Practical prepping?
August 3, 2018 6:07 AM   Subscribe

Looking for your best practical prepping tips for all the possible apocalypse scenarios I keep perseverating on. Details inside.

I deal with worry best by taking action of some form and the current state of affairs globally is scaring the shit out of me.

I'm doing my best to be civically engaged, send letters, mind my carbon foot print, etc. But I think that some prepping-type strategies would also help alleviate my anxiety. I tried some websites but the ones I found felt too extreme for my taste

When my first child was born I went through a major Oh-My-God-The-World-Is-Not-Safe-For-Babies spell. One way I coped was by stocking up on water, non-perishables and crank flashlights, radios, chargers. It made me feel a lot better.

So-- help me out. What are some small practical preparations you recommend for a scary world? And what kind of problem is it anticipating/trying to prevent/prepare for? i.e. climate change, fascism, etc.

What I don't want: to be told that there is nothing to be scared of, or that prepping is useless, etc. You may be right, but it sure is comforting to feel like there is something you can do...
posted by jeszac to Society & Culture (32 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Something very small and inexpensive: start a personal seed bank. Learn a bit about basic gardening in your area, what to plant when, what gives the most calories per effort and space. Learn to identify edible plants.

Build and maintain relationships with your neighbors.

Learn some light carpentry skills, get a set of hand tools.

These are all useful even if society doesn’t start to crumble, which is an angle I like to take.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:17 AM on August 3, 2018 [11 favorites]

Learn to prepare vegetarian food, and learn to garden (vegetables), and maybe watch some bushcraft videos? This prepares you for the possibility of a world where you have to grow/scavange your own food, and build your own shelter.

I would, as much as you can, resist the urge to "buy things" to solve this anxiety - that is unlikely to help climate change and any relief you do get will be fleeting.
posted by cranberrymonger at 6:17 AM on August 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

This seems like a reasonable source. Lots of good advice. Learn carpentry or skills. Get fit. Discount the stuff you don't actually want.

Honestly, physical fitness is probably the best preparedness you could have.
posted by bbqturtle at 6:19 AM on August 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the thoughts so far. One thing to add- I have two young children who feature prominently in much of my worrying. I feel like a lot of what I was reading on the websites I checked out didn’t seem to be planning with family in mind. So while any thoughts and ideas in that direction would also be great.
posted by jeszac at 6:25 AM on August 3, 2018

Build a resource library by buying books with skills you might need to know: foraging, gardening, first aid, carpentry, food safety, etc.
posted by slipthought at 6:31 AM on August 3, 2018 [8 favorites]

I don't really know how things would change for your family vs prepping alone. Maybe stock up on some curriculums on a usb drive or kindle for if they had to miss school.

Realistically, prepping for kids would probably be more like prepping for the major kid criseses:

Failing a class
Holding back a grade
Unwanted Sexual Contact
Wants to live at home too long
Gets lost/kidnapped
Gets offered/addicted to drugs
Gets a girlfriend/boyfriend
Is very sick
Breaks a bone
Wants to play sports

Whatever you think is the most likely! And then make a gameplan! I do simple things like keep a few gifts and cards at home so I'm prepared for those last-second parties that always sneak up.
posted by bbqturtle at 6:33 AM on August 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

Let the kids learn with you, so you can feel good about preparing them at the same time as yourself — which bonds you closer while also building their resiliency.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:33 AM on August 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

Geography plays a big role here. I had an earthquake kit when I lived in California, and I still have the big crowbar that was part of it (it's surprising how useful it big crowbar actually is!). Here is Wisconsin, there really isn't much chance of large-scale disasters that will break down society, but there is still plenty of stuff that can happen that can make for localized misery.

One of the most important things to prepare for are floods. Thanks to climate change, intense rainstorms that drop 4-8+ inches of rain in just a few hours are becoming far more frequent. This kind of storm can make for INTENSE localized flooding, far outside of official flood zones. A few basic things can make recovery from a small flood dramatically easier. It is kind of amazing how much damage even an 1/8 of an inch of water on the floor can do.
  • Storing things in plastic tubs on blocks instead of in cardboard boxes on the floor
  • regrading to facilitate drainage away from foundations
  • installing a sewage backflow prevention device
  • If you have a sump pump, check it regularly by filling the sump with water from a hose or bucket and making sure it can turn on and empty
  • Installing a battery-powered back-up sump pump

posted by rockindata at 6:49 AM on August 3, 2018 [7 favorites]

Get first responder training, up to Wilderness EMT if you have the time. Get involved in your local CERT. Volunteer with your local food pantry, soup kitchen, or church. In addition to the technical skills you'll learn, these also connect you with helpful people in your area.

Take your kids backpacking. Not because the wilderness experience will directly be useful, but to inculcate resilience in the face of minor inconveniences and loss of creature comforts. And you might need to walk somewhere with a pack.

Learn to ride a bike, and teach your kids to ride a bike. In the presence of even a single-track trail, cycling is the most mechanically efficient transport. You can get a bike through bumper-to-bumper traffic and it won't need gas.

Increase your pantry so that you have a few months' supply of whatever shelf-stable foods your family already likes to eat. Possibly change your diet to emphasize those ingredients, so that you can rotate your stock. If you've never had to cook for larger groups, start hosting casual dinner parties. If your diet has a lot of sauteed or fried foods, learn some soups and boiled recipes, as cooking oil sometimes gets scarce. (Related: Buy a gallon or two of cooking oil; it keeps quite well.)

By the way, the point of this stockpiling is not to somehow become independent of the global supply chain and public utilities. In most areas, that's no longer possible. The goal is to delay when you must become dependent on emergency services, so that in the immediate aftermath they can focus on more needy people. (Related: Think about elderly relatives who are able to live independently in non-apocalyptic circumstances but may need help otherwise.)

This is a bit grim, but if you are dependent on something that might becomes scarce, think about what you can do, what you are willing to do, and what should happen if you can't. E.g., in my family runs an incurable heritable condition which, without continuous access to a modern healthcare system, can render people incapable of providing childcare. So we would have to make plans for alternate guardians.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 7:01 AM on August 3, 2018 [17 favorites]

Have you looked at local civic resources? E.g., my own City of Portland offers these emergency preparedness resources. Also check out the Red Cross.
posted by chrchr at 7:02 AM on August 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Let the kids learn with you, so you can feel good about preparing them at the same time as yourself — which bonds you closer while also building their resiliency.

I would actually tread really carefully with this. Learning things with your kids is fine, but should be fun for your kids - children can be easily frightened by disaster-scenario kind of stuff, because they don't necessarily have the complex understanding of the world to get that the scenarios you are preparing against are the last step in a chain of events, as opposed to something that could happen out of the blue at any minute. (That's the impression I had when I first learned about nuclear war at the age of about nine; for a year I was terrified that there would suddenly be bombs dropping on me unprovoked, and I was profoundly affected by those terrors for years. You want to avoid making your kids similarly afraid.)

So any kind of learning-with-your-kids stuff should emphasize the fun part - instead of "let's learn how to can things so that we are prepared when society collapses in flames", try "let's learn how to can things so that we know a little about what it was like in the olden days" or "so that we can save those great peaches from the farmer's market for winter" or "because it's just fun to do". Subtly introducing a "hey, isn't this cool that we know how to do this if there ever suddenly weren't grocery stores for some weird reason?" may be okay, but that's as far as I'd go.

...And incidentally, canning and preserving is definitely an option I'd recommend. Water-bath canning and jam making requires only mason jars and a big pot of boiling water to process fruit for shelf-stable storage (I wouldn't do this with vegetables for various food-science reasons; they need pressure canning). Pickling may also be fun - both kinds, the "leave it in a crock of brine for weeks" kind and the "pour boiling vinegar over it" kind.

that's a skill I have that I know would serve me well if society collapses - but societal collapse is not WHY I learned it. I also find it to be fun and comfortingly grounding, in a way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:02 AM on August 3, 2018 [13 favorites]

Obviously you don't want to scare your kids with stories about the end times, but you can teach them to be good at managing without stores and restaurants. Go fishing, hike or kajak and forage as you do it, teach them to clean fish and produce, to cook simple dishes. Teach them to handle a proper sharp knife. When I was a kid, I loved bringing home berries, nuts or mushrooms and help my gran or my aunt make them into delicious food. I can't say I loved cleaning fish when I was 9, but I was and still am proud that I can do it, and I've taught my kids and my nieces and nephews to find mussels and other good stuff at the beach. Together you can learn how to cook over a fire or a primus. Make pancakes and flatbreads, lovely stews, and grilled stuff. A fun idea for a birthday party is to have a cookout at a campsite near your home. I've done it with kindergartners in December!
Do you have a garden? If so, grow stuff, and involve the kids. Even if you don't have a garden, you can grow herbs and chilis and tomatoes and tiny cucumbers in a windowsill.
Sometimes, at our farm, we snow in, or trees fall into our driveway so we can't get out until they've been cut up and removed. In reality this is never for a long time, but because of it I have a huge pantry there. My kids and siblings make fun of me (but luckily my sister-in-law is the same). Once we snowed in right after Christmas, and it was a real problem because we had eaten all the food; that is never going to happen to me again. The most important things are different types of flour and grains and yeast for bread-making. Then I always have cans of beans and chickpeas, lots of different forms of pasta and rice, both Italian and Asian, vegetable oil and vinegar, cans and bottles of preserved tomatoes, cans of sardines and other fish, cream of coconut, dried mushrooms, dried seaweed, different fruit preserves and homemade cordials, and potatoes, onions, shallots and garlic. In the freezer, there is meat and ice-cream and stock as well as a bit of cheese and butter and spinach, peas and string beans. As said above, I'm not really prepping for war or big natural disasters, just for snowing in for a week. But the reality of it makes me revise and improve the plan all the time. If I were nervous about bigger disasters, I'd probably clean and freeze a lot of vegetables in practically sized bags. Whatever you do, use the stuff all the time, so it's always new. Don't have one pantry for the prepper madness and another one for everyday life, you don't want your stuff to get old.
This has all become such a habit that I have the same approach to my pantry in the city just with less stuff. And the daughter who still lives at home enjoys that she can always easily make a delicious meal without needing to shop if I'm not at home. She learnt it from when she was relatively small.
posted by mumimor at 7:18 AM on August 3, 2018 [7 favorites]

Cans will keep you alive through the crisis but not much longer than that.

The key to prepping, I think, is knowledge rather than things. I think it's worth it to learn (really learn, not just dabble in) the basics: farming, food preservation, carpentry, first aid, hunting or trapping, foraging, etc. Buy hard copy how-to guides, store them in a safe place. If you ever need them there won't be any internet to rely on for information.
posted by lydhre at 7:39 AM on August 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

We get frequent power outages and are a small, low priority area for restoration of power so we have some practice living without electricity. You could try this as a game and learn what you need to keep yourselves safe, comfortable and reasonably entertained. In the summer food preservation is an issue so you need shelf stable foods and something like a camp stove for (outdoor!) cooking. In the winter heat is a problem. We have a small wood stove which keeps the house warm enough and serves to heat water and do limited cooking.
posted by Botanizer at 7:48 AM on August 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, there is a fairly straightforward and reasonable federal guide to preparedness.
posted by lagomorphius at 7:53 AM on August 3, 2018 [5 favorites]

A Bug out Bag in case of Natural Disaster. I am thinking more things to take to a shelter because bushfire/flood not end of the world, but with climate change I feel there are going to be more of these so it's an area I like to be prepared for. This is a good starting list..

I like to keep a 3 month or so stockpile of food. Not only for big scary disaster situations, but it comes in handy if one of us get laid off & we have to get by on a reduced income for awhile, knowing we won't go hungry which stops me stressing.

Get fit, being fit makes any problem easier. Get your kids fit too. Go for walks or hikes together it's also fun is a good way to do this.

Not only stockpile food but learn recipes that use the stockpile, so many people will stockpile things because they think they have to, like beans, then have no idea how to cook or use them. Also learning new recipes is a fun way to prep. Also if you start gardening, make sure it's things you'll eat & learn how to preserve them. Basic canning, pickling aren't as hard as people think and a fun thing to do with your kids.
posted by wwax at 7:59 AM on August 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

I felt better once I threw together a disaster kit with a solar/battery operated radio (got it on Amazon for $30), some wind-up flashlights ($5 at IKEA), a little first aid kit (again, Amazon). I should probably get some dust masks too. We always have canned goods laying around. My husband kept all his army survival manuals.
posted by Aquifer at 8:00 AM on August 3, 2018

This old comment is a great read.
Yes, truly best of the web!
posted by mumimor at 8:10 AM on August 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've read that calories are the key to any food storage; which equates to all the 'meals for two week' kits aren't really worth a scratch of their cost.
That being said; a few dozen MREs will provide a varied diet if needed. Caution: MRE's have a very low water content (less weight; lighter to carry); ergo they can seriously 'plug' a person up if they are not eaten with plenty of water/liquid - might want to do some reading on water purification via bleach or tablets; and be kinda close to the water too.
A typical human processes about one pound of food each day. Count on needing a shovel; or a bucket for that particular bodily function.
What to possibly barter with? A case of Jack Daniels might be worth all the fuel in the world; and a bit safer too.
posted by Afghan Stan at 8:28 AM on August 3, 2018

Ensure that you have a way to filter (or pasteurize) water (I have a Berkey water filter), maintain warmth (I installed a woodstove and ensure that we have warm clothes, sleeping bags, and tents on hand), and cook food (for me, that the woodstove and a solar oven, plus a camping stove that will serve for short-term disasters).

These are helpful for just about any short-term or long-term natural, economic, or political disaster.
posted by metasarah at 8:36 AM on August 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

I lived 12 blocks away from the thing with the buildings and airplanes back in 2001, so in no way will I tell you the impossible won't happen.

- 5 Gallon jugs of water, First aid, pantry food for a month, including pets.

- Ceramic camping water purifier

- Camping Gear

- Passports, other id, and cash


I also had something called Postpartum Anxiety after my son was born which I did not know was A Thing, but here we are. After about a year and a half of regular kundalini yoga practice, I no longer slip into anxiety and I feel completely centered. Get a practice that includes exercise, breathing, and maybe some sort of meditation. Fix your nervous system so that if/when disaster strikes, you can be calm and effective for your family.
posted by jbenben at 8:48 AM on August 3, 2018 [6 favorites]

I agree with all the above regarding knowledge and getting involved with community resources. In a disaster, it is going to be important to have good connections with other folks.

That said, I keep some things on hand that make me feel better and would provide comfort, at least short-term. So if you want to throw money at this:

Harmony House Foods Backpacking Kit

Goal Zero Lithium Portable Power Station

Also, this lady is awesome and has a lot of great ideas: Prepper Princess
posted by augustinetill at 9:13 AM on August 3, 2018

Many prepper-type things need to be rotated, which can cause an extra layer of anxiety if you let it. The way I remember to rotate is I pair it with DST. Twice a year we have to change the clocks for Daylight Saving Time. When that happens, I also check the batteries in my smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector, and rotate the water, food, batteries, and medication in my Go-Bag (and make sure the cash hasn't walked itself to Starbucks).

I used to work for the Red Cross in Disaster Management, and emergency prepping was a big part of my job. As a minimum, you want a bag per person with food, water, medication, flashlight, and socks. Small kids can carry their own socks and granola bars, adults will probably have to carry their water for them. Stuff you can keep in your house, like a stockpile of food and water, is also handy (as many folks have described in detail above). If you are more intrepid, it's a good idea to have a kit in your vehicle with some tools, shovel, work gloves, maybe ice-melt, blankets... some of this is dependent on your own climate.

This one is important: have a first-aid kit, but know how to use it. Get your first aid certification, and keep it current. You want to know this stuff so well that your body just automatically does it. When you get your first aid kit, open it up. Look at all the things in there. Do you know what they are? Do you know how to open it? If you need to get an extra so that you can play around and practice, do it. Have a few placed strategically around your house, in your Go-Bag, and in your vehicle. Practice finding them. Get your kids to practice finding them ("Hon, Mama's got a splinter, can you go grab the first aid kit for me?").

Contact numbers. I don't remember any phone numbers any more, and I would be screwed if my phone was dead. What's the number for your doctor? Your insurance company? The emergency water line for the City? Have them written down on paper. Maybe laminate that paper if you can.
posted by arcticwoman at 9:17 AM on August 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh, and know who your neighbours are. Cultivate friendly relationships with them. Are there people with reduced mobility on your block? People with more small kids than they have arms? Seniors who live alone? They might need someone to check on them in an emergency, maybe you can be that person.
posted by arcticwoman at 9:18 AM on August 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, and also . . . get a HAM radio license. When cell phone towers go down, it will be a great communication tool.
posted by augustinetill at 9:22 AM on August 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Seconding the amateur (ham) radio license. These people are smart, interesting, and very serious about helping other people in times of crisis with communication. It is a very practical step and a good way to teach kids a little science.
posted by theredpen at 11:57 AM on August 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

I can't fully vouch because I haven't read it (it's on my list!), but you might like Just in Case by Kathy Harrison. I listened to her on a podcast a while back and found her to have a refreshingly non-political, non-extremist viewpoint. She had a lot of good advice about what you can do to help yourself, your family and your neighbors in the aftermath of any type of disaster.
posted by cpatterson at 12:01 PM on August 3, 2018

Some extremely low hassle stuff that's good to have around:
  • bottled water (optionally something to purify water)
  • pocket knife
  • flashlight
  • extra batteries
  • rope
  • first aid kit
  • blankets
  • appropriate all season clothing and footwear
  • shelf-stable emergency food
  • basic tools
Doesn't hurt to learn how to hunt, fish, garden and preserve food. But that's a bit more involved than chucking some stuff in a closet and checking on it once or twice a year, and less of a difference maker in a more likely to occur, smaller scale catastrophe.
posted by so fucking future at 12:36 PM on August 3, 2018

There's a lot of good, reasonable advice above. I'll add a couple of suggestions. I would consider adding some basic supplies useful in a pandemic - hand sanitizer, filtering masks (the CDC has a list of those recommended for filtering particles), household cleaning products that kill viruses, etc. Think of the precautions you take during a regular flu season, but ratcheted up about 10x - this stuff might disappear quickly in the case of a pandemic, and there's no harm in having it on hand. I consider this to be one of the most realistic disaster scenarios; ymmv, of course.

I'm in an apartment in a big city, so I don't have a ton of storage space, but I have snagged a couple of LifeStraws on sale because I live near a river, which I figure might help me get through the aftermath of a big storm if the water supply were temporarily compromised.
posted by superfluousm at 1:05 PM on August 3, 2018

Make contacts in other places. If the power goes and the infrastructure teeters you are almost always better of staying put, at home, where you have a roof, and locks, and books, and clothes and a sense of territory. But it may be that you will be evacuated, or that you will decide that staying put is a bad idea. In that case you want to have some idea where to go, and ideally friends in various locations that can help you if that's where you evacuate to.

You might want to make friends with someone who has a country property where you could go and settle if food supplies crash, someone with land that you can use to keep a few animals, or grow some food. You might want to make friends with someone on the opposite side of the nearest political border, someone who will give you crash space if you have to leave the States and re-settle in Canada. You might want to make contacts in a part of the country where you are not a minority - whether that be politically, or sexual orientation, or education, or religion or visual appearance or whatever might make you less accepted in your current community.

When it comes time for vacation travel and visit other places and those people who are your contacts so that you have some idea about how you could settle in that area. Bring your kids of course, and share the idea with them that while you will probably stay in your own neighbourhood, sometimes people move, and it is interesting to consider what it would be like living somewhere else.

A year or two ago a hurricane was barreling in towards Florida, and I got to join a fb group for my history group where people were posting either looking for places to go, or opening their homes to people who were forced to leave the evacuation zone. My history group often supplies visitors from out of town with crash space so they can attend events inexpensively in different areas, and they camp together. Joining a group with similar dynamics could give you a community and a lot of resources. Some of our members had horses, and word was being passed around of stables that were being opened for emergency shelter for horses - the community of horse owners who also travel for events, was pulling together too. I am pretty sure that you can find a similar dynamic with some levels of sports where the athletes travel and network and crash with each other. If there is any sport or special interest that your family is interested in that has this culture of providing help for travelers cultivate it for the dual purpose of making contacts and having a network.

Get used to walking. Take up hiking and get your kids to hike with you. If there is any problem with the infrastructure you will probably need to do a lot of walking to get anywhere, and if you and your family thing that a three mile walk is not an unreasonable way to spend an afternoon you will have a big advantage if you have to walk down to the part of the town where you can get water, or if you have to walk to the first aid points. Make sure everyone in the family always has good shoes or boots that they can walk for miles in without them falling apart.

Bicycles are another excellent form of transportation when things get disrupted, so if you don't already do so, take up cycling, and have bikes for all the kids. You should be able to get the kids bikes second hand as many people sell outgrown bikes.

Keep up to date on your dental work, and be scrupulous about taking care of your teeth. Floss and brush religeously. You want to be able to get through any serious disasters without having to worry about tooth problems. Primitive dentistry is no joke, and can be avoided just by keeping ahead with daily maintenance.

Learn some skills that can be traded: if you can do house repairs, or make and mend clothing, or know how to slaughter and dress animals you will have something to fall back on for employment if there is any breakdown of currency.

Play survival with the kids - camp out in the backyard with a tent made from cord and bedsheets, make a fire in the backyard, bring water back from the local river, go out and scavenge firewood - don't call it training or prepping or say why you are playing those games, just call it playing and try things out, with them along.

Have a rain barrel if you live anywhere with rain. Learn how to make a water purification filter using cloth, sand and charcoal.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:15 PM on August 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Become friends with people who know how to hunt, brew beer, and own generators.
posted by mostly vowels at 3:59 PM on August 7, 2018

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