Prepare or Die, by J. Britely

Wednesday, Jan 30, 2008

Throughout my life I have been caught unprepared several times and while nothing seriously bad happened, it easily could have.  I have been lost hiking.  My car has broken down in very bad neighborhoods - twice.  I have been close enough to riots that I feared they would spread to my neighborhood, been in earthquakes, been too close to wildfires, been stuck in a blizzard, and have been without power and water for several days after a hurricane.   I managed to get myself out of each situation, I thanked God, and tried to learn from my mistakes.  I could have avoided these situations or made them much less unsafe and worrisome if I had been more aware and prepared.  I have also tried to learn from the mistakes of others so as to not learn everything the hard way.  One group I assisted was a two hour drive into the mountains, out of gas, wearing tee shirts, and had empty water bottles (at least they kept them) (I have made each of those mistakes but not all at the same time). 

I aspire to be more prepared the next time.  My preparedness includes many different aspects.  In my opinion, the most important thing I have done is to learn as much as possible about what to expect and how to deal with those situations.  The other important thing that gives me some piece of mind is that I carry and stock away water, food, ammo, books, and other tools and equipment that should help me survive a bad situation.  Be prepared!

The other inspiration for my preparations is my family.  Seeing my family suffer from lack of water or food would be very hard for me, especially if some easy and cheap preparations could have made a big difference.  Recently, a few friends and family have asked me about my preparations and how they might prepare.  I didn't have a good short answer because I have spent years learning and stocking away.  I thought of myself as more of a student than a teacher in this area, but now I think I do know enough to give some basic advice and refer them to good sources for more.  Hopefully, they (and you) can learn from my mistakes without having to waste time, energy and money on things that don't work.  Of course, I haven't been through every situation or disaster but I have made it through a few tough spots without losing my head.  My advice is based upon what I know to work and also what sounds like it would work with the minimum fuss.  I always prefer the cheap, easy, home-made solution, but sometimes it is worth the cost to get a quality item that is just too hard to improvise or where the manufactured solution is much better (such as a knife).  Keep it simple stupid (KISS) when you can.  With persistence you can get a lot done $20 at a time.

The purpose of this document is to give an overview of preparedness and the first steps to take.  I focus more on the why than the what so that you can tailor your preparedness to your own situation and budget.  I will also cite the best sources I have found for more information.  There is a lot of information out there in books, classes, web sites, and forums. Most of it is good but it is also really repetitious and overwhelming.  This document is only about 15 pages printed out (you are printing important information (not necessarily this) aren't you - since in an emergency you may not have power and need to take the information with you).  I try to keep my important preparedness documents in an expandable file folder with a tie inside a plastic crate.

What are you preparing for?

No one really knows what will be the next survival situation they will face or how it will play out (will it get worse before it gets better?).  It could be getting lost hiking, the car getting two flats in the middle of the desert, a hurricane, a home invasion, an earthquake, or a terrorist attack.  You must assess your own situation and determine what you need to prepare for.  Of course some preparations will be useful in many situations including everyday life, and these are the best type.

In order to get an idea of what to prepare for, look at the types of situations that you or people similar to you have been through.  Also, assess where you live or spend a lot of time such as work and vacation.  We need to learn from the past but without fighting the last war. 

I like hiking and being outdoors, so for me learning how not to get lost and how to stay alive in the outdoors are high priorities.  These skills may also come in handy if I need to walk to safety during a terrorist attack because all of the roads and public transportation are closed.  Living in your house without power or water isn't too different from camping except for the nice roof over your head and all of your stuff.  I have also taken a first aid class.  It is pretty limited in coverage but still useful in a variety of situations.

To assess the likely dangers to where I live and work I used several sources including FEMA (free guide), DHS, Disaster Center, Emergency Essentials, Two Tigers and CBS.  Also, find your local emergency response office.  But don't rely on the government too much for planning or for help.  As we relearned with the Katrina response, their information and advice is far from perfect.  And FEMA has always said it will take 72 hours to respond.  So the way I look at it, during Katrina, FEMA (and local governments) failed to live up to its own low expectations.  But even if FEMA had been able to provide more food and water, you would still be much better off taking care of yourself.  Do you really want to be told what possessions you can hold, when to eat, when to sleep, and live in close quarters with thousands of strangers?  Sounds like prison to me.

It's A Disaster is a good book that will get you started on a plan for most disasters.  Some of their plans are a little passive for me (don't take any risks and follow all FEMA directions) and their kits lack some important things like knives.  Still, it is a very good book and a great start.  Family and friends should be included in your planning and preparations as much as they want to be, but be careful about telling people who you do not trust or know well.  You do not want to become a target in a crisis.

I think one of the best sources for thinking about what you are preparing for and what does and doesn't work is news and first hand accounts.  These are some of the best ones I have found.  A few of them seem kind of glib and bravado but the advice seems sound.

True Stories of Survival

Hurricane Katrina: http://www.frfrogspad.com/disastr.htm

Argentina thread 1: http://www.clairewolfe.com/wolfesblog/arg.html

Argentina thread 2 (some swearing): http://www.survivalmonkey.com/forum/showthread.php?t=2715

Airplane crash: http://www.equipped.com/waldock698.htm

Ground Zero: http://www.equipped.org/groundzero.htm

Karen Hood's Survival Journal (a week in the wilderness) http://www.survival.com/karen1.htm

Sailing to Hawaii http://www.equipped.com/0698rescue.htm

Tsunami http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/c1187/

Alaska http://www.geocities.com/Yosemite/Rapids/8017/index2.html

A list of stories

Priorities

The survival Rule of Threes:

So the priorities are thinking, air, shelter, water, food, and hope.  These are rules of thumb and approximations.  Also, you will likely start feeling really bad before you die so you need to be proactive in addressing these needs.

Thinking
Basically, don't panic and do something stupid.  This is easier said than done, but you can build your thinking skill and confidence by playing ‚Äúwhat if‚Äù games. After reading about the risks to your area and the survival stories above, think about what kinds of things could go wrong and how you would deal with them.  The more detail the better.  What would you do if a cat 5 hurricane was projected to hit your house?  Where would you go?  What would you take?  Would it all fit in your car?  Do you have enough gas to get there if the gas stations are closed?  What if you don't have time to leave? What room in your house is safest (can you reinforce it easily)?

If you are facing a serious situation but no immediate threat, take the time to consider your options before rushing into a course of action.  Take an inventory of what you have on hand and what is around you.  Think of how each item could help solve one or more of your priorities. 

Thinking about these things may be scary but it will be less scary when it actually happens if you have thought it through.  Focus on what you can do to improve things and not on what you cannot change. Thinking can also be more long term as in learning and planning.  I suggest you read some of the sources below and then come up with a plan for several types of situations that you are likely to face.  But don't delay, you can take some first steps outlined below, such as storing water, right now.  You can then read more, take classes and collect useful items.  Preparing is a process not a one time event.

Air
Having breathable air is not something you usually have to worry about, but it is an immediate priority if you do.  First aide can help with choking and bleeding (which causes the body to not get needed oxygen). Hundreds of people die from carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide poisoning every year because of gas leaks and cooking or heating indoors.  Being at altitude can also make it harder to breath.  Finally, a terrorist attack could put dust, chemical, biological, or nuclear contamination in the air or force you into a shelter that needs ventilation.  Be aware of these dangers and have appropriate detectors if possible (smoke, carbon monoxide, etc.).  A wet cloth or hand wipe (carry on airplane) to breathe through can help for dust or smoke.

Shelter

Shelter is mainly about staying dry and the right temperature, but you also want to avoid sunburn, bugs, animals and other dangers.  Your house is your usual primary shelter but it could become damaged or you may have to evacuate.  You should have emergency repair items on hand such as tarps, lumber, shovels, nails, plastic sheeting, crowbars, and a saw.

Your clothes are your first and most important layer of shelter outdoors.  Clothes protect you from heat, cold and abrasions.  In general silk, wool, and synthetic materials are better than cotton especially to keep you warm in cold wet weather. I find cotton more comfortable especially in hot weather, so I compromise and wear a cotton shirt and shorts, but carry a better shirt, pants and socks in my bag, as well as additional layers and a change of underwear.  This makes my pack a little heavier, but I have been cold and wet in the wilds and that is miserable.  For me, a hat and sunglasses are indispensable.  I try to always carry at least a light water resistant jacket or poncho (with a garbage bag as a backup).  For me, boots are the only sensible walking shoes.  Find some that are rugged and comfortable.  Have extra laces and a backup pair.

You can carry a tent, a tarp or garbage bag for resting and sleeping.  A tarp can make a simple shelter or an elaborate one.  Rope, twine and tape are also useful.  You can carry some type of staff or tent poles or make them with an ax or saw.  Mosquito netting is necessary in some places.

You should have many ways to start a fire since most are cheap and compact.  At least have a lighter, matches, and flint.  You can also build a firebed to sleep in if you have inadequate shelter from the cold.

Water
This is a crucial area that can be helped a lot with very cheap and easy actions before The Schumer Hits The Fan (TSHTF).  This is probably the thing you can do with the highest payoff for amount of effort.  The only problem with water is that it is heavy and can take up a lot of room.  If you have storage room and are staying home this isn't a problem but if you are on the move it can become a driving factor in your progress.  Long term solutions are also difficult if your primary water source (city water or well) goes out and you are not near a river or lake. 

Used plastic soda bottles and orange juice jugs with screw tops make very convenient water storage containers.  Just rinse them a few times with hot water. Old liquor bottles and wine box bladders work well too.  I also have several canteens and rugged 5 gallon containers with taps.  The five gallon containers weigh about 40 pounds each and are about as big as can be easily moved (larger drums can go in your basement or garage or under a rain spout).  A few collapsible containers might also be useful because they can be stored and carried empty.  Tap water can last for years without going bad if kept in a cool dark place.  But you should check water that has been stored for clarity and odors.  If in doubt, treat it with one of the methods below.  You can also freeze the plastic soda or orange juice containers (these do crack sometimes when freezing) and use them in a cooler to keep food cold if the power goes out before drinking it.  If you know a disaster is coming fill up any container you can including the coffee maker, crystal vase, bucket, bathtub, sink, and kiddy pool (some of these could be spilled or contaminated but hopefully some will make it).

Most sources recommend about a gallon per person per day.  People consume about 2 quarts in cool low activity environments but much more if hot or active.  You should have at least 2 weeks worth per person in your primary residence (but why not have months worth if you have the room).  If you are traveling by car, three days worth per person is minimum (more for bathing), and if you are walking take as much as you reasonably can carry but at least one days worth (several small bottles are better for diversification if one leaks and also to let you know to start looking for more water before you are on your last bottle).  I also store extra water for washing and bathing.  Here the container doesn't matter quite as much.  I use old liquid detergent jugs.  You should also have at least two methods of sterilizing water. 

The first step in sterilizing water is to get the water as clear as possible.  If it is cloudy, strain it with coffee filters, a clean cloth, or sand.  Or you can let it settle and pour off the more clear water. 

The primary and most reliable method of sterilizing water is boiling.  You actually do not need to boil the water just heat it past 145 degrees for long enough. But if you don't do it right you can get sick.  So to be safe, boil it for 5 minutes if you can.  If you are walking, a metal cup (enamel or stainless) or a converted tin can is easier to boil than a full pot.  You can carry a backpacking stove or a Kelly Kettle.  You can use solar power to sterilize water (in a soda bottle) if no cooking is possible.  Other stoves are suggested below under food. 

To sterilize water with bleach use 2 drops of plain unscented bleach per quart of water (or 8 drops per gallon or 1‚ÅÑ4 tsp per 2 gallons).  If you don't have a dropper you can wet a paper towel and then drip it (wear gloves).  Let the water sit for 20 minutes and then smell it.  If it smells like chorine then its good to go.  If it doesn't, repeat with the same amount of bleach.  If that doesn't work try to find other water.  (Really bad water or salt water requires a still.)  Bleach is cheap but does not last forever - rotate.  Dry Calcium Hypochlorite {sold as "pool shock" bleach) stores much better than liquid bleach but requires an additional step of mixing a solution. (It provides a very inexpensive long term solution to water treatment).

There are also Potable Aqua iodine tablets that are more compact for sterilizing water.  You can also use Tincture of Iodine.  Iodine and chlorine are poisons so be very careful (kill the bacteria not yourself. [Avoid ingesting chlorine or iodine crystals!])

Any of the chemical treatments can make the water taste funny.  You can use drink mixes to make it taste better.  I'm not sure if sports drinks are really better, but Gatorade seems more thirst quenching to me than water.  The powder form is more convenient and cheaper.  You can also make your own sports drink (1/4 tsp nu salt (potassium chloride), 1‚ÅÑ4 tsp salt, 3-6 tbsp sugar (to taste), juice of 1 lemon (or orange), and optional flavoring (Kool-Aid) per gallon of water) or switchel.        

Of course you can spend money for water if you want to.  You can buy prepackaged water or expensive filters. There are backpacking filters but I have found these to be temperamental.  A water bottle with a filter would be a good backup or a straw. You can also go the more expensive route with a good gravity fed filter like this: http://www.doultonfilters.com/gravity.html.  This is a great looking solar still but doesn't appear to be for sale right now. 

If you are a homebrewer (or like beer), you can add some dry malt extract, hops, and dry yeast to your stash.  Beer is boiled as part of the brewing process.  Then the alcohol and hops act as a natural preservative.  For the long term you can get some sproutable barley, grow some hops, and culture yeast.  If you or someone with you doesn't handle alcohol well, skip this. 

Food
Providing food can be as easy or complicated as you want.  The easiest thing to do is simply buy more of any food you normally buy that stores well.  By store well, I mean does not spoil.  Foods like fresh milk, meat and bread do not store well.  Other foods like rice, dried beans and pasta all store well and are cheap.  They eventually lose some of their nutrition but this is gradual and will not make you sick from eating ‚Äúexpired‚Äù food if you forget to rotate.  I do not list exact rotation schedules because every source is different.  Some sources say grains only last one year but most sources say 10 plus years and other credible sources say hundreds or thousands of years.  It all depends upon how it is packed and where it is stored which is discussed below (vacuum packed, cool and dry are best) Canned meats, fruits and vegetables store okay and are more expensive.

How much food you want to have on hand depends on what type of situation you expect and how much you want to spend.  Buying a month' worth of rice, beans, salt, and pasta will not cost much (and is a good start).  You will be a lot happier if you add:

Some of these can be eaten without cooking or water if you have to.  Costco is great for the rice, canned goods, bullion, yeast (2 pound box), cooking oil and spices. Don't forget a can opener and other utensils.  Of course you can do the drying (wood or solar) and canning yourself for better quality and lower cost.  The oil, flour, baking soda and yeast (refrigerate the yeast if possible) do not store well and have to be rotated more frequently than the rice, beans and pasta.  You will be healthier if you add some multivitamins.  There are also luxury items like Powerbars, powdered eggs, powdered cheese, powdered butter, food tabs, and meals ready to eat (MREs).

To decide how much you need, you can simply scale up recipes and meals (print some simple recipes that use your stored food).  How much rice and beans would you eat at a meal or in a day if that was all you ate?  A lot probably (make a meal as a trial).  Now multiply that by the number of people and the number of days and you have a ball park of how much to store.  The problem is that you could end up feeding more people than your immediate family.  Who else would you not turn away? (Anyone you wouldn't want to live with normally is not someone you want to be stuck with in a crisis.  That said there is some family I wouldn't turn away even if they deserve it).  Start with the cheap stuff (rice, beans, pasta, salt) and then slowly keeping adding and rotating the other food until you have at least one months worth.  Do an inventory at least twice a year.

Store everything in airtight/waterproof containers inside a tough container in a cool, dry, dark place.  Some things come packed pretty well and can just go in a plastic bucket or crate (cans can be dipped in wax).  Other items should be vacuum packed in small bags or large mylar bags with oxygen absorbers and then put in the plastic bucket with a lid or crate (with a solid latching lid).  If you don't have shelves, you can make shelves out of the buckets or crates and 1‚Äùx12‚Äù lumber.  Put 2‚Äùx4‚Äù's under the bottom shelf to keep it off the floor.

For years worth of food instead of months worth of food we need to move to grain and grain grinders.  The Church of Latter Day Saints are the experts here.  They also have storehouses that will sell to the public if you are polite.  Of course you can buy online but the shipping will be as much or more than the food.  I went cheap and was able to get about six months worth of food for one person for $100.  I stuck to grains (400 lbs/year), beans (40 lbs/year), soup mix (20 lbs/year), and milk (16 lbs/year) (I already had sugar (60 pounds/year), salt (10 lbs/year), oil (5 gallons/year), baking soda and yeast).  I borrowed some of their equipment to pack some of the food, the rest I packed at home in the mylar bags and buckets described above.  The milk is a sticky powder and very messy (think of spilling flour and multiply by 100), repack it outside if possible.  I also bought a hand operated grain grinder to make flour from the wheat.  Then I can make bread (scale this recipe up to one loaf per day for a year as a cross check for a year's supply).  This would be a pretty miserable diet but I think it would keep me alive and healthy if I had enough vitamins.  Because of the sack size I have more of some things than others so towards the end I may be eating paste.  I hope to upgrade later.  For infants you need more milk, oil, sugar, and vitamins from which you can make an emergency formula (breast feeding is better, then you give the extra food to the mother). 

For even longer food solutions you need to farm.  Supplementing your food with a garden or sprouting would also make things last longer and provide some healthy variety.  Its best to have some non-hybrid seeds on hand or save seeds from your garden.  Serious (expensive) seed packages are here.  Have some fertilizer and pesticides on hand but in the long run organic is the way to go.

For cooking you can use a wood burning stove, barbeque, or camp stove in the short run (have some extra fuel on hand).  The Petromax lantern is pricey but well made and also has a stove attachment.  If you don't have one of these or run out of fuel you can build one: a coffee can stove, a bucket stove (avoid galvanized metal), a alcohol stove, a collapsible stove, a tin can stove (simple version), solar oven (portable version), or a clay stove (print directions for making at least one of these).  This is also a good commercial stove for those with cash to burn.  These are much more efficient than an open fire.  You need a good pot or dutch oven for boiling water and cooking.  For more portable food you can go with MREs, make your own or stock what ever you would normally backpack with.

Hope
Hope is different for everyone.  It can be safety, comfort, companionship, or normalcy.  For me it is mainly hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  I can work hard and persevere if I know eventually things will get better.  This means long term planning.  So I want to have what I need in the short term but also have some hope for the long term (so I have gardening tools and seeds in addition to rice and spam).  You also want comfort items such as a book, Bible, game, coloring book, pictures, beer, tea, or warm shower.  Some of these can be dual purpose such as a book about hiking or gardening, survival playing cards, or a novel about survival and perseverance. 

Equipment
There are lots of things you can get, but you can also just organize what you have already.   The number of lists seems endless and what you need depends upon the situation, your skills, and your budget.  Here is what is wrong with the DHS kit  I have already mentioned several items above and list some others here but being comprehensive would take a lot of space (read the links and references for more).  Here are some basics.

All types of camping equipment and tools come in handy but can be expensive (shipping can be expensive too so you may want to make your own, try your local yard sales, craigslist, sporting goods or hardware store first).  You may want a small tent to carry and a larger tent to put in the car.  Sleeping pads are as much for insulation as for comfort (learned the hard way‚Äîyou don't want to be in the cold without some insulation between you and the ground).  A hammock can be multipurpose.  You can try your local hardware store for lanterns or Lehman's (they also have candle making supplies).

I suggest four knives for anyone responsible enough to have one (in general you get what you pay for, but start cheap and upgrade later): a folding lock blade knife (buck and gerber are both good reasonably priced brands), a Swiss army knife (with saw blade) or leatherman type knife (pliers are handy), a solid full tang knife, and a machete or short sword for brush.  A kitchen knife can work until you get any of these.  A hatchet would also be useful.  Keep them sharp.

You need several maps (local, state (small scale and large scale), neighboring states, topographic and road) and a compass.  A GPS is optional but very handy.  There are usually welcome centers along interstates and in some cities that hand out free maps.  The USGS is a good source for reasonably priced maps but sometimes it is a bit hard to find what you are looking for.  They have a catalog for each state that really helps. They are also very friendly by phone but still prefer if you order online. 

You should have at least one non portable (plug in) phone that can be used with the power out.  Medicine, diapers and feminine products will be hard to get.  A generator is great but can be expensive and you must have enough fuel (I don't have one but want one).  Solar powered battery chargers are really slow but might be the only option.

Change your attitude, don't be wasteful, and you can reuse many items. A tin can becomes a cup or pot with a little work.  Use both sides of a piece of paper and then use it as insulation or tinder.  Waste not, want not.  This also minimizes trash as there may be no trash pickup.

Organize your equipment and supplies into different levels and packages

Stuff you almost always carry

You should make a small kit that fits in your pocket or around your neck.  This should include:

Personal Fanny Pack (or vest)

This should be small enough and attached to you so that you do not put it down even when you take a break.  Take it with you on any hike, drive or emergency.  A large fanny pack works well or Ranger Rick suggests putting everything in a vest and a bamboo walking stick.  You can duplicate some of the items in your mini kit but add substantially.

72 hour kit (or less)

To some, the 72 hour kit is everything they have in their house for disasters.  I think this should be what you take with you if you have to evacuate (even on foot).  If you can't carry 72 hours worth of food and water (that is a lot of water even if you only plan 2 quarts per day), scale it down and put the rest in a car bug out kit that can be used in your house or on the road.  You can also make a similar kit for work or other places you are likely to be in an emergency.  It should be in a medium sized backpack that you can easily carry (get a rain cover for the backpack (or make one)‚Äîthese really help in wet conditions).  Again, repeat items in your smaller kits as you see fit.  Here are some suggestions:

Car Kit

Keep this in the car if possible.  I used to keep a lot of this in my car but since some of it was stolen, I keep most of it in the house and load it up for longer trips.  I have something similar to the personal fanny pack that I keep hidden in the jack compartment.

Stuff you take if you have to Bug Out

This is stuff that is too heavy to carry in your 72 hour kit but something you can throw in your car (in addition to what is already there) quickly if you need to evacuate.  You might be able to take it in a garden cart if you can't drive but travel by roads is still safe.  Here is an example to help you make your own kit (or here).  Pack it in crates or duffle bags.  Here are some suggestions (what fits in your car will vary):

First Aid and Medical Kits

Take a first aide class and more training if you can.  For supplies, the place to start is with a pre-made small portable first aide kit and a larger home or car first aide kit.  These are usually $10 to $20 on sale (but can be $100's if you want).   You can add items from your medicine cabinet and replace things like the cheap scissors that usually come with them. However, these usually are not good for much more than minor cuts and scrapes (going to a hospital/doctor may not be an option or may take a while‚Äîso do your best until you can get to one).  For more serious injuries you probably have to make your own kit.  The best book is Wilderness Medicine, by William W. Forgey.  His suggested kit in the back of the book is great (I learned the hard way I needed some of the items that he recommends and figure the other items are ones I may need in the future).  Amazon and Moore Medical have most of the items if you can't find them locally.  For the house or car first aide kit, I suggest a hard sided box like a tool box.  Dental care is also important.  A toothache is really distracting. A little dental kit like this could make you a lot more comfortable until you can see a dentist.

Other Kits

Make other kits as you see fit.  I have a kit that is mainly in case of terrorist attack (I live and work too close to a likely target).  I have Jane's Chem-Bio Handbook and what to do if a nuclear attack in imminent as well as Potassium Iodide (seven days), plastic sheeting, duct tape, Tyvek clothes coverings,  and a face mask (this is not as good as a gas mask but its what I have).  You can spread this to your other kits if you want.

Security
Protecting yourself from criminals
is as natural as buying a fire extinguisher to put out fires (but more expensive).   Get fences, dead bolts, and lock your windows at night but if someone really wants to get in your home they will.  Police take an average of 11 minutes or more to respond to violent crimes 40 percent of the time (sometimes hours), under normal conditions. A lot can happen in 11 minutes and you are going to wait a lot longer in a crisis.  When someone is kicking in your door, it is too late to go buy a gun.  You are on your own.  Relying on the kindness of someone breaking into your home is not a good bet.

If you are a gun person, pick your own gun.  This advice if for those who don't own a gun or don't shoot.  I suggest a pistol, a rifle and a shotgun for every adult (check you local gun laws).  If I had to only have one gun it would be a shotgun because of their versatility.  A 20 gauge shotgun is more than enough for most purposes including home defense and has less recoil than a 12 gauge.  The Remington 870 is a great choice but many people also like Mossberg.  Take a class on using the shotgun for home defense.  For home defense ammo, I use bird shot.  This will not penetrate and stop a criminal as fast as buck shot but is also less likely to go through a wall and hurt an innocent person.  Make your own decision here based on who is in adjoining rooms and how close the neighbors are.  You can always load bird shot as the first few shells followed by buck shot (keep about 200 rounds on hand because it will be hard to buy in a crisis).  The only options I recommend are hearing protection, glasses, a cleaning kit, a sling (guns with slings don't get set down in bad places as much) and maybe a light or night sights.  I think the factory stocks are fine. 

Next on my list would be a .22.  The Ruger Single Six is a nice revolver that is convertible to either 22 LR or 22 magnum (This might be a better choice as the only gun for some people). Also get a holster for it.  Savage and CZ make bolt action rifles that are great bargains. A .22 is a little small for home defense (it is less likely to stop a criminal in his tracks) but a lot better than nothing.  It is also important to be comfortable with your gun and a .22 is fun to shoot so you are more likely to practice (.22 ammo is very cheap and you can get 1,000 rounds for about $20).  As soon as you are comfortable with the .22 and your budget allows, you should probably upgrade to a larger common caliber (.357 for a revolver, 9mm, .40 or .45 for an automatic pistol, 12 gauge for a shotgun, and .223, .308, 7.62x39, .30-30, or .30-06 for rifles).  Get a concealed weapon permit if your state allows them even if you don't plan on using it (carrying a gun).  Again, these take some time to get so you have to get one before you need it even if you think that will be never.  Also, the required classes are really great and focus mainly on when not to use a gun.  Almost any gun range will offer such a class (and many others that are worth it too).  In general, buying a used gun is fine (simple guns are very durable) but for the guns I recommend here, the premium for a new gun (gun store or some sporting good stores) will probably be less than $100 and probably worth it to avoid any mechanical issues to start with.

Learn the gun safety rules and locking up any guns not on your body is a good idea and a necessity if you have kids (or adults who act like kids) in your home.  For pistols you can get a cheap keyed safe for about $20 (also good for documents).  Then you have to hide the key where you can find it quickly but no one else can.  A combination safe is better but a lot more expensive (practice opening it in the dark).  For long guns you can get a locking cabinet for about $100 (some cases have a good lock and that is a good idea for taking with you in the car), put a lock on a closet, or get a real safe for about $1,000.  Trigger locks are generally a bad idea because you can accidentally pull the trigger when getting them on or off.

If you decide against a gun, at least get pepper spray, a baseball bat, or a flashlight.  A self-defense class would be good too (martial arts classes are good but take a long time to become practical). A bullet proof vest and helmet would be good but neither is inexpensive.  Finally, there is safety in numbers.  Staying with family and friends during a crisis is a good idea if resources and space allow.

First Steps

  1. Buy some unscented bleach and start storing water.
  2. Start accumulating food and other supplies.  Initially, just buy more of the food that you already buy that stores well.  Re-pack as necessary.  Get some food grade buckets or plastic crates and find a cool dark place.
  3. Start reading more about the risks that you face personally and ways to deal with them.  What is your plan to deal with each?
  4. Organize your stuff into personal mini kits, personal fanny packs (or vests), one or more 72 hour kits for each person for each location they spend time, a car kit, a bug out kit, and your house stash.
  5. Practice.  This doesn't have to be a military style exercise.  Try camping and living without power and running water (in your backyard to start with).  Load your car with what you think you would want to take if you had to evacuate.  How long did it take?  Did it all fit?  Try driving back roads to get out of town.  Go hiking with your 72 hour kit. 
  6. Periodically take an inventory and revise your plans.

Books and other sources (in order of relevance and grouped)

Online Resources

SurvivalBlog (the best daily variety of all types of information at a good price too)

Alpha Rubicon (The "Mythbusters" of the survival world. Membership required for most information, great information and more personalities than members)

 

Non-fiction

Fiction
Some of these are a bit far fetched and depressing (worst case) and mainly about TEOTWAWKI  (sing ‚ÄúIt's The End of The World as We Know It, and I feel fine" ) (they are fiction) but still give some good food for thought.

Author's web site: www.PrepareOrDie.com


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