When Disaster Strikes
What to Do The first few moments immediately following a disaster are critical. In order to ensure long-term survival, you obviously need to ensure your short-term survival first. You do this by taking stock of your situation, reacting appropriately, and executing your retreat plan.
Taking Stock of the Situation
As soon as you realize something is wrong, you need to determine exactly what is happening. Turn on the radio, turn on the television, and check the Internet. Believe it or not, Twitter.com can be very useful for gathering real-time information. In 2011, a magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck near Washington D.C. Residents living in New York City read about the earthquake seconds before they felt the tremors for themselves. Social media can be a great way to understand what is happening before an official warning can be issued by the government.
Now that you’ve identified the problem, you need to react to it in the correct manner. If the government has issued recommendations for citizens to follow, you should pay attention to them. If you can, you should shelter in-place in your home for a week (or however long you are able) before setting out for your retreat site. Do not join the mass exodus unless your home is in immediate danger of destruction. Keep a low profile. Lock your home and board up windows — remember that people get desperate during an emergency. Electricity and other utilities will not last long, so fill your bathtub and sinks with water. Use a propane or charcoal grill to cook any food that will spoil once your refrigerator stops working. When your toilet stops working, remove the water from the bowl and line the bowl with a heavy trash bag. Removing waste is simple: spray the bag with disinfectant, tie it up, and put the bag in a trash can lined with another heavy bag and fitted with a tight lid.
Executing Your Retreat Plan
Once things have started to calm down outside, you’ll want to make your way to your retreat site. If you have a vehicle, load your emergency kit and head out using your preplanned alternative routes. If you’re evacuating on foot, be careful — keep away from downed power lines and dangerous situations. Don’t talk to strangers and maintain your low profile. If your retreat site belongs to a friend or relative, alert them to your arrival ahead of time if possible.
How to Survive on Your Own
Solo survival is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you don’t have to worry about the well-being and safety of other people travelling with you. Nobody slows you down and nobody can accidentally leave you behind — or end up getting left behind. On the other hand, everything you do has to be done on your own. Nobody will be able to help you share the workload. Nobody will be there to keep watch as you sleep. Here are some guidelines for successfully surviving by yourself.
Be self-sufficient. Since you’ll be travelling by yourself, you must carry everything you need for survival until you can reach your retreat site. Keep a lightweight emergency kit, even if you have a vehicle. If you have to get out and move on foot, you won’t be able to lug three large plastic tubs of supplies around the wilderness.
Be wary. If you’re on your way to your retreat site and you’re invited to join another group or individual, don’t accept unless you know them personally. Too many desperate people will be willing to do too many desperate things during a crisis situation. Don’t worry about being rude — remember: you’re the only one who is going to look out for you. Do you really want to be surrounded by strangers when you fall asleep?
Be low-profile. If your retreat site is days away and you’re on foot, don’t build a fire if you don’t have to. Bring warm clothes and outerwear if you anticipate cold nights. Bring hand-warmers and Sterno-type fuel to keep warm and heat food at night. If you must make a fire, try to keep it small and protected. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself.
Be careful. If you sprain your ankle (or worse!), you won’t have anyone to help you walk. If you fall into deep water with your heavy backpack, you won’t have anyone to help pull you out before you start to sink. Move cautiously and be very aware of where you’re putting your feet. Don’t become an ironic statistic because you survived an apocalyptic disaster just to drown in a river after slipping on a wet rock on your way to safety.
Group survival is easier in many ways than solo survival. A group can pool resources amongst themselves. When it’s time to sleep, members of the group can take turns keeping watch for animals or intruders. If someone becomes injured or incapacitated, the afflicted person’s load can be distributed to the other survivors while the victim is helped along toward the retreat site. Desperate people are less likely to try to steal from or take advantage of a group of survivors, too. Safety in numbers is the name of the game.
The biggest advantage to group survival is a large knowledge pool. The more people you have in your group, the larger the skill-set that can be drawn upon for survival. Having a carpenter, a doctor, a hunter, an engineer, or a farmer in a group may spell the difference between just barely getting by and creating a thriving settlement. Here are some guidelines to follow if you find yourself in a group survival situation.
Designate a survival officer. Usually this person will be the one with the most survival experience. This person should be the leader for the journey toward the retreat site, and will be in charge of the direction, pace, and rest areas used by the group. If there is no person in a group with distinct survival skills, the group should attempt its decisions by consensus of the members who have the most general experience.
Delegate tasks. Designate someone to be in charge of food rationing, someone to play the role of navigator, someone to build a fire, and so on. Split up tasks and chores into jobs that group members can accomplish through cooperation. This will improve group cohesiveness as members learn to trust each other more, and working on a well-defined task will raise morale as it takes group members’ minds off the effects of the disaster.
Keep a night watch. Designate members to take shifts keeping watch over the group at night. Not only will the group get a better night’s sleep knowing they’re being looked out for, the group really will be safer with people being alert for danger throughout the night. Group members with military, police, or security experience are great for this. If none of these people are in your group, let people volunteer for this task and give them shifts that are as short as possible.
Use the “buddy system.” Instruct group members to pair up and stick together. If someone’s “buddy” goes missing, the group will know right away. Instruct members to watch their “buddy” for signs of exhaustion, heatstroke, hypothermia, etc. depending on the climate and season. Group safety is everyone’s responsibility.
What to Do if You Are Not Prepared
Up till now, we’ve been assuming that you’re properly prepared: your emergency kit is ready to go, you’re following your preplanned evacuation route, and you’re going to arrive at your fully-stocked retreat site safe and sound. But what happens if you’re totally cut off from your careful preparations? Say, for example, you’re vacationing out of state when a global disaster strikes. You’re a thousand miles from your emergency kit, your retreat site, your firearm, and maybe even your family. Or perhaps you’re at work when the disaster strikes. You make it back to where your house once stood only to find a very expensive debris field. Your emergency kit that you worked so hard to assemble might as well have never existed. Now what do you do?
The first and most important thing to keep in mind is don’t panic. There’s a way out of this mess; there always is. You’re a survivor. The good news is that you’re still breathing. As long as you’re alive, you always have a chance. The bad news is that you have to do some extra work now.
The next order of business is to obtain supplies. If you have money with you, buy emergency gear and essentials like food and water. Try to recreate as much of your emergency kit as possible. Money won’t be worth much for long in a truly global catastrophe; don’t worry about keeping cash with you. Don’t start looting, even if you see other people doing it. In fact, just stay away from desperate people in general. Desperate people are unpredictable and will do desperate things in a crisis situation. Remember, nothing that comes from a store is worth taking a bullet for.
If you have contacts in your area, find them. Friends and relatives are best, but if you have no one else, try to find acquaintances or even business contacts. Explain your situation and ask for help. Stick with them and help out as much as humanly possible. They’re saving your life, so the least you can do is make theirs easier.
If you can’t get in touch with your contacts, or if you’re in an area where you have no contacts at all, you should locate a local police force or military base. In the worst-case scenario, they will be able to point you to a refugee shelter where you can find food, water, warmth, medicine, and a respite from the elements. With no contacts or supplies, you’re in no shape to strike out for your retreat site, so you need to take what you can get. Make contacts in the refugee shelter, and try to meet people who have transportation. Volunteer to help out in other shelters or in other cities, and start literally working your way toward your retreat site.
A Survival Challenge: Water
Next to air, water is the most important substance humans need for continued survival. According to the American Red Cross, people and pets should consume one gallon of water per day for drinking and sanitation purposes. Some people (like nursing mothers and sick people) can require even more. That’s why a source of clean water at your retreat site is a must.
Rationing your water is a bad idea. In fact, never drink less than four cups (one quart) of water each day! Drink the amount you need today and look for more water tomorrow if you’re running low. A side note here: soda pop and alcoholic drinks will dehydrate you, and should be avoided. When survivalists talk about water, they mean water!
While you’re in your home waiting out a mass exodus after a disaster, or while you’re on your way to your retreat site, you’ll be consuming non-renewable water. If your drinking water reserves start running low, be sure to finish them before you attempt to treat or purify potentially contaminated water. If you are unable to treat suspicious water, wait as long as you can before you drink it, but drink it before you become dehydrated — the only thing worse than drinking contaminated water is drinking no water at all!
If you’re in your home when water runs out, look for emergency water sources like liquids from canned foods, water in your pipes, and water in your water heater. Never drink water that you find in hot-water radiators, boilers, waterbeds, toilet bowls/tanks, or swimming pools. If you can locate a chlorinated swimming pool, however, feel free to use that water for hygiene and cleaning — just don’t drink it!
If you must treat your water, be sure to let any particulate matter settle to the bottom of the container first. Then strain it out of your water using a coffee filter or layers of cloth. Also, try to combine treatment methods when possible; none of these methods can get your water perfectly clean.
Boiling your water for at least one minute will kill most microbes present in it. Be sure to let it cool down before you drink it, though. If it tastes bad, add a pinch of salt or reintroduce oxygen by pouring it back and forth between containers. Remember, if you’re at a high altitude, you should boil your water for at least three minutes.
Iodine tablets are easy to find in sporting goods stores and pharmacies. Use them on warm water, since they need to work longer in cold water. Follow the instructions, but double the recommended dosage if the water is cloudy after the first dosage. It is important to note that this method of water treatment will not kill some harmful parasites, so use this method only if absolutely necessary. Furthermore, pregnant women and people with thyroid conditions should never ingest water that’s been treated with iodine.
You can use regular household chlorinated bleach to treat water effectively. Make sure you’re using bleach containing between 5.25% and 6% hypochlorite, and that you’re using an unopened or recently-opened bottle. Scented bleaches, color-safe bleaches, or bleaches with added cleaners are not safe to use on water. Stir 1/8 teaspoon (16 drops) of bleach into a gallon of water and let it sit for 30 minutes. If you can’t smell bleach in your water after that time, add another 1/8 teaspoon and let it sit for 15 more minutes. If there is still no chlorine odor to the water, don’t drink it. Throw it away and find another water source.
Distilling your water is the best way to go. Since it involves the collection of pure water vapor, you won’t have to worry about microbes, chemicals, or harmful minerals. Fill a pot halfway with water. Place the pot’s lid upside down on the pot, with a cup hanging from the handle of the lid. The open end of the cup should be facing upwards, and the cup should not be touching the water. Boil the water for twenty minutes and recover the water that’s now in the cup. This is distilled water and it’s safe to drink.
A source of clean water is probably the most important feature your retreat site can have in order to keep you surviving indefinitely. Food can be hunted, grown, foraged, or bartered for; water needs to be obtained locally.
Another Survival Challenge: Food
Food is what enables you to survive for the long term. You’ll need to store food in your home and emergency kit as you wait out the panicked mass of people, and you’ll also need food waiting for your arrival at your retreat site until you can start hunting or growing crops.
You’ll want to keep canned foods, dry mixes, dehydrated foods, and even MREs (meals, ready to eat) in each location. Long shelf life and easy prep work are key: choose foods that require no refrigeration and little or no cooking. For example, you should look for salt-free crackers, peanut butter, whole-grain cereal, and canned foods with lots of liquid in them. High-energy foods like protein/fruit bars, dried fruits, and nuts are great too.
MREs are self-contained field rations developed by the American military to feed its troops. You can easily find them online through retailer and auction sites. MREs are great because they’re relatively lightweight, provide around 1,200 calories per ration, and can safely sit on the shelf for three years without going bad. An MRE contains non-freeze-dried food including an entree, side dish, dessert or snack, crackers or bread, a spread (cheese, peanut butter, or jelly), and a powdered drink mix. Plastic utensils, waterproof matches, gum, toilet paper, a moist towelette, and seasonings (like a mini Tabasco bottle) are included as well. A flameless ration heater also comes packaged with each MRE, allowing a user to heat up foods without needing to build a fire.
Be aware of special food needs: remember food allergies, pet needs, and be sure to have infant formula on hand if you have a baby with you. Don’t eat spicy or salty foods, or anything else that will increase water consumption on your way to your retreat site.
If any of your food comes into contact with contaminated water, throw it out. If food smells strange or has an unusual texture, throw it out. If food comes out of a swollen, dented, or corroded can, throw it out — even if it looks safe to eat. When it comes to the things you put into your body, you should always err on the side of caution!
As for heating your food, consider using a beverage-can stove while on the move. You can find many easy-to-follow instructions for constructing this tiny, lightweight, and cheap homemade stove on the web. In its most basic form, a beverage-can stove is made from two aluminum soda-pop cans and burns denatured alcohol or ethanol. Surprisingly effective, these homemade stoves can be both lighter in weight and more effective than commercial alcohol-burning stoves, making it perfect if you need to fit your entire emergency kit into one backpack.
Learn how to care for and harvest your own crops and farm animals. Food stored at your retreat site will only last for a finite time. Understanding how to produce your own sustainable food will enable you to survive indefinitely and provide you with tradable resources.
The Next Thing You Need – Fuel and Power
Fuel and power are valuable commodities today, and they’ll become even more valuable in the aftermath of a global catastrophe. Let’s talk about fuel storage and ways to keep electronics functioning even in the absence of a publically available electricity service.
When you store fuel at your retreat site, you need to make sure you do it properly. Take care not to store your liquid or pressurized fuels inside your living space. Most liquid fuels have a shelf life and need to be rotated regularly. Make sure you store liquid fuel in sturdy, sealed, labeled containers that have no leaks.
Gasoline should only be stored for one to two years unless you use a fuel stabilizer. Diesel fuel only has a shelf life of six months to one year — that means you should only store two months’ worth of diesel fuel at a time. Kerosene can only last three months in a plastic container before bacteria and mold start to form.
Charcoal and firewood should be kept dry: charcoal can be kept in your home, but with the exception of several logs, firewood should be stored outside. Coal should be stored outdoors too, but it doesn’t matter if it gets wet.
Electricity for heating, pumping, lighting, etc. should be generated with solar cells or windmills, since liquid-fuel generators are ultimately dependent on petrochemical refineries and logistics that may or may not be functional after TEOTWAWKI. Use your liquid-fuel generator only when absolutely necessary.
Portable solar chargers for electronic items like smartphones (they’ll still be useful after the cellular network goes down!), media players, 2-way radios, computers, and batteries are going to be very valuable after the electrical grid goes down. However, it is important to realize that rechargeable batteries can only be recharged so many times before they can no longer hold a charge. It is certainly advisable to store extra batteries, but do understand that even unused batteries have a shelf life.
Don’t Forget! – Medical Supplies
In a global disaster situation, doctors will become extremely scarce. You’ll need to know how to deal with most injuries and ailments on your own. Start by obtaining medical supplies. Your best bet is to purchase pre-stocked medical bags. This takes the guesswork out of locating various medical supplies one at a time. Look for a pre-stocked M-3 medic bag or a pre-stocked first responder trauma bag. These will cover all the basics for you.
Some other medical supplies that you will want to locate include military-grade surgical instruments, a surgical/suture kit, a can or cylinder of oxygen, and an IV kit. An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a good idea as well. If left unused, its battery will last four or five years, depending on the model.
Proper medical training is essential. If you don’t understand how to use your equipment, you’ll have to rely on others to help you. Take home training courses like the US Army Tactical Combat Casualty Care correspondence course or the Combat Lifesaver home study course. Pick up books like Where There is No Doctor, Ship Captain’s Medical Guide, Survival and Austere Medicine, and Special Operations Forces Medical Handbook. All of these can be located with a quick web search. Learn how to use your lifesaving tools!
IMPORTANT! – Communication
Once a disaster strikes, communication becomes essential to survival. You need to find out what is happening and how to react to it. You need to ensure that your family is safe and that family members have not been separated. If you’re evacuating to your retreat site on foot, you need to stay in constant contact with your party to keep people from getting lost. If someone gets into trouble, they need to know how to contact help. Finally, when you’re all safe and sound once the panic has died down, you’ll need to be able to keep in touch with your new neighbors.
We have already explored ways to determine the nature of the disaster: the web, radio, and news are all great sources. If the cellular network is still functioning, that’s even better.
Getting in touch with family members who may not be together in the one location is more difficult. If the cellular network is too congested to handle voice traffic, try using SMS. That service can sometimes work when others are inoperative. Try using email, or even a landline phone. Sometimes, none of the above will work. That’s why it’s important to have several meeting places your family members can use for rendezvous points in case of an emergency.
When you’re moving as a group toward your retreat site, make use of 2-way radios. Keep batteries charged and ready to go, and make sure each person has their own solar battery charger.
Learn Morse code. Teach your family how to use it, and make sure each family member has a “cheat sheet” they can use to translate messages. Understand how to utilize different methods of communication over Morse code. Since it’s a binary language consisting only of dots and dashes (long and short pulses), you can use it to communicate via flashlight flashes, signal mirrors, or even raps on a metal object. In this way, messages can be transmitted over very long distances.
Once you’re settled into your new lifestyle, you should establish contact with your neighbors. A sense of community is essential to survival, and it can mean the difference between life and death in lean times. If you and your neighbors can generate enough electricity to power a ham radio or even a CB radio, you can establish a reliable (if insecure) channel of communication independent of outside infrastructure. Just be aware of the fact that everything transmitted over radio waves can be heard by anyone with a receiver who cares to listen in.
Not For The Weak: Security
It goes without saying that TEOTWAWKI will require you to take steps to ensure the safety of yourself and your family. The first step, as always, is preparation.
By now you understand that you’ll be keeping a large quantity of valuable or potentially flammable items and materials in your retreat site. If you have a structure or structures already built on that site, be sure to store your fuels safely. Lock your structure(s) properly using good quality, proven locks — you’ll want locks that can resist picking and shimming. Secure windows to discourage break-ins via thrown rocks. Use heavy doors and door frames that can resist forcible entry attempts. If possible, invest in a security system that alerts you via email or SMS to a break-in attempt.
No matter your feelings on the subject, you should invest in personal firearms. When all is said and done, there is simply no better self-defense or food-gathering tool than a firearm in the hands of a skilled marksman. But what firearm should you purchase? That answer depends on many factors. Firearms come in all shapes and sizes, and you’ll need to pick the right tool for the job.
This topic is not technically security-related, but since we’re exploring firearms in general, this section is a fitting place to discuss hunting firearms. You’ll probably be concerned with three types of hunting: birds, large game, and small game. The location of your retreat site and the game surrounding it will influence your hunting style and therefore your firearm decision.
A shotgun works best for bird hunting, and you can find an effective shotgun that fits virtually any price range. If you’re new to bird hunting, find an experienced hunter who can show you the ins and outs of the hunt. Just keep in mind that shotgun ammunition is bulky: the shells will take up a relatively large amount of space.
A rifle chambered for a .308 Winchester (7.62x51mm) or a .30-06 (7.62x63mm) round will be able to take down any large game found in North America. This ammunition isn’t very expensive, and it can be found in virtually any sporting goods store in the nation. As with shotguns, hunting rifles chambered for these calibers can be found for any price range. If you’re looking for a hunting rifle on a tight budget, consider a Soviet military surplus Mosin-Nagant 91/30 rifle. You can usually find these in most American sporting goods stores, and they’ll usually sell for less than $100 out the door. These rifles are extremely simple and robust, and they are chambered for the large, cheap, and plentiful 7.62x54R cartridge.
For small game, you can’t do better than the .22 Long Rifle cartridge. The round is tiny, plentiful, and extremely cheap. They can be stored by the thousand in a smallish box. The round is fairly quiet and recoil is almost non-existent when fired from a rifle. It can take small game like rabbits and squirrels at ranges closer than 150 yards, and it’s even capable of taking larger game like foxes, groundhogs, and marmots at ranges closer than 80 yards. If you’re looking for a .22LR rifle, your best bet is the versatile Ruger 10/22. This semiautomatic rifle can accept a wide variety of high-capacity magazines and is very popular among small game hunters. You can even find a 10/22 in “takedown” configuration: this version of the rifle will disassemble quickly into two pieces for easy transport or concealment.
Personal Protection Before You Reach Your Retreat Site
When it comes to personal protection on the way to your retreat site, a handgun is your best bet. While an assault rifle or a shotgun is more effective, a handgun is concealable. A long gun strapped to your shoulder or carried in your arms may make you a possible target for people who might want your weapon. Keep your weapon hidden and keep a low profile. Don’t draw attention to yourself, ever!
One size does not fit all when it comes to handguns. If you don’t know much about handguns, ask an experienced friend to accompany you to a local firing range and rent some handguns with you. If you don’t have any friends who shoot, ask the staff at the firing range for suggestions — they’ll be happy to help you. Try them out and start to get a feel for what you like and what you don’t like about each one. Soon you’ll find the perfect fit for you. You want a handgun that feels best in your hand — one that lets you quickly and accurately re-engage your target after every shot.
When it comes to calibers, there really is no “best” choice other than the one that works best for you personally. The most important rule of firearm self defense is this: always be able to hit your intended target. If you’re unable to do so with the firearm you’re using, it’s time to find another one. As a good rule of thumb, try to avoid calibers smaller than 9mm and larger than .45ACP for personal protection. Remember that a higher-capacity magazine (or clip) size is always preferable to a lower-capacity magazine size. In general, the larger the round, the fewer rounds you’ll be able to fit into a magazine.
Personal Protection After You Reach Your Retreat Site
Once you get to your retreat site, your protection priorities will change. Now you need a way to keep yourself and family safe from intruders. This is the point where a scary-looking assault rifle really comes into its own. An AR-15 or an AK-47 clone is perfect for this role. These rifles can accept high-capacity magazines, they’re fairly affordable, they both have low and manageable recoil, and they are easy to use. Furthermore, the distinctive shapes of these firearms are instantly recognizable and will make any would-be intruders think twice. Understand how to load, accurately fire, and clean your rifle and it will easily see a service life in excess of fifty years.
Thinking about the Future
In the event of a global disaster, factories will stop working. When factories stop working, no more ammunition will be produced. At that point, the ammunition you have stored will become extremely valuable. Learning how to reload spent cartridges will delay the inevitable, but you will still run out of ammunition some day.
Learn how to use a flintlock musket. Muskets were in use for centuries before modern infrastructure was developed, and flintlock musket parts can be made using seventeenth-century manufacturing technology. Soon after TEOTWAWKI, survivors will start forging their own musket parts and making black powder from sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal once again. Owning a musket ahead of time and knowing how to use it effectively will allow you to stay ahead of the curve.
Learn how to use a bow. Both a longbow and a recurve bow can be loaded and fired faster than a musket, and in the hands of a skilled archer, they can also be much more accurate. Arrows can be re-used and new arrows can be constructed with relative ease, helping you conserve your valuable firearm ammunition.
Learn how to trap animals using snares and traps effectively. Not only will you end up conserving ammunition, you’ll also be able to take more game than you would if you went out hunting with a firearm.