How to prepare for disaster without going all Doomsday Preppers
December 31, 2013 1:36 AM   Subscribe

I think it's not too tin-foil-hatty to say that we're getting more extreme weather because of climate change. Let's say you're city dwelling DINKs with a cat and you want to kit out one of those under bed storage boxes with supplies (food? candles? batteries? whiskey? tiny cat hard hat? I really have no idea) in case of extreme weather. What would you include?

I had a casual read through the Red Cross preparedness guide but the specifics leave me a bit confused - what's a two week supply of food when it's at home? What kind of 'sanitation supplies' are reasonable? I'm really interested in how to put together a Sensible Disaster Box without going either broke or nuts.
posted by nerdfish to Home & Garden (33 answers total) 154 users marked this as a favorite
Check some of the answers in my earlier question, and maybe melissasaurus's question? Not total overlap but they may help.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:09 AM on December 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

New Zealand's Civil Defence has a few lists on their Get Thru website that might be useful.
posted by poxandplague at 2:29 AM on December 31, 2013

Best answer: Some people will think you're silly to prep. Those same people will often carry an ice scraper or a spare wheel in their car...

Getting flooded out is going to require different things compared to there being a local gas leak or a blackout. Take a look around you at the local conditions - are you by a river that could flood, for example. You might have to leave your premises in a hurry - can you carry this box easily?

Things you might need:
  1. At least one torch per person. You might need one to see the fusebox and one to keep in the bathroom. Consider a head torch, as you don't want to be in the middle of a crisis doing a fiddly job with one hand. Also consider an LED lantern design light source, that will throw light over a larger area. Solar lights will charge from the sun and are often quite efficient at turning that sunlight into light energy. All are available cheaply from Amazon or the dollar store. I'd caution you get those that accept AA/AAA batteries, not some weird size. I bought some 2/3 AA batteries by mistake recently, and the only thing that will charge them is the solar light they came in.
  2. Some way to heat food. NOT a barbecue as they give off way too much CO. Look into camping stoves that run on butane, although the jury seems to be out on whether or not these are safe to use indoors. If you have access to outdoors, you'll be fine. Being able to boil water for a hot cup of coffee/hot chocolate or even for rehydrating dried potato is a massive boon. Alternatively, food that can be eaten cold, or if you're desperate, self-heating food packs are available. You'll need roughly 2,500kcal per person, per day. "Store what you eat and eat what you store." Don't pack food that you don't like, and make sure to rotate your stores so that they're always fresh. Baked beans can be eaten from the tin, cold, with your fingers and they keep for ages, as a starting point. MRE's might suit too. Don't store 3 million tins of baked beans though - give yourself some variety. Think about what you like to eat and then look for ways to keep it longer - can you get it dried or canned? Don't rely on frozen food. If the power goes down you'll need to keep your freezer closed as much as possible to prevent that food from spoiling. Tinned and dried things last a long time, have a look at the use by dates next time you're at the store. Also note that "use by" and "best before" are different things. Camping supply places will even sell you things like canned bacon. Seven Oceans do a food product that is designed for long term storage and that is nutritionally balanced. It also gets 4.6 stars on Amazon, so you know it's good. Be sensible about food - don't rely on hummus and lobster to see you through hard times. Chocolate is a morale booster, and maybe try to get hold of some Kendal mint cake. And maybe some jerky.
  3. A tin opener that doesn't require electricity! Ask me how I know. They're cheap to buy and can be kept in the kitchen drawer. There was an FPP about scraping a tin can on a concrete surface to open it recently, that of course I can't find right now. Have some way to access the calories you've stored.
  4. Some way to charge a mobile phone. Backup battery packs, wind up charger, solar charger, etc. I like wind up chargers because it's likely that I'll always be able to wind them, where battery packs can lose their juice and the sun doesn't always shine. If you have an ereader, keep the battery fully charged.
  5. An old fashioned landline telephone. If the power lines go down, the phone line might still be working. Newer phones that need plugging in to a socket might not work, but old phones get all the electricity they need from the phone socket, and so will still be able to make calls. It's even possible to get lighting from your phone socket, if it comes to it.
  6. A laminated list of telephone numbers/email addresses, written on actual paper, of people you might want to contact to let them know you're OK. If your mobile phone/laptop dies, your address book dies with it. Do you know your best friend's mobile telephone number? Don't forget your insurance company, your bank, etc.
  7. Some way to keep warm. If the power goes down, is your form of heating going to work? Don't forget that pumps generally require electricity, so having gas central heating won't necessarily help you. The human body is capable of heating itself, as long as it is insulated from the cold. A pair of long johns, a thermal vest and a nice woolly hat can make a lot of difference. As can some of those radiant heat blankets you see runners wearing at the end of a race.
  8. Some way to keep cool. If the power goes down, your AC won't work. Maybe keep some cardboard to stick over the windows to keep the heat out.
  9. Do you require any kind of medication? Does it need to be kept at a certain temperature? A cool box with a couple of ice packs can stop your insulin going bad, potentially. If you can't get out because you're snowed in, do you have enough to last?
  10. Batteries for your devices - do you know what kinds of batteries everything takes? Do you have spares? I have a couple of sets of Eneloop rechargeables - they keep 70% of their charge after 5 years, and you can't say that about many batteries. You also need a way of charging them. This might be solar, it might be a dynamo connected to your exercise bike.
  11. Regarding sanitation, keep a spare pack of toilet paper stashed away somewhere. You do not want to be in a situation where you don't have any. An extra pack will keep indefinitely, as long as it doesn't get wet, and is quite cheap. It's also something that you will be incredibly grateful for if you ever need it. Are there menstruating people in the house? Keep some spare tampons/pads to hand, and some way to store them when used until normality resumes. Also have condoms. Sex is a great way to keep warm and relieve boredom, but if you're relying on something like the Pill that you don't have access to because the chemist's store is closed, then you might be up the creek. Also consider that if the water goes off because the electrical pumping station is flooded or the pipes have burst due to freezing, you have no way to flush the toilet more than once. You can use a bucket of rainwater to get around this, or you can use the bucket and some sawdust to deal with solid waste. Liquid waste can be disposed of behind a tree.
  12. You apparently have a cat, so you'll also need some way to feed the cat and dispose of its waste. This means thinking about the cat's food, the cat's water, the cat's medications, etc. You might be able to use the same kitty litter you use for the cat for dealing with your own waste.
  13. Water is vitally important. If you get advance notice that the water is being turned off, fill plastic bottles. Don't fill your bath, because it's got a massive exposed area where things can get into it, especially if your bath is in the same room as your toilet. I guess filling your bath is better than nothing, but water is so essential to life (second only to air) that I figure it's not worth skimping. Water stored in aluminium is best, but stored in the correct kind of plastic bottle (the same stuff you buy bottled water from the store in) will also work well. Do not use milk bottle type plastic, as it degrades. Be sure to rotate your stock every few months. A drop of chlorine bleach will keep it fresh.
  14. You'll also need to keep clean. Camping outlets sell products like waterless body wash and shampoo. Do you also have enough clean/spare pairs of underwear to last several days? Maybe keep some unopened stuff that doesn't get included in the usual laundry, so you don't have to wait for it to be washed for it to be usable again and will always be ready to wear. Also consider some quick drying camping towels.
  15. Cash. Keep lots of small notes/coins - stores might not be able to make change properly, and if all you have is a $100 note, that's going to be an expensive tin of baked beans. Don't rely on ATM's working or banks being open.
  16. Have a way to keep morale up. This can be books to read, card/board games to play, some kind of hobby like knitting to do, etc. If your life revolves around watching TV or surfing the internet, you're going to get very bored very quickly. Talking to other people can be a wonderfully distracting way to pass the time. If you're able to keep calm in a crisis, you also have a fantastic way to build social capital.
  17. Don't talk about or discuss your preparations with anyone. If people know you have 50 gallons of water stashed under your bed, they will assuredly turn to you if they're thirsty. If people don't know that you have preps, then they can't say that they know you have preps, even afterwards. If you keep your mouth shut about essentials, you'll not have to deal with the fallout of people sticking their heads in the sand. Obviously, preps won't last forever at the level you're thinking about (under-bed storage, not nuclear fallout bunker), but they can make the difference between comfort and misery.
  18. Consider expanding your social capital right now. Are you involved in any groups locally? Are you in an apartment building? Use these situations to strengthen your social knowledge.
  19. Practice what you'd do if the power went off. Set a day for when you trip the main fuse in the circuit breaker and don't turn it back on until the day after. Yes, this is a very scary thought, and why would you want to do that, and you'll get round to it at some point, but this is exactly what you're preparing for to make it less scary. It's better to find out now that you need a can opener, rather than in the middle of a crisis when you can't actually do anything to help yourself. Doing this will help you figure out what you need, how much of it you need and where you need it. Only you can figure that out for yourself, because of the specific constraints of your individual situation. Nobody else can tell you that you need a light on the stairs during the night because it gets really dark in that spot. Nobody else can show you how bored you're going to get when you're without electricity. Cutting the power will give you added impetus to get your preps ready. And just think how much better you'll feel if the power ever does go down, because you'll have preps in place, you'll have experienced it before with a cool head and you'll know where some of the pitfalls are.
  20. Your local municipality might have some form of preparing for disaster thing on their website, such as a specific Twitter account or something that you can sign up to to get messages sent to your mobile phone. Look into this and take advantage of it. Any extra bit of warning you can get is going to be useful to you.
Things like extra food can be kept in your cupboards and used up as you follow your usual stock rotation, then replaced. The same goes for things like extra water. Most of the things that you can do are cheap or easy, or likely both. If there's something like a head torch that you want, you can pick them up for a few dollars on Amazon or just ask for one for your birthday or Christmas. A couple of extra tins of food or a packet of couscous and some spice mix won't add too much to your grocery bill, but knowing it's in the cupboard is quite comforting. It's like having some money in savings in the bank - it's better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. If you have more specific concerns, please post them. I can talk about this kind of stuff for hours.
posted by Solomon at 4:07 AM on December 31, 2013 [131 favorites]

13. Water is vitally important.

You might consider a Water Bob for your kit - a bathtub shaped plastic reservoir for storing water in an emergency.
posted by kovacs at 4:23 AM on December 31, 2013 [8 favorites]

Wow, that's a pretty amazing list Solomon! Depending on the level of calamity you are planning for, as well as the weight you are willing to carry / the space you have to store, there are a few other items you might want.
- A small portable tool set: screwdrivers, adjustable wrenches, pliers, vice grips, claw hammer, staple gun, wire cutters, etc.
- A set of fasteners, Nails, screws, staples, duct tape, wire, twine, etc.
- A portable fire extinguisher.

If you are planning on the apocalypse and not just a week without power add in the following:
- A sewing kit
- A folding knife
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:31 AM on December 31, 2013

I'd actually suggest filling your bath -- not for drinking water, but for toilet-flushing water, which is also important to sanitation.

I was in a no-power situation over Christmas, and we also had a bad blackout last year. The top things I was grateful for (or wished we had):

-One good LED headlamp per person. Way better than flashlights, and run for ages on batteries. Add backup batteries.

-Solar lantern (if you have access to a safe place to leave it outside to charge).

-Toilet flushing water. Having a tub would have been extremely useful there (my family only has a shower, alas). If you don't have a tub, keep some plastic buckets on hand to be filled for this.

-Containers for drinking water that close. We didn't have enough of these. We were able to get out to buy 1-gallon containers of drinking water from the store, but you couldn't count on this.

-Thermometers in the fridge and freezer so you can tell if the food is safe to eat when the power comes back. Cheap at Walmart/Target; put them in now and just leave them.

-If you have a car, a way to charge your cell phones from your car. If you don't have car chargers, you can buy something like this.

-Battery powered radio.

Also, consider heat -- how does your heat run? Would it stay on in a blackout? (Usually natural gas heat doesn't unless your landlords have a generator -- the system needs the blower etc. to run.)
posted by pie ninja at 5:21 AM on December 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

The disaster most likely to happen in my neighborhood is an earthquake. The actual disaster won't last long, but there will probably be a significant delay before first responders will be in my neighborhood, so we're looking at "sheltering in place." Fleeing from a flood is a different situation. Think about what's most likely to happen to you, not to an anonymous victim in a Red Cross list.

Solomon's list is mostly great. Some comments/suggestions:

Learn the minimum about field sanitation (there's a ton of info on the internet). If you're going to be in one place for several days, you need to dig a hole to poop in, and you should do it right.

As well as cash (we keep $200 in 20's), I suggest a bottle of whiskey/brandy/vodka. Even if you don't normally drink, it can be helpful in an emergency. We also keep a box of chocolate bars, ditto. And we keep an extra case of cat food in rotation; don't want to try to explain "no cat food" to our cats.

Make sure you have a pair of relatively sturdy shoes near your bed. Really. Whatever happens, you're going to need them, whether you're wading through broken glass, debris, mud.....

MOST IMPORTANTLY: DO DISCUSS YOUR PREPARATIONS WITH YOUR NEIGHBORS. They will be your biggest asset, more than anything else on the list, My city sponsors "block meetings." They are invaluable. I have a map of my block, with names and phone numbers, which houses have children or elderly or disabled people, who has a generator, who has a chain saw, who has which other emergency supplies, who has emergency medical training -- when the infrastructure isn't working, helping each other is your best hope of survival. (And you won't have to worry so much about boredom.)
posted by kestralwing at 5:23 AM on December 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

Solomon does have a good answer, but most survival situations also depend on working with those around you. Sharing supplies an be very beneficial. The human contact can be wonderful.

After Hurricanes Sandy and Irene over the past several years I have found my camping gear the biggest help. I would cook outside on my camping stove and used the headlamps and flashlights at night. Any good campin supply list will cover what you need. The main extra addition will be either a bicycle generator or solar charger so cell phones and other electronics will remain charged. I prefer the bicycle generator since it gives me something to do and I say warm charging stuff.
posted by Nackt at 5:36 AM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Also, I forgot a big one: Move from a Just In Time stocking system for essentials for a Minimum Quantity On hand stocking system. It does eat up some space for storage, but in my opinion it's been worth it.

When I made this change, I decided that I would always have a minimum quantity of certain things around: a three-pack of tissue boxes, one eight-pack of toilet paper, and additional soap, Advil, etc. If you have a cat, add litter and cat food to the list. I also keep certain foods -- canned artichoke hearts, nuts, dried fruits -- as minimum quantity on hand foods. When you get down to your Minimum Quantity On hand, go buy more, and rotate the older food (or whatever) out.

This was initially for a flu scare -- I had a bad case of the flu where I needed things but couldn't get them easily, because I was too sick to go out. So I increased my stocking quantities, and now I don't have to worry about toilet paper if I'm sick, or if there's a Bread Milk and Toilet Paper Emergency, or in most other situations.

This is also a good way to stock up because (a) you're definitely buying things you use, just more of them, and (b) you can buy one extra item each week and stock up slowly over time.

I agree with kestralwing about working with your neighbors.

I'd also add hand sanitizer to my list.
posted by pie ninja at 5:37 AM on December 31, 2013 [17 favorites]

Best answer: The longest I've had to cope with a Civilization Outage was 10 days, after a hurricane. I was very unprepared, and it was difficult. In fact, I was about to face that I was out of the needs of life and seek help from the Red Cross when the power come back and the grocery store opened. I bought some rice cakes and selzer water, which was all they had. This tasted good, very good. It looked to me about like a big sale on NY Strip Steaks used to look.

So, my fondest memory of that time? The can of fruit cocktail I found in my stuff. It tasted like Christmas, after a week of eating cold beans and bread heels.. So throw a few cans of that in to the kit, is my advice.
posted by thelonius at 5:41 AM on December 31, 2013 [9 favorites]

Look into solar crank-powered radios, flashlights, and chargers. Here's one random example.

MRE's (Meals Ready To Eat) don't take up much room as canned goods, have self-heating gizmos, include everything down to little salt and pepper packets, and are super calorie-dense. Check your local Army Surplus-style store for them. (Also, MRE pound cake is really good!)

An extra set of whatever meds you need. Most doctors will cooperate within reason. Set an reminder alarm at regular intervals and switch them out so they don't expire.

If you have a car keep a kit in your trunk, too.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:45 AM on December 31, 2013

Best answer: More thoughts:
  1. Alcohol can be a morale booster. It can also apparently be used to disinfect wounds (do your own research on this, it's just something I've seen in a movie), as a barter tool and as a painkiller. It can also cause you to lose heat from your body more quickly and cause you to make stupid, potentially life-threatening decisions. Only you can decide if you're sensible enough when Mr Daniels is keeping you company to be able to make the right decisions for your situation. Personally, I don't drink alcohol, so any amount of alcohol will likely affect my judgement, which isn't worth the risk for me. You have to decide whether it's worth it for you, by yourself.
  2. On the subject of personal hygiene, consider having some baby wipes (I think they're called wetnaps?) on hand. They're not the same as a full on wash, but they're much better than nothing and don't require any extra water. You could probably even use them to clean your cutlery/dishes with, as long as you rinsed with water afterwards. Don't be tempted to use anti-bacterial varieties containing triclosan. See the linked wikipedia article for more info. Also, carry some alcohol based hand sanitiser. It's not as good as soap and water, but it's way way better than nothing. Practice good hygiene when in a SHTF situation, because you don't want to do something like contaminate your water supply by putting a dirty finger into it. You probably are practising good hygiene anyway, to be honest, but it's a rather more immediate and important thing when that one bottle of water is all you have.
  3. Find your local radio station(s) on your radio. Mark where they are on the dial with some permanent marker. They'll likely have useful information that is pertinent to your local area - knowing that flooding is happening in the next city over is not really that much use to you. You need to know what is going on in your town.
  4. Consider this situation: your phone has 20% battery left, it's not on charge and the power goes out before you get to finish reading this sentence. What are you going to do? You might need all 100% of the battery in your phone to call your parents, your siblings, your hypothetical kid's school, your partner's parents, your partner's siblings, etc. If you have an electronic device, it should be fully charged. This isn't only so you can make calls out - your partner might be stuck at work because the trains aren't running and they can't get hold of you because your phone is dead. There's no downside to keeping things charged up if you have enough chargers. Get one of the sort with multiple adapter heads - it's a dollar or two extra but might make the difference between a charged phone you can call the emergency services with, and having to look for someone else's phone to borrow. Even if you don't own a car, get a 12v cigarette lighter charger. A friend/relative might come to visit, perhaps with some supplies, and you'll be able to charge your phone from their car battery.
  5. You mentioned candles. There are pros and cons to candles. On one hand, they're a source of light, a source of heat, a morale boost (ever had a candlelit bath?) a method of cooking (well, sort of) and can even save you matches. On the other hand, they can cause your house to burn down. They are literally fire. If you have people who are drunk, or infirm, or small children or even a cat that doesn't realise the danger and sticks its tail in the flame, then you're setting yourself up for a lot of trouble. Even someone tripping over something can cause your drapes to catch fire. At the very least, never leave a candle unattended and have a fire extinguisher in every room that there is a candle in. A bucket of water is not a substitute fire extinguisher. It might do in a pinch, but a child will likely be unable to throw 5 gallons of water up into the air, where they will likely be much more able to point the nozzle of a fire extinguisher at something and pull the trigger to put the fire out.
  6. If you have access to a garden, consider keeping a spade or some other implement to set up a cathole. Keep this as far away from habitation as possible and as far away from water sources as possible. Do not cause a cholera outbreak. There might be some law against the burying of human waste in public parks and such.
  7. I have a battery pack with inverter that I keep topped up at all times, specifically this model. It comes with its own light, a 12v output and the inverter will turn 12v DC into 240v AC, meaning that I can do things like run a kettle from it. The kettle will draw a HUGE amount of electricity from the battery pack, which would be an absolute waste, but I can easily charge my mobile phone from it, run my router from it and even plug in a CFL standard lamp into it for lighting. It doesn't last forever, or indeed very long at all depending on the draw I put on it, but it's a simple, useful thing that even someone who had never seen one before could figure out.
  8. Don't rely on the store having stocks of what you need. If everywhere is snowed under, the stores can't get deliveries. A carton of UHT milk will keep for ages and not take up very much room at all. You might be able to pick up those little cartons of milk that they have in cafes for free. Or your local dollar store might sell them (my local pound shop does), with the advantage that unopened pots won't spoil like a full carton would if it wasn't used.
  9. Consider making a Zeer fridge to keep your milk/perishables cold. It uses no electricity.
  10. I saw somewhere recently a fantastic idea to see if your freezer had defrosted. Put an ice cube in a dish and put it in your freezer. If the ice cube is still cube shaped, your freezer hasn't defrosted. If it's ice but in the shape of the bottom of the dish, your freezer has defrosted and you should probably check your food even if it's frozen, as it might have refrozen.

posted by Solomon at 5:50 AM on December 31, 2013 [17 favorites]

At least in the US, the two common patterns are some kind of power outage and a need to shelter in place without services (eg earthquake, big east coast storms, etc) and forced evacuation on very short notice (eg California fires, tornado, flooding). So in a perfect world, your planning would account for both. The lists above cover the shelter in place pretty well I think, especially the advice to build stock into your pantry to give you an automatic buffer all of the time.

I don't even want to give links because they tend to lead straight to paranoid prepperville, but the best way to be ready for an evacuation is to have a pre-packed "bug out bag" of some kind -- a backpack or shoulder bag packed with the minimal essentials for the two of you and the cat. A water bottle, space blanket, flashlight, some cash, copies of your most essential papers in a waterproof bag, a knife and can opener, car and house keys, leash or harness for the cat... It doesn't need to be a super long list (and the smaller and lighter the bag, the better), but it's eye opening how long it would take to put that together from scratch and how much might get forgotten if you were in a panic.

The question of firearms is it's own thread; here I'll just say that assuming it is legal where you live and you want to include a firearm in your planning, please get training and practice so that you are safe and effective. Think about safe storage and how to actually carry it, practical details like that, before going shopping.

Lastly, think about things like cloud storage and keeping copies of things off-site (such as a bank deposit box). If you know your data, key files, and family photos are already safe, that's one less thing to even have to think about in an emergency.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:54 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

In thinking about eating well when your infrastructure is down due to things like hurricanes, I would suggest the book, Apocalypse Chow. In combination with building up your pantry, to provide buffer, this book will prove handy with equipment list and recipes. It was written by a person who learned how to live well in a hurricane zone. He includes other items in preparing for imminent blackouts or other disturbances.

I will say this, if you do need to "bug out" as in evacuation I would also include important hardware on the list such as, your back-up hard drive and copies of important documents. Do not forget cold, hard cash. If the electrical grid is down for x amount of days then things become cash based economy. Having a plan for "mundane" things like house fires would prove handy. Because good back-up practice is to have a back-up that is offline I find that having the hard drive tucked in with the "bug out" bag is easy since I only do an offline back-up once a month. Updating the offline back-up is also a good time to review your bug out bag.

Use your vehicle, if you have one, for certain items such as, spare medical kit, small bag of cat litter, head lamp and a can opener.
posted by jadepearl at 6:41 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Rather than a minimum stock on hand, you could also put aside a week or two worth of canned food and water. After a year, while it's still not expired, drop it off at a food shelf and restock. Write it off on your taxes if you like.

We recently lost power on a -10ºF night, and we ended up draining the plumbing just in case. So, if you live in a freezing area, know how to do that. Our gas stove doesn't use a pilot light, so when I wanted hot cocoa, I had to use a grill lighter to light the burner. I suppose I could have used a match too, but the grill lighter is kept right next to the stove.

We have flashlight apps on our cell phones, so we could use those to get to our flashlights and headlamps in the basement. Also in our camping stuff, we have a wind up/solar radio/lantern/phone charger. I've also used the remaining charge in my laptop to top off my phone during a blackout.

Most of the stuff for keeping warm is stuff we have in the house anyways. I put on a winter hat. We grabbed extra blankets. We could have got out the camping stuff, but there's no need for special things when you're not trying to carry it through the woods.
posted by advicepig at 7:15 AM on December 31, 2013

Know where to go in your town or city for information or supplies after an emergency.

After Sandy, my town was without water, sewage (couldn't even flush toilets), power and gas. Complicating this was that the cell towers were destroyed, so people couldn't communicate, and virtually every car was destroyed and public transit was not operational. One of the things I did volunteering for the city was going door to door telling people where they could get food and supplies, where the Red Cross and FEMA were, where they could get transportation to a shelter, what the status was for restoring utilities, etc.

This goes without saying, but if you are under an evacuation order, leave. It doesn't matter how prepared you are if all of your carefully stocked supplies are under water!
posted by inertia at 7:39 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

As others have covered there are usually one of 2 options in an emergancy, shelter in place or bug out/leave. I spent most of my life living in a bushfire prone area of rural Australia so always had a bug out bag ready and have carried that practice over to living in the US. My bag now I live in the Midwest USA, includes 3 days food for my dogs (they are small) spare collars and leads for them a small bowl for water and a stake to tie them up to. For me & my husband it includes such things as protien bars/bottled water, small first aid kit, wipes, thumb drive with scans of all our insurance etc info on in an encrypted format. Small crank phone recharger plus cable (this also has a torch in it), led head light, wet wipes, feminine hygiene products (you dont' want to get caught short in an emergency) hand warmers in winter, 30 day supply of meds I have to take every day, we also have good warm coats/gloves/socks in an easy to grab location but we use them regularly so they don't get packed.

For staying in we have a couple of large water storage containers filled with water, these are for toilet flushing if needed and we just make sure to have a good stockpile of tinned foods and bottled water, toilet paper and OTC medicines which we use in our everyday lives and just rotate stock in and out. We carry around a 2 week supply for 2 people, but that's more because I like to shop in at Sams club than careful planning

Honestly it takes hardly any effort to be ready and you have a lot of the stuff you need already, you just need to have enough of it. So in your case make sure you always have a weeks (or how ever long you want to prepare for) supply of food for you and your cat and some litter. First aid kit, a source of light, warm clothes (if needed where you are) and a means to open the cans of food that don't require electricity and some means to recharge your phone if you are dependent on it.

Also don't discount the "doomsday" prepper sites, if you can get past all the end of the world talk, and gun toting and political noise there is actually a lot of good information out there. Especially on how to set up if you are on a budget. There are a couple of good sites that sell premade bug out kits too if you have the budget, and not all of them are doomsdayers but sound right up your alley. I like Emergancy Essentials , not affiliated in anyway but I have bought some food storage buckets off of them (I bake and use them for flours) the service and prices are good.
posted by wwax at 7:53 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

My husband, the Eagle Scout, is a preparedness nerd. Prepping for these types of situations is a hobby for him. I also think somewhere deep down he secretly believes that it's a magic spell where if you are the prepared nothing bad will ever happen.

We have three emergency kits. A "bug out bag" in case we have the leave the house really quickly (like a fire) that has copies of important papers, a days supply of dog food, some power bars, cash, glow sticks, a blanket, a first aid kit, a phone charger and some creature comforts like chapstick.

The other is a box in our laundry room with a better first aid kit, mylar blankets, a large battery you can plug a charger into, some flashlights and some food like peanut butter, canned beans etc. We stopped storing water because my husband learned how to drain our hot water heater which holds about 70 gallons of potable water.

The third is a mixed version of both of these that lives in the car we use to take road trips in.

Some of the other things we do, just in case: we have an agreed upon rally point where the family would meet if we got separated during an emergency. We've memorized the cell phone numbers of those important to us. We keep a week long supply of dog food in a water proof container.

My husband also took a CERT class where he learned to use a fire extinguisher properly, use a chainsaw to help clear debris from roadways and triage a situation (like a building collapse). This was loads of fun for him and at "graduation" they gave him a green hard hat which he loves so well. I mention CERT because he learned tons of small, specific things during it that he feels might be helpful at some point.
posted by Saminal at 8:30 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

The best trick I know of for knowing whether a freezer has stayed frozen over an indeterminate time period is simply to freeze a small disposable cup full of water and put a coin on top of the frozen ice. If the freezer kicks out and the ice melts, the coin will sink to the bottom and get refrozen there.

Plus you get to learn about sublimation over the longer term.
posted by Kyol at 8:33 AM on December 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

I have a Lifestraw, and for multiple people/cooking/fixed site or disaster use I would probably get this. (For cool backstory on the product, see here.)

Note that the Lifestraw (first product linked) doesn't treat for viruses, though the Lifestraw Family (2nd product) claims to do so. For that reason, for exotic travel, I got a Steripen--which again, is only ideal for small-batch use (you can treat 32 oz at a time). Water-borne viral contamination is less common in the U.S. unless things get, well, really shitty. Which isn't so common while camping, but may be the case in an urban center disaster.
posted by blue suede stockings at 9:06 AM on December 31, 2013

I think the first step is to identify the sort of thing you're preparing for, which is going to vary by location and expectation. In various parts of the U.S. you might be worried about fire, flood, earthquake, hurricane, etc. prioritize the things that are more likely to affect you. Then figure that you're really preparing mostly for minor disasters - things that will be largely resolved in a week or two. For major disasters, think Katrina, Fukushima, or Syrian revolution, the prudent course of action is to move away. For that sort of disaster what you want to be prepared with is insurance and cash with which to buy transportation/temporary housing. Incidentally, this is the biggest failing of the "doomsday prepper" group. If you look back through history at places where governments collapsed or the environment was irreparably damaged, the people who fared best did not hole up with hunting rifles and canned beans, they fled to more stable parts of the world. Having $5,000 in cash and a passport handy is going to be a lot more useful if that ever happens.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:38 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

That WaterBob thing is beautiful. I am a little too excited by it.

But wait, there's more:
  1. Camping/caravanning supply places sell the stuff for chemical toilets. You will likely be able to handle the situation a little better with chemicals than you would sawdust. Bit more info here. I have no direct experience with this sort of thing, so I don't know how long the, uh, product can be kept once treated. I would imagine it's longer than with sawdust, though. Probably not the cheapest/easiest thing to set up, but might be worth it if your sewerage system is likely to go down.
  2. If you have saucepans with lids (and are given enough notice to do so) fill these with water you intend to use for drinking. Water stored in the bath should be fine for washing oneself and clothing.
  3. If you have access to a garden, or just some place to crouch outdoors, you have more options for things like cooking. A tin tray barbecue can be used to cook food on , boil water for drinking and washing, etc. You can even cook in a chiminea if you have a source of fuel. Maybe wrap some small potatoes in foil and throw them in with the coals after burning. It's not haute cuisine, but the value of a hot, filling meal is not to be sniffed at.
  4. If you replace your freezer, consider a chest model rather than an upright. Cold air sinks, so it's less warming to open one of these during a power cut than an upright version.
  5. Do you have a method of catching rainwater? I have several water barrels in the garden, mainly for use during things like hosepipe bans, but it's comforting to know that there's water for drinking, washing and flushing the toilet stored right outside. I'd need to filter it first, obviously, but water purification tablets are really really cheap.
  6. The most important thing I can think of to manage is your own attitude towards a SHTF scenario. You can have enough preps to cover every possible eventuality, including the sun going supernova, but if you're going to freak out or not know how to use a given tool, none of it is any good to you. Prepare your underbed storage, but also prepare yourself. Learn how to do things like turn off the gas or handle a broken window or get yourself to safety if a hurricane is bearing down on you. Learning how to do these things might be outside of your comfort zone, but they'll be a lot further outside of your comfort zone if you have to learn how to do them in the middle of a crisis. I'm not suggesting you become a surgeon, but learning basic first aid is useful, and not just for yourself. You could be walking down the street and see a cyclist get hit by a car. You're not in a SHTF situation, but you can still be of invaluable aid to that cyclist. Knowing how to handle various situations is very empowering and it enables you to make the right choice for the situation. Knowing that you know is a wonderful thing.
You mentioned foods. Freeze-dried or canned stuff will last longest. I've been thinking about what I have in store and what I'd like to have in store, and I've come up with a few things:

Couscous. This 3kg bag will provide you with just over 10k calories. All you need to cook it is a source of boiling water. You don't need to boil it like you do with pasta, so once your water is boiled, you can stop using fuel. Adding bouillon cubes or spices will flavour it however you like.
Dried potato. Again, all you need is boiling water and maybe some dried milk if you have any. Pretty bland on its own, but you can easily jazz it up. 97 calories per 180g serving, 324 calories per 100g dried.
Dried peas/onions/other veg. Good for variety, and I've used them a year past their best before date before now with no ill effect. 254 calories per 100g.
Mackerel in sunflower oil. Drain the oil off, reconstitute some mashed potato, mix the fish into it and shape into patties. Use a little of the drained oil to gently fry the patties. If you want to get fancy, mix in some reconstituted dried veg for a little variety. Hot and filling.
Honey. Found in Egyptian tombs from centuries ago, still edible. I don't know what the FDA would say about that, but it's a useful source of sweetness that will likely outlast you. I can't seem to find any info of the calorie content, but I'm pretty sure that it's quite high.
Peanut butter. 579 calories per 100g. For our purposes, the organic-homeopathic-contains-vital-chi-force kind isn't the best. Go for something with lots of salt and preservatives.
Instant coffee sticks. A hot sweet drink just by adding boiling water.
Various kinds of dried fruits. Ranging from raisins to figs to gojiberries, these will keep for ages and help with energy and regularity. Calorie values will vary between fruit types. They can be eaten as they are, or added to stuff like breads or oats.
Tinned tomatoes. Not especially high in calories, but great for livening up various dishes. Maybe use some of the liquid in the couscous.
Canned bacon. Armageddon happening around you is no excuse to not have a bacon butty.

This is obviously a tiny list and you'd need to check the use by date on a tin or packet of [whatever] to ensure it would last a reasonable length of time. That said, earlier today I opened a tetrapak of cheapo own brand orange juice that has a best before date of June 2014 on it. It's UHT treated, so it lasts for a looooooong time. Don't buy stuff you won't eat, though, just because it will keep. Also, try testing the recipes. It's easier to figure out how much spice to add to couscous when the lights are on, the kettle has boiled and you've not had to walk 10 miles home from work because public transport has stopped working.
posted by Solomon at 10:37 AM on December 31, 2013 [14 favorites]

You might want to check out the site, which has suggestions of things to keep on hand for different kinds of disasters. Their lists aren't super comprehensive, but you avoid all the "here's where to hide your thousand rounds of ammo" prepper types that you find on other prep websites.

I started stocking up when I was unemployed and broke, and it can be done. What I did was just to buy a few extra cans of whatever I was buying and put it in my cabinets with my other stuff so it would get rotated and not sit there too long. If you buy a little at a time, it keeps the cost manageable. I don't keep food in my emergency bag because I'm just going to forget about it in there, and if I'm taking my bag someplace, it will probably be to a shelter where they'll have food.

pie ninja makes a good point: even if you never get hit with a disaster, health issues can make it hard to get around. I once was laid up with a back problem for a week, and my sister had to bring me extra TP.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:55 AM on December 31, 2013

Solomon: "If you have access to a garden, consider keeping a spade or some other implement to set up a cathole. Keep this as far away from habitation as possible and as far away from water sources as possible. Do not cause a cholera outbreak. There might be some law against the burying of human waste in public parks and such."

Please do this only as a last resort during an extended emergency in any sort of built up area. A five gallon bucket with a lid can be had at any home improvement borg for a few bucks and can be used as a toilet. Use a garbage bag to keep the bucket clean and then double bag for disposal. You can even use the bucket to store your other emergency preparedness equipment until you need it as a waste receptacle. Both amazon and walmart have commercial versions with moulded seats and fancy disposal bags.
posted by Mitheral at 12:37 PM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

BTW, regarding the "bug out bag" advice above: put food and water on top and cash/valuables/documents hidden underneath. My bag contained a backup hard drive and some heirlooms and cash, which made it a really convenient target for the burglars who took it from my closet last month. "Bug out", indeed.
posted by town of cats at 12:40 PM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

They're well into the kooky end of the spectrum, but the Mormon Church is big on emergency preparedness, and have some good information.

My wife is ex-Mormon, and I've seen some of the setups that her family members have. Suffice to say that if Katrina or Sandy had happened in Salt Lake City, they would at worst have been minor inconveniences.
posted by Hatashran at 2:49 PM on December 31, 2013

I've lost power for several days during snow and ice storms and a couple hurricanes, and lost water due to a water main break. I've never had to evacuate. I live alone and now live in a semi-rural area, so I keep extra canned soup and bottled ginger ale in case I get sick. I did some prepping in advance of Y2K - when I shopped, I considered the crucialness of things I buy and bought extras of tampons, toilet paper, etc.

You need a 1st Aid Kit at home and in the car(s). Bandaids, aspirin, tylenol, tweezers, benadryl, gloves, scissors. Red Cross list. And you can get 1st Aid apps for people and pets for your smartphone.

Headlamps are really useful, and with LEDs, the batteries last well, but do store extras. I have a windup/ solar/ electric radio/ USB charger/ flashlight. And I just got a chargeable battery charger for my phone, thanks, Santa.

Candles are dangerous if you're careless. Otherwise, they provide light, heat and comfort. A juice glass makes a fine candleholder.

Water gets stale but keeps a long time. 1 and 2 liter plastic soda pop bottles are excellent for storage.

I've made coffee on an outdoor grill during a power loss, and in a pinch you could heat water for a hot water bottle to keep warmer indoors, so keeping the tank full isn't a bad idea.

Cats are fine with water, food and litter, and maybe a cat carrier, just in case.

Know-how is really useful. 1st Aid training, knowing where the gas and water shutoffs are, and having the right tools, plus general fixit ability, is invaluable.
posted by theora55 at 11:54 PM on December 31, 2013

Here in Japan (earthquakes, typhoons) everyone is encouraged to have a disaster box or bag. There are kits for sale at home centers (like Home Depot). Things in our box/bags: spare pair of shoes, like converse or keds. They fold flat, don't take up much space, and, if there's a sudden disaster, are you sure you'll be wearing shoes when it hits? Or that you'll have time to grab your bag and put on shoes? Another common thing here are Mylar emergency blankets. They fold very small, but are good for warmth in emergency situations.

Other than that, water, first aid kit (band aids, ibuprofen, neosporin, butterfly band aids for anything bad), and, if you have prescriptions, try to keep an extra supply, and when you fill up, replace the one in the bag with your new one, so it never expires.

A small toolkit would be good if you've got space, failing that, a leatherman or multitool that never leaves the bag.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:57 AM on January 1, 2014

Best answer: This site breaks down a 72-hour kit into 52 weekly installments, to help you build it over time.
posted by maurreen at 8:22 PM on January 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

For earthquake country: A small crowbar or prybar. If your house frame shifts, and you can't get out of your room because the door is stuck in the frame, it'll allow you to escape. Also serves as a way to get into most places given a reasonable amount of time.

And if there happen to be headcrabs, you are set.
posted by benzenedream at 11:09 PM on January 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you want to avoid getting stuck eating Spam and Spaghettios during the time it takes grocery service to be reestablished, planning ahead with a cookbook like Apocalypse Chow: How to Eat Well When the Power Goes Out is a good idea.
posted by Lexica at 3:50 PM on January 4, 2014

Solomon: "Look into camping stoves that run on butane, although the jury seems to be out on whether or not these are safe to use indoors. "

This is a silly thing to risk. Don't burn things indoors that aren't meant to be burned indoors.

Also, you probably shouldn't burn things indoors that are meant to be burned indoors if you have any concerns about the structural integrity of your building. If your chimney or gas lines are damaged, Bad Things can happen.
posted by schmod at 12:12 PM on January 6, 2014

Yet more:
  1. Consider getting an SOS app for your phone. I'm not sure what's available for iOS, but LightFree for Android is pretty great. It will work as a flashlight (lighting up the LCD display), let you use your camera's LED and also repeatedly flash SOS in Morse code on the LCD. I tried several apps, but this one is the only one I found that flashes SOS repeatedly, most only seem to flash it once and then stop. It's free and the only odd permission it requires is Network Location.
  2. Read Just in Case: How to be Self-Sufficient when the Unexpected Happens. The author goes into a lot of detail about prepping, and only mentions guns once, to say that she's not interested. I've been reading it over the past few days and I highly recommend it. Bonus: it's less than $3 on Kindle.
  3. Test your smoke alarm now. Get up from the computer and go press the button. It might save your life. If it's not working, try a new battery and if that doesn't work, hie thee to somewhere that sells them. They're cheap and worth their weight in gold. Smoke from a fire might not wake you until it's too late, or it might just suffocate you.

posted by Solomon at 12:52 PM on January 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older How to manage emotions when teaching   |   What's the best iOS app for body weight monitoring... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.