisco, it could be fatal.

Doom and gloom. Does that mean that you should move to the country? Nope. It might be safer. It might not. At some point, those seven million people are going to start leaving the city in search of food and water. The immediate countryside is going to be overrun by hordes of starving citizens who would do almost anything for a drink and a meal, including the same sorts of things they have just done in the city to the grocery stores. Same situation, just thicker glass.

Before you label me a doom sayer, understand that I am purposely painting a bad picture because I want the reader to understand that it's not just you. You live with other people around you. These people can come to each other's aid, or they can panic. I personally don't know more than half my neighbors by name, and of those, I have no idea if any would come to help me in an emergency. I would like to think so, but I'm a cynic. I don't put my faith in the good of human nature. If you happen to live in a community where you take care of and look out for each other, then you have something that is valuable beyond price. It is one of the most compelling reasons not to move to the boonies and hide with a gun.

Oh yeah, duh... Having someone there to hold you for a while, or watch your kids while you go look for food, or share a blanket with to keep warm, is the greatest, most unthought about aspect of preparedness out there. Feeling safe may be just as important as actually being safe. If you can get that from your immediate family, great. But it sure is nice to have a backup in Mrs. Johnson, the totally hugable woman in the apartment two doors down who makes you sugar cookies each Christmas.

Yup, that's the end alright...