September is National Preparedness Month in the U.S. – spawned by the World Trade center trauma in 2001. In honor of the event, most Americans listen to a few speeches, wave a flag, and cram another piece of mom’s apple pie down their throats. In truth, according to the American Red Cross, less than seven percent of Americans are prepared for a disaster. This complacency is not limited to the US. As the world community clings more desperately to its reliance on technology and “government” to support life itself, our collective sense of physical self-reliance and the psychological freedom it promotes is in a sorry state. In a few short generations, personal responsibility and accountability have become alien concepts.
So, how did we get into this mess, and more importantly, what can the average citizen do to be a part of the self-reliance solution? First, we need to understand why so many people don’t take basic steps toward proper preparedness. From my experience, the “parents” that spearhead the majority of excuses fall into two main categories.
The initial reason is denial. I recently completed a tour for my new book on disaster preparedness in which I did dozens of radio and TV interviews. Some of the radio spots included questions from callers who had been caught in an emergency in the past. Without exception, the initial attitude they all had in common before the disaster struck was “it ain’t going to happen to me.” Again, without exception, what these survivors had in common after the fact was an acute sense of the need for preparedness and respect for how quickly things can turn chaotic.
The task of storing food for such an extended amount of time can seem so complex and daunting that many families throw up their hands in frustration and blow off storing any food altogether. Keep things simple.
Another major reason for our culture’s dismal sense of personal and family preparedness is the mistaken concept that the act of preparing for an emergency is some unending maze of things to do and stuff to buy. Most folks are just too damn busy living life’s little dramas to be bothered with putting away a few extra resources for the future. Besides, it’s the government’s responsibility to bail us out anyway if things get ugly…. right? Most of the world’s urban population have veered so far from center on what is needed to live that they make easy prey for those who attempt to profit from the sales of extraneous survival gear and fear.
Urban survival scenarios can roughly be broken down into two basic formats in regards to how long an emergency will last. Short term survival situations are just that, and last a limited amount of time until whatever calamity balances itself out, usually with the help of local, state and federal authorities. Even the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), bless their hearts, recommends that you be independent of their assistance for at least three days.
Knowing what preparedness goodies you truly need around the house to live through a catastrophe is profoundly liberating, and was basic information only a few generations ago.
While a short term emergency demands a sane individual be reasonably prepared, long term survival scenarios can stretch for weeks or months and require many more preparedness supplies and psychological grounding. As an example, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in response to a potential avian flu pandemic, is recommending that families be able to stay isolated in their homes for up to three months or more as successive waves of flu do their dance with the population. Do you have the physical resources, let alone the mental and emotional fortitude to stay holed up in the house for that length of time? When all hell is breaking loose everywhere at the same time, don’t hold your breath for rescue anytime soon. Remember, true self-reliance means just that.
In spite of the fact that mainstream media constantly lump the two together, there is a huge difference between “survival” and “primitive living.” The state of “survival,” by its very nature, is temporary in even the best of survival circumstances; the physiological and psychological havoc it creates within the body will eventually wear down even the most hardcore Special Forces soldier. While primitive living scenarios of centuries past were at times rough, (and many native peoples died young in my area), the majority of the time they lived, not survived. They did so in part because they were masters at separating their needs from their wants, critical for effective emergency preparedness planning (and spiritual progress …. and everything else for that matter).
When all hell is breaking loose everywhere at the same time, don’t hold your breath for rescue anytime soon. Remember, true selfreliance means just that.
Simplifying your life will cause much mental and emotional clutter to simply leave your consciousness, as the lion’s share of modern world stress is based upon acquiring or keeping stuff. The less moving parts something has, the less liable it is to fail under the real life pressures of a survival predicament or the challenges of life in general. Knowing what preparedness goodies you truly need around the house to live through a catastrophe is profoundly liberating, and was basic information only a few generations ago.
Perhaps the easiest way to find out your family’s priorities for survival is to drop everything. Go ahead, turn off the power breakers to your house for a weekend and see what hurts the most when your personal grid collapses. The cool thing is you’ll get to eat all the ice cream in your freezer within a day or two. Several things will come to the forefront of your attention such as heating or cooling your home, where to go to the bathroom when the toilet doesn’t work, finding water and making it safe to drink, alternative lighting for the night, communication, transportation, or first–aid issues, and of course in longer scenarios, food.
Knowing where your food is coming from and having enough for your family will do wonders for everyone’s peace of mind.
Fun Food Facts
While food is not a priority in a modern day wilderness survival event, it will be in an extended disaster in your 21st century urban neighborhood. Food is a hotly debated item in survival and everyone has their opinion about what you should have on hand and how much. As psychological stress is such a huge part of every survival scenario, knowing where your food is coming from and having enough for your family will do wonders for everyone’s peace of mind. Realize now that in a nasty, longterm crisis in which you probably won’t be able to resupply your cupboard, you will be forced to ration your family’s food. In their truest sense, survival rations are just that: rations. When push comes to shove, you should be mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared to get down and dirty with a food supply that is super-nutritious and easily stored and rationed, at the expense of taste if need be. Much about your food storage strategy, of course, revolves around the wants and needs of your family.
Foods contain three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, along with trace amounts of micronutrients such as minerals and vitamins. Each type contains a certain amount of kilocalories (kcal) or units of food energy and metabolizes or “burns” differently within the body. Fats contain the greatest amount of kilocalories at 9.3 kilocalories per gram. Carbohydrates come in second with 3.79 kilocalories per gram, and then proteins with 3.12 kilocalories per gram. If your survival situation goes long term, survival rations should not be considered substitute meals. Their main focus is to provide the survivor with sugar in order to minimize the catabolism of body tissue and dehydration in order to increase survival time.
Consciously creating one’s life does not mean ignoring the basic fundamental needs of having a physical body in a physical world.
Ideal survival foods, provided there’s adequate water to drink, consist of mostly fats and carbohydrates. While fats are packed with calories they take time for the body to metabolize into the simple sugars or glucose required for energy. In addition, fats are not well-tolerated as an energy source at high altitudes. If you live at altitude, store extra carbohydrates in the place of some fats and proteins. Carbohydrates are already partially oxidized and thus require less oxygen from the body—up to eight to ten percent less—to convert into energy. More than any other nutrient except water, a reduced carbohydrate intake depletes muscle glycogen stores, decreasing your endurance.
For short-term survival (one to three days), a lack of calories is not nearly as important for performance as a lack of carbohydrates. Simple sugars and carbohydrates provide fast energy as they metabolize very quickly and are required for the body to be able to access its stored fat deposits. For the long term, however, if not accompanied by certain complex carbohydrates and proteins for stabilization, this quick source of energy leaves your body just as quickly, resulting in the infamous “sugar crash.” Store foods containing all three macronutrients as they will give you the biggest bang for your buck, metabolizing in succession sugars, carbohydrates, proteins, and finally fats.
Without exception, what these survivors had in common after the fact was an acute sense of the need for preparedness and respect for how quickly things can turn chaotic.
Factors that will influence what you store
Several variables will dictate what each family chooses to store for an emergency food supply. Some are straightforward, such as the age and health of family members, your home’s available space for storage, its ability to store food choices through variations in temperature and humidity, and how big your wallet or purse is. There’s also the pet factor, which may involve storing grub for anyone from Whiskers the cat to Big Red the quarter horse. A less considered and more esoteric factor is trying to guesstimate how long your supposed “emergency” will last. What I mean by this is that no one really knows, short of a higher power, how long your family’s life will be at risk after a disaster. This variable is the true wild card and the bane of disaster professionals the world over who would like all emergency response to happen on a predictable schedule. After assessing your family’s risk potential, do you want to store a few day’s worth of extra nutrition, or a year’s worth? Each family will have unique needs, which is the main reason I don’t like information that touts the bogus “one-size-fits-all” survival plan.
Food Storage Options
Once the above variables have been pondered, there are many options concerning what form your stored food might take. Canned, dried, or dehydrated meals, whole grains packed in buckets, freeze-dried food, and MREs (meals ready to eat) are the more common types of food-storage strategies on the market. All have their advantages and disadvantages. Many commercial emergency food storage plans focus on storing massive amounts of food, up to a year or more. The task of storing food for such an extended amount of time can seem so complex and daunting that many families throw up their hands in frustration and blow off storing any food altogether. Keep things simple. Most households already have an ample supply of food on hand that should last for several days in a pinch. Maybe this is all you’ll need for your perceived emergency, or all the room you have to store food in your efficiency apartment in the first place. Also, knowing you’re in an emergency will allow you to ration what food you do have, thus making meager rations last longer.
Basic survival preparedness is not shrouded in mystery, available only to the influential and rich. Just a few scant generations ago, most all of our relatives were intimately acquainted with the simple needs of the human body and what it took to get those needs met. The decision to prepare or not rests with you and your family.
The Simple Bare-Minimum Food Storage Plan
If you’re not into storing large amounts of food, have on hand at least the bare minimum to get you through a crisis and to remain independent from the pending nightmare caused largely by those who failed to have reserve food supplies available. At minimum, your family should have a two- to four-week supply of food on hand at all times. This food should be something your family will eat, require little or no cooking and meet all of your nutritional needs. It should be easy to access, portable in a pinch in case you need to evacuate, and require the bare minimum of preparation and fuss. Simplicity rules as the psychological and physiological strain of an emergency on your family will be ever present.
The good news is that it’s easy to implement this type of food storage program. Simply buy more food than you normally would, and when you get down to the emergency two-to four-week supply, make a trip to the store. In your mind, your home should be “out of food” when you reach your two-to four-week stock. Don’t get lazy, and replace your stored food faithfully. This extra food should not sit in the closet and should be regularly rotated into your daily diet as a part of your regular meal plan. For most families, canned foods will be the cat’s meow as they are widely available, durable and portable, cheap, store well for up to two years, and are easy to open and eat, in the can with a stick if necessary, with zero preparation.
In a few short generations, personal responsibility and accountability have become alien concepts.
Basic survival preparedness is not shrouded in mystery, available only to the influential and rich. Just a few scant generations ago, almost all of our relatives were intimately acquainted with the simple needs of the human body and what it took to get those needs met.
The decision to prepare or not rests with you and your family. You will choose to plan and prepare for a potential crisis, or you will choose not to do so. The point is that we are all responsible for our lives and continue on a moment by moment basis to create the world today that we’ll live in tomorrow. Where we choose to put our attention, thought, and feeling, and what we do with our spoken word and actions, creates our personal experience with the world. It is always superior to deal with the cause of something, rather than reel in the aftermaths of its effects. Thus consciously realizing that we are indeed creating our lives eliminates many emergencies from manifesting in the first place. However, use caution and common sense. Consciously creating one’s life does not mean ignoring the basic fundamental needs of having a physical body in a physical world.
In summary, assess your current situation, decide what your family would require should an emergency eliminate conventional means of re-supplying their needs, pay attention, and live life. After all, if a family preparedness plan breeds mistrust and paranoia, you’re missing the point.
A Word to the Wise
Interview excerpt with Amanda Ripley
As a reporter for Time Magazine, Amanda Ripley has had ample opportunity to observe disasters and their aftermaths. From 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina, the London subway bombings to the tsunami of 2004, she has covered cities and people in crisis. Her study of human behavior under duress will appear in The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why, due in June, 2008.
AR: It was just a real travesty during the tsunami in 2004 because certain villages had kept an oral tradition of fleeing to high ground any time there was an earthquake or they saw the sea recede. In vast tracks of beach property, those traditions had been lost. People were rushing to stare at the ocean as it receded.
You had people, children, gathering in front of the ocean instead of running the other way. So these are some very simple pieces of wisdom that sometimes we lose in our modern communities where we’re transient. We rely overly on technology, especially people who are placed in charge of our safety. They are very enamored of fancy sirens and all this money is going to tsunami warning systems. Very little of it, unfortunately, is going towards telling tourists who come to Thailand, hey: if the sea recedes, run like hell the other direction. These are very basic pieces of information that we are not entrusted with.
Food Storage Rules of Thumb
There is no perfect food storage plan for every family as there are far too many variables to deal with. Many people waste much of their food storage supply by failing to obey a few simple rules of thumb regarding purchasing and storing food in bulk.
1. Store only what your family will eat. Don’t be a cheapskate and buy weird stuff on sale that your family hates. It doesn’t matter if you get a good deal on lima beans if your family gags at the thought of them.
2. Faithfully ROTATE what you store. Depending on what you store and how it’s stored, you must continually rotate your food stock. FIFO, “first in, first out”, is a common concept used by food storage gurus. If not already possessing dates from the factory stamped upon the can or package, date all foods as to when they were purchased so you know what to eat first.
3. Keep foods stored in the best possible conditions for maximum shelf life. Heat, light, moisture, and excess oxygen are not friendly toward stored food. Concrete floors can “sweat” moisture during temperature fluctuations when in direct contact with storage containers so put containers on thin wooden slates instead.
4. Foods stored in moisture (canned or bottled) should not be stored longer than two years. After this time these foods will rapidly lose their nutritional value.
5. Use only food-grade storage containers. Food-grade containers won’t transfer potentially toxic substances from the container into the food. If a container doesn’t specifically state that it is FDA approved for storing food, contact the manufacturer, especially if the container is plastic. Specify the characteristics of the food you’re storing, whether it’s alkaline, acidic, wet or dry, etc., as these qualities may affect the container. Ideal containers will protect the contents from light, moisture, insects, rodents, excess heat, and air infiltration.
6. Keep it simple! Human nature can confuse and complicate about anything. If you can’t stand the thought of eating beans and rice seven days in a row, keep in mind that the main intention of variety in your emergency diet should be the assurance of necessary balanced nutrition for optimal health, not titillating your taste buds.