Preparedness for a disaster is learning to live safely.
Be prepared for the range of small-scale disasters that can harm your household.
Keep supplies available for a larger-scale disaster.
Use a few tricks to manage food during a power failure and water during a plumbing failure.
If you want to be super-prepared, stock up on other various supplies.
There are some “survival” things, however, that really don’t matter.
Learn how to keep your cool in a disaster if it does strike.
Get a feel for the shelf lives of your food.
How should I be prepared?
Statistically, most of the risks will come from your ability to survive for the first three days in your home.
Consider your house’s structure:
- Highly insulated homes make intensely cold weather more manageable, especially with insulated windows.
- Make sure each load-bearing wall has strong foundations that anchor it for an earthquake.
- At lower altitudes, a house is more susceptible to flooding.
- The nearer your house is to a fire station or school, the more quickly you’ll receive help.
Learn safe habits before a crisis:
- Be very careful working at any height higher than 3 feet.
- Respect dangerous machines and chemicals.
- Scale back or get rid of alcohol and mind-altering drugs.
- Any phone can call emergency services, so always leave a powered-off charged phone in your car.
- Stay in shape and eat healthily.
- Stay ever-vigilant of your surroundings, and trust your instincts.
- Avoid getting into conflicts that create enemies.
Avoid dangerous locations:
- Don’t enter buildings where a security guard searches everyone at the door.
- A neighborhood is generally safe with plate glass, risky with bars over the windows, and dangerous if there’s broken windows or plywood over the windows.
- If you must walk through a dangerous area:
- Avoid wearing formal or expensive clothing.
- Play a police scanner phone app or recording at full volume.
- Call someone and stay on the line with them, so they can call the police if you’re in legitimate danger.
- Mess up your hair, rub mud on your clothes and tear them a bit, and walk slowly with your head to the ground.
Keep an emergency card with you at all times with emergency contact information, known allergies, and medical conditions with their proper treatments.
Always sleep with at least some of your clothes on, just in case you have to act fast.
Small-scale disaster: Fire
Keep at least 2 small ABC fire extinguishers available, in the kitchen and bedroom:
- Make liquor bottle fire extinguishers:
- Dissolve a pound of salt and a half-pound of salammoniac in two quarts of water.
- Bottle about a quart of the mixture each in empty liquor bottles.
- Throw the bottles at fires when needed.
- Baking soda will also work to extinguish flames directly.
About once a month, test your smoke alarms:
- Press the test button on it until it beeps.
- If they keep going off incorrectly, move them further away from your kitchen or get alarms with photoelectric sensors.
Practice fire-prevention habits:
- Water your Christmas tree and use LED lights on it.
- Unplug devices with lithium-polymer batteries when you’re not home.
- Keep grills at least a few feet away from walls.
- Avoid overloading extension cords.
- Keep a kitchen timer or stay attentive when the oven is on.
If you live on the second story or higher, make sure your fire escape is always cleared or you have a roll-up ladder.
If you live in a rural area and have a body of water nearby, consider investing in a fire pump kit.
Small-scale disaster: Injury
Contact emergency services (typically 911, 112, or 999) when you think you might need them, not when you do:
- Consider the legal implications of calling.
- If you need someone in a crowd to call, specify who should call to avoid confusion.
- Give the dispatcher your address immediately, since they can’t always use GPS location.
Always keep a well-stocked and readily available first aid kit:
Small-scale disaster: Theft
Keep your on-person possessions in inconspicuous, unexpected places:
- Don’t use your front or back pockets.
- Don’t bring a purse.
- Use inner pockets of jackets.
- Hang things around your neck or in a shirt pocket.
- Carry things in a slim waist pack.
- Keep all your legitimate valuables in one wallet, and a $10 bill with unimportant things in a second wallet that you can give to muggers.
Always lock your doors and windows whenever you leave your home or auto.
Get a heavy safe (such as a gun safe) to hold your valuables:
- Avoid using diversion safes (e.g., whipped topping, canned food), since thieves often know about them.
- Avoid portable safes, since they’re very convenient for thieves to steal.
- Alternately, stuff a portable safe with rebar.
Hide your valuables in places nobody will think of looking (but don’t forget about them!):
- Inside a clean diaper
- Taped inside a bathroom sink cabinet on top
- Behind power outlets
- Buried inside a container
- Inside your phone’s case
Consider a home security system, either by making one yourself or with a paid service.
One of the most powerful security elements you can have, despite the cultural issues around them, is to have guns and everyone in the home knows how to safely use them:
- Always assume every gun is loaded, always double-check, and never trust others or your own memory.
- Ask before touching a gun if you don’t know how to operate it.
- If a gun has a removable magazine, always check the chamber after removing the magazine.
- Since you may mess up on the above, always keep the gun pointed a safe direction, never sweep the gun across other people or look down the barrel, and the only safe direction in a shooting range is down-range.
- Since you may mess up on the above, never keep your finger on the trigger unless it’s aimed and you’re ready to fire.
- When firing, know what your target is and what’s beyond it, since the bullet often goes through objects.
Always answer anyone who knocks on your door at night:
- If you don’t, they’ll assume you’re not home or asleep.
- Always turn your light on before opening the door.
- Carefully examine their face, which makes them less likely to rob you.
Small-scale disaster: Road
Drive carefully and safely, and keep your car running well.
Frequently check your vehicle’s fluids and air pressure.
Inspect your motorcycle helmet for spiders before driving on the highway.
Keep emergency supplies in each of your automobiles.
Always keep a dashcam running while you’re driving.
Never text and drive, or if you must, do it at a stoplight.
Turn off cruise control in the rain or ice to prevent spinning out of control.
Large disaster: Supplies
Keep everything you need in a relatively earthquake-safe, flood-safe location:
- Inside a closet
- Under a bed
- On a higher shelf in the garage or shed
Keep emergency supplies relatively close to each other in case you’ll need to throw it in a truck:
- If you want, use a large sealed container, preferably with wheels.
- You’ll want a size proportional to your household’s needs.
- The easiest solution is to buy a new trash can for the purpose.
If it’s perishable keep it in a cool, dark location.
Keep a variety of tools and supplies readily available.
Stockpile boric acid:
- Boric acid kills fungus, tans hides, can be an antiseptic or insecticide, and stops fires.
- Use boric acid as a bomb to scare away animals, trigger potential avalanches, and clear ice:
- Tear off and ball up about 20 strips of aluminum foil.
- Insert balls into bottle, then pour in up to 5 oz. boric acid.
- Cap off the bottle with a firm, airtight cap.
- Throw the bottle and wait 5-10 minutes, DO NOT check on it if it doesn’t go off.
Keep all your important documents in a waterproof container:
Keep 2-4 weeks’ worth of currency in small cash denominations and traveler’s checks.
If you’re placing it inside a large container (like a barrel or trash can), pack in layers:
- Put anything on the bottom that can stand weight and you won’t need to access (e.g., radio, can opener, shoes).
- Add soft things like blankets and pillows on top.
- Set anything that needs replacing (e.g., food, water) on top.
- Place the first aid kit on the very top.
Power failure: Food
Keep a coin in a cup to ensure your freezer has kept cold:
- Place a mug of water in the freezer and wait for it to freeze.
- Place a coin on top of it.
- If the coin sinks, the freezer has stopped working.
Store enough food to last 3-10 days:
The food should be ready-to-eat and keep at room temperature, but not make you more thirsty.
Since they need lots of water to prepare, avoid storing, rice, dry pasta, or beans.
Make sure you’re accommodating food for infants, the elderly, and any special dietary needs for your household.
Include some comfort foods and stress foods.
Keep basic utensils to open cans and eat from.
Plumbing failure: Water
Keep at least a 3 days’ supply of water, and change it out every 6 months.
Store water in plastic containers:
- Avoid containers that might decompose or break.
- Don’t use containers that had milk or fruit juice in them, since they’ll easily breed bacteria.
- If you can’t buy water containers, clean out plastic soft drink bottles with bleach.
Since it’ll last much longer than bottled water, considering getting a water filter system, such as a carbon filter.
Keep 3-10% standard unscented household bleach available to purify water:
- At 8.25% dilution, use 2 drops of sodium hypochlorite for every gallon.
- Use more or less, depending on the dilution.
- Make sure to sterilize the caps as well, since a few drops is enough to get sick.
Keep hygiene and comfort items available:
- Have every personal care item you can think of.
- Extra blankets and pillows are great for both warming and drying off.
- Try to keep toilet paper, since people tend to panic-buy it first.
- Don’t forget toothbrushes/toothpaste, since mouth infections can be a severe survival risk.
Make your own waterproof shoes:
- Smear petroleum jelly into all the seams of the leather, then bake at 300 degrees for an hour.
- Rub a beeswax lubricating compound over any shoes and blow dry for 5-10 minutes.
Keep a clean plunger and bucket to use as a washing machine.
Keep a backup generator with extra fuel:
- Only run it outside, since carbon monoxide fumes can be deadly.
- At the very least, consider a hand-crank power generator.
Invest in solar cells, and keep window cleaner and an ice scraper to clean them off.
Have multiple cooking sources, such as both an electric and gas range.
Consider a satellite internet connection, either with a laptop or as a network router.
Things that won’t matter
Unless you’re worried about chemical warfare, don’t worry about gas masks:
- The image of gas masks elicits a feeling of security, but they only work to obscure the face and protect against airborne chemicals they’re rated to filter.
Many preppers obsess about long-distance communications, but there’s very little survival benefit to ham radio communication across 100 miles:
- If you need to stay in touch with people, handheld communication devices like walkie-talkies are perfectly fine.
- The best use of ham radio is to coordinate local response to more substantial emergencies, so the certification and time invested should be more a hobby than for survival reasons.
Historically, while an EMP blast will likely take out the power grid, it won’t likely destroy most personal electronics or automotive controllers because they’re semi-protected by their housing.
When disaster strikes
If you anticipate a tornado or hurricane, board up all your doors and windows.
- Don’t make plans if you’re in the middle of a crisis.
- Don’t think long-term about anything.
- Only focus on the next immediate action.
- Stay in Condition Yellow, or “relaxed alert”, which is somewhere between peace and full-on panic.
Immediately act to prepare further:
- If there are any, put out any fires immediately.
- If it’s a gas fire, turn off your gas line before extinguishing the fire.
- Tend to anyone who needs first aid.
- Fill up all bathtubs and sinks with water, which you can safely use for hygiene or purify later.
- Close all the water valves in your house to store water in them.
- Turn off your gas, water, and sewage lines.
- Notify anyone who may need to know about the emergency, then turn off all electronic devices so they’re ready if you need them.
- Fill the freezer with water-filled containers to keep the fridge cool.
- If you have any land phone lines, check to see if they’re still active.
- If they are, you can get a really slow charge of electricity to run battery-powered computers.
During the crisis, adapt your habits:
- Don’t drink your tap water during a crisis, since it may have become contaminated.
- While getting sick is normally a mere nuisance, any sickness in a crisis could be life-threatening.
- Prioritize eating food by order of what will most likely spoil first.
- Most bugs are perfectly safe to eat and a great source of protein, especially flying insects.
- In icy weather, start any vehicles you intend to run at least once every seven hours to keep frost away from the engine.
- Even without running water, you can still dump water down the toilet bowl to flush it if the sewage line still works.
- Alternately, wrap a plastic bag around the toilet bowl to easily dispose of it outside the bowl.
If you have a snowbound vehicle, gain traction with cat litter, sand, or the car’s floor mats.
If you run out of drinking water, you can boil water from many sources:
- Sinks or bathtub, if you filled them beforehand
- The reservoir of the toilet (but not the bowl)
- Hot water tank
- Make sure there’s no gas or electricity running to it.
- Open the drain at the bottom of the tank.
- Turn the water intake valve in the tank.
- Open the hot water faucet.
Melt snow to hydrate yourself, or you’ll lower your core body temperature.
Disaster management: Food
Try preserving your food when you can:
- If it’s frigid outside, store your food outdoors.
- Make a portable cooler:
- Place a sealed pot inside a larger container.
- Fill the space in between with wet sand.
- Cover the top with a damp cloth.
- If you have any damp-rid or silica gel, you can place it in your oven for a low-humidity environment.
Eating spoiled food or using spoiled ingredients can sometimes be life-threatening:
- Carefully note the shelf lives of food, and fast over getting sick if you’re unsure.
- If you can sterilize it with enough heat, you can still eat it even if it’s completely unpalatable.
- Throw it away if it smells or tastes odd and you can’t sterilize it.
While most disasters sort themselves out within 2-3 days, some won’t get resolved for a while.