What I Did This Week To Prep (An Intro)

There is an analogy that life is like walking up a ‘down’ escalator. If you just stand there – you go backward. If you walk at an even pace – you maintain. If you walk faster and push yourself harder – you go forward. I believe that, to a great extent, this sums up a self-reliant lifestyle. So writing this each week will help me remember to continue moving forward. Most of the things I do, I’ll just briefly mention here; many of them will probably turn into full posts later (if you see something you’re especially interested in be sure and mention it in the comments).

My wife (who is my biggest supporter) asked, “Are you sure you want to commit to writing this each week?” “What if you don’t do anything?” “What happens when we’re done?” Then in a slightly hesitant voice she asks, “We will be done eventually, right?”

I believe that prepping is a habit, a lifestyle, a defining characteristic. Once you start, once you take “the red pill”* it’s difficult to return to “the blissful ignorance”. Jack (on TSP) says, “Everything you do to prepare . . . should be blended into your life in a way that improves your life even if nothing disastrous ever occurs.” (TSP Modern Survivalist Philosophy).

“Hope for the best. Plan for the worst.” I plan for a possible disaster(s), but I also plan for success. ‘What I Did This Week To Prep’ could therefore–hopefully–also be worded as ‘how I prepared this week to make my life better and more fulfilling for my family and myself’.

So, this week Sarah and I made our monthly Costco trip. Costco is a preppers playground: lots of stuff you need, lots of stuff you want, good prices, in big quantities. We used their coupons for AAA batteries and Kirkland brand vitamins (multi and C – I don’t take vitamins on a regular basis, but I do believe it’s appropriate to have in your preps). We bought the normal stuff we get in bulk and/or to back fill our SWYE shelves. We also got a Coleman LED 8 D-cell battery lantern (we have flashlights, headlamps, and oil lanterns, but figured this would fill a convenience/safety gap that we had).

The garden continues to come along (spring here was late and set everything back). Tomatoes are finally starting to ripen. Our fall back position for those that don’t ripen is to make and can green salsa. The herb garden is doing well; we’re using fresh herbs regularly and drying the surplus (we’ve tried both hanging them and putting them in the dehydrator, hanging was more efficient). We want to find a good way to continue to grow fresh herbs inside the house throughout the winter.

Ryan and I had set-up two 55-gallon rain barrels in mid-July and, believe it or not, we didn’t have enough rain to test them until last weekend (yes in Washington) when we determined they didn’t really work as planned/hoped. So we’re going to rebuild them. Our goal, in an emergency, is to use the rain water to flush the toilets and clean with, and filter if necessary. (We already have two additional barrels of drinking water.)

What did you do?

(Monday: Location, Location, Location)

*The term red pill and its opposite, blue pill, are pop culture terms that have become a common symbol for the choice between the blissful ignorance of illusion (blue) and embracing the sometimes painful truth of reality (red). The terms were popularized in science fiction culture via the 1999 film The Matrix. In the movie, the main character is offered the choice between a red pill and a blue pill, with the red pill leading to his “escape” from the Matrix, a fictional computer-generated world, while the blue pill would allow him to remain in the world with no knowledge that anything is wrong. -‘Red pill and blue pill’, Wikipedia


But Water is Heavy!

five basic needs: 1) food, 2) WATER, 3) shelter, 4) security, and 5) energy

One gallon. Per person. Per day.

As important as food is, you can only live three to four days without access to clean drinking water. The ‘average’ adult human body is composed of approximately 60% water, the brain 75%. Each day adults must replace about 1/2 gallon of water (approximately 2 1/2 liters). More is needed for cooking and cleaning. Even more is needed during exertion or warm weather.

That is why emergency agencies recommend storing one gallon of water, per person per day, for three days.

Before a disaster strikes, water is an easy thing to acquire and store. It is cheap and available. To get your recommended three-day emergency supply, you can buy commercially bottled water for less than $1 a gallon. Do the math of what is needed for your family, spend the money and put it somewhere safe and you’re done. If you want to fill your own containers, it’s best to use clean, food grade plastic containers. Two liter soda bottles work very well, avoid using milk jugs (they’re not meant for longer storage). If the containers are clean and the water is clean there is no need to add bleach.

For a longer emergency situation there’s only so much water you can store, and access to additional safe drinking water is unreliable. Or what if you’re away from home–obviously there’s only so much you can carry?

But one gallon of water weighs 8.3 pounds. For a family of four to have the recommended amount, that’s 12 gallons or 99.6 pounds of water. No big deal if it just sits on your shelf in the basement. But what if we have to go somewhere? But what if we have to walk to get there? We still need water.

There may be water available, how do you ensure ‘clean drinking water’?

There are three common ways of purifying water: boiling, chemicals, and filters. Start by removing suspended particle, straining through a barrier (coffee filter, cheese cloth, even a clean shirt) or letting them settle to the bottom. Then pour that water into a clean container to purify.

A regularly asked question is “How long do I boil the water?” This is important because, if we are in a situation to boil water, we may only have a finite amount of fuel available to burn. This question is best answered by explaining that water above 185° F (85° C) will kill all pathogens within a few minutes. So in the time it takes for the water to reach the boiling point (212° F) from 185° F, all pathogens will be killed and the water will be safe to drink. Bottom line: heat to rolling boil, let cool, it’s safe. Boiling is the best, safest, time-tested way to purify water. Done correctly it will work every time.

Chlorine bleach, is the most common household purification product, but not necessarily the most effective (bleach begins to break down within a year). Use household bleach that contains at least 5.25% sodium hypochlorite (do not use scented or color safe). Add 2 drops to a quart/liter (8 per gallon), double if water is cloudy. Purified water should have a slight bleach odor.

Iodine is more effective than bleach and, when stored correctly (out of sunlight), will last for years. It comes in either tablet or liquid form. The unpleasant taste can be countered by adding a Vitamin C powdered drink mix after the water has been treated. In liquid form it comes as Tincture of Iodine (sold in pharmacies), add several drops per quart.

All chemical water purification options require at least 20 minutes for the chemicals to do their job (longer for cold water). Be sure to loosen the cap on your water container and slosh some of the treated water onto the threads of the cap and bottle to eliminate outside contaminates.

There are many types of commercial water filters available. In preparing for a collapse situation, purchasing a family size, quality filter (with ceramic filters) will provide the best long-term solution.

Lastly I wanted to mention solar water disinfection (SODIS). This method disinfects water using only sunlight and clear plastic food grade (PET) containers (2 liter soda bottles work best). Using clean bottles, expose to direct sunlight for at least six hours (or two days under very cloudy conditions) to purify.

(Friday: What I Did This Week To Prep)

Long Term Storage (Food Part 2)

five basic needs: 1) FOOD, 2) water, 3) shelter, 4) security, and 5) energy

Long Term Food Storage (LTS) is defined as food that can be stored 10 years or longer, some more than 30 years. Because of the long storage durations, things must be packaged correctly. To review, the biggest enemies of food storage are: light, heat, moisture, air, and rodents. LTS has to be packed in airtight, durable, sealed containers. This will require almost all store bought food to be repackaged, or you can buy prepackaged LTS items.

LTS is almost always packed in either #10 cans (coffee can size), or a combination of mylar bags and plastic buckets. Cans are the best; they are dark, sealed tight, very durable, impervious to rodents, easy to rotate/handle, and come in usable amounts that can be covered with a plastic lid once opened. But sealing cans requires special equipment that most of us don’t have at home.

The mylar/plastic bucket combination is the easiest for home packing. Mylar (a registered trademark of DuPont) is often used generically, it refers to a polyester film with high tensile strength and chemical stability, sometimes simply called a dry pack pouch. Mylar comes in a variety of pre-made sizes, most common are one and five gallon. The LTS item is placed in the mylar bag leaving room at the top, then put oxygen absorbers into the bag and seal using a hot iron (or a similar heat sealer). Another option is a vacuum sealer (this doesn’t require the oxygen absorbers). Exercise care when handling the mylar–it can be punctured–and store in a five gallon plastic bucket.

The advantage to packaging your own items is cost and flexibility. It’s much cheaper to buy mylar bags and buckets than it is to buy prepackaged items. Also you can package anything you want, including specialized or uncommon items.

But, the option of buying prepackaged LTS items also has definite advantages. When purchased this way, everything is done for you and done correctly, it’s nicely labeled and convenient – you order and pay for it, and it’s delivered to your porch ready to be stored away.

A hybrid LTS packaging option is to go to your local Mormon church cannery (they refer to them as Family Home Storage Centers). The Mormons have been involved in food storage since long before it was ‘cool’, and they have the system figured out. Best of all they are very nice, happy to share with non-Mormons alike, and essentially sell items at cost. You can buy the items in bulk (mostly 25 lbs bags) to take home and repackage yourself. But the best resource they offer is to allow you to volunteer to work on a canning crew where you all work together canning your own items (paying only the cost of the product and the cans). They have an extensive canning operation: starting with bulk size bags, you fill up the #10 cans, seal them with the metal lids, and place pre-printed labels on them. They provide boxes for each case of cans, also plastic lids. Obviously, it takes some coordination and time to get this done, but for the money involved and the finished product I believe this is the best way to do it. Here’s a YouTube video of the experience you can expect at the cannery.

Common LTS items are: black beans, pinto beans, nonfat dry milk, white rice, sugar, salt, wheat, dried apple slices, pasta, oats, dry onions, and potato flakes.

As always, look at your needs, resources (including space), and local availability to create the LTS strategy that works for you.

(Wednesday: But Water is Heavy!)

Store What You Eat (Food Part 1)

The storage system we have now (panoramic view)

five basic needs: 1) FOOD, 2) water, 3) shelter, 4) security, and 5) energy

We know that we’re going to eat, multiple times, everyday. We know that if we go more than three to four weeks without food we’ll die. We know that food costs keep going up. We know that food today is readily available and relatively inexpensive. We know that there are multiple systems involved in getting food to the stores each day, and if one of those systems fail it doesn’t arrive. Those, and more, are the reasons to store food.

Food storage is discussed in two categories: short-term or Store What You Eat (SWYE) and Long Term Storage (LTS).

SWYE is as simple as it sounds: stock up on the non-perishable foods you eat on a regular basis. When you first begin–unless you have the extra money to go buy cases at a time–follow the “copy can” method. Each time you go shopping, if you need one can of say, tuna, buy two (or three or four…) instead. Put one can in your kitchen pantry, take the others and write the date on them and put on your SWYE shelf. Your SWYE food can be stored in any cool, dry area. Racks can be purchased to make food rotation easier. Then, when you need a can of tuna, use the one in your pantry and replace it with the oldest one (you dated them remember?) from your SWYE (add that item to your shopping list!). Rinse & repeat.

In a short period of time you’ll have your initial goal of two weeks food storage complete. From there build your SWYE to 30, 60, then 90 days. Remember, food storage’s biggest enemies are: light, heat, moisture, and air. Most SWYE items are canned or well packaged so light and air aren’t a big concern. But heat and moisture can be, so plan accordingly. I should also mention rodents, of course they won’t get into cans, but that mac ‘n cheese box…

Non-perishables are the easiest to store, but if you have the freezer space (I highly recommend a deep freezer) you can also add meat and other frozen items to more fully round out your food preps. Yes freezers are vulnerable to power outages, so have a plan. Know how long your freezer will stay ‘cold enough’ without running, and prepare to either provide auxiliary power, or to use the items if needed.

Storage system we want to get

I’ve been asked, “what do you store?”. My response is along the lines of store what YOU eat, develop YOUR own plan, blah, blah, blah. But I do understand the usefulness of someone helping you get started. The irony is that I’m also, relatively speaking, getting started myself. That being said, here’s an overview of our family’s SWYE: canned beans, vegetables, fruits, meats, soups; summer sausage, cereals, man ‘n cheese, tortillas, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, condiments, peanut butter, jelly, baking staples, cooking oil, spices, bouillon, coffee, hot chocolate, power and granola bars, and crackers. Again just a list to get you started and thinking about what would be good for you – your plan has to be your own.

(Monday: “Long Term Storage (Food Part 2)”)

Aesop on Prepping

The Wild Boar and The Fox
     A wild boar was sharpening his tusks upon the trunk of a tree in the forest when a fox came by and asked, “Why are you doing that, pray? The huntsmen are not out today and there are no other dangers at hand that I can see”
     “True, my friend,” replied the boar, “but the instant my life is in danger, I shall need to use my tusks. There will be no time to sharpen them then.”

History has shown us there will always be unseen dangers to prepare for; but it has also shown us there is complacency and apathy, or just downright laziness and entitlement. An early example of prepping comes from Aesop in the six century B.C.* Aesop pondered life’s truths, and wrote simple moral stories “which everyone knows not to be true, [but by doing so] told the truth by the very fact that he did not claim to be relating real events.”

The ant as a symbol in the prepper community comes from the fable:
The Grasshopper and The Ant
     In a field one summer’s day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.
     “Why not come and chat with me,” said the Grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?”
     “I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the Ant, “and recommend you to do the same.”
     “Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper, “we have got plenty of food at present.” 
     But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Dying, the Grasshopper knew: It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.

Through various retellings over the years this simple and straightforward moral has become badly distorted. This was especially shown in the 1934 Disney short film “The Grasshopper and the Ants”. The film ended with the ants feeling sorry for the grasshopper, bringing him in, feeding and caring for him. Too many believe this is what would really happen, either by ‘some government agency’ or neighbors who did take the time to “lay up food for the winter”. Planning ahead and preserving the harvest in preparation for the dark days of winter was the norm from long before the time of Aesop until as recently as two generations ago. Yet somehow today the concept of actively preparing for times of need has been labeled as hoarding, fringe, or extreme.

Be the Ant.

(Friday: “Store What You Eat”)

*Aesop is believed to be a Greek writer who is variously described as both legendary and historical. He was said to have lived in the six century B.C. perhaps as a Phrygian slave. There is debate as to whether or not Aesop actually wrote the fables, some question whether he even existed. Although the origin of Aesop’s fables may be shrouded in mystery, they were retold over generations, and finally transcribed by Babrius, in the second century A.D. Throughout the years, there have been many versions, in many cultures, used to teach morals to people of all ages.

Finding Direction = TSP

There is so much ‘out there’ these days about prepping, self-reliance, and survivalism. In the last couple of years prepping has actually become ‘cool’, almost ‘normal’ in some circles. There are many resources: books, podcasts, online forums, other blogs. As frequently is the case, the hardest part is the myriad of choices; knowing where to look to find good, reliable sources, that you like, and that are worth your time.

I had never listened to podcasts before and Sarah suggested that might be a good place to start. We figured a podcast would work well because I drive an hour to and from work four days a week. I searched ‘survival’ and found a number of options. After listening to a few, I found Jack Spirko’s: The Survival Podcast (TSP) (www.thesurvivalpodcast.com/)

I feel like Jack Spirko created a very good survival ‘wheel’–I don’t need to recreate it. So, much of what I discuss will be taken directly or indirectly from his podcasts or his YouTube videos*.

Jack and I are, of course, different people, with different backgrounds and thus different prospectives. Jack grew up hunting, fishing, and gardening in a small rural town; I grew up in medium size city in suburbia. We both enlisted in the military, but he was a mechanic and I was in combat arms. After the military he became a successful entrepreneurial businessman; I was a police officer, back in the military, then a civilian paramedic. Jack is an expert on many things, specifically the economic system, growing your own food, and gathering wild game. My strengths are in the areas of emergency first aid, personal health and fitness.

Jack does an exceptional job making difficult concepts understandable and seemingly overwhelming tasks doable. He stresses everything becomes easier when divided into manageable categories. There is the old adage: ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ To teach modern survivalism Jack uses the survival model of your five basic needs: 1) food, 2) water, 3) shelter, 4) security, and 5) energy.

I believe Jack’s ideas and teaching methods are very effective. So why am I restating them in another blog? We all know there are a lot of things that sound good in theory, or work for someone else. I began by significantly increasing the breadth of my knowledge. Now I’m deepening the understanding and implementation of those specific skill sets and sharing that with you; what I learn and what I wish I had known.

(Starting this week I’ll begin posting on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Check back on Wednesday: “Aesop on Prepping”)

The Survival Podcast logo

* I have no commercial interest or association with TSP, I just like the show. I emailed and asked Jack for permission to share his information, his response: “Of course, no worries at all.” TSP site states: “Non commercial distribution of this show from short segments to entire episodes or even many episodes is not only acceptable, it is encouraged.” (Full TSP Disclaimer & Policies)

Where Do I Start? Get a Kit

Early last fall, as I drove to work I’d go past this FEMA sponsored billboard:

At that point I had already been thinking of getting my family more prepared. I had the motivation and the past interest. But I believe seeing this billboard each day was the true spark/guilt that got me started. Each time I saw it I would think: Our government is so screwed up and out of touch with peoples’ lives and I know this is just some feel good (at least they think they’re doing something) message – but it really struck a chord with me. If the government is saying be ready, maybe it is time to get ready.

Let’s talk about what FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), the CDC (Center for Disease Control), or the Red Cross means when they talk about having a kit and being prepared. The reason they specify a three day (or 72-hour) kit is because in a disaster they believe it is likely you will have to survive that long until help, in the form of a government agency, arrives. (FEMA explains this basic concept well at: http://www.ready.gov.) CDC also mentions, “Even though it is unlikely that an emergency would cut off your food supplies for two weeks, consider maintaining a supply that will last that long.” But mainly they also stress having at least a basic kit. While I believe we should have a lot more food and water stored (and we’ll discuss this in the future at length) I do believe that this is a good starting point.

The biggest problem in a disaster isn’t the disaster itself, it’s surviving the aftermath. People who are unprepared: hungry, scared, and have no plan – tend to panic. When people don’t know where their next meal is coming from they can think of little else. But when you’re prepared, and your basic needs are cared for, you can focus on other tasks and help others around you. Imagine if everyone took the CDC’s advice: had a kit, stored two weeks of food, had some water, and had a basic plan about what they needed to do – how much smoother could things go?

No, I don’t believe the government will save us. Yes, I do believe we are responsible for our own preparedness and survival. But I believe if each person, as soon as possible, would ensure they they have a basic recommended 72-hour kit, then begin working toward two weeks of food in the house, and a basic disaster plan it’d be a great start and we’d be much better off.

In the future I’ll talk more about 72-hour kits. I’ll list and discuss what I put in mine and why.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include CDC’s ‘other’ “Get a kit…” poster, because preparing for a zombie apocalypse is important too (and really not that much different than preparing for any other disaster…)