useful skills for the apocalypse
April 12, 2022 12:18 AM   Subscribe

What skills can I learn that would be useful for myself and for others in a range of emergency situations?

The reason I ask is because I wanted to get into nursing school but because of a long, complicated thing, this is not in the cards right now. To cheer myself up and refocus my energy somewhere, I'd like to spend my time outside of work working on skills that would be useful in a variety of bad situations ranging from local floods to global zombie apocalypse.

I'm not interested in doomsday prepper individualism because I'm more interested in skills that would support me to be a better helper. For example, I'm thinking of things like first aid (obviously), sewing, canning and preserving food, etc.

What other useful skills could I learn outside of work on evenings and weekends?
posted by quadrant seasons to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (28 answers total) 67 users marked this as a favorite

Best answer: I'm a part of my State's volunteer emergency service, which has responsibility for flooding (something like the CERT mentioned above); I have no idea whether the UK has anything like it. You're absolutely right to identify that disasters really communities of helpers, not rugged individuals—and that counterintuitively to most people, it's the people skills, like making plans, obtaining and passing on information, answering phones, making lists, and organising teams and rosters, that actually come in most in demand in disasters. But to answer your question of the practical stuff you can learn likely be useful, I'm going to try to list some of the practical skills we would train in, in order of likely accessibility to you:

* first aid, which you've already identified.
* knowing where relevant social, government, medical, power/gas, welfare/shelter etc. services are for your area. If you can't help, who can you contact who can?
* meal planning/shopping/catering for a large (>20) group of people—supporting an operation
* casualty handling over and above basic first aid—particularly into stretchers, to move and evacuate people.
* handling and positioning things in groups, e.g. very tall ladder, heavy equipment
* sandbagging against flooding, and knowing likely local flood patterns in your rivers/coast
* throwing a rope or a float to someone in flood water (which is trickier than you think)
* using ropes and tying knots—lashing and securing things as part of repair and tying-things-down, but also see rope-access below
* reading a topographic map and navigating with a compass, daytime and night. Relatedly; estimating distances, times of travel, etc. Using a GPS device to navigate (note: not your phone!)
* land search in teams (but note that your country may have laws about how this is done)
* using a two-way radio (UHF/CB), and using the government radio network
* driving large/heavy vehicles & obtaining the right licences
* driving using 4WD and recovering from bogging, and using vehicle winches
* emergency repair using hand and power tools—removing broken structures and debris, covering windows, covering or replacing roof tiles, shoring cracked joists, gaining access through broken material, doing basic house repairs
* using two-stroke and four-stroke small engines: generators, petrol and electric pumps, creating improvised lighting
* working safely at heights: using twin-rope rope systems for vertical access, climbing and descending. Related to rock climbing rigging skills (but your country will certainly have laws about this)
* using chainsaws and pole saws to cross-cut downed and damaged trees
* driving small boats

A lot of these skills are inherent in outdoorsy groups and clubs, such as bushwalking, orienteering, boating, bush regeneration, outdoor climbing, animal rescue, or even having a communal garden or allotment; which really comes back to the far more useful disaster response skill—the 'joining' habit people make when we come forward and organise ourselves. There isn't a single physical skill you can learn that comes in more useful than the practice of getting along with other people in a group task.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 1:55 AM on April 12, 2022 [32 favorites]

Best answer: Packing. No, seriously. My family and friends who have what I call “Tetris brain” possess an invaluable skill. This is something I think one is inherently better at than others, but can also be learned for more specific occasions. What I’m talking about is stuff like, how can I fit all this stuff into my car and still be able to see out the rear view window? How can I fold these things so fragile stuff is protected but I’m not wasting any space and important things are quickly accessible? How can I fit these supplies into this tote so it’s well balanced and easy to carry in one hand? How do I attach this bike securely to this roof while making it simple to remove at the end of a long day? How do I stack these items so the tower is stable? And the list goes on. It’s like, 3-d spatial awareness and volume comprehension, plus some knot tying and physics. If you are good at, say, picking a container that is just the right size for your leftovers, you are naturally going to better at this than I am. But I have learned to be better at it. I’m very good at folding fitted sheets, for example, and at organizing cabinets of non perishable goods. It’s a flexible skill that can be applied in innumerable contexts, apocalyptic or not.

I think that on a more specific to emergencies note, practicing conflict de-escalation techniques could be literally lifesaving.
posted by Mizu at 3:06 AM on April 12, 2022 [9 favorites]

My daughters took carpentry 101 with me as teenagers: Measuring [twice] - sawing a straight cut [once] - hammering . Using a cordless drill/screwdriver is generally more fun after that. Making a table, bench, shelves, supports by re-purposing available materials is potentially useful. Youtube "teen girls basic sawing" delivers only "sewing" - pathetic.
posted by BobTheScientist at 3:31 AM on April 12, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Know your town, and know it well. Then be ready to share that information with others.

Where is the nearest fire station? In our town, that's where you can get potable water in an emergency. (We have water main breaks like crazy.)

Where's the closest fallout shelter? It's probably a school.

Who are your neighbors, what skills and needs do they have? On one side I have a cop and the owner of an auto body shop, the other side is a bunch of college athletes. Do you have any neighbors who might need extra help? Disabled, elderly, families with young children?

What are the evacuation routes, that don't involve freeways?

Any water sources, such as streams? Do you know multiple ways to purify water?
posted by champers at 3:56 AM on April 12, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Foraging?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:13 AM on April 12, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Emergency medical training is probably first, as everyone including you have said. Ham radio is both relevant and also a fun hobby to engage in before the apocalypse. It's also a gateway to basic electronics skills which can be useful for fixing broken things in an emergency, and a good way to meet emergency preparedness folks who aren't batshit (mostly).
posted by eotvos at 4:46 AM on April 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

You could look into getting your EMT basic course. My Wife did that right before nursing school and it helped her a lot. It's basically first aid - but on steroids. Once you get it, you'll feel much more confident in popping up and helping with health issues all the time!
posted by bbqturtle at 5:40 AM on April 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think a lot of people don't really know how to cook when there are supply chain issues. I asked my daughter why people in Utah weren't doing better with food supplies at the beginning of the pandemic when the Mormon church tells people to keep a year's supply of food on hand. She said that people buy and store things like dried beans and wheatberries, but don't know what to do with them.

So learn to cook the kind of food that you can store long term - beans, grains, dehydrated vegetables (Gardening is great, but that takes a while to result in food). Yes, learn how to make sourdough. Learn how to cook without perishables like eggs and milk. Learn how to cook using alternate heat sources. And read MFK Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf.

From Eater: How to Cook a Wolf was published in 1942 at the height of World War II shortages. It was a guide, Fisher wrote, “to existing as gracefully as possible without many of the things we have always accepted as our due: light, free air, fresh foods, prepared according to our tastes.”
posted by FencingGal at 6:14 AM on April 12, 2022 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Collecting and purifying water.

(Maybe collecting might not be a problem, depending upon location).
posted by pompomtom at 6:26 AM on April 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

People were fighting over sugar. A cool way to have something of value to people, and super cool while doing it, might be beekeeping. Honey keeps forever, makes amazing gifts, and I think might be really useful to the planet.
posted by ReluctantViking at 6:30 AM on April 12, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: * Bystander response.
* Changing a flat tire.
* CPR.
* Darning socks.
* Fire building.
* Foreign language (including sign language)
* Heimlich maneuver.
* Ice rescue.
* Knitting.
* Land navigation.
* Lifesaving.
* Marksmanship.
* Morse code.
* Pet first aid.
* Self defense.
* Semaphore use.
* Shelter building.
* Signal mirror use.
* Swimming.
* Tourniquet use and packing wounds (aka stop the bleed).
* What to do when a vehicle overheats.
* Wild-animal response.
* Wilderness first aid.
posted by NotLost at 6:35 AM on April 12, 2022 [5 favorites]

In the USA at least, first-responder courses are something between standard first aid and EMT courses. EMT courses take a big chunk of time.
posted by NotLost at 6:37 AM on April 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

Ham radio certification.
posted by NotLost at 6:37 AM on April 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

* Foraging.
* Native medicinal plants.
posted by NotLost at 6:45 AM on April 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

* What to do in an undertow.
* How to right a small watercraft.
posted by NotLost at 6:46 AM on April 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

* Quicksand response.
* Midwifery.
posted by NotLost at 6:48 AM on April 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

* Compass use.
* Hunting, trapping and dressing game.
posted by NotLost at 6:56 AM on April 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

Conflict de-escalation.
posted by NotLost at 6:59 AM on April 12, 2022 [16 favorites]

Core flexibility.
posted by brachiopod at 7:17 AM on April 12, 2022

Amateur radio. It saves lives!

A baby was delivered successfully in a complicated delivery on the Oregon Coast because ham radio operators were able to put the local doctor in contact with specialists in Portland after a windstorm knocked out all local communications and blocked most of the roads.
posted by cnidaria at 7:22 AM on April 12, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Brewing / winemaking / distilling

Canning / food preservation
posted by rozcakj at 7:49 AM on April 12, 2022

Best answer: Storytelling. People need fun distraction in bad situations, especially little kids.

Same thing with singing - it's handy to have some group singalong options in your pocket like rounds, call and response songs, and sea shanteys that are easy to get people engaged in.
posted by cadge at 8:09 AM on April 12, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Thanks to a post on the Blue last week, I discovered r/TwoXPreppers (they are explicitly trans-friendly, the "twox" nomenclature is just reddit shorthand for a women-friendly space), which was a split off of an older preppers subreddit that was more about guns and cosplay and women were talked over for trying to plan for things like eating and bathing. Their motto is "Prepping for Tuesday not Doomsday". There's a lot of talk there about not having All The Skills, but skills enough to contribute/trade.

If you have nursing school in your goals, definitely find local sources for medic training.

Also check your hardware stores - I don't know if any of them have started doing their weekend training classes again, but it's a great way to get some 101 on carpentry, plumbing, and electrical, all of which are good to understand and one or more of them might turn into an interest you decide to pursue.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:45 AM on April 12, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Where There is No Doctor is a manual for medical care when you can't just call an ambulance.

+1 group dynamics / group decision-making / facilitation skills. I see risky outdoors adventures as an analogue to thinking about prepping, and bad risk-assessment and unbalanced group dynamics are a major way things go wrong. You want to avoid having to use those wilderness first responder skills.

Please don't keep honeybees unless you are providing plenty of forage (flowers) to support them, way more than an average backyard. They displace native bees.
posted by momus_window at 9:04 AM on April 12, 2022 [5 favorites]

There are courses for hikers/campers in wilderness first aid.
posted by amtho at 11:20 AM on April 12, 2022

Best answer: Learn the most common non-English language for your area.
posted by kapers at 11:45 AM on April 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, all! The ones I've marked as Best Answer are the things that are practical/realistic for me to pursue in my limited free time right now, but all the answers are useful.
posted by quadrant seasons at 12:11 AM on April 14, 2022

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