Ready, Willing and Able (to Survive)

January 13th, 2008

Making sure you can weather the storms: Part I


It took the government six days to get water to storm refugees in New Orleans while people were dying. How many people know that many sectarian relief organizations were trying hard to get into the city with trucks full of supplies, food, water and preparation trailers the moment the rain stopped? FEMA wouldn’t let them in, confiscated the supplies and sent the volunteers home. I recall wondering at the time if perhaps the government was doing this on purpose – using the opportunity of the Katrina disaster to teach us all a lesson about taking care of ourselves. Then I came to the conclusion that they were simply incompetent and just didn’t care. THAT, I strongly suspect, is the most valuable lesson any of us can learn!

My family became homesteaders late in the fall of 1992 when we moved to these beautiful mountains. Four months later we got hit hard by the “Blizzard of the Century,” which dumped 4 feet of snow and ice on us and cut the power for two solid weeks. We luckily had a portable radio and a few extra batteries, listened as reports came in daily of people dying up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Freezing in the dark mostly, or dehydrating, going without necessary medicine, unable to get to the shelters, the few open stores or even to the hospital.

Meanwhile, we had plenty of nice oil lamps, extra wicks and 2 gallons of kerosene in a container in the shed. We had plenty of wood for heat, the wood stove being our ‘central heat’ in this cabin even when the electricity’s on. Food from the fridge and freezer was stacked neatly on jury-rigged shelves on the second-story back deck, which has no outside access so animals couldn’t get to it. And of course you can cook just fine on a wood stove. I kept a big pot of beans-from dry or veggie soup on during those long days, and rigged an oven out of an old metal box without a lid, in which I baked bread and cornmeal. Had a 5 pound sack of Masa too, so I got to put my wood stove tortilla talents to good use and we ate very well.

We’d bought an old Land Cruiser a month after moving here for $1500. One of those crusty old 4-wheel drives with the removable top and rhino-proof doors, that looked beat-up enough to actually have encountered a rhino or two in its day. So we had no trouble getting down the driveway or to open stores in one of our local towns for bread, dog and cat food, and yes – beer. Problem was that even with 4-wheel drive we couldn’t get back up our driveway with the groceries. So we parked down by the road and hiked it in using the tire tracks as our path through snow so deep we’d been pushing it with the grill on the way down. It’s half a mile long – half of that nearly straight up – so it was quite the workout. Living and working on the land had us in good shape, though.

In fact, the only real problem we had was water. The cistern is more than 200 feet down the mountain, and without electricity the pump didn’t work. That meant we had to melt snow and ice for wash and flushing water. So we did, and it worked just fine even though it was a hassle I’d like to avoid in the future by installing an old fashioned hand pump in the line where it enters the house.

Nine days after the storm a National Guard helicopter finally came along to check on us. We must be near last on the county’s list. It hovered low over the garden checking on signs of life. We went out on the back deck and waved. They saw smoke coming out of the stovepipe, saw food neatly stacked on the deck, and quickly moved on to check on others who weren’t so lucky. We were warm, dry and well-fed. We’d transported one of our elderly neighbors to town the day after the storm in our Land Cruiser because she had no heat.

Two months later we had our first forest fire. The trains using this grade over the Continental Divide tend to lay on the brakes through these loops, and this literally melts the metal-asbestos brake pads. They throw this molten material off the tracks around the curves, and that causes forest fires. Luckily centrifugal force tends to throw the molten metal to the other side of the tracks, which means the fires are usually in the National Forest rather than on our property. We did learn about the wisdom of keeping our property well-raked and clear of underbrush, cleared trees growing close to the house. Thus in 15 years – with an average of one fire per year until recently when the feds came down on the railroad for bad use of brakes – we haven’t lost our cabin or any of the stately forest trees, fruit trees, grape vines or berry stands on our property to fire.

In this series I want to look at what kind of supplies a homesteader should keep on hand at all times, how to organize and store them, and how to weather the storms of nature and humanity that are likely to come your way over the course of years. There will of course be different types of dangers in different areas of the country. Some places are prone to hurricanes and floods, some are prone to tornados or wind storms, some places get a couple of big blizzards a year, some have forest fires or mud slides or earthquakes. If the homestead doesn’t get washed away or destroyed, the survival kits for getting through the times of no services and no help are all basically the same. Things you’ll need, and things you’ll want to have on hand.

Before we get into the various items everyone should have on hand in case of emergencies, we should consider the kinds of survival “kits” we’ll need to put together and where they should be kept. Most of us know enough to keep first aid kits in our cars, homes and offices, but emergency survival kits should be kept there as well. These are:

• Evacuation Bag. This is a bag or pack containing the most vital things you need. It should be kept in a convenient location near an exit so you can grab it quickly if you have to evacuate your home in a hurry. This kit won’t contain enough to survive for days, but should contain things you can’t do without and can’t easily replace if you are in a shelter. And keep your family photo albums in a single convenient place so you can grab those on your way out too.

• Home Survival Kit. This kit should contain everything you’ll need to keep your family healthy and well for at least 3 days (a week is better). Or, in the cases like I mentioned above for homesteaders out in the countryside, a month is even better yet. This kit can be kept on a particular shelf or in a particular cabinet in your house or one of your easily accessible outbuildings.

• Car Kit. This kit should contain everything you need to keep yourself and your passengers alive if you happen to get stranded in your vehicle somewhere for hours or days, in the heat of summer or the cold of winter.

• Work Kit. If a disaster strikes while you are at work away from home, you might be stranded there for a day or more before you can get back to your family. Having necessities stored in a desk kit can save your life.

For all of these kits it isn’t necessary to spend a lot of money. Remember that what you’ll need in an emergency are pretty much the same things you’d need every day. The most salient consideration should be prescription medicines if you take any on a daily basis to treat a chronic condition. If you can double up on the largest supply (30-90 days’ worth) you can divvy the supplies up so you’ve a week or more worth of medicine in each of your kits. Rotate these every 6 months or so to make sure the medicines don’t lose their potency. Most everything else will keep for a year or more (including foods if you’re careful about what you include), and some of the supplies will never go bad!

In my next post we’ll look at the essentials that should be in each of these kits. It’s more than just duct tape, tie wire and plastic sheeting, no matter what Homeland Security tells you! If we’re all good scouts we’ll come out the other end of occasional disasters just fine by relying on ourselves instead of the government to do for us what we should all be capable of doing for ourselves!

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11 Responses to “Ready, Willing and Able (to Survive)”

  1. Ready, Willing and Able: Part II at Wise Living Journal on January 15, 2008 4:19 pm

    [...] Ready, Willing and Able (to Survive) [...]

  2. Dee on January 15, 2008 6:17 pm

    This is my first time commenting, but I just wanted to
    congratulate your blog on being the runner up in the Performancing Blog Awards for the category The Best Blog You’ve Never Heard Of 2007 (Editor’s Choice).

    Keep up the great posts!

  3. Aileen on January 16, 2008 3:32 pm

    Thanks so much, Dee! I was of course thrilled to have even been nominated. Now all I need to do is try and move this baby so more people will have heard of it! §;o)

  4. Prof. George Eweniyi on March 13, 2008 6:52 pm

    pls i will like to make a contribution into this journal. i am a prof. of guidance and counselling.

  5. Layla on April 17, 2008 7:09 pm

    Nothing can be as important as knowing first aid in a time of need. It truly can be a lifesaver.

  6. abradlorn on June 4, 2009 4:25 am

    Sweet blog. I never know what I am going to come across next. I think you should do more posting as you have some pretty intelligent stuff to say.

    I’ll be watching you . :)

  7. Aileen on July 16, 2009 3:05 pm

    I agree I should post more, abradlorn! Alas, it’s mid-summer and the homestead crops, wildcrafting, upkeep, projects, and even a couple of bears that decided this place is heaven keep me plenty busy right now. Will work on it, though! Thanks for your comment.

  8. Bill Hawthorne on September 14, 2009 1:58 pm

    Wise Living,

    My name is Bill Hawthorne, and I represent, a leading web resource for asbestos exposure and mesothelioma cancer information. Our organization is dedicated to increasing awareness of the terrible health consequences of asbestos exposure.

    I found your site through a search and decided to contact you because of its high environmental and green presence which is extremely important in our movement. Your viewers are extremely savvy and motivated. The promotion of how buildings should now be built using sustainable green products to avoid asbestos and mesothelioma as well as the awareness of past buildings and preventative steps in avoiding asbestos exposure are extremely important. My goal is to get a resource link on your site/blog or even to provide a guest posting to be placed.

    I look forward to hearing from you. Please feel free to check out our website. Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Bill Hawthorne
    MAA Center is now on Twitter – follow us @maacenter

  9. Aileen on September 23, 2009 4:07 pm

    Would be happy to list, and host a guest post, Bill. Email on the way!

  10. Marcus on October 21, 2009 12:35 pm

    Great post as for me. It would be great to read something more concerning this matter.

  11. david on July 23, 2011 9:21 pm

    dear madam,
    as you can see i run my own emergency preparedness
    website. Your blog is excellent and wondered if you guest blog, I would be very interested in a further
    coversation on how i could employ your services as a writer. yours sincerely david allen

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